It’s easy right now to completely lose the plot with visiting new London restaurants, so many exciting places seem to have opened in the last twelve months or so. But I’m also getting behind everywhere else. The New Forest used to be a culinary backwater, unless you counted Chewton Glen, but now there are several restaurants of national repute.
There is one, however, which may have slipped under the national radar, though I know a few Londoners who have come back with ecstatic reviews – it’s Verveine in Milford-on-Sea. The chef-patron is the extremely talented David Wykes whose experience spans the UK and French Michelin-starred establishments. The restaurant has been open for five years and specialises in Fish…some of the finest fresh landed fish you’ll eat. In fact you have to walk through the fishmonger’s shop before reaching the restaurant out back (on the web site it is actually called “Verveine Fish Market Restaurant”). Don’t let that put you off.
If you dine a la carte you select your starter from the menu and then your main course fish from a blackboard selection (about 18 or so choices last night). You then consult the menu to decide which way you’d like it coooked/served, from a selection of four options.
After a cheeky little aperitif of Ganevat’s rare, and delicious, Crémant du Jura before we got in the taxi, we arrived to an amuse bouche of radishes in mackerel pâté and “edible soil”, served in a small flower pot. A witty touch but also showing an attention to detail followed up throughout the meal.
Assorted starters (lobster for me) were accompanied (we were able to take our own wines by special arrangement so I’m not sure what their corkage policy is) with what is almost certainly the best bottle of Champagne we’ve drunk this year, Raphael Bereche’s Reflet d’Antan (disgorged September 2011 from 2/3 2007 base with 1/3 from the perpetual cuvée and bottled with a 6g/l dosage). It combined richness with freshness, a rare trick and a rare treat. Although I’m unashamedly biased when it comes to Bereche, my high opinion was shared, and this did seem an unimpeachably splendid bottle.
Two of us chose turbot and two chose halibut, and I think my turbot was cooked to perfection, the best piece of fish I’ve had for a long time, anywhere. It went well with Raveneau’s Chablis 1er Cru “Les Butteaux” 2005. I’ve never had this wine before. The usual Raveneau class with genuine depth, evolving complexity and a lightness too. Another heavenly wine.
The main courses at Verveine are a hard act to follow, but the desserts are inventive too. That said I was concentrating too much on my Tesch Laubenheimer-St Remiguisberg 2002 BA which was concentrated and exquisite. This, the first bottle of Tesch to pass my lips, lived up to expectations for one of the Nahe’s new breed, though it seemed about ready to drink now without the need to wait a lot longer.
The final touch with coffee and teas was a selection of petit fours, including fudge in edible “plastic” wrappers and small meringues flavoured (gently) with fisherman’s friend lozenges and served in a “ff” paper bag.
Verveine bakes its own bread twice daily, and much of the vegetables and herbs used in the cooking are grown in the restaurant garden – you can see the raised beds through the glass doors.
Service is good too. The senior member of the waiting staff, Agnes, hails from Hungary. She combines serving the food with professionally dealing with the wine. She wasn’t the slightest bit fazed, indeed she almost seemed pleased, when we asked to drink the Bereche from wine glasses.
No qualifications required, this is fine dining standard food at Verveine. The restaurant is only about the size of a decent living room seating around thirty-plus covers, and it’s not cheap – we paid £50/head for three courses plus coffee, without buying any wine. But it was worth it and very good value for the quality. Despite the urgent need to try Lime Wood, Angela Hartnett’s place near Lyndhurst, I’m equally keen to head back to Verveine as soon as possible.
Verveine Restaurant, 98 High Street, Milford-on-Sea, Hampshire SO41 0QE
Tel: 01590 642176 web site: http//www.verveine.co.uk email: firstname.lastname@example.org