11:13am Monday 5th September 2011
By Ian Murray
They say if it ain’t broke, then don’t meddle. Or that’s the gist of the recommendation. Why change a sure-fire thing,I guess is the thinking. And few could ever deny the restaurant at the Chewton Glen Hotel was already anything but a success.
There must have been some trepidation then, when the world-famous New Forest icon decided to not just tinker with its restaurant, but change the whole concept.
The resulting transformation is Vetiver, the Chewton Glen’s signature statement on dining. Those who knew the former restaurant will immediately be struck by the changes in décor, layout and food offering. Physically, the restaurant is now divided into five sections, including the beautiful Wine Room – an ideal setting for a more secluded gathering or party group – and the newly built Summer House, with its views across the lawns to the woods beyond.
A promenade links the different areas and creates a grand entrance to The Garden Room, which, along with the Summer House, looks out onto the patio terrace.
By clever design, the rooms are interwoven and connected through colour schemes that play heavily on purples, greens and black, to give each area its subtle distinction, yet bind the whole together. The menu remains the same for all of the sections, but changes in décor and seating – cosy corners, traditional tables, larger groupings, vases of fresh country flowers, jugs of herbs and limedoak furniture – can change the experience for each visit. At least that’s the theory from the mind of interior designer Anita Rosato. And it works.
For our meal, Mrs M and I were shown into perhaps the most dramatic of the new rooms, The Oak End; the walls made fabulous by the use of brave black wallpaper with beautiful white flowers.
Black-painted brick arches sound risky, but the effect is tremendous set against the lime green banquette couches and touches of purple. Our view was through to the conservatory and the gardens beyond.
We loved the bunny-themed napkin holders, a subtle nod to the Chewton Bunny stream that runs through the Glen of the same name.
The service wasn’t rushed, but it was attentive and our waiter took time to explain the menu and make suggestions. The special Vetiver Tasting Menu, for instance, would give us the chance to sample an array of delights. Courses included foie gras ballotine with Pedro Ximenez jelly on toasted brioche, Isle of Gigha scallops roasted in shell, linecaught Cornish sea bass with roasted aubergine and chorizo cassoulet, roast rack of spring lamb with rosemary polenta, and iced honeycomb parfait. A wine selection for each course could be added, and if we wished changes could be made to the tasting menu offering. It was tempting. But then again so was so much on Vetiver’s menu.
The concept is to allow diners to decide for themselves what they want their visit to Vetiver to be; a casual snack, a single course, a full formal dining experience.
To begin our meal, I went for the pea and coconut soup. Beautifully presented from a small pouring jug, the subtle hint of coconut didn’t overpower the fresh pea flavour.
The choice of starters was extensive: endive and Isle of Wight blue cheese salad, tempura of monkfish cheeks, yellow tuna fish tartare.
In the end, Mrs M chose the mousseron mushroom and baby spinach risotto, which she described as quite beautiful. I enjoyed dressed Dorset crab with an apple and celeriac remoulade. The dish was superb.
For our main course we had could have had a choice from the grill including veal T bone, calf’s liver and Ventreche bacon, a double Barnsley lamb chop or, for two, cote de boeuf. Other main offerings included Kaffir lime steamed whole sea bream with coconut broth, roast Devonshire duck breast, and slow roasted chicken.
Mrs M chose the tagine of slow-cooked lamb with jewelled couscous and harissa.
It arrived splendidly presented, the meat beautifully spiced. I chose roast rump of lamb with rosemary polenta, baby onions and broad beans. It was cooked to perfection, the rosemary polenta the star of the dish.
To complete our meals I chose the inventive rice pudding. Gorgeous.
Our Chilean merlot had been chosen on the advice of the Chewton Glen’s head sommelier and beautifully complemented our meal choices.
A final drink in the hotel’s lovely bar with its crackling open log fire, and our evening at Vetiver came to an end. But as we had decided to make a night of it and could retire to our sumptuous room with its views over the outdoor swimming pool and gardens, saying goodnight wasn’t too sad.
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