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The New Forest, with its abundant ferns, alarmingly wild animals and peculiar artificiality, strikes me as almost prehistoric, as if 14,000 acres of pastureland had been carved out of a staged imagining of the Mesozoic era and lain across the Hampshire-Wiltshire border.

Proclaimed as a royal hunting forest by William the Conqueror, this quasi-Jurassic Park incorporates the eye-wateringly picturesque towns and villages of Brockenhurst, Hythe, Lyndhurst and Beaulieu, and within these, a generous scattering of country hotels that could make even the most rabidly single bachelor yearn for the giddy romanticism and wholehearted lachrymosity of his wedding day.

One of these rural retreats is The Montagu Arms, a wisteria-draped, arts and crafts Grade II-listed building of wizened red brick that greets you into the chocolate-box riverside village of Beaulieu. It comprises a 22-bedroom hotel, Monty’s Inn pub, and the flagship Terrace Restaurant. It is here, in The Terrace, that Roux scholar Matthew Tomkinson’s culinary skills and fabulous imagination are put to work. Matthew has been at the helm of The Terrace for ten years, cooking up Modern British cuisine heavily influenced by French techniques and using the produce of the New Forest. Matthew’s technique speaks for itself; high-quality, seasonal ingredients are cooked with precision and flair, with enough innovation to render his dishes memorable without trying to reinvent the wheel. A fine case in point is his scallop starter; Matthew enhances colossal examples of everyone’s favourite bivalve with a rich and salty cauliflower purée, fresh apple, and the fragrant Moroccan blend ras el hanout. This subtle reimagining of classic ingredients exemplifies Matthew’s attitude to cooking.

The main courses continue the theme. A duck breast – from Creedy Carver – is sweet with honey and yielding to the knife with a rich, gamey flavour. For balance, leaves of endive are baked in a classic tarte fine until bordering on burnt, and the mineral kick of artichoke purée rounds off  the dish, accompanied by a robust pepper sauce. The sweet end of the menu is entirely grown-up in both concept and execution. A riff on lemon meringue pie is a work of serious consideration – light and sticky meringue tops an indecently smooth and zesty lemon posset. The twist here is the genius addition of a feather-light and aromatic basil sorbet – delicious.

The Montagu Arms itself provides a number of worthy diversions, with fabulous walks around Beaulieu village itself as well as the charming nearby Buckler’s Hard and, of course, the wider New Forest. But the real draw here is what comes out of the kitchen – Matthew Tomkinson and his brigade have an exceptional talent indeed.

montaguarmshotel.co.uk
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