Bude’s hidden foody jewel, Sazerac Social, based at Atlantic House Hotel (yes, the pink one) is appropriately understated. I’ve never been in there before but sitting in a hotel bar and dining area is actually really very civilised without necessarily being pretentious, and that’s rather the aim here, I think.
You can dine at Sazerac without feeling like you are sitting in a shop window for all to see (though that also makes it more of a secret to seek out) so it has a sense of privacy, of personal space, a spot where you feel you could sit out the evening with family, a good friend, or group of people and actually converse (rather than shout) very pleasantly indeed. For those who just want a drink, the bar is softly lit and the background music, too, is fittingly relaxing. It would make a good intimate, romantic venue, but equally is a great place for friends to meet for a cocktail (or in my case, a mocktail). My Mock Mojito, by the way (driving as usual), was very refreshing with oodles of lime, just as I like it. The mixologist did a good job.
Now I have to admit to looking up what a Sazerac is – for those tempted to do the same, I’ll save you the effort. It’s a classic whiskey cocktail from the mid-nineteenth century named after a French cognac called Sazerac-de-Forge de Fils which was originally used. The New Orleans version, finished off with a splash of absinthe, was said to be the gut-rot of boozy hardened news reporters in smoke-filled rooms. There is a sense of romantic nostalgia to it, a yearning for more straightforward times past, even a sense of glamour. Subdued lighting, black and white films, men in hats, and ‘hold the front page’ all come to mind. It’s like entering a different world of the imagination – if you’ll let it. Forbidding things (as Prohibition did) always makes them more enticing, and the subdued low-lighting surroundings at Sazerac have the same effect, so it is an intriguing concept as if discovering a secret place to focus on the important stuff of company, conversation, food and drink.
Service was quietly attentive in both the bar and the restaurant. The note struck was just right, I felt. When you don’t really notice the staff (by their absence or their over-intrusiveness) they have done a good job.
In the heart of Bude with decent evening parking, and especially as the lighter nights draw in, a very decent view, Sazerac Social invokes the spirit of the Speakeasy (without the pretence, they say) which intrigued me. The Speakeasy is the name given to the illicit bars selling the bootleg liquor of the Prohibition era in America. These places didn’t shout out about their existence. People found them by word of mouth, personal recommendation, in the days when we all talked more and had no internet/mobile phone distraction. The ‘Speakeasy’ bar has taken off in the UK cities, an antidote to the brash, garish, glitzy entertainment of many city bars. They offer a world of exclusivity, of expensive but delicious cocktails, and to encourage people to see food and cocktails as an art. Now, Bude has one, so it’s something of a departure for the town but without the pretension of many of the city venues.
The restaurant at Sazerac has the accomplished Bude local, Kyan Hooper, as its chef, known to many food lovers. Kyan prefers the kitchen but did pop out to say hello. The Sazerac blog indicates that here the focus is on “good” rather than overstated “boastful emptiness”. I’ve spoken to Kyan before about food and he is always at pains not to make empty claims but to simply cook good food. He has returned to Atlantic House after a gap of 8 years (when he headed the lauded Sea Fever) to establish a new modern bistro-style of food at Sazerac Social. The emphasis is on local seafood but meat eaters, vegetarians and vegans are also well catered for with menus helpfully highlighted in green for vegans.
As a vegetarian, my choices are necessarily limited everywhere, so the meat-eating Helen joined me to try both sides of the menu. It must be said that neither of us usually manage a three-course meal but both have a sweet tooth so somehow managed it! (Prices included as an indicator for readers).
Helen had Chicken Liver Parfait (£7.50) Venison and Pancetta Ragu (£16.50) and Passion Fruit Meringue (£6.50). To be fair to her, she fancied the goat cheese starter but I was having that!
My starter of chicken liver parfait and chutney was very light and tasty but I found the brioche too sweet as an accompaniment and my personal preference would have been for something with more crunch and not sweet, like a nice sourdough toast. The main course was Venison and Pancetta Ragu. The meat in the ragu was tender and the sauce flavoursome served with pappardelle and a good size portion for a hearty appetite!
For dessert, I chose the Passion Fruit Meringue which was absolutely delicious! A welcoming gin & tonic in the bar to start and I enjoyed the Merlot which complimented the Ragu.
The complimentary homemade bread and rolls with seaweed butter were delicious, including a caramelised onion bread with vegetarian parmesan, and the thyme-glazed carrots were tasty. In hindsight, I could have ordered some purple sprouting broccoli to balance out the quantity of meat in my main dish – but there was too much of it for me to manage, if I wanted to include dessert (which I did!)
I had savoury food from the bar snack menu, all of which was delicious. Goat cheese, beetroot, blood orange and walnuts to start (£7.50) Chickpea curry, flatbread, aubergine pickle, charred broccoli and coriander main (vegan, £9.00), followed by a Dark Chocolate Mousse £6.50) from the main menu. As a vegetarian, I didn’t feel underwhelmed as meals can so often make me feel, as if i’m not getting value for money compared to meat-eaters. The food was simple, tasty and good value for its quality.
I very much enjoyed my classic goat cheese starter. The cheese was substantial but very creamy, not over-strong but flavoursome, very tasty indeed. It went extremely well with the beetroot and orange (a combination I often use at home) and somehow the walnuts just added something deliciously extra – crunch, taste, texture. It was sweet and savoury, tangy, a wonderful combination. It struck me that I was quite sated after eating the starter and it would be a great meal to have at home, though my presentation is rather lacking and Kyan seems to do something special with the ingredient combo that would fail if I tried it.
I had options of wild mushroom risotto, a celeriac steak or a curry for my main course. As I’d had risotto recently at home, I thought a flavoursome curry would make a pleasant change. I have been a bit suspicious of chickpeas since I once ordered a chickpea soup in Santiago de Compostela and received what was effectively a dustbin-lid sized portion of chickpeas in broth which filled me so completely, I did not finish it or get past the starter.
Kyan’s chickpea curry, however, looked enticing, so I was tempted back. So glad because the protein-packed curry was of good flavour though not overpowering, and coriander (although now popular) is a really good herb for curry. I’m glad Kyan is of the school of cheffing which doesn’t refuse to use a combination or recipe just because the world at large likes it! Chickpeas are astonishingly versatile, tasty too.
The flatbreads were lovely and light, the broccoli something I would never have thought of with curry, but again, a really delicious accompaniment, and the aubergine chutney was just right, in terms of flavour and quantity. On reflection, I would also have had a house salad with it, just to add something cool and refreshing to counter-balance the curry, but like Helen, I was filling up. A great choice for vegans, and very reasonably priced.
Onto dessert, I was thrilled to discover the chocolate mousse was suitable for vegetarians, as I am most definitely a chocolate lover. This was a beautifully rich but smooth dessert, crumbed with honeycomb and served with creme fraiche. I was struggling towards the end but somehow managed to scrape my pot clean! Fancy.
As I was driving, I stuck to water after my mocktail, which kept my palate fresh, I guess!
My thanks to the staff at Sazerac for a lovely evening filled with delicious food and drink. I like it and will return, and can heartily recommend it. Nothing was too much trouble for the staff, who were able to answer questions about the food; dietary requirements are catered for (give them a little notice) and I felt that anything within reason I’d asked for would have been accommodated if possible.
What was really lovely was to sit and enjoy a darned good meal where the tables are well-spaced and you hear your own conversation rather than everyone else’s. That counts for a lot when enjoying your evening out.