After my indulgent week of eating in France last week and four salad-filled days at home trying to be good (you see, sometimes I try!), the car and I set off on another little trip that promised some gastronomic pleasure. My friends Lesley and Colin have bought a cottage in Dorset and had invited me down to visit for a couple of days. Setting off on the summer solstice westwards I wondered whether I’d encounter long queues of people bound for Stonehenge but partway down the M3 I branched off in a different direction and had a completely clear run – until I found myself stuck behind a tractor for the last few miles and having to search for my fog lights as the cloud had come down so low I was driving through it.
Sadly, despite this being the ‘height of summer’ the weather is still not playing. After lunch yesterday we embarked on a walk to nearby Hardy’s Monument over some hilly terrain. Thomas Hardy I imagined, it being Dorset and the setting for his novels. But no, apparently it’s the earlier Captain Hardy, whose house is in the village where I’m staying, Portesham.
However, again the cloud was so thick as we walked uphill that we turned back and instead drove to nearby Weymouth, which features in author Hardy’s novel, The Trumpet-Major, but is renamed Budmouth. Back home in the evening we drank champagne and ate the lovely meal Lesley had prepared.
The weather was a little improved this morning and we were pleased as a table had been booked at Hix Oyster & Fish House in Lyme Regis – about half an hour’s drive away. I was promised a pretty drive, following the Jurassic coastline, and we passed Chesil Beach – another literary connection with Ian McEwan’s brilliant book. As we approached Lyme Regis, the road slowly winding down to the sea with a view of the bay before us, it was a lovely sight, even though it was still quite cloudy. We parked close to the restaurant and went in. I’d read it overlooked the bay and had a spectacular view. It was smaller than I’d been expecting but I was also delighted by its location and a view as stunning as had been promised. It must be even more beautiful on a sunny day but we still enjoyed it.
I’ve eaten rather a lot of oysters over the past ten days but these were definitely some of the best. They were wonderful. Quite creamy with that wonderful hit of the salty sea. Fabulous! The bread we ordered was slow coming but then when it did come, warm and freshly baked, it was delicious.
We each ordered different main courses – all fish. This isn’t a place to come if you don’t eat fish! The service was efficient and friendly and all our queries confidently answered. I asked what Torbay ‘megrim sole’ was and was told it was very like lemon sole. Served with capers and sea kale, it sounded great, and just what I wanted: some good fish well and simply cooked.
It was delicious. The fish cooked perfectly. The flesh firm and reminiscent of Dover sole and while not quite as good in flavour as that more expensive fish, it was still really good. Lesley chose lemon sole with a green sauce – lots of fresh herbs – and said it was very good. Colin was very enthusiastic about the excellence of his John Dory.
We didn’t need dessert but once I’d claimed I was on holiday (oh any excuse!) they decided they were too and three desserts were ordered. My gooseberry and elderflower pie was glorious. I’m not sure I would have picked out the elderflower but the gooseberries had the right amount of tartness and the pie was cake-like and incredibly light and delicious.
How wonderful it would be to sit here on a warm, sunny summer’s evening with champagne and oysters. We’d really enjoyed the meal and thought Hix Oyster & Fish House a great place. We then went for a walk down to the beach and harbour.
What a lovely place Lyme Regis is. It’s full of literary heritage: Thomas Hardy, Jane Austen, Tennyson, Beatrix Potter and many others. But today it’s particularly well known as the setting for the film version of John Fowles’ The French Lieutenant’s Woman. We decided to follow in Meryl Streep’s footsteps and walk along the top of the Cobb, the wall that surrounds the harbour. The sun had come out a bit and it was a lovely walk.