To a brand new restaurant at the Christchurch Harbour Hotel near Bournemouth where patron chef Alex Aitken is turning out truly spectacular food.
Let's start with the view - we lucked out with a table for 2 facing outwards onto the harbour - and the martinis, a speciality here and mindblowingly good, we opted for traditional vodka and a spicy apple.
In its first few days of business the new restaurant was packed and next door a wedding was underway, a bride wandering through the lobby with a glass of rose in her hand, asking, a little plaintively, 'where's my husband?" Upper Deck is a very modern restaurant in that it's geared to several different kinds of eating. You could sit up at the bar with a plate of seafood or you could take over a huge table with friends and feast on the sharing menus (more of which later) or bags one of the romantic tables for 2 looking out on the harbour.
We kicked off with a delicious and unexpected cappuccino of gazpacho, then jumbo prawns with garlic butter and scallops with sticky pork belly and cauliflower mash. Sounds weird? It was literally sublime.
The restaurant takes its seafood very seriously. A boat goes out every day and chef Alex Aitken picks over the catch from the jetty, before tweaking his menus. He has dived himself for the hand-picked scallops and, wow, can you taste the difference. Next time I'll opt for the tempting 'bring us food and drink menu' - where little choosing is necessary but instead a series of delicious platters arrive at the table. You share a platter of potted shrimps, cured and smoked fish and meats, then wild garlic risotto with asparagus, monkfish curry and a huge platter of ribs, prawns, steak and chips with bearnaise sauce. Doesn't that sound good? For a big party it seems like the perfect way to go. Great food arrives seamlessly while you just get on with the business of having a good time. Instead we chose lamb with dauphinoise and ratatouille and steak au poivre which were both cooked to perfection. I'm not much of a red meat eater these days but this lamb was so vividly, perfectly pink, so melt in the mouth tender, I think it's going to stay in my mind for a long time. For pudding we tried the dark chocolate fondant with pistachio ice cream and a trio of sorbets. They recommend cocktails to go with these which is a nice quirk - such as raspberry and vanilla martini to accompany the chocolate fondant. Next time I'm in. The cooking here is spectacular and it's a restaurant that works on many levels. Perfect for lunch with a girlfriend, for a family celebration or catching up more casually with a gang of mates. There's a fantastic spa here too, with a beautiful pool, hydrotherapy tub, sauna, steam room and the option of a vast range of treatments. A perfect Saturday? A day in the spa followed by a blow-out dinner in the restaurant. Not sure you can beat that.