Hugo Andreae celebrates the end of lockdown with a sensational meal at one of the South Coast’s most memorable boating restaurants.
Boat owners who frequently visit the Solent will almost certainly have heard of The Hut on the Isle of Wight. It has become the restaurant destination of choice for anybody with access to a boat. It’s got a great vibe, it serves good local seafood and its massive bottles of chilled Rosé have taken on an almost mythical status.
But arguably the main reason it has done so well is because of the experience it offers; you can arrive in your own boat, drop anchor, get picked up by one of The Hut’s tenders and eat your meal while enjoying the best view in the world (i.e. your own boat at anchor).
However, after the dinner I’ve just had at Shell Bay Restaurant and Bistro in Poole Harbour, I reckon this might just top it, at least for owners of smaller craft. Allow me to explain.
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It’s location on the west side of the harbour entrance has an even better view than The Hut’s because you can still have your boat in frame but with the magical backdrop of Brownsea Island and Purbeck behind it, rather than the Solent. And when the sun sets, the scene is bathed in a fiery glow that melts the heart of every living being.
The restaurant is ideally set up to make the most of this with multiple terraces, sliding glass doors and heaters that can adapt to the weather and changing restrictions. It did get cold when temperatures dropped close to freezing at the end of April but in any “normal” year this wouldn’t be an issue.
Then there is the food, which is quite simply sensational. My 18-year-old son is a man of few words and many grunts whose diet consists largely of beer, crisps and pasta. As soon as the first forkful of his starter (sea bass ceviche with pink grapefruit, tequila, smoked chilli and green tomato) entered his mouth he transformed into a Michelin food critic raving about its delicate mouthfeel, subtle piquancy and perfect balance of sweet and sour.
My own starter of beetroot gazpacho with avocado and cucumber chilli yoghurt was just as good, elevating this humble root vegetable into a near cosmic experience. The mains of chargrilled monkfish and sea bream fillets cooked on the wood fire at the entrance to the restaurant were just as memorable.
I have to admit it was the first restaurant I’d eaten in since lockdown ended and like the thirsty man in the desert proclaiming his first sip of water to taste better than Champagne, there may be an element of elation involved. But even taking this into account, I have not had this good a meal for many years, The Hut included. It wasn’t cheap but it was worth every penny. If you’re coming to Poole this summer book now before word gets around!
Getting there by boat
Shell Bay restaurant is located 100 yards from the Studland side of the chain ferry inside the entrance to Poole harbour. At high tide boats up to 35ft can pick up a buoy in front of the restaurant while tenders from larger craft anchored in the harbour or in one of the marinas can come alongside the floating pontoon or arrange for a water taxi. In all cases call Shell Bay Marine first.
Cost: £100–£120 based on a two-course dinner for two with a bottle of house wine in the main restaurant. During the summer the Bistro offers light meals and drinks without the need to book.
Verdict: The place to eat this summer if you’re visiting the area by land or sea, with food to die for and one of the finest views in the country.
MBY rating: 5/5 (based on food, ambience and value for money)
Contact: +44 (0)7834 492987 / shellbay.net