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Wednesday 26 June 2013

Sluttery Travels: "Catch it, Cook it, Eat it" at the Christchurch Harbour Hotel, Dorset

There's something about the name Dorset that instantly makes me think of ace things: The Archers, sunshine and seaside fun being in the top 3, throw in a luxury spa hotel, a fishing trip and cooking masterclass from incredible chef Alex Aitken and Dorset will now forever more be my favourite little county (don't tell Kent or Somerset). 

Just a couple of miles up the Jurassic coast from Bournemouth lies the hidden treasure that is Christchurch and nestled on the waterfront is the Christchurch Harbour Hotel and Spa.

I was there to check out their "Catch It, Cook It, Eat It" breaks which sees you taken under the wing of the completely charming chef patron Alex Aitken for 2 days (he catered Sophie Dahl and Jamie Cullum's wedding you know). We arrived on the Friday evening and were shown to our rooms over looking the beautiful harbour. Huge beds, flatscreen TV, showers big enough for two (always a bonus) and mini bar stocked with beautiful wine, beer and juices, hello! There was even a little Krups coffee machine in the wardrobe (which took about 10 minutes to figure out how to use - top tip: err... fill water tank first) and free wifi so you can "check-in" on Facebook and make all your friends super jealous.
Super massive comfy beds and what a view of the sea meeting the sky!
That evening we headed to The Jetty restaurant in the grounds of the hotel overlooking the quay. We were given a champagne masterclass about Billecart-Salmon champagne, seriously hunt it down it's wonderful - it's also their house champagne. Alex came out to chat away with diners, he told us that the previous week a blue shark had been caught in the bay! That was my challenge set, Jaws here I come!
Amazing seafood, cheese soufflé and kickass espresso martini
I woke up early and decided to head down to the hotel's spa to soothe away my fuzzy champagne and espresso martini head (you MUST have one, they are so good they even appear on the breakfast menu),  I was there at 7am and had the place entirely to myself. It was my kind of spa, no bright harsh lights, all dark and enveloped with gentle music and aromatherapy steam room and sauna, although I spent most of my time in the hydro-pool being bounced around by bubbles, perfect hangover cure.

An al fresco breakfast overlooking the water put paid to any lingering blurriness as I tucked into a feast of fruit, pastries, smoked salmon and the creamiest most buttery hollandaise ever. Definitely ready for going after Jaws fishing.
Have breakfast on the terrace looking at this view...err yes please
Just a 5 minute stroll from the hotel is Mudeford Quay which was just beautiful, you can buy crab lines and hunt for your prey off the quayside, buy a tub of shellfish to tuck into over a pint or even hire a windsurfer for the afternoon.

We headed out with Alex on board Offshore Rebel skippered by the lovely Jamie. Before becoming a chef Alex worked as trawler man so he knows his fish which meant we were in very good hands. There were 8 of us on our trip and only 3 had fished before but Offshore Rebel is equipped with hightech fish finders so prettty much as soon as we dropped our lines in the mackerel began to jump on! Jamie and Alex went round taking the fish off the lines and putting them in the water tank and sometimes we were reeling in lines with 4 fish wriggling on them - it was ACE.
Jamie helping take mackerel off the line, a dog fish and all our fishy bounty
I haven't been sea fishing in about 8 years and managed about 60 fish, enough to earn me the title of Fish Ninja (a badge I wear with pride).  It wasn't just mackerel though, others caught beautiful bream, a few dogfish and even a garfish which has blue flesh and a green skeleton! It meant that after a few hours surrounded by glorious views out at sea we returned to the quay with a huge cooler full of the freshest fish imaginable. Word of warning though, wear sunscreen! The water reflects the rays and we all came back looking like freshly cooked lobsters!

Once back to the hotel we quickly changed and headed for our seafood masterclass on the terrace. Fishing was thristy work and therefore cold ciders and champagne went down a treat as Alex showed us how to prepare our catch.
Our catch is ready to be given the Alex Aitken treatment
We had the most wonderful mackerel ceviche, BBQ'd bream, a smoky chorizo cassoulet made using the dogfish was a revelation (most people throw them back over the side of the boat) and lots of crispy tempura mackerel. Alex's tales of fishing and farming kept us all laughing as we moved through the dishes. He's one of those chefs that wants to feed people, he's had michelin star honours and has decided to go back to keeping things simple, beautiful and letting his amazing local ingredients shine, he's my kind of chef, the kind you want to hang out, drink cider with and watch him cook.
BBQ, tempura and ceviche mackerel and smoky dog fish cassoulet
Dinner that evening was at the Upper Deck which has been styled like a 1940s cruise liner, think Titanic meets Mad Men, total relaxed glamour with potent cocktails and gorgeous staff. They even have a menu called "Bring me food and drink" where you pay £39 (£70 including wine) and they just keep bringing you amazing food and drink over the evening, and the food is just wonderful. They have put so much thought into their menus, they offer cocktail suggestions for just about everything, you really do feel like you're on holiday and are being spoilt. The staff are also super friendly, we noticed that every one of them who appeared from the kitchen was laughing or smiling, next time you are out for dinner have a look at the faces of the guys coming out of the kitchen, not often they are smiling!
The Upper Deck bar and restaurant, ace place for espresso martinis!
I slept like a log in the massive bed and once again headed to the spa first thing for a swim and spa session before breakfast on the terrace and an amazing aromatherapy massage, they also very kindly gave me some kind of mega moisturiser for my lobster face.
I really did fall completely in love with the hotel, the food, the location and the fishing, in fact once I checked out of my room I went for another wander to the quayside and ended up off on a second fishing trip! This time however I was able to take the fish home with me. Don't worry if you think you'll be a bit crap at fishing, there were two 5yr olds out with us on the second day and even they caught plenty of fish!
Gorgeous beach huts (one sold for £170,000!)  and yep a dog on a board
I really didn't ever want to leave Christchurch, I'd definitely found my happy place, heck I'm a girl who ALWAYS wears a bit of makeup when I go out and I was so happy and comfortable there I went make-up free. I really haven't stopped raving about it since I got home, I've been eating loads more fish than before and am already planning my return.

Their Catch it, Cook it, Eat it" package is an absolute BARGAIN too, from just £125 per person per night you get:
- Two night stay in one of the inland rooms
- Dinner allowance of £30 per person on your arrival night in the new Upper Deck Bar & Restaurant
- “Catch it, Cook it, Eat it” with Alex Aitken - fishing trip & cooking your catch with our award-winning chef
- "Bring me food” tasting menu at the Upper Deck Bar & Restaurant on the second night
- Full English Breakfast each morning
- Full use of the Harbour Spa, excluding treatments
 AMAZING huh? I really want to go with a group of friends and it would be perfect for a hen weekend! GO (and take me with you!).

 I was a guest of the Christchurch Harbour Hotel who also supplied the first photograph at the top of this post


  1. Just reading this makes me smile - sounds like a wonderful place ( and is that...sunshine?!)

  2. It was sunny every day! I came home a very bright shade of pink

  3. Thanks for the fab review - this sounds amazing, but I need help please! I just rang up and tried to book but they said it was a one-off and won't be happening again. Do you know if that's right?


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