THE Nici has a growing reputation across Bournemouth and the country as a fantastic hotel.

Hearing good things, I had wanted to visit and as the hotel is set to open its second restaurant in the summer, I went to sample its established South Beach restaurant.

My partner and I were booked in at 7pm and arrived at the restaurant, which is just off the reception for the main hotel, where we were greeted by our fantastic waitress, Hattie.

She took us to our table in the window, which I am sure would have usually had an excellent view over the sea and towards the Purbecks – but visibility was less than ideal with the rain pouring outside.

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While it was a less-than-lovely evening outside, the restaurant had a warm and welcoming feeling for both those staying at the hotel and local diners.

As we got settled, Hattie returned to take our drinks orders, and we opted to take their cocktail recommendation of a South Beach Punch.

I was glad we did as it was a fantastic choice, with a light and fruity flavour, and was the perfect way to kick off the evening.

Kicking off the food, we got some fresh, warm bread and oils and plump and juicy olives, which we snacked on while making our choices from the main a la carte menu.

For a starter, I went for The Nici Crab Cake, which I have to say was the best crab cake I have had, with a wonderfully crisp outside and a delicious crab filling.

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For me, though, the mango and red pepper salsa took the dish to another level, adding a sweet accompaniment that complemented the crab cake brilliantly.

My partner selected the House Cured Salmon with potato blini and sour cream, which she loved, too.

With clean plates sent back to the kitchen, we took the time between courses to order another cocktail, with our punch glasses now empty.

Eager to try as much as we could, I went for a Betty Bluegrass, while my partner chose the ‘Mysterious Girl’ from the restaurant’s extensive specialty cocktail menu.

Both were fantastic and I preferred my second choice to my first, although my partner felt the South Beach Punch was the pick of the three.

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The main courses were soon to follow.

Before the meal, I spoke to executive chef, Dominic South, who said in creating the new menu he aimed to make it familiar, but elevated.

This I felt was clear from my main course, The Big Nic ‘n’ Fries.

It has to be one of the best burgers I have had for a while, with a perfectly pink centre to the patty and additions which perfectly complemented the burger.

The fries were excellent, too, crisp but fluffy, while we were also brought an extra side of truffle mash, which, while I would possibly not have gone for it off the menu, was delicious – I will certainly be choosing it again when I return.

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My partner had the Chicken Milanese which was perfectly cooked and topped with a light salad – Hattie suggested choosing a side to go with it, too, and she chose fries.

The pair of us were absolutely stuffed after our mains so decided to share a dessert.

We picked the banana and ginger cake, which was a delicious way to round out the meal.

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Thoroughly satisfied with our meal, and feeling very full, we left what had been a fantastic first visit to The Nici.

From our meal, I can see why this hotel is gaining national recognition.

With the addition of its new restaurant, Old Harry Rocks, in June, this is sure to continue.