Local restaurateur, Mat Follas, recommends a walk along one of Dorset's isolated beaches to work off locally dived scallops, oysters or a bargain Michelin-starred lunch
After winning MasterChef in 2009, Mat Follas opened his own restaurant, The Wild Garlic, in Beaminster (thewildgarlic.co.uk). Mat is passionate about cooking with local and British produce, the wilder the better. Sea vegetables and hedgerow pickings regularly find their way onto his menu.
'For a long time, Dorset was a county that tourists bypassed on the way to Devon and Cornwall. There are no motorways or cities here but we do have the most amazing scenery and fantastic local food producers. Slowly, the tourists have caught on and Dorset is now a mecca for food lovers.'
Eat Hive Beach Cafe, near Bridport, is packed in summer, but in the winter you get the beach to yourself. Sit and watch the waves or walk along the headland to splendidly isolated Cogden Beach, where I teach foraging courses. Hive shares our philosophy on sourcing and tends to buy fish from the small day-fishing boats that operate out of West Bay and Weymouth. Try the Lyme Bay mackerel fillets, £10.50 (hivebeachcafe.co.uk). Inkeepers Scott and Liz Flight recently won 'Best Locals' Pub in Dorset' for the Fox and Hounds in Cattistock. It's a wonderful sanctuary on a cold day, with its blazing fire, friendly locals and good food. Expect unfussy cooking made with top ingredients - locally dived scallops in the scallop and bacon salad, £6.50, and roasted lamb rump, £10.95, are regulars on the menu. If you want to stay overnight, rooms start from £60 (foxandhoundsinn.com). The only Michelin-starred restaurant in Dorset, Sienna, is a tiny, 15-seat operation tucked away in historic Dorchester. Chef Russell Brown's cooking is priced well below that of his Michelin counterparts in London; the lunchtime menu is a bargain at £25.50 for two courses and the £55 tasting menu is available for vegetarians, too. Stand-out dishes on the dinner menu, from £36.50 for two courses, include Russell's signature 'Selvatica' chocolate tasting plate - a warm chocolate brownie, white chocolate bavarois, dark chocolate parfait and milk chocolate shake (sienna restaurant.co.uk). The owner and head chef at The Green, Michael Rust, has been in Sherborne since 1995 and knows how to please regulars. For gastropub prices you get top-end restaurant service and surroundings, along with a great wine list. Go mid-week for great special offers (greenrestaurant.co.uk)
Crab House Cafe, in Portland, is one of the few restaurants in England that has its own oyster farm. Eating here, tucked away on Chesil Beach, feels like being on the set of SpongeBob SquarePants with old boats and sombreros dotted around the kitchen garden. It serves great crab and seafood - don't leave without trying the oysters, £16 for a dozen. You'll never have fresher (crabhousecafe.co.uk)
Sleep You could happily spend the day visiting the various art galleries and tearooms in the lovely village of Abbotsbury, not to mention its famous swans and subtropical gardens. It's also a great place for walkers exploring Dorset's coastal footpaths. Just along the coast is Norburton Hall, a welcoming Edwardian country house. Go for b&b (doubles from £130) or choose self-catering (doubles from £245) for three nights and you can order a box of local produce to be waiting for you when you arrive (norburtonhall.com). Bed and Breakfast at Ebenezer is a short walk from our restaurant in Beaminster and offers stylish rooms in the main house as well as a stunning chalet called The Little House. Jeremy, the owner, is also an artist and the house is decorated with his fantastic, if incongruous, African landscapes and paintings. Doubles from £60 (ebenezerbedandbreakfast.co.uk)
Do The sacred architecture at Forde Abbey, a former Cistercian monastery, can still be seen in the great hall, the cloisters and chapel of the house and in its undercroft, which now serves as a restaurant. Have a wander around the gardens, £8.50, and then stop for lunch here. In season, much of the produce on the menu is grown in the kitchen garden (fordeabbey.co.uk). The Lesley Waters Cookery School is tucked away at Minterne House, deep in the countryside of west Dorset. Lesley is a former head tutor at cookery school Leiths and one of the nicest chefs I know. With her great sense of humour, classes are both entertaining and informative. Three-and-a-half-hour demonstration workshops from £89 (lesleywaters.com)
Shop For the freshest fish you can buy, it's worth venturing into Davy's Locker fishmonger. The main supplier of seafood at our restaurant, it sources its stock from the day-fishing boats of West Bay. Walk in, take your pick from a list of available fish chalked up on a blackboard and Paul, one of the owners, will happily chip in with some cooking advice (davyslocker.co.uk). Aidan Chapman's Phoenix Bakery in Weymouth is a great place to visit. Aidan has just trained my apprentice and is an inspirational teacher if you want to learn the craft of baking. You can see him at work through the window and he's always happy to answer questions. There's a cafe above the bakery where you can sit and escape the bustle with a slice of his signature polenta cake and a cup of coffee (phoenix bakery.co.uk)