WHEN it comes to eating out, Ashley Cross in Poole is rapidly reinstating itself as the focal point of Dorset’s restaurant scene.

One of the key players in this resurgence is charismatic restaurateur David Sax. This is the man who transformed The Cow from a crumbling pub into a place worthy of note in a Michelin eating out guide and established The Museum Inn in North Dorset, a country pub with rooms, favoured by the likes of Jamie Oliver and Guy Ritchie.

So there has been much intrigue surrounding his latest venture, Maison Sax, the former Brit pub in Britannia Road, which opened its doors in September.

What used to be a classic British boozer complete with large TV screens and slot machines, is now a French-inspired bistro and bar.

I’d already heard good things about the food and the menu is reasonably priced. Sax said he wanted to pitch it at the same price range as Pizza Express. But if you do want to splash out you can treat yourself to a Chateaubriand for two for £48 or 10oz rib eye for £21.

Although the bar area seemed a little bare (Sax says he’s still waiting for his art work to arrive) the bistro was buzzing which is always a good sign on a Tuesday night. We were given a warm welcome from the cheery staff and restaurant manager Johnny talked us through the various options which included a Classics section such as Beer Battered Cod & Chips (£14), Mushroom & Ale Pie (£11); Mains including Brisket Bourguignon (£15) and Chargrill with steaks and salads.

Starters included seasonal Soup du Jour (£6) and Chicken Liver Parfait (£7) but it was a no brainer for me when I clocked the Wookey Hole Cheddar souffle (£8.50).

This proved to be a great choice - definitely in the same league as Alex Aitken’s famed twice baked souffle (Alex is the chef patron of The Jetty in Christchurch). Perhaps it’s because it’s made with a quality cave-aged cheese that gives it such a distinct flavour, or the fact it was paired with a baby leaf salad in an exquisite walnut and truffle dressing.

Meanwhile my husband was making short work of his Tempura Tiger Prawns (£9), four fleshy crustaceans in a light batter served with a dipping sauce of tangy chilli, ginger and coconut.

For mains, Johnny recommended that I tried the Grilled Seabass Fillet (£16) which was draped over crushed violet potatoes with chorizo and cockles, topped with a generous handful of samphire - an inspired combination of robust flavours which enhanced rather than over-powered the delicate flavour of the fish.

My husband’s Slow Roasted Shoulder of Lamb (£16) looked like a work of art as the meat had been shaped into perfect sphere which crumbled into a generous portion of tender meat on a bed of Cavolo Nero (Italian kale) in red wine with truffled Dauphinoise potatoes.

For dessert we shared Bread & Butter Pudding with a Berry Compote (£6.50) served with crème Anglais - just enough sweetness to complete the meal. Although the dishes are not overly complicated, the emphasis is on preparation and quality ingredients. The rear garden is worth a look too as it’s been given a Mediterranean makeover complete with fairy lights. Maison Sax is a big venue with the potential to be the new heart of Ashley Cross if it can pull in the pub trade too.