Prawns steak and strawberries; a disparate selection of ingredients that sounds like the reply if you make the mistake of asking a five year old what they want for dinner - I still fondly remember my best friend from primary school answering 'smoked salmon' when his mum asked him what he'd like in his daily sandwiches. He was descended from a prime minister, so clearly he had refined tastes.
Lunchboxes aside, I'm still no clearer on the rationale behind the spring set menu being advertised for at the Kings Arms in Christchurch, or even if there was one. But if the combination sounds incongruous, these remain some of my favourite ingredients and my inner-five year old was very excited.
I have eaten at the the restaurant, found in an imposing Georgian building in the centre of the town, before. Although that occasion - with a large group of friends, well lubricated with plenty of wine - ended up with a wedding being crashed, some impromptu magic with a bowl of sugar cubes and an unfortunate incident with a frying pan.
This time was far more staid; a quiet weekday afternoon with just me and the wife and a couple of other tables occupied by ladies wot lunch. We didn't completely pass up on the vino though - cunningly picking a large glass of rose each, to pair with both the seafood and beef and to usher in the beginnings of summer, where having a chilled pink drink in hand in the middle of the day is pretty much the rules.
My starter was the Poole Bay shrimps, described succinctly as 'small prawns with toast'. Like their more famous cousins from Morecambe, these were sweet little commas of crustacean served bathed with their sweet herby juices on hot buttered toast. A simple plate of food that sung through the quality of the local ingredients.
The 'light vegetable crab and ginger and broth with spiced prawn dumplings' was more like the gloopy chicken and sweetcorn soup that comes as part of the meal for one at every old school chinese takeaway - which is no bad thing in my book. It was also mined through with a generous helping of springy little seafood stuffed dumplings. A solid start.
Bavette is one of my favourite cuts of steak although, as Rowley Leigh so succinctly put it, it turns to sisal carpet if overcooked. Here, although it was advertised as being served rare, someone hadn't read to the script and it was pushing past medium when it arrived. No matter, it was a decent piece of meat, served bathed in an even better sauce infused with garlic and thyme.
Unlike the steak, the chips were verging on underdone, although they were just on the right side of pale and interesting and were compared, favourably, to Maccy D's by the Ewing, a connoisseur in such matters. And, although not up to the standards of breadcrumbed onion rings and sauteed mushrooms my mum used to make to go with a steak, the classic watercress and grilled tomato garni were good.
A classic pairing in America, strawberry and rhubarb is still pretty novel combination on these shores. While I can see its potential - sweet berries complimenting the sour rhizomes - here my crumble filling was sadly wan and watery. Thankfully, the dish was redeemed by the crisp, crunchy topping and a masterful strawberry-infused custard, like a kind of grown up angel delight, which I was happy to just spoon from the jug.
Having been spoilt for mille feuille after visiting Jacques Genin in France earlier this year, this strawberry and cream version was always going to have a lot to live up to. And whilst it couldn't scale the dizzy heights of the Parisian pastry master, it was a more than passable effort with commendably flaky pastry, good creme pat and plenty of strawberry sauce.
And yes, while it probably wasn't as much fun without the jaeger bombs and the smuggled boxes of exploding fun snaps, what in life is, and at least I could still remember it the next morning.
You can also catch the menu, alongside the complimentary glass of fizz, during the Christchurch Festival - from 1st to 21st May - at the Christchurch Harbour Hotel. Although the last time we were in town, for the Festival Street Market, I was very happy lazing in the sun with a couple of pints of raspberry cider and a curried lamb pasty.