WHEN thinking of a restaurant to head to for an evening out, I tend to choose the places I spot when I’m out and about.

And much as I enjoy eating in hotel’s restaurants when I’m staying in one, it doesn’t normally occur to visit one just for a meal.

But after a lovely dinner at the Holiday Inn, Winchester that’s all changed.

Not only did it offer a lovely dining experience and the chance to try out somewhere new, but being in a hotel, where other people were on weekend trips and holidays, made us catch a bit of the holiday spirit ourselves, making it feel a bit like a very mini break!

It is Hampshire’s newest four star hotel and everything looked wonderfully new and sparkling.

From the moment we walked through the main doors of the hotel, the service was excellent.

The restaurant had recently earned an AA rosette and it was easy to see why.

It had recently put the finishing touches to its kitchen team by appointing a new sous and pastry chef to work alongside head chef Clifford McCree.

This isn’t the kind of place that churns out hundreds of meals a night and has to rely on ready-made options.

Everything is handmade, even the ice-cream, which came in some rather unusual flavours.

The result is dishes that are both well presented and tasty.

There is a price tag to match – our mains cost more than £20 each – but this is not the sort of place you pop into for a quick bite. For me, anyway, it would be more of an occasion destination.

I started my meal with leek and potato broth, a basic but warming choice. My partner had seared scallop, crab and dill with crème fraiche. They were very nicely presented and a light and tasty way to start his meal. It was also the first time he’d had caviar which got a big plus.

For my main I had wild mushroom with potatoes, roasted cherry tomatoes and a spiced tomato coulis. This was beautifully presented and although it was slightly salty it was very tasty and memorable. I was also a huge fan of my side dish, which was a generous serving of watercress and garlic salad. The combination of strong flavours was wonderful and the kind of thing you crave afterwards.

My partner had grilled fillet of sea bass with black olive mash, fennel puree and dill cream sauce.

The mash was wonderfully rich while the fish was perfectly cooked. He also loved his side dish of peppered green beans, which he said he could have eaten a whole plate of.

For dessert I had a red berry cobbler with raspberry compote and raspberry sorbet. The combination of warm and cold was perfect and I particularly liked the fresh fruity flavours in the compote.

My boyfriend had a rich but delicious dark chocolate crème brulee with one of the house special ice creams – divine white chocolate and earl grey flavour – on the side.

It was an indulgent and delicious meal and a special evening out. I’m sure we’ll be back.

The Holiday Inn Hotel Winchester is in Telegraph Way, Morn Hill. For reservations call: 01962 670 700.