I wasn't ever planning to write about our recent adventures in Dorset. I mean, if you take a ragtag bunch of assorted family members who live scattered across the country and gather them together in a confined space to celebrate Grandad Alec’s (aka the Legend) 90th birthday, what could go right?
As it happens, plenty. Granted, we had to access our attic room via a slanted staircase that took some doing after a few pints (although look at the at view when we got there); and we got caught in a torrential rainstorm while walking home after dinner, and the high winds on the Sunday gave us an unexpected exfoliating treatment as we walked along the seafront. I’m still finding errant sand now. But overall, as Mary Poppins might say, it was practically perfect in every way.
We ate whitebait by the harbour in the afternoon sun; watched the Grand National in Rendezvous, (the last time I was in there I was dressed in a tiger onesie and the time before as a sailor, replete with pipe and beard…) and we still managed to sneak in an ice cream cone at Boho Gelato and a pint at the Boot before the birthday dinner.
Dinner itself was at the Galley, an unassuming looking restaurant adjacent to Brewer’s Quay, serving solid bistro classics straight out of the 70s. A blog post wasn’t on the cards - getting through the meal without incident or indigestion was my primary concern.
But, as it turned out, the whole evening was kind of brilliant, in that eccentrically English way. Good food, good service and great company. The kind of evening that makes you forget everyone’s faults and foibles and realise that, all in all, family are pretty great. A shout for the staff too, who bore our quirks with good grace and provided impeccable service all evening.
While the company may have surpassed the culinary on this occasion, our meal was great in many ways. from the quintessentially old school menu - featuring gems such as gammon and pineapple, scampi and garlic mushrooms - to the atmospheric interior, with its stately flagstone floors, candlelight and dark wood, that was somewhere between a smugglers inn and a Berni Inn.
Our evening started with a variety of classic seafood dishes. And while my local Portland crabcakes may have contained a touch more potato than was strictly necessary, they were nicely made and the accompanying spicy mango and chilli salsa packed a surprising punch.
Scallops and prawns, gratinated in the half shell in a creamy wine sauce and a topping of crispy breadcrumbs were good, if a little dry. Better were Grandad's scallops, served simply basted in plenty of garlic butter. At just under a tenner, the scallop dishes weren't cheap, conversely the accompanying bottle of decent pinot, was chosen from a well-priced list (and the first of several).
For my main I chose the classic Come Dine with Me stalwart; beef wellington. Despite always being excited to see this on a menu, I think I've only ever really enjoyed it once - cooked impeccably by a friend of my parents many moons ago. I do, however, periodically order it on occasions like this, just to make sure.
This didn't do too much to change my opinion, although it wasn't without it merits. For a start the pastry carapace was impeccable cooked, although this crispy triumph lead to the dish's biggest downfall; the fillet being overcooked, the obvious danger with an individual portion. That said I loved both the layer of garlicky pate on top and parma ham wrapped around the meat. The glossy mushroom and madeira sauce was also spot on.
My Mum has visited before and, being a creature of habit, she always has the Wessex sirloin steak cooked rare (they nailed the cooking with this one) and topped with sauteed mushrooms and stilton. Make no mistake, this was a huge strip of cow, only dwarfed by the even bigger pile of (very good) chippy style chips. Being as I was sat next to her, I was lucky enough to try a mouthful (or several) and concur it's worth a repeat visit.
Puddings are displayed in a cabinet, reminding me of family holidays in the Algarve, where the kids would escape from the table after dinner and press our grubby little faces excitedly against the glass, squabbling over what to chose.
In Portugal they only ever seemed to have boring creme caramel or rice pudding, and maybe a chocolate mousse if you were lucky, but here we were spoilt for choice. Pick of the bunch was the Ewing's homemade banoffee roulade, a desert of pillowy meringue, fresh cream and fruit, drizzled in caramel sauce. One for the sweet of tooth.
I couldn't manage to eat another morsel, but who could resist the charms of an irish coffee; the sweet cream and whiskey-laced beverage proving the perfect soporific send-off alongside the plate of after dinner chocolate mints that accompanied the bill.
And who could forget, the guest of honour himself. This picture is from my wedding, taken just after his second (or third) slice of chocolate cake following a huge plate of suckling pig. Mum said he didn't eat again for a week. A very happy Birthday to a true gentleman.