The Riverside Restaurant in West Bay, Dorset, just east of Bridport has been in the safe hands of the Watson family for 50 years and ought to be subject to a preservation order.
This rather anachronistic resort, which retains a certain ‘I’m only here for the beer – kiss me quick’ charm at first seems an unlikely setting for a gastronomic gem save for (I concede) its proximity to the sea. Visitors have to cross a narrow footbridge to gain entry to the Piers Gough and Roger Zogolovitch designed premises which were installed in 1976 at a higher elevation to the original turn of the century cabin after successive floods.
The keys to the Riverside’s success are its simplicity (which extends to both the décor and the cooking) and the fastidious attention to detail of the hands-on patron Arthur Watson who has been at the helm here since 1964 when he was demobbed from the Navy. Nothing is over-fussy at the Riverside, this is an establishment that is very confident in its offering which is principally very fresh seafood that is simply and expertly cooked with minimal adornment. The wine list is well thought out and presented in a manner to appeal to both experts and novices and the service is both relaxed and professional - which is much harder to achieve than it sounds.
At this juncture I ought to declare a personal interest. When I started working for our family business almost 2 decades ago it was Arthur who gave me my first break with a guest slot for a ‘Spring Selection’ of 3 white wines. These were a 1991 Saumur at £8.25, a 1992 Quincy at £11.90 and a 1997 Hermitage from Chave at £16.50 - and those were their selling prices!
Arthur still takes a keen interest in the Riverside’s wine list (assisted by sommelier Joe Taylor) and if I call in with some wines to sample he sometimes gives me a spot of lunch at the bar - which amply justifies the 110 mile round trip from Mere.
Last week I dropped by with a few new discoveries and was treated to an enormous plate of fresh langoustines that were bisected lengthways, in a manner of which Damien Hirst would have been proud. They were absolutely heavenly with a (small) glass of rosé Chinon from Château de Ligré as one might deduce from the accompanying photograph. Despite the fact that the restaurant was packed with over 80 diners (on a Wednesday lunchtime) Arthur also proffered a Dover Sole that it would have been churlish to turn down. The delicate white fish went down extremely well with a nervy young Charentais Sauvignon from Domaine Gardrat. The coffee by the way is excellent too.
As regular readers of this blog will know I eat out well and frequently but I know of very few restaurants that are as consistently satisfying as the Riverside.
Here’s to the next 50 years!