Passford House Hotel comes as something of a surprise. Lymington certainly boasts its fair share of better-known eateries, from small and chic boutique hotels to smart modern bistros, with their ubiquitous wooden floors and huge blackboard menus.
But set the satnav, negotiate a succession of narrow lanes winding deep into the countryside between Lymington and Sway, and you’ll end up somewhere refreshingly different.
Passford House, a long, creamy building wreathed in wisteria, is a beautiful country house with a stately history. Once the home of Queen Victoria’s private secretary Lord Arthur Cecil, the building is set in ten acres of beautifully landscaped gardens and has an armoury of modern facilities at your disposal. Two pools, sauna, spa and gym, croquet lawns, petanque, a nine-hole putting green – there are so many signposts at the top of the gravel drive you need five minutes to read them all.
It’s just the kind of place you want to fall into after a long country walk. Roaring log fires, deep squishy armchairs, glossy magazines scattered on occasional tables, and a welcoming brandy. The staff here are every bit as warm and welcoming as the hotel’s lounges, and we sink into a couple of those squishy chairs to consider the menu – appetites whetted by a selection of natty little canapés brought on an elegant silver platter.
The menu isn’t too long to be overwhelming, but there’s plenty of choice. Starters feature tempura prawns, smoked duck salad and sweet charentais melon, but we’re very happy with our king scallops – beautifully crusted outside and translucent inside, set off by a sweet and fiery chilli glaze – and a chunky game terrine with sweet plum chutney. A zingy viognier from the Lebanon is the perfect accompaniment – a great recommendation, as we would have opted for a safer Australian or French choice on our own and would have missed out on a seriously good wine with complex fresh flavours.
Mains range from traditional fillet steak and fat chips to a delicious roasted loin of monkfish, perfectly cooked in a thin coat of leek leaves and sitting on a bed of creamy butterbean cassoulet.
The slow-roasted lamb shank is falling off the bone into its rich sauce – there’s really no need for the strawberry and cucumber decorating the plate; never good bedfellows with roasted root veg, they strike a jarring note that just isn’t needed.
No such problems with pudding. A velvety brulée with a hint of Baileys, and a thick and luscious tiramisu are just as they should be – if not a bit better.
Coffee and thick dark chocolate are served back in front of that roaring fire.
Leisurely, warm and comforting, an evening at Passford House Hotel is like a wrapping yourself in a soft, thick blanket on a winter’s night. Next time, we’ll stay the night – it’s a great excuse to go back.
• Passford House Hotel, Mount Pleasant Lane, Near Lymington, Hampshire, SO41 8LS. Tel: 01590 682398