showcasing the best of the south west

Stellar Cooking at Upper Deck Restaurant

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.

Pictured: Alex Aitken selects fish from the jetty

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.    

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