Why did we choose Shelley’s?
Usually when you go somewhere to eat with a view to writing about it afterwards, you’re assessing the venue and the experience. This was slightly different. We visited Shelley’s Restaurant which is a part of the Richmoor Hotel on The Esplanade in Weymouth as much out of curiosity about the chef as to check out the venue. However, I’ll move on to that in a second…
We were greeted twice very quickly. Firstly by a chap as we walked in from the street who may have been a manager in the hotel. He courteously showed us to the restaurant where we then met Alanis. Alanis waited on us and took care of our drinks for the evening. She did her job very well. If it was my restaurant, and I’d trained her on how to approach tables, converse with diners and spot the signs that tell her when her attention is needed at a table, I would be very happy.
The restaurant itself is not huge. It is in an old seafront hotel so you can probably imagine, but as I’m constantly reassured by my good lady, size doesn’t matter. The restaurant has clearly been refurbished recently and the decor is kind of funky (in a good way), sophisticated and relaxing and the lighting adds to the nice atmosphere that is created. It was quiet on the night we went as the restaurant has only just reopened, with Alex at the stove and word is yet to spread. I’d say “intimate” would describe the setting accurately. No between the lines reading intended there. This is a pleasant, clean and comfortable place to enjoy a meal and tastefully presented.
The Food and Chunki Chef
I feel like I’ve rushed through the first couple of paragraphs to get to the main event which for us was the food and the chef.
We checked out the menu although we probably didn’t need to. We’ve been keeping a close eye on Chunki Chef on social media and we had an idea of what would be on offer. There wasn’t anything on the menu that I wouldn’t have chosen, but a couple of things jumped out as they are personal favourites. No pressure there then?
It was just Sarah and I, and when it’s just the two of us, we’ll often choose meals that we are both likely to want so that we can try each others and not then just judge somewhere on a couple of dishes. I was very pleased to see pigeon on the starters menu. I’ve only had it once before when I’ve been out and I loved it. You just don’t see it as much as you might think. I’ve cooked it myself and I know from experience, you don’t have to cook it for very long to ruin it. On this occasion, the pigeon was pan seared with a panko sweet potato cake, local black pudding and a port jus.
Sarah opted for the Rustic Ardennes Pate served on melba toast with coconut nectar drizzle. Ironically, despite what I said about choosing things we will both want, Sarah hadn’t tried pigeon before and wasn’t overly sure it was something she would like and while I would like it, I’d be highly unlikely to order pâté.
So pressure to meet my expectations on the pigeon, and Sarah not keen on the idea and me not being particularly excited by pâté… How would this pan out? Turns out, I would happily order the pâté dish for myself and Sarah is now a fan of pigeon.
The presentation of the food was wonderful. As someone who loves cooking but hates the faff (because I don’t have the creative talent required), I appreciate the effort and the imagination. The pigeon lived up to my expectations. The food was cooked perfectly and the flavour combinations were inventive, complimentary and original. It all worked. I don’t want to get all “John Torode” about it as we’ll be here all day and I’m not qualified, but the idea to pair the pâté with that sweet coconut nectar drizzle was inspired and especially when accompanied by the wild garlic that we later found out Chunki Chef forages for himself. I could go on about both dishes but I’ll move on to the main.
The Main Course
For mains, we were back to the usual tactic of picking mutually exciting dishes. It doesn’t really matter who chooses what as the other one of us will order the other dish. Again, we could have picked several things and I felt kind of bad for ignoring the guinea fowl which I discovered on the menu when we got there, but I already had my heart set on either the lamb or the beef, as did Sarah.
There was enough time between courses to reassure you that everything was being made to order but with no unnecessary waiting.
If there’s a confit on a menu, I’m always going to be drawn to it, just as I would a lobster at a seafood restaurant. I’ve had duck confit plenty of times. I’ve had rabbit confit, but to date, I’ve never had a lamb confit. It sounded immense, so again, there was some pressure on. The dish itself was ‘Slow Cooked Lamb Confit served with tangy smoked baked beans and chorizo sautéed potatoes’. There was a twist too. I’m not sure if it was intentional, but the mint sauce was not listed on the menu. Remember I talked before about flavour combinations?
Sarah chose the beef. ‘8 Hour Slow Braised Beef in a Shallot, Garlic and Date Sauce served with creamy mash and sautéed greens’.
I’ll start with the lamb… My word, mint and lamb? Sure. Lamb with smoked baked beans, chorizo… of course. Mint sauce with baked beans? Bang on! Who’d have thought? The lamb had elements of crispiness to it that you might expect from a confit, beautifully tender and and effortless to eat. The flavours meshed as if they were meant for each other and I was left wondering how I’ve never seen this before.
Sarah’s dish; again, perfectly tender – pull don’t cut – beef, a superbly flavoured sauce and the mash was just the right texture. The greens had a slight crispiness to them and this again worked brilliantly from both a taste and textural perspective. Both dishes have to fall under the comfort food category and if I’m honest, we are both fans of comfort food as our mushroom top physiques will attest to following the cold winter we are now, finally, hopefully leaving behind us.
For dessert, we got a touch more summery. I went with a Rhubarb Fool and Sarah went for a Lemon Posset. The greedy mare ordered hers when she ordered her starter and main. She knew before we got there that’s what she was going to have. Who orders their dessert at the start? Honestly, you can’t take this girl anywhere.
Both desserts were really tasty. If I’m completely honest, I’m a savoury guy. I don’t get excited about pudding before I go for dinner. I’m thinking about the starter and the main and if I’ve got room for more, great, show me the menu. I’m glad I still had room as rhubarb is something I grew up eating thanks to my grandparents and a fool was a new way for me to have it as it was previously always in the form of a crumble or even stewed and with lashings of custard. My fool was refreshing, creamy, sweet and tart. Nicely balanced and a lovely way to round off the meal.
Sarah’s lemon posset was, well, Sarah’s. It was served with fresh strawberries, blueberries and raspberries. Was it any good? She said so. It certainly looked nice. It didn’t last very long so I’m taking that as a thumbs up.
Value for money
To be perfectly honest, I would have looked at the style of food on offer and made the assumption that this would be a meal for a special occasion only. One where you push the boat out a little but not the sort of thing most of us could afford to do regularly. However, this was not the case. Menu items don’t have individual prices. You simply pay for 2 courses or 3. £21.95 for 2 courses or £24.95 for 3. When you look at the quality of food on the menu and the ingredients used, you’ll struggle to find better value.
Before We Left
I asked Alanis if Alex could spare me a minute as I was very keen to meet him. I was able to ask him a bit about the food and he was very happy to answer my questions. He’s a very unassuming sort of chap. He’s clearly extremely talented and while he doesn’t lack confidence in his abilities and definitely knows what food is all about, if he has any sort of idea just how good he actually is, he doesn’t show it.
He’s gone with a bold choice for an alias and Chunki Chef is rapidly becoming a brand in its own right. Chunki is most definitely Funky. We’ll be back.
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