Birthday Dinner at the Montagu Arms Hotel, Beaulieu.
Dining delectably in timeless country house elegance looking out upon a romantic courtyard garden lit by a Supermoon
For what more could you wish?
Our first ever visit to the Terrace Restaurant at the Montagu Arms Hotel in Beaulieu was also timely, as the hotel was in the midst of being awarded lots of accolades:
• Winner - Best Loved Hotel in the South 2016
• Winner – Hampshire Life Best Hotel Restaurant
• Gold - “Small and Boutique Hotel of the Year”, and Silver - “Best Bistro and Restaurant”, at the Beautiful South Awards
I'm not quite sure why we've not eaten at The Terrace before, perhaps we thought it would be too pricey, although this is not at all the case. Along with many local friends we’ve previously dined at Lime Wood and The Pig for “special occasions” - and experienced very variable meals and service at both. How would the award-winning Terrace at the Montagu Arms compare?
A warm welcome - from parking the car onwards
So to add something a little special to a mid-week working-day November birthday we dressed up a little, parked outside the Montagu Arms, acknowledged the stone guard dogs and opened the stately entrance doors into the panelled hallway where the welcoming interior enveloped us and Louise on reception invited us to settle into the deep settees by the cosy fireside to consider the menu.
Cosy fireside, deep settees for aperitifs and menu contemplation
And very soon our senses were captivated by the warmth which emanated not just from the fire and the comfy seating, but also from each and every member of staff we met during this lovely evening of relaxing, wining and dining. The welcome hug with Pierre from Burgundy seemed quite natural – and kind of sums up the sense of becoming “part of the family” for the evening. There was a spirit of something very special at work here. And as for pink roses in November - inspirational!
Enticing, seasonal menu with delectable sounding options
And, what a menu! So often when I take hold of a menu for the first time, my eye falls upon something and I know that’s what I want. But we’d been told that chef Matt has a penchant towards the nostalgic and chooses homely recipes inspired by family cooking – and does not stint on portion sizes either! And indeed, everything on the menu looked inviting.
How do you choose between “spiced diver caught Scottish scallops with cauliflower puree, apple coriander and cumin veloute” or “ravioli of late season woodside farm lamb with grilled broccoli, roasted onions and a rosemary scented broth” or indeed “autumn truffle risotto with creamed baron bigot cheese chervil and wild mushrooms”, to name just three of the five enticing Starter options.
As the fire gently crackled and we sipped our glasses of Birthday Celebration champagne feeling quite at home and nibbling our “gougeres ” (baked savoury choux pastry of choux dough mixed with cheese) we were in no hurry to choose and were not hurried either.
Eventually between three of us we managed to choose three different starters and main courses intending to taste each others’ – although of course when it came to it that didn’t happen!
In to the Restaurant overlooking the romantic courtyard garden
Our table beckoned. Literally. It was the one to which I was drawn - in the far corner of the restaurant overlooking the courtyard garden, looking attractive and slightly mysterious in the soft light of the SuperMoon above, augmented by the subtle low level outdoor lights from below. (The lounge and conservatory, and dining room set at right angles, each open on to this magical garden which is a very special feature of the Hotel and enables you even on a wintry evening such as this to enjoy the pleasure of that connection between outdoors and in.)
A memorable, delicious dinner impeccably served
Led to our table by Diane we were seated in comfy armchairs upholstered in luxury velvet - one of the subjects, we were told, of the extensive recent renovations at the Montagu Arms.
We sipped the first wine (Sauvignon Blanc “Left Field” Te Awa, from Nelson, New Zealand) and savoured the amuse bouche - a delicious dried beef concoction.
The starters were even better than they sounded from the menu and were followed by the main courses we’d chosen, with two of us going for fish: “escalope of Shetland hake with Fowey mussels, late season tomatoes, fresh white beans and courgettes” and “slow poached Newhaven monkfish with grilled lettuce, crispy potato terrine, smoked bacon and red wine sauce” and one for the “roast saddle of Alresford roe deer with parsnip puree, glazed beetroot and crisp brisket croquette”.
The wine by the glass selected by Sergio (French, although the name’s Italian) to accompany the fish was a 2013 Pinot Noir, “Flor de Campo”, from Central Coast California. And for my venison it was a 2010 Syrah: Terre Rouge, also from California but from Central Valley.
The conversation slowed somewhat as we sipped and tasted, there is nothing I can say in words to do justice to the clever combination of flavours making up each dish, each of which managed to be just perfect. We just about cleared our plates too - the portions were extremely generous, but it was all too delicious to leave anything behind!
Despite having already digested an ample sufficiency desserts had to be tried, they were included in the three course menu and between us somehow we managed to taste the “lemon meringue pie with basil sorbet”, the “dark chocolate cremeux with walnut ice cream, coffee macaroon and milk chocolate mousse”, and, probably the piece de resistance : “warm salted caramel fondant with cider lolly sorbet and creme fraiche”.
Then back to our fireside settees for coffee and petits fours.
Elegant yet relaxed, top quality food, professional personal service
All in all this was a really excellent all round dining experience, somehow managing to combine elegance with relaxation and comfort, top quality ingredients to produce homely delicious food, professional service with a friendly and personal touch. We concur with the awarders of all the accolades above!
Jane Porter for lymington.com, November 2016