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Balmer Lawn Hotel: Dining in seven-course heaven

The chef's tasting menu is available daily 6.30pm-8.30pm
The chef's tasting menu is available daily 6.30pm-8.30pm

CHARMING and iconic, the picturesque Balmer Lawn Hotel at the gateway to Brockenhurst dates back to the 1800s, and in recent years its reputation for first-class hospitality and fine dining has been growing locally and further afield.

Privately owned by the Wilson family for the last two decades, the hotel has been tastefully and extensively refurbished throughout to create a warm and welcoming haven with beautiful period features, open fires and furnishings which echo the Forest surroundings.

The two AA Rosette Beresfords Restaurant boasts a large, open dining area which manages to be smart yet welcoming with its dark walls, white shuttered floor-to-ceiling windows and dark wood parquet floors. There are also references to its hunting lodge heritage with antler light fittings and comfortable mismatched high-back leather chairs.

As well as the a la carte menu, Beresfords also serves two regularly evolving tasting menus combining the finest local and seasonal produce for an unforgettable dining experience.

The chef’s tasting menu – available daily from 6.30pm to 8.30pm – offers up seven courses for £50 per person or £75 per person with a wine flight to accompany the meal.

Featuring artichoke velouté and Gressingham duck breast with charred pineapple, pak choi and red wine jus, the incredible sounding menu brings together a wonderful diversity of influences.

But as a big seafood fan, there was no way I was going to pass up the opportunity to

try out the seven-course seafood tasting menu (£60 per person or £85 with a wine pairing).

First on the menu was a lobster tortellini served on a wonderful lentil ragu. Immaculately presented, the bite-sized dish was a wonderful introduction as the subtle flavour of the lobster combined well with the al dente lentils and rich ragu.

Shellfish was also the star ingredient of the next course – red shrimp served with pickled Chinese mooli, dill and miso sauce. Despite it being a tasting menu, portions were generous – which was fortunate as my husband said confidently it was the best seafood dish he had ever tasted.

I agreed – it was remarkable. Served warm, the large shrimps were perfectly tender and impeccably paired by the Asian pickled mooli. The dish was complemented with a crisp Spanish white Rioja, Vina Palaciegia, which was a perfect easy-drinking companion.

The Balmer Lawn Hotel dates back to the mid-1800s as a hunting lodge
The Balmer Lawn Hotel dates back to the mid-1800s as a hunting lodge

The next course was a generous serving of homemade sourdough bread baked with squid ink for a black marbling effect. Served warm with rich sun-blushed tomato compote, caviar, homemade butter and smoked sea salt, the simple arrangement of delicious ingredients married perfectly.

Three dishes in, expectations were high for the next course featuring seabass, which has long been a favourite of mine. It did not disappoint as the tender fillet was cooked to perfection – beautifully moist with a slightly crispy skin. It was served with tandoori carrot puree, bacon crumbs, blow-torched onions and young shoots of watercress to create a symphony of flavours and textures.

Meanwhile, the wine flight continued with a refreshing New Zealand Mussel Bay Sauvignon Blanc, which was light and fragrant to complement the subtle flavours of the fish.

Pan-fried cod took centre stage for the final seafood instalment – again expertly prepared with crispy salted skin, the fish was outstanding. Despite being four courses in, the portion was generous enough to fully savour alongside the expertly combined elements of Asian pickled mushrooms, wilted spinach, sweet potato puree and prosciutto.

The wine served to accompany the cod was an easy-drinking, light and fruity Currabridge Australian Chardonnay.

The next dish was described as a pre-dessert of the chef’s choice. Introduced by our waiter as a “revisited lemon meringue” the deconstructed bite-sized dish featured a lemon tart with citrus brittle, toasted scorched meringue and lemon curd droplets garnished with fresh raspberries. Small and beautiful – the flavours were intense and worked perfectly together.

A longstanding favourite on the tasting menu, the dessert option was a rich fondant cake with a decadent, warm salted-caramel filling served with green apple sorbet. The sweetness of the warm fondant worked perfectly alongside the refreshingly light sorbet.

The dish was accompanied by a sweet late harvest Riesling dessert wine, Casa Del Basque from Chile.

For the final course of the evening we were invited to make our own selections from the impressive cheeseboard of the day featuring Cheddars, soft cheeses, blue varieties and a goat’s cheese, accompanied by homemade chutney, grapes and biscuits.

Each cheese was expertly introduced by restaurant manager Aurelien Molliere who was warm and welcoming but also spoke with considerable knowledge. Likewise, all the other staff we encountered were immaculately presented, attentive and informed, without ever feeling overbearing. Clearly proud of the dishes on the menu, they were able to answer any questions with confidence.

Everything about our meal made for an amazing and memorable experience. For anyone who loves fish I really can not recommend it highly enough – you will not be disappointed.

Although four courses of seafood may sound like a lot, the incredible variety of ingredients, influences and cooking methods showcased the versatility and talents of the kitchen team to ensure every course was a triumph.

Our visit to Beresfords really was an incredible dining experience – and one that I’m sure we will still be enthusing about for many months to come.

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