Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Urban Reef, Boscombe

The higher your hopes the greater the disappointment. Part of the reason that Russell Norman et al introduced their no booking policies (two months wait for a negroni and a bowl of mac'n'cheese, no matter how great they are, can only really lead to shrugged shoulders) and, inversely, is why I enjoyed my meal at Urban Reef so much.

The venue for our lunch had been chosen by my friend Leona. Now I love her very much, but, as I've mentioned before, her true passions in life are crumpets, Jagermeister and a side order of X Factor. Going against all my own advice and judging a book by its cover, I remained somewhat fearful Urban Reef would be cast in the mould of all style and no substance. 

Suppressing my inner foodie snobbery, I was nonetheless very much looking forward to our trip. Things had all started out so promisingly; a gorgeously sunny autumn Saturday with plans to catch up with two good friends, what could possibly go wrong?  How quickly things had unravelled, and two hours later we were still waiting on a M4 slip road somewhere just outside Maidenhead. If I had stood on the car roof I could probably have seen my house.

Lunch was delayed once, and then again, before finally being cancelled as an evening shift at work and some last minute Halloween baking encroached on the afternoon. Meanwhile the Ewing and I were oscillating wildly between vociferously blaming each other for the standstill and deathly silence. Although the girls now couldn't make it, we decided to cut our losses and head down to the beach anyway. Even if I wasn't madly excited by the venue, I knew the Ewing would enjoy a bracing walking on Boscombe's sands.

When we finally arrived at the restaurant my heart began to soften. The downstairs cafe area was buzzing, the terrace full of guests warming up over cakes and coffee or enjoying a well earned beer after an afternoon in the surf. Upstairs we were greeted warmly and lead into the split level restaurant, which boasted even better views over the water. Ceiling to floor glass folding doors lead out to a balcony seating area but, opting to stay toasty, we picked one of the comfy leather booths at the back of the restaurant.

The drinks list is mostly about the lager, wine and cocktails, but they also have bottles of local Palmers Ale, a tipple created for their double century. I always find it fascinating that breweries that old (and far older) still exist, and still make fine beers, and a glass of 200 Ale is a worthy way to celebrate that fact.

Skipping over the starters - the veal shoulder with onion risotto and blue cheese souffle with smoked paprika oil looked very good - I chose the slow cooked pork belly with hay smoked mash, confit turnips, carrot and horseradish puree and Zubrowska jus.

Done well the ubiquitous pork belly is food from the gods, but too often it can be flaccid, chewy and fatty. This was a cracker though; roasted overnight, the fat had rendered from the meat leaving juicy strands of porky goodness with just the right amount of wobble. Crucially the rind had also been crisped separately, and sat puffed up like a majestic pillow atop the meat. The Ewing was suitably jealous.

The trio of roots were good, if not quite as exciting as the menu suggested; the mash was smooth and fluffy, but lacking any of the promised smokiness while the carrot was delicious but, again, missed the advertised bite from the horseradish. Overall the dish needed the sharpness of apple sauce, or the bitterness of green veg to cut through the rich, sweet flavours. Perfectly glossy gravy, though.

The Ewing's generous fish and seafood lasagne, served with warm bread and a green salad. This featured huge chunks of white fish and mussels in a creamy sauce, followed by a, slightly odd, layer of paprika-spiked Spanish sausage and hard boiled egg, all sandwiched between the thin sheets of pasta. An ambitious pairing of flavours that melded together surprisingly successfully under a molten blanket of cheddar.

Pud was a shared affair; Plum Bakewell with clotted cream and plum sauce. A fabulously dense and damp almond frangipane was encased in buttery pastry and topped with sharp fruit. Extra caramelised almonds with the cream topped off a cracking desert that the Ewing and I clashed spoons over until the last splodges of sauce had been scooped up.

Despite the service getting patchier through our meal (we had arrived at the difficult 'dead' time between lunch and dinner service, and the staff were busy setting up for the night) Urban Reef provided some good grub and turned out to be a very pleasant surprise. Things may not have been perfect, but I admire the local sourcing, the ambition and an effort to serve simple food with a little twist.

As we left the sun was beginning to set over Bournemouth, while the moon was beginning to rise over Boscombe Pier. Boscombe has many great memories for me, my sister lived in Bournemouth for several years and I would excitedly plan my trips down to visit her. After coming into town and browsing around the all the cheap shops in the arcade, we'd finish off the day with a fish and chip dinner while sitting in the car and looking out to sea. Food, friends, family; the simple pleasures in life, and like our visit to Urban Reef, the one's worth waiting for.

Square Meal

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