As our high streets become ever more monochrome in their food and drink offering (same old chains, bland brand) it's refreshing to come across somewhere that is unique, independent, a real one-off.

And it's even more of a delight when you see, without having to look very hard, the passion behind the project.

And that's very much the case at The Paddle, with its very subtle nautical theme, in Highcliffe.

This cafe/coffee shop/restaurant is the brainchild of Donna Darbishire and her fiance/head chef Harry, and their excitement and passion for the four-year-old business is obvious.

On the corner of Lymington Road (which isn't exactly buzzing these days - and I speak as a resident of the village) and Waterford Road, which leads down to the sea, The Paddle is in an ideal location.

It draws some inspiration from Donna's time spent travelling in Australia and New Zealand at the age of 18.

"I trained as a barista there and they have an amazing cafe culture which I wanted to replicate. Friendly, informal but serving really great fresh food all day," she said.

"We wanted a name that said seaside without being too twee or surf cafe, that wasn't too formal and that gave a hint of our wood fired pizza oven."

She also has a wider background in the hospitality sector. Donna worked as events manager at Highcliffe Castle. She grew up in New Milton and Ashley.

Donna and Harry opened The Paddle in 2013 and then expanded last year when the neighbouring unit, the Scullery, became available.

It was a big jump with a large investment but it has given them much more space, two quite different eating areas and a high street frontage.

"It's funny, some customers prefer one side and some the other. Certainly the original part with the entrance on Waterford Road is cosier and more intimate," said Donna.

Her philosophy is simple. "I wanted to create somewhere where people could come at all times of the day to socialise and enjoy tasty home cooked food. I think we are doing that.

"Breakfast is brunch style, at lunchtime we serve flatbreads, colourful, vibrant, fresh salads, all sorts really.

"In the evening, it's good, fresh fish and fresh vegetables, locally sourced meat, it's a complete mixture. We offer Middle-Eastern, Mexican, British. We probably change the menu every two months or so."

I'm here to try out the evening menu.

I've already sampled the great breakfast menu.

I enjoyed the superb Swedish meatballs in creamy sauce with toasted sourdough, followed by pan fried cod, spring vegetables and new potatoes.

My guest had the delicious carrot, coriander and lemon soup followed by The Paddle pizza, straight from the wood fired oven.

We skipped dessert (we could have had home-made tiramisu or sticky toffee pudding among other options) and finished with excellent coffee.

It was a superb, freshly cooked meal in a really friendly atmosphere.

Customers are coming from as far afield as Bournemouth to eat and there are many local regulars, so the reputation is spreading.

Donna, Harry and their staff are clearly all paddling in the right direction.

•Opening hours 8am-4pm Wednesday 8am-10pm Thursday, Friday, Saturday 9am-4pm Sunday Table reservations are not taken at lunchtime, but booking is recommended in the evenings. The Paddle is fully licensed.

Tel: 01425 275148