A small country house hotel in the charming village Beaulieu the Montagu Arms is a just a short cycle ride or drive from Brockenhurst, an ideal jumping off point for a tour of the New Forest. With open fires and wood paneling inside and a terrace bar and pretty kitchen gardens outside, the surroundings promise plenty of character no matter which month you visit. Add in the promise of a stunning supper and charming bedrooms and you’ve got the perfect recipe for post-walking or cycling pampering.
The hotel’s Terrace restaurant has retained its Michelin star since 2009 and, under chef Matthew Tomkinson, the kitchen focuses on seasonal dishes that are prettily presented and cooked with precision.
In a dining room that whispers classic French style (the butter is served on marble slabs and the wine list comes with a contents list), we started with fragrant spiced scallops. Caramelised and plump, delicately seasoned and perched on a bed of smooth cauliflower puree, alongside matchsticks of tart apple and a fragrant cumin veloute, the dish was as pleasing to look at as it was to eat. The second starter, a seasonal terrine of rabbit and black pudding, was just as big a hit. Served with a punchy celeriac remoulade, the terrine was accompanied by a rich rabbit liver pate and breaded, deep-fried rabbit ‘bon bon’, every bite a different texture.
A main course of turbot came with a mixture of buttery mushrooms, a creamy pearl barley risotto and an intense cep sauce, cut through by a bitter charred chicory garnish. Roast Cornish lamb came with a wild garlic puree, whipped salty goat’s cheese, and fluffy, cotton candy-like slow-cooked lamb shoulder with glazed potatoes. Each dish was a gorgeously balanced mix of salty and sweet, texture and colour. Portions were generous, too, so make sure you save room for dessert, or cheese.
We shared a classic fondant, filled with buttery salted caramel and a little crème fraiche, before making headway with an impressive cheese trolley. So vast it needs wheeling to your table (we counted a hefty 15 British and French cheeses!), the trolley’s selection of blue, hard, soft, goat and strong cheeses are tiered by strength and pungency and explained in exceptional detail while you try to make your decision.
The wine list is huge, so you’re sure to find something you like. There’s a definite French influence, and a welcome tendency towards sustainability, and organic production. We asked the sommelier to pair wines to our mains, and found a Riesling and Pinot Noir ideal matches for our turbot and lamb dishes.
Bedrooms stick to a tried and tested English country house theme, with floral wallpaper and curtains, white-painted furniture and pastel sofas. The hotel is proud of its rather old-fashioned sense of style and, while some guests might not appreciate the slightly dated feel, others feel it’s in keeping with the setting. Our room (room 6) was very comfortable, if a little on the cosy side, but it suited our quick weekend stop-off just fine.
The first meal of the day is approached with as much care as the dinner menus. A breakfast menu included thick cut, smoked bacon and sausage from Ponhead farm, eggs from the hotel’s own hens, crumbly, freshly baked pastries and delicately flaky smoked haddock – the perfect start to a day of cycling or walking. Service was polite and friendly, too. Coffee and juice were kept topped up and any questions about the menu were answered enthusiastically.
Double rooms at the Montagu Arms start from £219, b&b (montaguarmshotel.co.uk). Three-course dinner at the Terrace from £75pp.
Written by Anna Glover, May 2016
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