A West Bay institution for 50 years and counting, the Riverside offers the chance to celebrate the best of seafood from the South Coast, writes Nick Marshall
W hat started out as little more than a seaside cafe and post office in 1964 is now the Best Fish Restaurant in Dorset, according to the Taste of Dorset Awards. Long before nearby Bridport became a foodie haven and Broadchurch pilgrims began to descend in droves on this stretch of the Jurassic Coast, Riverside owners Arthur and Janet Watson had already put West Bay on the map.
The Riverside has graduated from a roast dinner and cream teas menu for local fishermen and the camping crowd in the 70s, to a fine dining outpost without the attitude. In doing so, the Watsons received British Empire Medals in 2015 for services to the hospitality industry in the South West.
The Riverside dominates a promontory where the River Brit empties into West Bay harbour, meaning that the only approachis via a gangway. Redesigned by celebrated architects Piers Gough and Roger Zogolovitch in 1976, the dining area is light and roomy with a view of the quay. Mercifully, exhibitions from local artists decorate the walls instead of plastic lobsters and fish pots. The atmosphere is certainly more stylish than salty.
If ever you’re in a seafood restaurant with a fixed menu, you’d be justified in regarding it with some suspicion as there would almost certainly be something fishy going on. But there’s no need for any such wariness at the Riverside, which has built its reputation on putting its faith in the best fresh, local catch from the boats that come into the harbour below. General Manager ‘Chilly’ is licensed to buy directly from local fishermen, meaning that Head Chef Tony Shaw gets to put his stamp on anything from Cornish sardines, gambas and monkfish, to turbot and John Dory. Chef Shaw, who has been at the Riverside for eight years, grew up in Spain but identifies the holy triumvirate of White, Ramsay and Waring as his inspiration. As a result, you get classic fish dishes such as grilled lemon sole, more adventurous specialities such as curried monkfish or salt cod, and mash-ups to please a younger crowd, such as haddock or smoked cod Scotch eggs.
Under the warm guidance of Chilly, who has been the general manger at the Riverside for no fewer than 37 years, and seafood aficionado Marie-Noëlle Allen, who took over front of house from Suzi Turner when she retired after 26 years, I plump for Lyme Bay scallops with pancetta and black pudding crumbs to start. The scallops are exceptionally sweet and moist, with the black pudding and pancetta delivering a salty flourish. Char-grilled monkfish with a black truffle hollandaise sauce and plump, pan-fried gambas follows. The traces of bitterness from the charring carry just enough through the meaty, succulent monkfish. Dessert is a sample selection of rice pudding with prunes, sorbet, lemon posset and chocolate torte, the presentation as intricate as the flavours are delicate.
Alongside a selection of excellent beers from Otter Brewery in Devon, there’s a full wine list of French, German, Italian and New World wines. This being a fish restaurant, there’s also the perfect opportunity to keep things local with some whites from Lyme Bay Winery in Axminster.
With the opening of each new chain restaurant where patrons can order set dishes from handheld tablets, the Riverside has been canny in recognising the changing trends as an opportunity, rather than a threat. This is a proud, independent restaurant that knows exactly what its main course customers want.
The Riverside Restaurant, West Bay, Bridport, Dorset, DT6 4EZ
Tel: 01308 422011