The best places for great local food in Christchurch
- Credit: Archant
With its reputation for great local food it’s no coincidence that Christchurch hosts a Food and Wine Festival every May. Food writer Sue Quinn tells us where the locals go
This award-winning restaurant, bar and grill, part of the Christchurch Harbour Hotel, is so close to the water that you can almost dip your toes in, though most diners are more than content with the stunning view across to Mudeford Quay. Run by trawler-man turned award-winning chef Alex Aitkin (who held a Michelin star in the New Forest for over 15 years), more than 90% of the restaurant’s produce is sourced within a 40-mile radius. The daily-changing menus are likely to feature locally caught fish, crab and lobster, and products sourced from local farmers or foraged in the New Forest so it’s no surprise that it was named Best Fine Dining Restaurant in the Christchurch Best of the Best Awards 2013.
Bright, breezy and beautifully located at the edge of a park on Christchurch Quay, this restaurant and café is perfect for chilled-out family meals as it’s very kid-friendly. If the weather’s fine, choose one of their outside tables and enjoy clay-oven baked pizzas, fresh fish and shellfish specials and afternoon tea. Gaze at the stunning view or have a round of crazy-golf at the course adjacent to the restaurant. Takeaway pizzas and hot drinks are also available if you want to eat picnic-style.
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Cheese & Alfie’s
This quirky café bistro tucked away in the historic end of Christchurch in Church Street is very popular with locals for breakfast, especially their delicious pan feasts (I love their homemade Boston beans). If you really have an appetite, take up their Man Versus Food challenge; if you manage to single-handedly eat one of their humongous Big Brother burgers (the equivalent of four fully-loaded cheeseburgers), you’ll get it for free and earn your place on their wall of fame. For more modest appetites, there’s a delicious range of puddings and cakes (the giant meringues are very yum). Open for breakfast and lunch every day, and Wednesday to Saturday for dinner as well, this funky local eatery is certainly worth a visit.
The Fish Stall, Mudeford Quay
A bit of a local institution, this quayside fish stall at Mudeford has been running for 50 years selling freshly caught local seafood. Availability depends on the season, but there is always a wide range of fresh, frozen fish and smoked fish to choose from if you fancy cooking your own seafood feast. Customers can also select their own live crabs and lobsters from the stall’s tanks. If you don’t fancy cooking, try one of their delicious dressed crabs. Their free delivery within a 12 mile radius for small purchases is a brilliant idea.
Mr Simms Olde Sweet Shoppe
More than 1200 different types of sweets line the walls of this marvelous old-fashioned sweet shop, so deciding what to buy is almost impossible. Choices include traditional, sugar-free, American classics, chocolate, fudge and a lot more. I love the liquorice - they have 56 varieties including the best Belgian salted versions and nuggets of liquorice covered in caramel, and their Pick and Mix selection comprising 60 sweets made with natural flavourings and colourings. Service is welcoming and friendly, and staff offer lots of help if you can’t make up your mind.
The Captain’s Club
This glamorous bar, part of the Captain’s Club Hotel, sits on the banks of the River Stour and is a perfect place to while away a few hours drinking one of their 23 signature cocktails made by the bar’s award-winning mixologists. My personal favourite was the Margarita-style ‘Revolution’ with tequila, lime juice, orange bitters and honey, there is also a fine range of wine, sparkling wine and non-alcoholic cocktails. Their sharing cocktails for two or more are also a big hit. If you like what you drink, ask about their cocktail master classes.
Casa Carlos Café
Just across the bridge from the Captain’s Club this teeny unprepossessing eatery in Tuckton Road is a bit of a local secret, with loyal regulars returning again and again for good coffee and delicious food prepared by Spanish owner Carlos Karouk. His menu includes a hugely popular all-day breakfast – traditional or spiced up with top-quality chorizo – and a regularly changing selection of handmade Spanish cakes (including berry tarts in season), fajitas, sandwiches and substantial meals. You might find options like baked red snapper in a Mediterranean sauce with potatoes and paprika, chicken and prune tagine, or chicken and chorizo stew. Eat in and enjoy a chat with the warm and friendly Carlos, or take away. Paellas for larger groups are also available if you order in advance.
The Kings Arms
Part of the boutique hotel of the same name, this lovely and surprisingly affordable restaurant was recently given a prestigious Bib Gourmand award in the 2014 Michelin Guide for Great Britain and Ireland. Its hugely popular ‘15-mile menu’ features produce sourced within a 15-mile radius and is amazing value at just £15 for two courses (£3.50 for an extra course). You might find dishes like tea smoked salmon, capers and lemon; Dorset salad of pickled vegetables and toasted hazelnuts, grilled whiting with corn and potato chowder and Kings rice pudding with strawberry jam.
Located on the edge of Christchurch and the doorstep of the New Forest, this is the perfect place to pick your own fruit and vegetables, and glorious on a sunny day. With nearly 20 differnt fruit and veg to pick throughout the year. In May early strawberries, asparagus, broad beans and rhubarb should all be ready for picking, with lots more available as the weather gets warmer. Weigh and pay for your produce at the farm shop, or if you’re not up to picking your own, they always have ready-picked available. It’s also a good place to buy other types of fresh local produce including fruit and vegetables, eggs and honey. Picnic tables and loos also make it a great spot for eating al fresco.
Linda Cook, her husband Ian and son Thom run this small café and deli with a zeal for top quality local ingredients. It’s a great place to pick up the makings for a picnic, including award-winning Dorset and Hampshire cheese, cider from the Purbeck Cider Company, From Dorset With Love handmade chutneys and jams, and bread from the Long Crichel and Bread Port bakeries. If the sun’s not shining, eat in and enjoy a home-cooked meal or a cup of very fine Dorset coffee. Heartizans is offering 10% off all deli purchases worth £10 and over to readers who present this article.