In an undated handout photo, mussels with chili and lemongrass at the Seaside Boarding House Restaurant and Bar in Dorset, England. The hotel and restaurant may be ensconced in rural England, but its menu and sensibilities are pure well-heeled London — with a touch of beach culture: white and blue-gray walls, minimalist furniture and crisp white tablecloths.
Photo: HANDOUT
Photo: HANDOUT

In Dorset, sophistication by the sea

During the leisurely drive along the dramatic Jurassic Coast of Dorset, in Southwest England, one could easily think that this journey might well be the highlight of the day. The sweeping vistas of the English Channel are breathtaking, especially if you’re driving by at twilight.

But then you reach the Seaside Boarding House, a pristine white building perched on the edge of a cliff with a view of a picturesque stretch of sand.

This hotel and restaurant, which opened last February, may be ensconced in rural England, but its menu and sensibilities are well-heeled London — with a touch of beach culture: white and blue-gray walls, minimalist furniture and crisp white tablecloths.

Seaside’s co-founders, Mary-Lou Sturridge and Anthony Mackintosh, hail from the Groucho Club, a private club in London’s Soho. Sturridge found herself growing a little weary of her job. “I thought, ‘I’m too old to be staying up until 4 o’clock in the morning five nights a week,'” she said.

They soon found the Dorset property, which had been a retirement home, and went about remaking it into a place where “you can have a properly made martini.” (In warm weather, said martini can be enjoyed on the veranda that looks out on Chesil Beach, featured in Ian McEwan’s novel “On Chesil Beach.”)

The menu, executed by the London chef Alastair Little, also has a carefully thought-out elegance. “I didn’t want it to be all fish; I wanted to do a really simple menu where everything is good and fresh,” said Sturridge, noting that the emphasis is on locally sourced meats, fish and vegetables.

And so, on my visit, miso-marinated cod and whole wild sea bass, swimming in a lemony butter sauce and topped with mussels, shared space with a rib-eye steak with garlic butter and out-of-this-world lamb chops, succulent and perfectly cooked. Still, the star of our meal was the fish soup, studded with mussels; it came with side bowls of rouille, made with olive oil, saffron, garlic and chile peppers, Gruyère and croutons.

Desserts ranged from vanilla ice cream with salted caramel to posset, a traditional custardlike British treat. Stuffed as we were, we decided to share a crème brûlée — which turned out to be so simple, so good, we ordered a second.

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