Sunday, 10 February 2013

[Out of Oxford] La Perle, Milford-on-Sea

Milford-on-Sea in Hampshire boasts a nice beach and a fine view across to the Isle of Wight, but this seaside village is not an especially appealing place in winter. On a cold evening in February the dark main street was lit up only by the lights of La Perle.

The restaurant brands itself as a 'boutique French bistro'. But while the owner and head chef, Lionel Sene, is French, there are framed prints of France on the tastefully wallpapered walls and the menu is dutifully divided into 'les entrées', 'les plats' and 'les desserts', it is by no means a set of Gallic clichés. What we ate was varied, original and for the most part superbly executed. We began with some lovely - fresh and generously replenished - bread, plain and with cumin and pinenuts. 
(low lighting does not make for good photos; sorry)
I feared that the two large tranches of which my starter of black pudding 'Landais' (£7.95) consisted would leave me with no room for anything else, but the delicious soft interior that burst from the casing wasn't too rich (although I think 'Landais' means it contained pig's head meat, which would explain what those tasty fatty chunks inside were). It also worked unexpectedly well with the more astringent flavours of the accompanying apple purée and red cabbage. Meanwhile, another starter of 'horseradish broth, smoked mackerel, cabbage soup' (£5.95) needed a bit of explaining: was it one dish or three? It turned out to be a nutritious thin soup, with a strong fishy - if not especially memorable beyond that - flavour and a final kick from the horseradish. A salad 'Lyonnaise' (£7.95) was topped with a finely poached egg and some very porky lardons. 

My three fellow diners went for the chef's signature dish, the seven hour slow-cooked shoulder of lamb (£15.95). This arrived looking almost painfully simple, with mashed potato, carrots and courgettes, but the meat was tender and melting and came with a delectable red wine gravy. I branched out with the rump of veal (£17.95) which came with a much longer list of accompaniments: broccoli and pine nut purée, brussels sprouts and bacon, and chorizo and black olive butter. The veal was, again, tender and juicy, and not many dishes are marred by the addition of bacon and chorizo, although I felt that the subtler vegetable flavours were not so much in evidence.

Desserts, in any case, were splendid. A miniature tarte tatin (£6.95) was sweet and buttery, but was perhaps eclipsed by a warm chocolate, nougat and raspberry tart (£7.95). This had an oozing chocolate filling that was just dark enough not to be too rich, with tiny nuggets of fruit and nougat. It sat in a pool of caramel that tasted as if a creamy toffee had been melted and drizzled over the plate. 
A special mention also goes to the spiced winter fruit compote prepared for my dairy-allergic mother. In our experience (I should say that we've been before, not least for the rather good £10 lunch offer), the kitchen here is always happy to respond creatively to such requirements. Indeed, La Perle is a friendly place, thanks to the obliging waiting staff and the unassuming Lionel, who tends to emerge from the kitchen for a chat once everyone has finished. It's certainly a good enough reason to go to Milford in winter.

La Perle
60 High Street
Lymington SO41 0QD

01590 643557


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