SET in eight acres of parkland overlooking a red deer sanctuary, the Grade II listed Burley Manor Hotel underwent a £1.8m refurbishment two years ago which coincided with the launch of its Mediterranean-inspired, locally-sourced menu featuring a mouth-watering array of tapas and sharing dishes.
Despite welcoming holidaymakers and guests for more than 80 years, the beautiful Victorian manor house is probably one of the New Forest’s lesser known hotels, possibly because it changed ownership a number of times in the decade before its current owners the New Forest Hotels group, took the reins in 2015.
Since then the hotel, relaunched as an adult only restaurant with rooms, has gone from strength to strength with the recent appointment of Adam Wilson as general manager.
As a big fan of Mediterranean food, I was excited and intrigued to visit and as we arrived on a dark and snowy evening, first impressions were very positive.
While retaining many charming features such as open fires, a sweeping staircase and oak panel walls, the warm and relaxing lounge area also embraced modern luxury with bold colours, colourful prints and eclectic art work.
The spacious dining room was decorated in a similar quirky style with chandeliers, olive trees, bold wallpaper and post-impressionist art work adorning the walls.
We were shown to our spacious table by a friendly waiter who quickly returned with a bottle of sparkling water and a bowl of freshly baked bread served with small dishes of flavoured olive oil.
The wine list was extensive with a range of predominantly French, Italian, and Spanish wines as well as several New World wines, all available either by the bottle or as a 250ml carafe.
We chose a bottle of the house red wine – a French Petit Papillon Grenache Rouge (£21) which was easy drinking and pleasant. For anyone looking to add a little sparkle to their evening, there was also a choice of seven champagnes and sparkling wines available.
To start our meal we chose to share two dishes from the tapas menu – a difficult decision as there were lots of intriguing options including beer and treacle cured beef (£5); kale hazelnut and halloumi borek (£4.50); New Forest squash soup with feta (£4); and chicken, chorizo and butter bean stew (£4.50).
After much deliberation we chose crispy squid with burnt chilli mayo (£5) and the ham hock and manchego croquettes (£5).
Our tapas arrived promptly and both were generous portions. The large breadcrumb wrapped croquettes were absolutely delicious and were packed full of tender ham and buttery soft manchego.
The crispy squid was perfectly cooked with a light batter so it had the perfect bite without being chewy.
My husband, who always opts for squid if it’s on the menu, described it as “absolutely outstanding” and definitely amongst the best he had ever tasted.
Dishes are prepared using wood fired ovens for an authentic Mediterranean flavour, and where possible ingredients are locally sourced.
The importance that the restaurant places on local ingredients is echoed by several options on the menu including onion tarte tatin with Isle of Wight blue cheese (£15); Burley venison and Pistachio dukkah (£18); market fish of the day; and a selection of Lyburn cheeses.
Head chef Ben Johnson said: “The beauty of running a kitchen in the New Forest is the ability to source produce from forest to coast. With the origin and quality of product being most important; the unrivalled choice of local suppliers we have is just unique.
“We are then able to bring out the best of these ingredients by cooking traditionally in our wood-fired ovens.”
The main course options were divided into three parts – with several vegetarian choices including open wild mushroom lasagne with truffle (£18), a forest and coast section with dishes such as pan-fried hake, clams, Iberico ham and hazelnut (£17); and sirloin streak a la plancha (£21); and a sharing section with much larger dishes for two or more people to enjoy including Moroccan lamb and lentil stew (£44) and Seafood ‘fritto misto’ (£35).
After some deliberation we opted for a sharing dish of Greek-style Noah’s Ark chicken (£38), which the waiter explained was supplied by a farm in Ashley.
All sharing dishes are served with two vegetable sides such as patatas bravas, roasted root veg, slow cooked celeriac with apple and fennel and sweet potato and spiced pepper hash.
When our main course arrived it certainly lived up to the billing of a ‘sharing dish’; it was enormous and probably big enough to satisfy three or four people if you chose a selection of tapas to go alongside!
The chicken stuffed with feta cheese and olives was fantastic – slow cooked and moist – and so tasty we actually managed to finish the huge serving!
To accompany the chicken we chose crispy courgette fries lightly dusted in sea salt (so delicious), and shawarma cauliflower and pinenuts, which was flamed-grilled and slightly charred for a smoky flavour, and undoubtedly the best way I have ever eaten cauliflower!
We also enjoyed a baby gem, sun-blushed tomato and shallot salad (£5).
To finish up I enjoyed New Forest Honey parfait with honeycomb and almonds (£8) which was incredibly light and creamy; and my husband chose Amalfi lemon tart with white chocolate, served with mascarpone sorbet (£8) which was beautifully presented and perfectly combined the bitterness of lemon with the sweet elements of white chocolate.
A wonderful end to an incredible meal!
Not wanting the evening to end we moved through to the cosy lounge area to enjoy Italian coffee as we watched the snow gently falling outside.
The meal was truly exceptional – everything we tasted was not only delicious but also unusual, adding up to a truly memorable dining experience. My husband is already planning a return visit for his birthday!