HIDDEN away within the sprawling expanse of Carey’s Manor Hotel in Brockenhurst is Cambium, an enchanting Forest-inspired restaurant with a relaxed vibe.
Locally sourced food is high on the agenda, with a regular set menu showcasing the very best ingredients from the New Forest and Hampshire.
Under the direction of head sommelier Michael Driscoll, the restaurant has also become well known for its English wine, with an impressive range of more than 300 homegrown varieties on the menu.
As part of celebrations to mark English Wine Week earlier this month, head chef Alistair Craig created a special four-course dining menu (£40), complemented by select English wines hand-picked by Michael, including a sparkling rosé from Marlings Vineyard in Sway.
On arrival we were greeted warmly by the friendly staff and shown to a spacious table overlooking the serene dining room. Designed to echo the New Forest, the chic space is cleverly divided by leaf patterned screens to create more intimate areas.
Whilst my companion enjoyed an incredible non-alcoholic cocktail made with fresh passion fruit, I decided to jump straight in with a glass of sparkling rose produced just a few miles away at Marlings Vineyard.
Created using carefully hand-picked Pinot Noir Reichensteiner and Seyval blanc grapes, the chilled sparkling wine was wonderful, with subtle flavours of toffee.
It soon became very apparent that Michael was an amazing authority on English wines, so I opted for the special four-course dinner menu, which he paired with wines from the English Wine Week menu.
The first course was succulent Lymington crab served in a crispy tartlet. Beautifully presented with finely sliced apple and fennel, the dish was a feast for the eyes as well as the taste buds.
Meanwhile, my companion opted for grilled lemon sole, caught on the south coast, which she described as cooked to perfection.
Homegrown vegetables were next to showcase, and the second course featured tender broccoli tortellini served with crispy shallots and herb salad.
To accompany this, Michael selected a glass of 2016 Rathfinney Pinot Gris called Cradle Valley, which was absolutely delightful. I would not usually choose white wine, so for me the Pinot Gris was a revelation – deliciously crisp and refreshing without being overly dry.
However, Michael explained the Danebury Schonburger from Stockbridge in Hampshire was also a great companion for the dish because the hardy Germanic-style grapes produced a fresh flavour without too much acidity.
Again the wine was delicious, and if I had not already been convinced on the virtues of white and English wine, then Michael was a very knowledgeable ambassador for both.
Turning to our main courses, my companion selected the grilled sirloin steak prepared with artichokes, mushroom ketchup and crispy brioche with a light salad (£26).
The next instalment on the special menu was Pond Head Farm pork belly, served with crushed potatoes, lemon and capers.
The locally-reared pork from Lyndhurst was beautifully cooked and full of flavour without being too heavy. It was accompanied by a glass of Welcombe Hill Pinot Noir, with hints of plum and spiciness, aged for five years for a mature dry finish.
Again the pairing was exquisite, but over and above that we were bowled over by Michael’s encyclopaedic knowledge of each and every wine and vineyard.
The final course of the tasting menu showcased New Forest strawberries served with Szechuan pepper meringue and lemon balm – a match made in heaven – accompanied by a glass of Gorling Estate rose with hints of fresh strawberry, creaminess and fruit.
My companion finished up with the espresso mousse, hazelnut cake and crème fraiche sorbet, again divine.
I enjoyed a glass of Denbies Nobel Harvest dessert wine to conclude an incredible meal.
With modern chic surroundings and incredible locally sourced dishes, Cambium really does showcase the very best of the New Forest, alongside one of the biggest collections of English wine in the country.
As Michael said: “English wine is growing in popularity – particularly sparkling wine. It is the absolute strength of the English wine industry and our guests are always delighted by it.
“Most of them are unaware that the UK is a premier wine making country, and we are delighted to offer such a wonderful selection.
“We look forward to this annual celebration each year and hope that we can encourage people to enjoy our homegrown wines.”