Just a few minutes walk from the seafront, the Green House hotel in Bournemouth resembles a classic seaside B&B from the outside, complete with whitewashed brickwork and some frayed palms in the front garden. It looks like the sort of place where you’d expect to find hearty British fare if you’re lucky; oven chips and fatty sausages if you’re not. But this isn’t your average B&B.
The Green House is Bournemouth’s first eco-hotel and inside, it’s seriously stylish. Chic grey walls dominate, enlivened by colourful chairs and a recycled teak bar, tastefully lit with low-energy LED lights. There are English wool carpets, organic cotton napkins and soap by eco brand, Liberty and Green, in the bathroom. But while the Green House is a genuinely nice place to be, the real star of the show is the restaurant: the Green Room.
For a town more used to fish and chips, the Green Room has a surprisingly adventurous menu. Featuring plenty of game, fish and wild mushrooms picked up by local fungi expert, Mrs Tee, it’s a long way from bog-standard seaside fare. Head chef, Gordon Jones, is passionate about foraging. ‘I try and forage as much as possible,’ he says. ‘I cook wild mushrooms when they are in season, we use a lot of wild berries and I’ll soon be doing my own fishing as my fiancée bought me a rod for Christmas. With foraging, you never really know what you are going to get and of course it’s all free.’
We started by trying out some of the organic wine at the next-door bar: beginning with Nyetimber Grand Cuvee 2005 – a sparkling wine from the West Sussex Nyetimber vineyard. Good enough to give anything produced in Champagne a run for its money, it made up for the unpleasant Chilean Sauvignon Blanc that followed. Once we moved into the dining room, the wine choices improved, largely thanks to the efforts of Pierre: wine expert and our waiter. He also knew the menu backwards and with his encouragement, we decided to try the nine-course tasting menu.
The Green Room’s menus – both a’la carte and tasting – change daily to accommodate the foraged and seasonal foods that make up the bulk of Gordon’s ingredients. While this does result in a greener kitchen, it also means that you’re likely to be jolted out of your comfort zone – whether you wanted to be or not. My friend, a long-term loather of rabbit, found herself tucking into rabbit’s kidney while I, still nursing a childhood dislike of fish, found myself eating – and enjoying – mackerel. We started with a tiny espresso cup of butterbean soup before being presented with a dish that was a master class in how to make the most of a rabbit. I loved it – kidney included. Mackerel that looked and tasted like tuna preceded a rather fatty, smoked venison dish. Next, came the best strawberries and custard I’ve ever had, presented brûlée style with a sugary crust, and a dish of homemade petits fours to finish.
We were still going when Gordon popped over to our table for a chat and some organic coffee. Enjoying the challenge of working with foraged foods, he told us about local mushroom lady Mrs. Tee – responsible for the huge field mushrooms served with breakfast the next day – and showed us pictures of an enormous blue shark that had turned up in his kitchen a few weeks earlier. He’d turned it into a luxe version of classic fish and chips and Blue Shark Thai curry, and put plenty of both on the tasting menu, using every bit of it. That, says Gordon, is how to make eating fish and meat a bit greener. He's right.
While a stay at the hotel isn’t cheap with rooms starting at £115 per night for a small double, it’s definitely a cut above your average seaside B&B. The eco-friendly theme is carried out faithfully throughout and is followed through in the restaurant; the real reason to visit. And with the tasting menu costing an ultra-reasonable £45, the Green Room is a budget eco-eaterie with food that tastes like a million dollars.
Prices for the tasting menu start at £45. For more information, go to www.thegreenhousehotel.co.uk
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