This is an archive review. Barefoot on the Beach closed in December 2012. ‘I can’t see anything down this slipway, it’s pitch black tonight.’...

This is an archive review. Barefoot on the Beach closed in December 2012.

‘I can’t see anything down this slipway, it’s pitch black tonight.’

Fish pie

‘Well, let’s go down there anyway.’
‘Look out, we’re walking into the sea. I’m not gonna do a Reggie Perrin!’
‘No, we’re not – look there it is!’
‘That’s the public toilets. Let’s just look along here before we give up.’
‘Yes, there’s a light! There it is!’
‘What, all the way over there?’

This, and much more, was the bumbling progress of Matt and Cat down the starlit promenade at Colwell. Shuffling gingerly along the revetment, they were guided by the welcoming lights of Barefoot on the Beach, Colwell’s latest beachfront venue. This dramatic and satisfying way to arrive made Barefoot seem delightfully remote and exotic – let’s hope it doesn’t get spoilt with garishly illuminated signs and those soppy railings to stop you falling into the sea.

French onion soup

In the daytime, Barefoot is a pleasant seafront café on one of the Island’s quieter and, some might say, more exclusive sandy beaches. In the evening, it essays that transformation into a thriving chic bar-bistro to which so many beach cafés aspire, and which so few master.

Matt and Cat were warmly greeted by the young staff, who invited your reviewers to choose a table. In the summer, there would be a splendid selection of outdoor terrace seats, with spectacular views of the setting sun over the Solent. As this was a November evening M&C picked a cosy indoor table for two. The venue’s big picture windows showed the dark reaches of the sea, faint glimmerings of Dorset and the New Forest, with only the winking light of Hurst Spit making an impression.

The restaurant’s interior was a bit austere but slightly softened with shabby chic furniture in the style of Quarr Tea Garden; all chapel chairs and distressed wooden tables. The room was lit with what can be graciously called ambient lighting. Frankly, it was as dim as Joey Essex. Even old romantics Matt and Cat, usually happy to take advantage of flattering light, were itching to crank up the dimmer.

…it essays that transformation into a thriving chic bar-bistro to which so many beach cafés aspire, and which so few master.

Nonetheless, it was bright enough to read the small but ambitious menu which proudly announced that the food was homemade and local where possible. There was no specific provenance, but certainly there was a seafood theme, with mussels in cider, oysters with mignonette sauce, and garlic and chilli crevettes available alongside the more conventional ham, egg and chips, and rump steak. After lighting the table’s tea light, the waitress explained a couple of the menu’s items and reeled off a list of the food that wasn’t available.

Orders made and drinks delivered, Matt and Cat waited for their food. Having chosen the homemade ‘Barefoot Burger’, Matt knew that they’d be in for a wait of at least twenty minutes (as was annotated on its entry in the menu). This not only suggested that this would be a freshly-prepared burger, but also gave the duo the time to discuss other beachside venues and consider the merits of each.

Regular readers will know Matt and Cat’s theory that a venue’s proximity to the beach is proportional to the risk of indifferent food. Many shoreside venues are jammed to the gunwales with diners chewing on lacklustre meals. Why should these eateries up their game? Punters will go there regardless, for the fantastic views, sunsets and sound of the surf. Would Barefoot on the Beach fall into this slough of complacency? So far, it seemed not. M&C were looking forward to their theory being blown out of the water.

Matt’s starter, French onion soup, faithfully interpreted a classic. A very generous bowl of rich, oniony broth was topped with a cheesy baguette slice. Matt loved it – a great start to the meal. Cat didn’t fancy a whole starter, so she tried home-marinated olives with garlic and chilli – again, a good portion, a whole glassful of the little black morsels.

It was, as predicted, no less than twenty minutes wait for the main courses but in the comfortable atmosphere of Barefoot on the Beach this was no hardship. The music playing from a chichi iPod dock ranged from the Kings of Leon through to some bizarre orchestral panpipes version of ‘I know him so well‘. M&C noticed the buzz as a bunch of chattering creative types assembled, sipping cocktails and lounging on the big leather sofas. Barefoot certainly had atmosphere, and in this it scored well over its near-namesake, Baywatch on the Beach. Baywatch, in distant St Helens, has an equally promising location, and similar aspirations, but always seems to be a bit at sea in the evenings. It could learn a bit from this western contender.

Matt and Cat’s bill
Marinated olives £2.50
Soup of the day £5
Pie of the day £8
Barefoot burger £10
Drink £3.50
2 x coffee @ £2
Total £33

Matt was looking forward to his Barefoot burger – there’s nothing like anticipation to whet the appetite. He was not disappointed. The burger was a fresh, sizzling-hot creation, with a good taste. A homemade coleslaw accompanied it, and Matt gingerly sampled this, expecting the usual blast of raw onion to render the ‘slaw inedible. Pleasingly, this was not the case. The coleslaw was well-balanced, and didn’t overpower the excellent meaty main event. The burger and coleslaw were well above average. The rest of this dish didn’t fare so well: it was served, like Cat’s, on a cold plate, so rapidly cooled. Matt’s burger bun was generic, and under a cute salad garnish was slathered with unremarkable mayonnaise. But the pile of skinny fries was an unexpected let-down: dry and overcooked, they intrusively yelled ‘café’ where the rest of the meal had been seductively whispering ‘restaurant’.

Barefoot burger

Cat’s pie of the day was a handsome fish pie, presented in a Jamie Oliver-style distressed enamel bowl, with stripes of piped potato forming a pleasing lid. It was served with a trio of perfectly-cooked vegetables: diagonally-sliced carrots, broccoli and French beans, as well as chips. The pie itself was oven-hot so Cat carefully decanted the dish’s contents onto the unwarmed plate where it quickly achieved a tolerable temperature. The cold plate also took the heat out of the vegetables, which hadn’t started out with such a thermal advantage as the pie. However, the fish sauce helped reheat the veg. Spilled out with the sauce were the chunks of fish which, on later enquiry, were confirmed as smoked haddock, swordfish and prawns. The pie was absolutely delicious, with a good fishy aroma and a fab creamy sauce which was enhanced with spinach leaves.

Cat couldn’t quite finish her fish pie; this was not a reflection on the dish itself but more to do with filling her face with delicious cherry and almond cake at Missy J’s Café earlier in the day. Matt and Cat never got to see the dessert menu as they had protested their fullness when the waitress tried to offer the third course. They did have room for coffee though, which was served with sticky pieces of homemade fudge. A nice treat to complete the meal.

Without being told, the waitress had understood that Matt and Cat’s meal was over and brought them their bill. This was an unprecedented move; nearly all of the restaurants that M&C visit enter into some sort of war of attrition with their customers. The punters wait with decreasing patience for the bill while the front-of-house staff evaporate once the food has all been served. There was none of that bill-lag at Barefoot on the Beach and this must be commended.

Matt and Cat visited the Barefoot on the Beach during the season of long nights. Despite – or maybe because of – the slightly challenging approach route, the restaurant was worth the effort; with friendly staff, a competent menu and delicious food at modest prices. It’s a fairly new venture, and has the potential to develop itself even further: maybe making more of its commendable commitment to local food, for example, or trying some slightly less down-market chips. In the summer the venue will be even more of a draw, positioned as it is to make the most of its waterfront location and spectacular sunsets. It’s recommended.

This is an archive review. Barefoot on the Beach closed in December 2012.