IT WAS one of those typical gloomy, damp winter days and we were in need of some cheer. Somewhere quite the opposite to the weather really: where the welcome was as warm as the atmosphere and the promise of good food and fine company would sweep away the effects of the winter chills.

Luckily, The Fisherman’s Haunt was turning out to be just the antidote to bleak weather.

Set just on the edge of the New Forest National Park in the lovely village of Winkton near Christchurch, The Fisherman’s Haunt is the kind of place that exudes warmth from the moment the door opens and you enter into the cosy lounge and bar.

Probably the first person you will meet will be host Chris Bailey, a beaming smile behind the bar. And it’s infectious that smile, if the rest of the team’s attitude is anything to go by.

Sweeping into action they had our family party sitting at a table overlooking the dining area without any delay.

We’d booked prior to making the journey, which meant we had a schedule to meet. But we agreed The Fisherman’s Haunt would be an ideal place to start or finish an amble through that part of the Forest and surrounding countryside.

And, of course, as its name suggests, the hotel is not far from the water, which, judging by the large stuffed pike that gazed at us glassy-eyed from a display tank (it was actually caught in 1949, the legend informed us, but looked quite perky for its age) is quite a draw for anglers.

Certainly the restaurant makes good use of angling references with a fine display of rods and reels as well as other fascinating paraphernalia.

But we were there to net a tasty Sunday lunch and were eager to discover whether the menu would catch our eye (OK, no more angling references, I promise).

The Fisherman’s Haunt regular menu is quite a surprise. Yes, there are the expected staples – lasagne, beer-battered cod, hand-carved ham, whole tail scampi – but the offerings also included New Forest venison and traditional farmhouse faggots.

Further investigation underscored the fact the hotel – and in particular Chris and head chef Terry – are passionate supporters of local food producers and ensure the menu is full of fare from the local region. The sign of The New Forest Marque set against some of the items was a clear indicator of dishes sourced from within the New Forest area.

Regular specialities, I noticed, included crab gratin and caramelised red onion and goats cheese filo parcel. And the specials of the day, as well as the offer of a Sunday roast, included during our visit home made celeriac soup, baked White Hart cheese to share, braised crown of local pheasant and home-made lamb and chilli burger.

For once, Mrs M and I could not agree to sample separate starters. Although the offerings were very tempting – New Forest game terrine, home-cured salmon gravadlax – we both wanted to try the London Pride and blue cheese creamy button mushrooms.

They were fantastic, as we guessed they would be, and I didn’t feel guilty at not allowing the others to tuck in. They were, after all, enjoying the soup, or salmon or even garlic bread.

For my main course, I chose Terry’s home-made shortcrust pastry pie, which on our visit was filled with local game, duck and partridge. Speaking to the head chef later I was to learn the ingredients came from his regular supplier Owls Barn Farm, a traditionally farmed business that has been ‘free-range’ since 1999. The pie, which came with a generous serving of vegetables, was delicious. A real treat. I will be returning to sample more of his creations.

Mrs M chose the stuffed chicken breast with blue cheese and apricot wrapped with bacon with a white wine and tarragon sauce. She was delighted with the meal and its presentation.

Others in our party enjoyed the roast lamb and fillet steak.

Puddings, cheeses and coffees were on offer to complete the meal.

The cost of the meals was, we thought, very reasonable, with starters from £4.50 and mains around £10.

The Fisherman’s Haunt aims, it says, to create the atmosphere of a traditional country inn. As we made our way out into the bleak winter afternoon weather we all agreed Chris and his team have achieved that ambition, and more.

The Fisherman’s Haunt,
Salisbury Road,
01202 477283