Sue Stoneman walks the gang plank to the remodelled Upper Deck Bar & Restaurant in Sidmouth, and is not disappointed by Chef Alex Aitken’s celebration of Devon seafood – or his deconstructed puddings
eading up the Jurassic Coast on a sunny summer evening is a treat in itself, but knowing that we were going to the newly refurbished Upper Deck Bar & Restaurant in the Sidmouth Harbour Hotel was even better. Celebrating our recent birthdays, my best friend and I were looking forward to sampling the cooking of award winning Chef Patron Alex Aitken, who has made a name for himself for creating seasonal dishes using local produce from his doorstep.
Walking through the entrance of the hotel into the lobby, and past the bubbling fountain, was like walking up the gang plank onto our cruise ship. It’s newly decorated in white and blue wooden panelling, and we walked past pictures of seafaring yachts on the walls and other nautical knick-knacks before finding our way onto The Upper Deck.
Having arrived a little early for our booking, we were invited to take a drink at the new island bar in the centre of the restaurant – where the barman was in full shake making a cocktail – or to go straight to our table, which we did, having already had a glance at the menu on our way in. We knew we’d needed time to digest the selection of dishes, which got our tums a-rumbling, you see.
Our table overlooked the terrace and plunge pool (still under construction), plus some delightful thatched cottages and, of course, the sea. The restaurant was fairly busy, yet retained a lovely light and spacious atmosphere. There’s a long landscape window, which allows you to see into the kitchen, once you’ve had enough of the other views.
The menu choice is certainly varied, with a local flavours menu (any two courses for £14.50, or three for £17.50), a five-course tasting menu (available Fridays and Saturdays), an a la carte menu, and bar lounge and terrace menus. Most dishes showcase local produce, ranging from hand-dived scallops, cod and wild garlic to Good Game meats.
We settled for the five-course tasting menu, as we wanted to sample as much as we could of the chef’s creations (£35 a head, accompanied by a complimentary glass of Harbour Fizz from Furleigh Estate). A choice of homemade bread with sundried tomatoes got our taste buds going, before the first dish of Devon Fish Soup (a steaming bowl of clear consommé, with some large lumps of cod, prawn and in-their-shell mussels) and a side of Rouille and Parmesan and a small slice of bread. The smell and taste of the sea rolled us out on our culinary voyage, and onto our next course of smoked salmon, asparagus, poached egg and hollandaise.
We followed the waiter’s wine suggestions to sample a glass of Bacchus Fume from Furleigh Estate (£5.50 per glass), which was a great example of very pleasant, light and delicately flavoured white wine. The poached egg was perfectly cooked, the bright yellow yolk bursting out over the salmon when it was cut into. Lyme Bay scallops and squid followed, a very prettily presented plate which tasted as good as it looked.
A change of gear, following our fish dishes, arrived with the five-spiced duck: beautifully cooked duck breast on a bed of wilted spinach and smooth squash purée, complete with a little ramekin of confit leg pie, topped with mashed potato. It was all very hot, and very tasty.
Determined to ignore the feeling of a full stomach, we headed into the territory of desserts, where a deconstructed lemon meringue pie slipped nicely down. Presented in a small glass goldfish bowl, the lemon posset and curd had a sharp tang, and it was topped with the thinnest shard of sweet pastry and light crumbs of meringue. If I had to choose our favourite dish from the tasting menu, it would be the scallops or the duck but, to be honest, they were all good.
Eyeing up some of the other gorgeous dishes going past our table during the evening, we knew we’d be back. Perhaps for an evening cocktails and a few light bites at the bar, or on the terrace? Or maybe – considering those views – for a nautically-themed Sunday lunch…