I first meet Alex, Sam and Boopee, more professionally known as Verity (the pooch), after a Sunday evening stroll through Beaminster. My curiosity leads me to the restaurant window, into the entrance hall, and onward towards the counter where a friendly smile bids me welcome. “Just being nosy”, I mention to Sam, as I immediately notice the familiar bottles of Fish Hoek crisp white winking down at me from the shelves behind her.
This is Big Fish Little Fish.
I silently vow to return, once I’ve rinsed the mud off of my wellies, and at least brushed my hair.
Fast forward to Monday evening, 24 June. Time: 17:43. Temperature: somewhere between 12 and 17 degrees with a light SE breeze.
Den and I trundle through the green doors of Big Fish Little Fish. Psychologically expecting to see the familiar tables from The Wild Garlic, the only reminder of what went before is the colour of the walls and a beautiful stone wall cradling a wood burning stove. We say a quick hello to Sam and take our seat at one of the tables in the corner of the restaurant.
The layout is somewhat sparse, but promising nonetheless. Flickering candles in glass bowls of glistening river stones adorn each table. Apologies are made for the work-in-progress renovation of the old sash windows but we are comfortable at our table and the aromas from the kitchen already have our stomachs eager to sample the menu. Sam brings the menu to us and we make our choice.
Sam and Alex have been together for just over a year now. Alex, having more than 10 years of head chef experience from the likes of the Browns chain of Bars & Brasseries, as well as the the Bellhouse Hotel, has a passion for food. His face lights up as he talks about the dishes he serves. “We don’t serve Jenga chips here, and lovingly prepare everything ourselves… by hand. No two chips are the same, and we take care to flavour our seafood carefully”. Sam adds that all the food is prepared each day, with an early start. She explains their unique style at leaving the skins of the potatoes on the chips, in order for them to hold their flavour, and more importantly, their warmth, that much longer.
Sam, comes from a guide-dog training background, and excitedly tells us about her precious Verity (known as Boopee to her friends) who holds the fort in the flat upstairs, waiting for the end of evening service. She laughs as she recounts an occasion recently, where Boopee, quite nonchalantly, made her way onto the roof above the restaurant and innocently sat and watched the world go by.
Our starters arrive – I have chosen the Calamari with the homemade aioli, while Den has chosen the hearty pepper and tomato soup du jour, served with a crusty slice of bread. Sam tells us that the calamari is a favourite at the restaurant. I have no trouble in believing her. It is seasoned to perfection and the garlic ai
oli makes you want to continue dabbing your fork in, just for a taste, long after the calamari has finished.
The menu is uncomplicated. The focus is on food. As it should be, and I tuck into (perhaps a little too eagerly) my second glass of vino. I silently wonder whether it would be acceptable to have calamari for starters, mains and desserts…. Den smiles and I wonder whether he has read my mind.
Sam also tells us a little about her silver service waitressing days, having served to many a celebrity, and their celebrity wives at VIP receptions. As we tuck into our battered cod, non-jenga, home-prepared chunky chips and fresh crunchy garden peas, I ask Sam and Alex about the ingredients they use. “We only use local ingredients. Our fish hails from Samways in Bridport, and our potatoes from local suppliers. For non-fish meals, we source our meat from Nick Tett’s family butchers in Beaminster and our vegetables from Fruit & Two Veg, also in Beaminster”.
“This project has been a huge learning curve for us,” Sam says. “It is a continuous work in progress and we are constantly learning new things – and make improvements as we go. It is anything but finished, and we are excited about where we’re going”. I ask them what their future holds, and the plans they have – and Alex shyly smiles and tells stories about red onion preserves and homemade tartare sauces that he hopes to have for sale on his shelves soon.
Our meal has more than satisfied. Den and I know our fish, but more importantly we know our batter. We know when batter has been neglected, the oil left just one day too long, the soggy bottom of a cod fillet, yet the meal served at Big Fish Little Fish leaves you feeling that it has been carefully and lovingly prepared – and it is clear to see on the smiles of those who place their take away orders, that they feel the same.
As we pay the bill, with our slice of cheesecake (for pud) under our arms, we thank Sam and Alex as we leave – but not before having the chance to meet the infamous Boopee.
Perhaps sub-consciously, when I wonder past Big Fish Little Fish from now on, my eyes may… just maybe… drift upwards, and hopefully, if I’m lucky, I’ll see a black labrador pup, with a bright pink tongue, lying in the sun and smiling down on me.
Last night, I lay awake. Husband snoring next to me, cat taking up 75% of my side of the bed, iPad resting on my chest. Twitter page open and, as if robotic, as if programmed, the old familiar swiiiiish PLOP sound keeps me company as I read one tweet after the next, that capture 1 single search term:
Father of our nation. Democratic Giant. Fighter of our Faith. Hero of our human rights. Peace-maker. Peace-keeper.
Like most other South Africans in this world, and I’m sure not only South Africans, but supporters all over the world, I spent most of last night with my eyes fixed to news reports and social media discussions. How I longed to be in my home country and feel that same communal spirit we felt as a united people – the day Francois Pienaar held that Rugby World Cup trophy in the air… the day we all, black, white, pink and blue, took to the streets dancing, singing, holding on to each other; for what that trophy represented, was so much more than just the win at a rugby match. It was so much more than supporting our boys in their green and gold. It represented that for the first time, since our first steps as a democratic and free country, we could stand together – united – legally – and we could celebrate. We could recognise our differences, we could praise our similarities, but most of all, we could celebrate in the knowledge that, as a nation, we had faced what the world had deemed “brink of civil war” and we had stood up, shoved it in the face of the doom-sayers and said, “We are South Africa. Watch us roar!”.
I lay awake reading the tweets. Tears streaming down my already damp cheeks.
So in this quiet moment of turmoil, and feeling a million miles away from the nation I love, the culture I drink up, my family, my friends – in this quiet turmoil feeling completely alone and insignificant, I took solace in my Twitter community who, where the prognosis was nothing but despair, echoed my dreary heart and broadcasted words of wisdom, celebration, praise, and most of all, gratitude.
And I felt loved.
Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika.
We wander into town looking for a little nook on a Thursday evening that offers us a bite to eat. It’s slightly drizzly outside and the glow of the warm lights from businesses in the square give us a sense of belonging, and welcome.
We notice a new little glow. A glow from a window that we didn’t expect to be open on a Thursday night. One that we hadn’t really noticed before. The glow emanates from The Steak Out, and the open door bids us welcome. We go inside.
The Steak Out, previously known as Vicki’s Sandwich Bar & Tea Rooms, in Hogshill street, has had a makeover. The country green has turned into warm shades of chocolatey browns and new menu boards on the wall indicate that there is so much more on offer. We sit down at one of the tables at the window. We like to watch the world go by. The décor is a combination of hushed leather and industrial metal, with an allure of a cigar bar. The licensed bar is beautifully kitted out with a wide selection of things to drink, and well laid-out tables in this relatively small space provide perfectly private and intimate little dining spaces.
As the candle flickers on our table, we cast our eyes past the local supply of Clipper Teas that are for sale on the shelves beside us, to the Specials Board hanging on the wall. The Steak Out specialises in providing the best quality steaks. Whether you’re partial to some rump (no innuendos intended), or whether it’s a rib-eye that captures your heart – be assured that your tastes will be looked after. If it’s not steak that you’re in the mood for, a variety of other dishes on offer are guaranteed to satisfy too.
We settle on a rib-eye steak (medium rare), and a chicken breast with a bacon & brie cream sauce, a pint of lager and a cider for the lady. We have a chat to Steven Stanners, the owner and chef. We marvel at his culinary experience, having previously run the Greyhound Inn as well as been the chef at Winyards Gap restaurant. He tells us about the challenges of running a restaurant and the paths their lives have taken to develop The Steak Out into the place it is today. He tells us about their popular mid-week roast (£6 for 1-course, £8 for 2-courses), and reassures us that they still continue to provide the same sandwich take-away option as before – making sure that their focus is to attract new clientèle, while at the same time, not alienate their already existing patrons.
The Steak Out offers a range of mouth-watering breakfasts and lunches too. “If it’s merely a drink that you’re after, then come and have a seat at the bar and enjoy some quiet time”, says Steve, looking out of the window as a gent and his Labrador walk by. Walking through the bar, you enter into another little room. “This is the chill-out area”, he says. Whether you want to sit quietly, enjoy a pint, and watch the rugby, or whether you want to hire this area out for stork parties or kitchen teas – this little room, clad with art by local artists, and comfortable welcoming leather sofas, is perfect if you are looking for a private space.
Steven uses only British 21-day matured steak and sources local ingredients for his dishes as far as possible.
Phil Collins lulls us along as we tuck into the meal put before us. The steak, cooked perfectly, is a welcome tummy-warmer to accompany an ice cold cider and we disappear into a food-euphoria for a little while. The chicken is cooked to perfectly and accompanied by fresh seasonal vegetables. Servings are not shy, and the accompaniment of side dishes will more than fill most diners.
The Steak Out is open daily from 8:00am – 5:00pm, but on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings, service extends well into the evening for those looking for a place to have dinner.
We walk out into the Beaminster evening air. We feel satisfied. Full. But most of all, we feel that we’ve been with friends. Welcomed and appreciated. We make our way, drunk on good food, back home to catch our latest favourite episode of Mad Dogs.
Quick tip of the day:
Are the URLs on your website SEO-friendly?
ie: Do they read as a whole of lot gobble-di-gook, or do they actually make sense?
We are surprised at how often we come across websites where the URLs of each of the pages read something like this:
www.freshbrewmarketing.com/AB?12223-23AC/%455tr/89…. etc etc etc.
Where they could read as simple as:
Remember, the art of SEO is about making your website ‘findable’. Who’s going to find you, if your address is made up of a bunch of letters and numbers?
Didn’t think so.
Making the change is usually as simple as ticking a simple option in your website back-end system. (Assuming that your website is current, and up to date).
And if you’re still confused, why not get in touch and we’ll help you through it.