I’m from Swanage in Dorset: a beautiful seaside idyll on the south coast that has been getting classier year on year ever since I left. Don’t get me wrong, it still has noisy gambling arcades and terrifying gift shops selling golliwogs but it’s finally starting to change in its own way: slowly and begrudgingly.
It now boasts some brilliant arts and music festivals and some great new architecture including glorious, elegant and locally-feared-as-being-witchcraft wind turbines. There are also some ace places to eat.
The older I get the more I feel called back to my first home, especially in the summer. I’m drawn by my family, the sea that screams: “swim in me” and by the unbeatable beach-side fish and chips. This hoovering adventure combined all three.
I went with Dad for lunch at the Sea Breeze Restaurant, which is still locally referred by its old name: Fisherman’s Catch. There’s an ingrained fear of modernity in Swanage so when something gets rebranded it takes decades for anyone to acknowledge it. Budgens is still called The Somerfield, the white bench by the theatre will forever be ‘the bluey’ and don’t ask what they call the Chinese takeaway.
Amelioration is creeping in though. A new Tourist Information Centre is being built on the beach so our lunching hole was surrounded by sun, sand and cement: a bit like Blackpool meets Shanghai. It didn’t matter though; I love the smell of wet grouting and Dad loves having something to be annoyed about. When it turned out the builders on the site were young, clumsy and inept, my father was in seventh heaven.
We had fish and chip suppers with lattes because we could. God they were good. What more could you ask for than lungs full of salty, seaweedy air, gorgeous grub and a view of a boy dropping bits of pavement on himself?
For less than £9 each we got an unfinishably large pile of fresh, chunky, perfect, scrumped up big fat chips. I doused mine in vinegar and they crackled and dissolved in my mouth upon scoffing. It was magical. Chips rarely taste as good as they smell but these did; they’re definitely up there in my top chips of all time. They came with a pot of perfect mushy peas and a hefty helping of fresh cod.
The chips were good but the fish was even better: the batter was light and crisp and the fish inside was cooked to perfection. It still held its structure but melted in your mouth like cash does in a pocket (or a purse. Or a hand. Or my hand). The whole dish came with a giant wedge of lemon to set all those other flavour and texture fireworks off.
Even the coffee was nice, if a little weak, but who cares? It was a decadent bonus coffee rather than a ‘necessary’ morning coffee. The sun and wind played together very well and made it a very pleasant place to sit. In fact if the builders weren’t there I might have wondered whether this happened or if it was all a dream.
It was utopian until Dad told me he was holding in a giant fart and waiting for the best time to release it. There’s a reason I only meet him for lunch in the summer – so we can sit outside.
We sat for a while and let our food go down. Then Dad watched my stuff while I went for a brisk, blustery swim all the way to the furthest buoy and back.
It blew away my encroaching carb coma and gave Dad a chance to blow away anything not fixed to the floor behind him (nasally abusing a few hapless builders in the process).
The Sea Breeze Restaurant (a.k.a. Fisherman’s Catch) was a smasher. It has a fancier evening menu that I’m yet to try but that I’ve heard includes a corking monkfish curry. Next time.
For daytime, friendly and unfussy fish and chips right on the beach front, this place is the mutt’s nuts.
Jess visited The Sea Breeze on July 9, 2014.