Dorset is Hardy country. Dorchester, its capitol, is said to be the model for Casterbridge in the novel, The Mayor of Casterbridge. Did I bring a copy with me? No. Didn’t plan to do much reading in our two day visit, though I wish I had re-read some Hardy works before we came down. But that will have to wait for our next visit. And there will be another visit. Dorset is not only beautiful, it is bursting with history; has a swannery with 600 swans; rock pools, beaches and fossils, but more importantly to the gourmand in me, some top-notch restaurants. They don’t feature swan on the menus, though. All the swans in England belong to the queen, so you can’t kill them without permission from her majesty. The swannery, by the way, was started about 700 years ago by some monks, and is still there. Not the same swans, though. Imagine 600 swans in the same place. Must be like clouds on the water.
Our first night in Dorset, we dined in a small restaurant on the harbor at Weymouth called Perry’s. The first thing you notice on your way to the restaurant is hundreds of masts spiking up from hundreds of boats, and not a luxury yacht among them. They look like fishing boats, working boats, or some one’s weekend folly. The second thing is the fishy harbor smell enveloping the shore, preparing you for a meal of very fresh fish. Perry’s does not disappoint, although in perusing the menu I ran across a couple of items I wasn’t sure about. One was Pollack. I mean, I know some people are not keen on Polish immigrants, but I didn’t expect to find one on a menu. The item turned out to be only a fish, after all. How banal. The other fish I didn’t recognize was Guenard, which I thought sounded like someone from across the channel, but again, was only a fish.
I actually ordered the Pollack, which came as a chunk of white flesh on a bed of freshly sautéed greens topped by a slice of fried potato. It was rewardingly fresh and mild, the way I like my fish.
The next evening was our really big splurge at a little restaurant in Dorchester. We had to reserve this time, because this is not only a little restaurant, it is a tiny restaurant. Fourteen covers in the whole place. We had found the name of the restaurant, Sienna, in two good food guides, and our hosts at Higher Came Farmhouse also recommended it. It deserves all the praise it gets. First of all, the "amuse-bouches" consisted of exquisite little palate teasers: small rounds of pizza, which had little in common with it bigger counterparts except for being round; tiny cheese quiches with hints of garlic, and a creamy artichoke dip.
I chose a starter of Asparagus Risotto with Parmesan ice cream. The risotto was made with an asparagus-based vegetable broth, garnished with tender-crisp asparagus tips and a scoop of the ice-cream, which wasn’t sweet, of course, but very creamy, which slowly melted into the risotto. Bernard ordered a fresh crab and roasted tomato tart which was delicately seasoned and had a thin, tender, tasty crust. For the main course I ordered a lamb duo which consisted of pink slices of tender lamb beside a streak of garlicky minced lamb with a hint of clove, and topped with potato slices, a mini-shepherd’s pie. It was accompanied by whipped carrots thinned with a vegetable broth made with fennel, all subtle and very delicious. Bernard chose venison, which he loved, but I didn’t taste because it was too different from my lamb.
We hadn’t planned on dessert, but after such a perfect meal, we decided to try them out. I had a vanilla panacotta with strawberries which was divine. I don’t remember what Bernard had, but we plan to go back down just to try other items on the menu.
- Dorset and the Jurassic Coast.