A memorable lunchtime feast

As you turn off the main road, past the entrance gates and along the sweeping driveway through the parkland estate to the Chewton Glen, it feels as though you have arrived in a different domain.

Elegant, quintessentially English, yet relaxed and welcoming, it is easy to see why this place has accrued so many awards, including the title of best UK holiday hotel.

We were greeted by at least four members of smartly dressed staff as soon as we stepped into the entrance hall. Once we had handed over our coats we were guided to our table in the Vetiver restaurant, overlooking the manicured lawns and sun terrace.

We were offered a glass of chilled champagne and a selection from the bread basket – mini granary and raison loaves, ciabatta rolls or tomato and basil.

Considering the location, the lunch menu is excellent value. You can have three courses for £25 such as soup du jour, pheasant rillettes or cured salmon for starters and then veal, local flounder, fennel tart tatin or steak for main, and a choice of three desserts.

We decided to mix and match from the a la carte menu which is a big read but fortunately the head waiter knows the menu well and was able to make some recommendations.

For starters I couldn’t resist the twicebaked emmental soufflé (£16) which arrived sizzling in a cast iron skillet, a soft crust on the outside but light and fluffy on the inside. The richness of the cheese was perfectly balanced with a small side dish of shredded cucumber, lettuce and chopped walnuts in a light fruity dressing.

Meanwhile my husband was making short work of his lobster bisque (£10) which was meaty, robust and surprisingly spicy with just enough kick to warm the cockles on an exceptionally cold winter’s afternoon.

For main course I ordered Dover sole (£26) which was expertly filleted for me at the table (not a single bone was left behind) and served with a terrine of new potatoes, mangetout and broccoli and a small jug of foaming buttery meuniere sauce which was sublime.

My husband chose the grilled sirloin steak from the set lunch menu (which comes with an £11 supplement) which was perfectly cooked to his taste and served with triple cooked chips and a creamy béarnaise sauce with plenty of fresh tarragon.

Our desserts were like works of art on the plate. Andrew ordered the fine apple tart from the lunch menu made with soft fresh pastry and served with honey and rosemary ice cream. I had mango and lime mascarpone with fresh figs and a pistachio biscotti (£10) from the main menu which was refreshing but with just enough sweetness to round off the meal.

The service was excellent – particularly the brilliant sommelier Francesco who perfectly matched a glass of crisp, New Zealand Seresin sauvignon blanc for our starters and a glass of Wild Ferment Pinot Noir, a medium bodied red, which worked well with both main courses.

Afterwards we were persuaded to enjoy a latte and some petit fours, which are made in house, in front of a fire in one of the sitting rooms. It took all our resolve to tear ourselves away at the end of truly memorable afternoon.

This has got to be one of the best places to dine for a special occasion. A feast for all the senses.