As mentioned in my review of On the Bab, Michael & I took my mum & step-dad Ollie out for a celebratory birthday dinner at Bonnie Gull Seafood Shack a few Friday’s back. I chose the restaurant for its beach-cosy, laid-back atmosphere and lack of fancy frills, weekly-changing fresher than fresh fishy menu, and absolutely stellar reviews, which very neatly wraps up all of the things that my parents love in one beautiful birthday package.
But, first, we met for a quick round of drinks at the nearby pub, The Crown & Sceptre.
^ Serious babes.
I’m also not sure what’s more frightening; that I have my mother’s taste, or that she has mine. We both rocked up in all black with a splash of animal print. Like mother like daughter couldn’t ring more true.
Not the first time that this has happened, and I’m sure it won’t be the last.
Just as we passed by the side of Bonnie Gull Seafood Shack mum came out with, “oh what a lovely restaurant”, totally oblivious to the fact that that was where we were going, giving me great pleasure in announcing “well, good, because this is where we’re eating!”.
Service: Spirits high, we were welcomed by matched enthusiasm. All of the staff are young, trendy and smiley. Our waitress was super friendly and personable, although a few more regular glances around the room wouldn’t have gone amiss. She also recommended a lovely bottle of light, crisp white, ‘Gerd Stepp, Pfalz, Pinot Blanc, 2013’ (£29.00), to enjoy with our meal.
Ambience: The restaurant is unbelievably charming with a real seaside, happy vibe due to the use of light, bright colours; varying hues of beiges & blues; stained, washed woods; and crisp, white tablecloths.
It’s a very small, intimate and cosy restaurant, that has a great warmth to it when filled with happy diners.
I love restaurants that decorate their walls with hand-scrawled chalkboards, as I think it brings a real rustic feel to a place, but I particularly liked Bonnie Gull Seafood Shack’s for bucking the trend of just illustrating the menu, instead portraying a map of the United Kingdom and the various areas from which Bonnie Gull sources its fish. Creative, interesting AND educational. Top trumps.
Food: The menu changes every few days depending on what fish is available, and what produce is in season.
But, before we got the chance to glance, complimentary ‘American Pumpernickel’ bread & very spreadable (i.e. mmm, dippable) lightly salted butter was placed before our beady eyes.
For starters, Michael chose the salt cod brandade ‘scotch egg’, smoked taramasalata (£6.00). Although I do think slightly more imagination could have gone into its presentation, the scotch egg itself was delicious; a golden, runny egg, encased in a delicious salty fish paste and crispy crust.
Ollie went for the Isle of Man Queen scallops, oak smoked bacon, sweetcorn hollandaise (£9.00). You can tell when my step-dad likes his food because it disappears within SECONDS, hence I didn’t get to try any, however, I was told that the scallops were well-cooked and all of the flavours really complemented each other. He particularly enjoyed the unusual sweetcorn hollandaise.
Mum had the Isle of Wight heritage tomato gazpacho, Dorset white crab, rainbow radishes, basil (£10.00). This dish was a triumph. The gazpacho had great depth of flavour and a just-right consistency, with the crab meat adding texture and fish freshness.
I chose the Loch Duart salmon tartare, grilled white peach salsa, baby watercress (£8.50), which was truly sensational. It was unlike any salmon tartare I’ve had before, with the peach adding subtle sweetness and an enveloping gel-like texture (trust me on this one) to the top-quality smooth salmon. I was definitely the cat that got the cream.
And on to the mains we went.
Both mum & Michael opted for the Schiehallion beer battered North Sea haddock, beef dripping chunky chips, shack ketchup, mushy peas (£15.00 each). The portion was extremely generous for the quality of the ingredients. The incredibly light, grease-free, subtle-beer flavoured batter broke away to reveal juicy & flaky haddock. The chips were very good; fluffy and crisp, although slightly too large for my liking (but then I wasn’t the one eating them!). The mushy peas were far better than most I’ve tried, tasting strongly of fresh, sweet pea, and not over churned. The jury’s out on the ‘shack ketchup’, since both mum & Michael enjoyed it, but I’m a Heinz or nothing kinda gal, and don’t appreciate the lack of option (I had the same problem at Opera Tavern and Hotbox).
Ollie had the whole Looe lemon sole almondine, Dorset clams, almonds, capers, samphire (£22.50), which was sublime. The fish was cooked perfectly and the light almondine crust was extremely tasty. The sweetness of the almonds was well-balanced by the sharpness of the capers and salty samphire.
I, of course, ordered the whole Selsey Cock crab, legs & claws to crack, dressed brown meat, sourdough toast (£20.00). All I can say is that it was well worth the 20 minutes more it took me to finish my meal than my fellow diners. The crab meat could not have been fresher, juicier or tastier – I sucked out every last meaty morsel. The dressed brown meat was particularly delicious, and very much the highlight for me.
I highly recommend ordering this dish, either as a half or whole; you won’t be disappointed! Plus, you can have some great fun playing with your food.
I also had the side of tender stem broccoli, hazelnut crumb (£5.50), which arrived crunchy and swimming in butter, with the toasted nut adding another flavour dimension.
We were having the most magical, special evening, which only improved at the mention of pudding. And another bottle of wine (£29.00).
For dessert, the birthday boy opted for the Oak Church Farm cherries, wild flower honey, kirsch mascarpone, pistachios (£5.00). I can’t even begin to explain how much this dessert is up his street – when I read out the menu to him (he forgot his glasses in the car, classic) he instantly went “ooo” at the sound of this one, and was not at all disappointed when it arrived on the plate, particularly since the staff had been kind enough to present it with a candle.
Again, I blinked and it was gone!
Mum passed on dessert (at her own birthday meal… WHO DOES THAT?!) but, thankfully, I was on hand to satiate her non-existent sweet tooth for her. Michael & I continued in our usual double-trouble chocoholic ways (just see my reviews of Opera Tavern, Northbank, Chez Elles, Roka and Galvin la Chapelle for proof!) and both ordered the dark chocolate delice, British raspberries, natural yoghurt (£7.00 each). The dense chocolate slice was rich and highly indulgent, but the disproportionately thin biscuit base was a little limp, in my opinion, and could have done with providing a better crunch & contrast in texture. The sweet, tangy raspberries and natural yoghurt served their purpose of cutting through the richness of the chocolate well, overall combining to produce a pretty good dessert.
Price: The bill was £212.06 with service, which Michael & I thought was PHENOMENAL value for such delicious food, the delightful setting and top service. Bonnie Gull Seafood Shack is the epitome of cute and perfect for family outings or romantic dates. The fish is of outstanding quality and it is very apparent how passionate the staff are about the food and dishes they produce. It’s definitely a hidden gem, and one that I will certainly be returning to!