Outstanding tastes of Dorset at the Highcliff Grill

food-HGparkinBIG hotel chains are not renowned for distinctive and original food. At their best, the dining can be fine indeed, but with only the merest nod to the local cuisine. International is the name of the game and you certainly don’t expect to know what farm your meat came from.

But at the Bournemouth Marriott Hotel it’s different. With the kitchen of its Highcliff Grill under the direction of executive chef Matt Budden, this has become an award-winning restaurant winning plaudits for its locally sourced food and its sustainability policies, particularly for seafood.

Matt, who is in great demand as an engaging and expert demonstrator at Dorset food festivals, is passionate about local food – so much so that he has a Taste of Dorset menu, laden with good things from the county, served with style and panache and packed with distinctive and delicious flavours.

That menu helped to win the Highcliff Grill last year’s Taste of Dorset Best Restaurant Award. It won Best Restaurant in the 2012 Bournemouth Tourism Awards and this year has been awarded three stars by the Sustainable Restaurant Association, an accolade of which Matt and all his team are justifiably proud.

Matt has been at the Marriott Highcliff on Bournemouth’s West Cliff, for nearly two years. He attributes his love of food to growing tomatoes and runner beans with his grandfather and baking cakes with his grandmother.

food-HGbiryaniBefore coming to Bournemouth he had worked at several Michelin-starred country house hotels and used this grounding to travel extensively and further his culinary knowledge around the world working in first class kitchens in Australia, New Zealand and Vietnam.

He is passionate about culinary excellence and committed to developing talent and helping brilliant young chefs to get the best start in the industry. He has been a member of the Master Chefs of Great Britain since 2004 and is a founding member of the Chefs Forum for Dorset, which works to support and help young people starting out in the industry.

The passion and the commitment is reflected in every aspect of the restaurant, from the warm and professional welcome from manager Mark Jenkins through the friendly but expert service from the waiting staff, including Jacques (Jack), the Lebanese-born waiter who charms all diners (not just the women), to the enthusiasm of young chefs who sometimes get the chance to meet diners or to accompany Matt on a cookery demonstration at one of Dorset’s food festivals.

On the front of the menu is a page listing “Our Local Food Heroes” and explaining the restaurant’s food philosophy … “using the best locally sourced fish, meats and shellfish … introducing some unexpected but carefully considered flavour combinations … buying from local farmers and fishermen, ensuring quality and sustainability .. so that we can showcase the very best and sometimes forgotten food that can be produced in this country.”

The local heroes include Samways Fish Merchants at Bridport, Dorset Watercress Company, From Dorset With Love, Capreolus Fine Foods and Purbeck Ice Cream.

food-HGchickenHighcliff Grill supports the Futurefish programme for sustainability, ensuring fish stocks for future generations.

We opted for the Taste of Dorset menu – a mouthwatering blend of traditional and those “unexpected flavour combinations” – and were delighted with our choices (all of which are also on the a la carte, along with steaks and more seafood).

This menu begins with an amuse-bouche, a delicate potato chowder with smoked garlic and a Montgomery cheddar beignet.

Our starters were the interesting Crispy Free Range Duck Egg (a sort of Scotch Egg) with Mutton Bacon, Caramelised Onions and Baby Beets, and the elegant Tea-Cured Salmon with Broccoli, Goats Curd and Honey. The third choice was Honey-Roast Pumpkin and Ticklemore Goats Cheese Salad with Walnuts and Pumpkin Seeds.

For mains G had the Roast Breast of Free Range Chicken with Cauliflower Cheese, Red Cabbage Puree, Fried Sage and Jus. Her verdict: “Tender, succulent, juicy, and very clever extra-crispy skin.”

I went for the vegetarian option, Spinach, Sultana and Almond Biryani with Natural Yoghurt and Coriander. Delicate flavours that hinted at their Indian origins, but with none of that blurring that you often get in an Indian restaurant, and vastly improved by the absence of the usual brown gloop.

The puddings (the same choices apply for the a la carte) are beautiful and delicious – happily, portion size in the other courses ensures that we had room for them (it strikes me as failing in my duty as a diner if I don’t sample something from every course, but this time it was comfortable).

food-HGbakewellG chose the Ginger Parkin with Clotted Cream Ice-cream and Cranberry and Maple Syrup Granola – “very gingery and hot and crunchy granola,” just right for a cold February night and beautifully and seasonally colourful.

My Dorset Apple Bakewell came with Blackberry Ice-Cream, Fruit Pastilles and Curd, a subtle blend of clear and distinct flavours.

Each dish comes with a recommended mini cocktail, but with a long drive on a wet night we opted for safety, having both enjoyed a glass of a delicate gooseberryish Chilean Sauvignon Blanc, so I had an excellent double espresso and G had mint tea. Warmed, well-fed and refreshed, the drive back to Somerset was a pleasure. FC

The Taste of Dorset menu costs £31.50 for four courses.

Footnote: G has a vinegar allergy (about which we had warned the restaurant), and the chefs and waiting staff all ensured that all her dishes were free from any form of acetic acid, and that any element that had vinegar was replaced with something safe and equally delicious. You get a lot of brownie points for that. We have known restaurants where they ignore the request or even dismiss the allergy. We don’t go back.

But we will definitely look forward to eating at the Highcliff Grill again and recommending it to all our friends, including vegetarians.



Pictured are :

Roast Breast of Free-range Chicken and Cauliflower Cheese

Spinach, Sultana and Almond Biryani

Ginger Parkin with Clotted Cream Ice-Cream

Dorset Apple Bakewell with Blackberry Ice-cream