Inn on the Beach, Hayling Island: A gem of a restaurant
'It could be Michelin Star'. Those were the words ringing in my ears,Â and making my stomach grumble, when we made our approach over theÂ shingle to the aptly named Inn on The Beach, Hayling Island, forÂ dinner.Â
I feared my colleague's words, and the high expectations they had set,Â would only lead to disappointment but the visit would go on to proveÂ she'd undersold it if anything.
A place that has the potential to be in that elite,Â often stuffy and remortage-your-house expensive category, but givesÂ you the impression it doesn't want to be is better than Michelin Stars.
Instead you get staff that care, talented chefs and a spectacularÂ setting '“Â in our case boasting views across the sea to Portsmouth '“Â all without the fuss.
The menu was just how it should be; with plenty of choice but not tooÂ many options.
This meant when the husband stole the starter I'd been eyeing up '“Â theÂ smoked haddock kedgeree balls, soft boiled egg and curried mayonnaiseÂ (Â£7.25) '“Â I had reserves up my sleeve and my fork poised to snatch a taste.
In terms of presentation, it can only be likened to a poster pin-upÂ for scotch eggs. The crisp crumbed balls were artistically placed on the swirl ofÂ sauce, the tiny eggs '“ quail ? '“Â were cut perfectly in halfÂ and the whole thing orbited around a vibrant serving of salad.
Seriously, it was impressive, and our first sign of the evening thatÂ the people in the kitchen not only knew what they were doing but tookÂ pride in it.
Testament to this was the taste, somehow this reinvention of theÂ hearty spicy rice dish managed to cram in all the classic flavours,Â the contrast and interest, but in starter form.
What's more it was exciting, unexpected and impressive as a result.Â Across the table I couldn't pick fault either, despite havingÂ purposefully selected the salt and pepper squid to get a measure ofÂ the kitchen.
Squid is easy to get wrong and, when that happens, you can findÂ yourself not only feeling sad for the sea-dweller but for your dentistÂ as well.Â Thankfully this was so expertly cooked I could have happily eaten it on its own.Â However when you added the kohlrabi, radicchio, ginger and chilliÂ dressing (Â£6.25) it was simply perfection.
It made my husband feel more confident as he'd chosen a mainÂ course from outside his culinary comfort zone '“ the pan-friedÂ monkfish, monkfish cheeks, baby octopus, asparagus, courgette andÂ orange hollandaise sauce (Â£17.95).
As it turned out, his first taste of the meaty fish could be the bestÂ he'll ever try '“Â buttery, melt in the mouth and just downrightÂ delicious.
Unusually for a seafood fan by the sea, I found myself selecting the vegan dish.Â The description: Roasted butternut squash, ginger tomatoes, air driedÂ heritage tomatoes, edamame beans, cashew nuts and coconut lime yogurtÂ (Â£11.95) made my mouth water just reading it.Â I added the chalk troutÂ fillet for an extra Â£3.50.
Like the monkfish dish, it was a generous portion and one I willÂ remember for a long time to come.Â The colour, the textures, the depth and range of flavours '“Â itÂ delivered on every front.
I could pretend taking on dessert was driven by a desire to give aÂ comprehensive review of everything this former lifeboat station turnedÂ hidden foodie gem had to offer, but at this point it was just pureÂ greed.
For him? The chocolate feuillantine, mini meringues and raspberryÂ sorbet (Â£6.95). For me? The pineapple and coconutÂ sundae and cocoa tuile (Â£6.50).Â
By now we had run out of positive adjectives and given up on findingÂ fault '“Â and if a place can do that to a food reviewer, well, I'd beÂ booking a table.
Inn on the Beac, Seafront, Hayling IslandÂ
(023) 9246 0043
Ratings (out of five):Â