One of the things about a country house hotel is that, without a car, you are at the mercy of the hotel’s restaurants but there is no need for concern at Four Seasons Hampshire. There are three restaurants on site, including the Café Santé which adjoins the spa and serves an Asian inspired daytime menu of healthy options that you can even enjoy in your robe and slippers. However, after a day of activities in the country air (read what you can get up to in my Four Seasons Hampshire hotel review), you will probably have earned something more hearty, something indulgent, something with plenty of wine…
Seasons restaurant is a richly decorated, high-ceilinged space and Charlotte and I took our seats with eager excitement. The menu includes a range of seasonal French and European influenced creations, put together by Executive Chef Cyrille Pannier. The restaurant takes pride in using locally sourced ingredients and, aside from the À La Carte, offers a Taste of Hampshire menu to showcase the local produce – some of which are even comes from within the hotel grounds. We chose the Taste of Hampshire menu, of course – when in Rome…
The very excellent sommelier, Akos Hervai, offered to suggest some wine pairings for us and we were happy to accept; we were even happier when the Champagne Louis Roederer, Brut Premier NV, arrived moments later. The first course was Hyden Farm guinea fowl and mushroom terrine, with artichoke purée and baby vegetables salad. Hyden Farm is a small organic farm on the edge of the South Downs Way and the care and attention that goes into this family business is what leads to the flavoursome meat in this terrine, a lovely light start to the meal.
It was followed by cream of courgette, pea espuma and Laverstoke Park mozzarella raviolo. The pasta was thin and the filling rich, which balanced the light freshness of the vegetables. The vivid green colour was visually striking and, on tasting, it was like a mouthful of fresh springtime. The Laverstoke Park Farm, which also provided the meat for the main course, is certified biodynamic and aims to become self-sustaining and self-sufficient. The passion of the local farmers is clear in the quality of the ingredients. The Laverstoke Park beef brisket, which was smoked and braised, was succulent, deeply flavoured and salty, accompanied by wilted spinach, horseradish potato mousseline and poached quail egg. Accompanied by a smoky Domaine Moreau, La Clef deVoute, St Emilion, 2008, it was this course that finally started the discussion between Charlotte and myself about whether we should stay in Hampshire forever.
The cheese course, a slice of New Forest Nanny chèvre from Loosehanger Farm, was served with honey pistachio stuffed dates and an olive bread crouton and paired with a zingy Gavi di Gavi Lugarara, La Guistiniana, 2010. This combination created the perfect frame to celebrate the nutty cheese, both in terms of texture and flavour; the sweet dates were particularly delicious with the creamy pistachio but cleverly unobtrusive as part of the whole.
The final course was a white chocolate cheesecake, with New Forest rhubarb sorbet. The tangy rhubarb was a wonderful contrast to the velvety, almost marshmallow, cheesecake and, although a small part of me wished there could have been more biscuit crumb, it was a fantastic way to end the meal, especially with the decadent and peachy Muscat de Beaumes de Venise alongside.
It was difficult to imagine that we would be able to digest this feast quickly enough to enjoy a second day of country pursuits but, the following evening, we found ourselves, freshly divested of grubby jodphurs in favour of dinner attire, seeking out further edible delights. In the interest of fairness, we took our second evening meal in The Bistro, which offers a more everyday range of dishes, including pastas, pizzas and grill options.
It may have been a rather alarming encounter with a giant bull while we were cycling, or just the proximity of the livestock guaranteeing quality, but Charlotte and I had spent the late afternoon gripped by a voracious desire for red meat. So much so that, once the menu was in front of me, I was only able to see beef and chose the carpaccio with capers, gherkins and shallots, followed by sirloin steak and béarnaise sauce. Charlotte selected the chicken liver and foie gras parfait, with spiced butter, blackberries and hazelnut brioche, also followed by sirloin with red wine sauce.
Both of the starters were very tasty but the steaks really were fantastic. Both medium rare, as we prefer, and well seasoned, they were a great way to satiate the kind of carnivorous hunger that can only be produced by outdoor exercise. We finished the meal with a light chamomile crème brûlée and a sumptuous chocolate tart and, in an attempt to delay the inevitability of our return home, moved to the bar.
Bar 1086, named for the year that the estate appears in the Domesday Book, is one of two lounges – the other being the Library – in which guest can relax and stare into the open fire as bar manager Paul’s amazing team caters to your every wish. The wine and cocktail menu is extensive but we were lucky enough to be able to sample some off-the-menu inventions, including a deconstructed white Russian developed through molecular gastronomy, and the 100 Mile Cocktail, which came about as part of a challenge to all Four Seasons hotels to make a cocktail with only ingredients from within a 100 mile radius. This latter included Beefeater gin and elderflower cordial, amongst other things, and was served with a heavenly rosemary icecream.
It is difficult to leave somewhere where you feel so completely at home, so well looked after, so spoilt. Cocktails in hand and trying not to think about returning to the daily grind, we sat on the terrace, wrapped in blankets that had been swiftly brought for us, and looked at the unpolluted night sky. If there had been a shooting star, I know what my wish would have been.
Four Seasons Hampshire
Hampshire RG27 8TD