Only eight miles from Bournemouth Airport and surrounded by 900,000 acres of New Forest, Chewton Glen was high on our hit list of Michelin-starred restaurants.
The trip from Denham to Bournemouth took just forty minutes in our plane, a Cirrus SR-22 four-seater. The morning weather was gin-clear – “captain’s weather” – and we had a fine view of the coast as we landed.
A fifteen minute cab ride later and we arrived at The Chewton Glen Hotel and things started to go downhill. We had arrived at the hotel before the restaurant was due to open. A quizzical look and “the lounge is through there,” was all the greeting we got so we carried our coats into the spacious and well-lit room and tried to order some tea.
Our irritation was allayed by the view of manicured grounds bathed in hazy winter sunshine. It is always a relief to swap London life for a moment of Luxe, Calme, et Volupté, even if the “relaxing yuan zhi regenerating body cocoon and massage” offered by the hotel spa didn’t appeal. We prefer calories to callisthenics.
There was an extensive à la carte menu and a three-course prix fixe for reasonable £22.50. Our hundred mile journey demanded something special and both of us chose a cheese soufflé to start. When the soufflés arrived, we caught one another’s eye and grinned as if to say “the journey was worthwhile.” The golden brown top had risen several inches over the rim of the ramekin, and the smell brought to mind Oscar Wilde’s dictum: “I can resist anything, except temptation.”
The main course was less rewarding. Stuart’s Dover sole and Matthew’s grilled sea bass arrived after a noticeable delay. Tidy and properly cooked they were both tasty but the side plate of vegetables looked like something from a school meal. Limp, unappetising and untouched by either of us. On the other hand, the bread was very good, especially one that mixed sweet raisins with sour rosemary and a drop of olive oil.
Matthew was designated pilot for the return journey so Stuart could indulge in a glass of Messieurs Guigal’s light and flowery Condrieu. Matthew thought the bottled mineral water was a fine vintage with a delicate bouquet and a hint of spring meadows.
Turning down a pudding, we were invited to take our coffee in the lounge. It arrived promptly with a choice of truffles. After that we felt like we had been abandoned. In the end Matthew had to order a cab from reception and Stuart went back to the restaurant, credit card in hand to search for the bill. The result was a lengthy delay and a stressful high speed flight back to Denham so that we would land before nightfall.
When reviewing top restaurants, another Wilde quotation seems appropriate: “I have very simple tastes; I am always satisfied with the very best.” Overall, Chewton Glen fell short of this demanding ideal. While the food was good and the soufflé excellent, the overall experience was marred by second-rate service before and after the meal. These lapses are forgivable in the high street but not in a £50-a-head restaurant.
Address: New Milton, Hampshire, BH25 6QS
Tel. (01425) 275341
Fax (01425) 272310
Reservations Direct Line (01425) 282212
US Toll Free Tel. 1 800 344 5087
US Toll Free Fax : 1 800 398 4534
Germany Toll Free Tel. 0800 1 810890
Opening hours: lunch 12.30-1.45, dinner 7-late
Meal for two: £100
Michelin Rating: *