The Green House
There's just something about the British seaside that's deeply nostalgic, from penny machines on the pier to Victorian-era townhouses, seagulls and the inevitably bad weather. And on our visit, Bournemouth had all of these in spades. But for a shining beacon of warmth, hospitality and excellent food in the midst of the drizzle, we went to The Green House, a forward-thinking hotel set a street back from the beach. The sustainable ethos runs so deep (right down the to Soil Association-approved bath mats) that it's become one of the top eco-hotels in the world. We'd give it top marks for the satisfyingly sink-in-able beds alone, but a gorgeous bath (confusingly located in the bedroom rather than the, er, bathroom) complete with a range of fully organic products certainly helped.
Its restaurant, The Arbor, occupies a space that feels comfortably like someone's dining room, but don't let that fool you: the team churns out seasonal, locally sourced food that proves exactly why it's earned two AA Rosettes. On our visit, we went straight for the special, a classic lemon sole served with caper butter, new potatoes and seasonal greens, which proved everything we'd dreamed of and more. The absolute knock-out, though, was a dense and melty vegan chocolate and olive cake, with a refreshing, sorbet-like almond ice cream. Oh, and don't skip the bar, seemingly open for coffee, wine, whisky or cocktails at any time of day or night – which made the scrambled free-range Dorset eggs and smoked salmon all the more welcome at breakfast the next day.
From £99. 4 Grove Road, BH1 3AX; thegreenhousehotel.co.uk
Our meal at Terroir kicked off with a trip to the loo to a soundtrack of David Attenborough narrating the process of a snake eating a frog. Weird, but we liked it. Other things here that could have been weird but that we definitely liked, were the vegan cauliflower korma, made using house-made oat milk and gorse flowers that lent it a coconut-like flavour, and a cocktail that replaced egg white foam with aquafaba (the liquid left over when you drain a can of chickpeas). But invention is par for the course at this tapas-via-Bournemouth restaurant, where everything is made to keep waste to a minimum, something it pulls off with panache. The menu is refreshingly 80% vegetarian and vegan, with seasonal options like roasted calçots (those ubiquitous giant, Spanish spring onions) with romesco sauce.
81 Southbourne Grave, BH6 3QX; terroirtapas.com
Cute, kitsch and warmly welcoming, Chaplin's is a much-loved bar, restaurant and music venue in Boscombe, Bournemouth's eastern side, that specialises in ale and traditional, home-cooked, locally sourced pub grub. Pop in for an evening pint (local, obvs) and head to the cellar bar to hear local musicians, or, like us, come for a hearty and informal Sunday lunch. We were particularly enamoured with the wild mushrooms on toast – simple yet seriously delicious – before we tucked into the veggie 'roast' (that can also be made vegan) of a puff pastry tart filled with beetroot and butternut squash, and an unctuous roast topside of beef.
529 Christchurch Road, BH1 4AG; chaplins-bar.co.uk
Wandering down to the seafront in the dark makes it feel a bit like you're getting lost, but keep heading towards the lights ahead and you'll find West Beach, a softly lit, atmospheric restaurant that by day has a prime view out over the sand. The focus here, as you'd expect from such a setting, is on seafood: we started with meaty pan-seared scallops with sharp pickled fennel, juicy pomegranate seeds and a healthy dollop of peppery celeriac purée. And for main, we fell in love with a generous tranche of perfectly cooked turbot, served with creamy, caper-stuffed orzo that was so tasty it could have been a dish in its own right. The wine list here is no slouch, either – we were recommended a 2014 crianza from Ramón Bilbao in Rioja, rich with black fruit and a gentle hint of oak. But what really impressed us? The kitchen makes dairy-free dishes without prior notice.
Pier Approach, BH2 5AA; west-beach.co.uk
Distance: 100 miles
Plenty of sandy beaches, Victorian architecture and nightlife makes this seaside town a popular spot in summer, but there's a lot to be said for an out-of-season visit too.
Even in late winter, you'll find yellow flowers dotting most of the bushes in Bournemouth: gorse, one of the botanicals (alongside samphire and elderberries) found in Conker gin, distilled in what looks like someone's garage. But this small operation is actually considered to be one of the best small-batch gins out there, born out of head conkerer (or founder) Rupert Holloway's leap of faith from construction to distilling. The burgeoning company has just started producing a cold-brew coffee liqueur, too, made using coffee grown in Ethiopia and roasted in Dorset – a bit like a pimped-up take on Kahlua. You can sample the spirits at bars around town (and around the country) or book yourself into a tour of the distillery, due to start in the near future.
16A Inverleigh Rd, BH6 5HA; conkerspirit.co.uk
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