Fine food, or haute-cuisine, tends to come with it’s own set of pretenses – airs and graces that you feel you should put on in order to feel a different way or to convey this idea of superiority. The fact is, it doesn’t matter whether you’re in a backstreet café, where the owner has been making the same slap-up breakie for the last 50 years, or a white-linen laced dining room – good food is all that matters. So, the geniuses behind the Dancing Moose brand sought a way to bring a relaxed atmosphere, with the likes of some seriously good, refined food, and we were fortunate enough to sample their incredible menu.
The team gathered outside the new site in Penn Hill one wintery afternoon – the cold fueling our desire for some much needed comfort food. We stepped inside to discover that signature Dancing Moose décor of wooden cladding and exposed brick, complete with a plethora of movie merchandise and neon signage. The room is filled with tables for all occasions; cozy booths for catch-ups, banquet styles for big get-togethers and high tables for a quick bite and a beer. We were sat on an expansive party table by the door; the tabletop was made up of an array of joined wooden wine crates, laid with voluptuous glassware, red checkered napkins and a pitcher of blueberry infused water – so far so good.
We each made our various drink selections – my usual crisp white wine – and took in the cozy atmosphere. Dressed with understated Christmas decorations and warm glowing lights, it felt wonderfully festive and before we’d even scanned the full extent of our menu-cum-placemat, our first course arrived.
To start: an array of cheese and charcuterie. We were informed that each item on these boards had been hand selected – if not made in-house – by Chef ‘Charlie Bronson’, the same man responsible for the food at all of their venues (Penn Hill, Wimbourne, Ashley Cross and counting…). The charcuterie sharer was a beautiful display of cured meats, walled by a two rows pâté and terrine, not forgetting the miniature pickles and mustard accompaniments. The pâté (my personal favourite) had a gorgeous silkiness to it and a moreish punchy flavour. The terrine was equally as good; a perfect disk of meaty goodness, with fresh herbs and fruit pieces entwined into the mix. The cheeseboard was a selection of classics, with a few contemporary twists. The ‘Isle of Blue’ cheese went down particularly well, with all the creaminess of Brie and the strong and distinctive taste of a Blue. That, smeared on a toasted wedge of artisanal bread, along with a healthy dollop of caramelised onion chutney and I was in heaven.
The next course (two out of four) was a selection of small plates. First was the Beef Tartare. For the record, I’d like to add that was THE BEST beef tartare I have ever had. There’s a common misconception that anything raw is easier to make, but actually the opposite is true, for you have to really focus every element. The incredible attention to detail in the flavours – heavy on the mustard, capers and Tabasco – and textures was genuinely mind blowing and an un-forgettable taste experience. Among the other items was Calamari (with a Thai green sauce), a beautiful Roasted Cauliflower (with golden raisins, almonds, brown butter, lemon, and parsley) and pulled Confit Duck, served with mushrooms, jus, sherry vinegar, and topped with a perfectly poached egg. Every dish was as exciting as the next – unveiling new and adventurous flavour experiences along the way.
Third course time – the main event! Chef Charlie Bronson brought us an array of handsomely presented dishes, boasting vivacious colours, garnishes and eye-catching plating. First to try was a hearty, yet refined sampling of Braised Beef Cheek, served with a sweep of bright orange root vegetable puree – a wonderful example of stylish comfort food. The meat was falling apart and melting in the mouth, and when eaten with a coating of the red wine gravy, you’d have sworn you were in food heaven. Surprisingly though, my favourite was the Grilled Poussin; served with creamy polenta, feta, roasted tenderstem broccoli, olives, sun-dried tomatoes and a harissa jus. I say surprisingly only because generally speaking chicken dishes tend not to be anything to write home about, but this was really special. The play on flavours – salty olives, sweet polenta and the welcomed acidity of the feta and sundried tomatoes – was a pleasure to eat. It brought real anticipation and enjoyment back to eating.
Now full to the brim of delicious savoury goods our ability to go on was growing weak, but, being the troupers that we are, we continued onto dessert – purely in the name of research, and what research it was. We began with an array of ice creams, each fresher more flavoursome than the next. Next we tucked into their signature ‘After Eight Brownie’; a gooey piece of chocolate heaven, served with a rich chocolate moose and choco-mint ice cream. Finally, we tried their Old Fashioned – as in the whisky cocktail ¬– Parfait; a creamy dark chocolate parfait, topped with a scatter of zesty-sweet candied orange, and the most delectable rum caramel. The combination of bitter chocolate with the refreshing zest and that rum-heavy sauce was so incredible, I NEED the recipe – or a years supply delivered to my house.
These guys seriously know their food. We had the most fabulous time and we can’t wait to go back!
By Charlotte Williams
t. 01202 738676
a. 7-8 Penn Hill Ave, Poole BH14 9NB