Chewton Glen has relaunched its main restaurant as a hybrid of fine dining and brasserie where flexibility is key. Janet Harmer went to visit
At one time, eating at an upmarket country house hotel would, almost without exception, involve a formal fine-dining experience requiring guests to dress up in their finest attire. How times have changed. Now - to provide a more casual eating option - more and more properties are opening up brasseries to operate alongside their exisiting restaurants.
Chewton Glen, however, has decided to do things differently. Recognising that guests don't always want an elaborate spread, the five-red-AA-star, 70-bedroom hotel in Hampshire decided last year to reinvent its traditional restaurant and create one that would suit all dining occasions, seasons or times of day.
Following the additon of a summer house extension, creation of a wine room and refurbishment by interior designer Anita Rosto, costing £1m, the 150-seat Vetiver was launched across five interconnecting rooms. Now, guests can come in and select to eat just a bowl of soup (£9.50) or go for a full-blown five-course tasting menu (£79.50) and an accompanying selection of wines (£39.50).
"The goal was to create a hybrid restaurant which is the best of both worlds - somewhere you could pop in for a quick bite or equally book for a celebration," explains Chewton Glen's managing director, Andrew Stembridge.
"You can dress it up or down, whatever your mood or the occassion. Many of the best restaurants in London do exactly this and they are consistently busy from dawn until dusk. The food is simple but excellent, the service is snappy yet professional and the atmosphere always buzzy."
Vetiver is now all about flexibility, eschewing all the bits and bobs diners don't want if they opt for a relaxed meal, such as canapés, amuse-bouches, pre-desserts and petits fours.
Overseeing the menu at Vetiver is Andrew DuBourg - previously in London at Club Gascon, St Albans, the Square and the Wolseley - who has been appointed head chef of the restaurant under the hotel's executive head chef Luke Matthews. His menu is largely English in focus, with inspiration coming from the time he spends foraging in and around the nearby New Forest and from the newly created one-acre kitchen garden. However, there are also a smattering of flavours from around the world, as in a Sardinian fish stew with razor clams, baby squid and samphire (£26.50) or kaffir lime-steamed whole sea bream with a coconut broth (£23.50).
Diners can choose from the main à la carte menu, which includes a grill selection with everything from calves liver (£29.50) to a côte de boeuf for two (£68.50), or a range of set menus. There is a two-course lunch for £20, three-course Sunday lunch at £35 and four-course dinner for £60.
The five-course tasting menu (£79.50) - there is also a vegetarian version - is currently focused on British produce, featuring indigenous dishes with a tweak. Potted lobster and brown shrimps, offering a hint of acidity from a dressing made from lemon juice, sherry, sherry vinegar and olive oil, provides a piquant start to this menu.
To follow, DuBourg's twist on coronation chicken uses quail as the key element, with the sauce made from brown bread infused in milk and cream with cloves, nutmeg and star anise, and passed through a Thermo Whip. The dish is accompanied by a celeriac and curry purée and a sultana purée.
Next up is salmon - hot-smoked over Lapsang Souchong and hay and then seared in a hot pan - served with broad beans and peas and an elderflower jus. Two traditional favourites, beef Wellington and Eton mess, round off the menu.
"Guests like the classics, and giving a best-of-British focus to the tasting menu has proved popular, with around 20 out of an average of 60 diners a night opting for it," concludes DuBourg.
Chewton Glen, New Milton, Hampshire BH25 6QS
Sample dishes from the menu
Dressed Dorset crab, apple and celeriac rémoulade, rye crisp £18.50/£25
Scallop carpaccio, Vietnamese salad, tea-smoked watermelon £19.50/£35
Chewton Glen twice-baked Emmental soufflé £16.50
Roast tronçon of halibut with capers, fennel purée and preserved Amalfi lemons £29.50
Roast Devonshire duck breast, pastis-glazed celery, apple sours £27.50
Tagine of slow-cooked lamb, jewelled couscous, harissa £27.50
Ginger and lemon grass crème caramel, poached pear £9.50
Bramley apple and golden sultana pie £9.50
Poached pineapple, exotic fruits £9.50