Fine Dining With a View
NEO is a restaurant that I’ve been looking forward to trying for a long time. From the outside NEO looks stunning with views over the Bournemouth seafront, this really does look like the ideal place to enjoy a meal.
We arrived a bit early so sat at the bar and had a drink. The first thing that struck me was how elegant the whole place looked. The ground floor is where the bar is situated, with the restaurant being upstairs. The round bar in the middle of the floor is very classy. Mountains of liqueurs to choose from and upon closer inspection, I was able to pick out several local gins as well as many top brands. We were spoilt for choice. The barman talked us through several options and had a very good understanding of what was on offer. Conker, Pothecary, Salcombe were all visible from where we were sitting as well as a host of others. Plenty of nice vodkas available too including Black Cow, another local drink. You can get an idea of just how seriously they take their bar stocking by the fact that their house vodka is Belvedere. We went to review the food, but before we’d even sat down to eat, I was already planning another trip back just for a few drinks.
NEO is classed as a fine dining restaurant. Fine Dining is a term that has become harder to define in recent years. White table cloths and waiters dressed as penguins are a thing of the past in most places. Style and elegance is a large part of the package. So to are those small attentions to detail. We were asked if we would like to go to our table, which we did. The waitress then offered to take our coats. We didn’t even have to carry our drinks to our table. She presented us with a tray to place them on and carried them for us. NEO has lovely panoramic views. There isn’t a bad table in the restaurant.
Once seated, we met James who would be waiting on us for the evening. James was a great example of how I feel fine dining has moved with the times. Whilst I’m sure if the occasion had called for it, James would have been wholly subservient, he was very relaxed with us and had a natural ability to engage with the table whilst maintaining the professionalism you associate with the whole fine dining experience. I had fun picking his brains for recommendations and he had an excellent understanding of the menu so was able to offer some great advice.
Of all the places I’ve been over the past couple of years, I don’t think I’ve struggled to narrow my choice on a menu as much as I did at NEO. Tempura Tiger Prawns, Home Cured Gin and Tonic Salmon, New Forest Game and Pistachio Terrine, Seared Scallops to list a few but, we were there to review, and as there was a Cheese Souffle, we thought we’d give the chef a chance to wow us. Souffles are notoriously tricky but when done right are particularly special. You just don’t see them on many menus nowadays. I also wanted to try the Pan Fried Partridge with the Barley, Pancetta Risotto. I love partridge, but I’ve never been a big fan of barley. My thinking was that, I’d probably never had it cooked as well as it should be, so I was hoping I might be somewhere capable of converting me.
James asked us if we would like some bread and some dipping oil while our starters were being prepared. I’d been saving myself since lunchtime so answered with a resounding “yes please”. I was bloody starving. The first thing that struck me were these rustic, attractive butter packages that arrived on the board with the bread. Upon inspection I read that they were from Netherend Farm, which incidentally is just down the road from where I lived when I was a toddler and where my family originate from in Lydney, Forest of Dean. Not of interest to many of you I’m sure, but it made me smile. The bread was fresh, tasty and well, what more can you really ask for from bread?
On the menu, there was an advisory that the souffle would require 15 minutes baking time. I’d say our starters came out pretty much bang on schedule. The moment of truth for the souffle… hats off to the chef. It had risen perfectly and upon cutting into it, it was exactly as you would hope. Firm, cooked through, yet soft in the middle, creamy but not runny. Even once they’ve been cooked perfectly, souffles still need to arrive at the table before they have time to sink… You can see why so few chefs put them on their menus. In this instance, it was spot on. First test passed with flying colours.
My Partridge was blushing pink and the pancetta added a nice salty flavour. The texture of the barley was completely different to what I’d had before and changed my whole take on it. I’ve generally had it when it’s been added to a stew or something to pack out the dish and wished it had been omitted. I’m so glad I gave it another chance. What a great interpretation of a risotto. I’ll be attempting to replicate this at home as after a long day out in the cold, this would be a wonderfully hearty and tasty meal to warm you up on a winter’s evening. Our starters were excellent and we were very happy with the choices we made.
We were offered the chance to have a little break between courses, which we took. I’m all for prompt service but it is nice to be able to take a breather and enjoy the whole evening, rather than feel as though you are just eating and running. Enjoy the view and the company and take your time.
For our main course we again found it difficult to narrow down our options as there were so many nice things we could have gone for. Duo of Slow Cooked Duck, braised red cabbage with cranberry and orange sauce… this sounded fantastic and right up my street. Pot Roast Stuffed Saddle of Rabbit, again, very me. Chateaubriand to share, Roast Monkfish, a range of steaks… we were spoilt for choice. Lobster Thermidor is hard to ignore. Too hard to ignore evidently as this is what I chose. Sarah was really torn, but was intrigued by the Funky Fish and Chips. Whilst deliberating, we asked James what was “Funky” about it? NEO’s take on Fish and Chips was a tempura of seafood. This included battered offerings of monkfish, halibut, scallops and king prawns. The chips were triple cooked and as you can see in the picture below, very large. As you can also see from the picture, this is what Sarah decided to go for.
The Lobster Thermidor is generally served with new potatoes. I asked if I could swap these for fries. I probably ruined the presentation of the whole dish slightly by doing this, but it’s a personal thing. I’ve always enjoyed eating lobster with fries. However, if I was to go again, on reflection, I’m sure the potatoes were planned as part of the meal and probably designed that way for a reason so I would go with the menu suggestion.
I’ve always loved Lobster Thermidor. In fact, lobster in general. I’m so glad I don’t have a shellfish allergy. I think if I was to find myself on death row choosing my last meal, lobster would be a consideration. The only thing I’m likely to commit murder for would be to steal someone else’s lobster. It’s been about 5 years since I last had it and that’s 5 years too long. It was superb. The sauce was just right. Not overpowering the lobster, but with plenty of flavour and a crispy cheese crust. It’s not the easiest dish to describe. It can go wrong, but it didn’t. It went very, very right. In a word: “Yum”!
Sarah’s Funky Fish and Chips were fantastic. It’s easy to overlook the small additions to the plate that make a huge contribution to the meal. The tartare sauce and the minted crushed peas add a burst of refreshing zestiness to a very hearty meal. The tempura batter on the seafood was light, crispy and nicely seasoned. The triple cooked chips, light and fluffy in the middle and crispy on the outside. The idea to adapt the “fish” part of fish and chips to include scallops and prawns as well as halibut and monkfish was original, fun and most importantly, really tasty.
Two absolute stonkers for our mains, following a couple of excellent starters meant we were very happy and very full. As is so often the case with Sarah and I, dessert was looking like a stretch, but we needn’t have worried. There is a brilliant dessert menu, but the best news for us was that there was a range of ice creams and sorbets to choose from. James was happy to recommend good combinations of flavours and was able to recite the whole list of options from memory. We chose 3 sorbets (pear, mango and blood orange) and chocolate ice cream. All were flavoured perfectly and this was a really nice, refreshing way to round off the meal. This meant we could indulge our sweet tooths without filling up too much more. I should have asked a few more questions about how they were made as I haven’t really done them justice. If you go, give them a try. You won’t be disappointed.
Having spent so much time in the kitchen over Christmas, it was so nice to be able to go out and indulge in some top class food, made by someone else whilst being looked after by James and the staff at NEO. Fine Dining has changed over the years. It’s not an elitist, stuffy, yuppified, ‘your face must fit’ occasion as I remember it in the 80’s and 90’s. To me, it means top quality food, creative menus, attentive service and a setting you can relax in to enjoy an experience, not just a meal. NEO ticked all of those boxes and we have no hesitation in recommending it to all of our readers.
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