Monday, 8 September 2014

[Out of Oxford] Hotel TerraVina, New Forest

As we left the Hotel TerraVina - feeling, to be quite frank, stuffed - I asked myself what had been the most memorable part of our visit. The airy terrace looking on to a pleasant grassy area where we sat? The impressively smooth service? The petits fours? No. I think it was the toilets.
To be clear, I'm not trying to say that the toilets were the best thing about Hotel Terravina (quite the opposite) and I haven't become one of those reviewers who is more interested in the surroundings than the food. It's just that the bathroom was so tidy, so well supplied - and had such a sweet but not sickly lavender scent - that it seemed representative of the care and attention to detail that went into virtually every aspect of our Sunday lunch.
This is meant to be my 'comeback' review and I was half hoping for a mixed experience, something that would allow me to flex my critical muscles, but it wasn't to be. I'm sure there will be other opportunities. To be fair, the omens were good: I've been very positive about New Forest boutique hotels and South Coast restaurants under French ownership before, and this establishment, run by a world champion sommelier (and co-founder of Hotel du Vin) and his wife, is both of those. 
 During the week the TerraVina offers various lunch and dinner menus but on Sundays the set lunch (£22.50 for two courses or £28.50 for three) prevails. The first sign that things were likely to go well was when a special printed version of said menu was produced for my dairy-allergic mother: we'd given advance warning, but we were impressed by this thoughtful gesture and indeed by the range of options she had. Attention to detail was also present with our starters. My ham hock terrine with grilled black pudding and quail's egg happened to combine a number of my favourite ingredients, but they were put together in a very accomplished way, with the terrine impressively chunky and the black pudding rich without being overwhelming. I thought I would have preferred the dish hot but soon realised it worked just as well cold. Gazpacho with watermelon and Bloody Mary granita (one of the dairy-free options) was exceptionally smooth and full-bodied. The only slightly false note was the bread: it was clearly homebaked but seemed a tad stale and dry and not particularly memorable. Perhaps the intention was to prevent diners from filling up on it.
Carbohydrates were the only part of the main course subject to any criticism, as some of the roast potatoes that came with the roast rib of beef ordered by two of us were also rather desiccated (and we wondered if they'd been through the oven more than once; my father also felt the Yorkshire pudding was a little greasy). That said, they were overshadowed by the large and tender slices of beef, as well as well-cooked beans and some slim white vegetables that turned out to be rainbow carrots. Meanwhile, there were no reservations about the other main course that reached our table, 'slow confit of belly and braised cheek of pork'. Both cuts were extremely moist and melting, and nicely offset by a carrot purée of perfectly distilled flavour and shredded cabbage with an distinctive juniper flavouring.
I should also say a bit more about the service. Normally as long as it's efficient and unobtrusive I don't have too much to say about this, but even I was impressed by how the aforementioned attention to detail was maintained by a small army of waiting staff: the informal but co-ordinated setting of the table and arrival of the dishes, the offers of horseradish, mustard and apple sauce, and even the discreet and speedy response when my brother accidentally sent his knife flying. It was picked up by the owner himself - both Mr and Mrs Basset were clearly in evidence and leading by example. As my initial paean to the toilets showed, they're clearly concerned to get every last aspect of their establishment right.

Desserts were also excellent. It was clear from the way in which my chocolate fondant wobbled as it arrived that it was going to be properly molten inside, and pistachio ice cream was an interesting, almost savoury complement. The others had an apple and blackcurrant crumble that was light and bursting with fruit rather than being overwhelmed by the topping, and my mother received a special nutty and dairy-free variation along with an intense blueberry sorbet. Included coffee and petits fours were a nice final touch.
Disclaimer - it was my birthday so I was kindly given not only a decorated dessert but an extra cake with coffee. In all other respects we had the same level of service as everyone else.

So, on the whole this was a very high-quality meal. I have one further piece of feedback. Unsurprisingly, given its owner's background, the hotel website stresses the range of wine it holds, but all we're told about the food is that it's 'fresh, free-range and organic produce from local New Forest suppliers'. I have no doubt this is true, but in an establishment like this it might be good to have a little more detail about the food's provenance, and what makes it (I'm sure) work so well with the wines. That's an observation, and not a criticism at all: our experience was excellent and I'd certainly be happy to come back regardless.

Hotel TerraVina
174 Woodlands Road
Netley Marsh
Southampton SO40 7GL

023 8029 3784


Hotel Terravina on Urbanspoon

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