A Week of Contrasts … in More Ways Than One! Part II
Tuesday afternoon, after a rather sparse lunch of scone with jam and cream down at Bosham, I collected BOGG from his temporary place of employment of just two days on the outskirts of Portsmouth.
After a cataclysmically wet weekend and him working with summer outside his window, the drive to the New Forest filled our hearts with joy. The sun shone down on us through the open sunroof as we pondered what our evening repast would have in store for us; we were expecting great wines too.
For once, BOGG didn’t have to scowl at me because of my map reading inabilities (always a bone of contention on any journey I navigate) and within twenty minutes, we found ourselves turning and driving into a rather modest looking country house, well more like a Manse. We had arrived at TerraVina, a name, that to me, conjures up a Napoleonic battle that would see dashing Richard Sharpe saving the honour of some beautiful woman (I have a vivid imagination).
Crossing the portal we were greeted with an explosion of colour; the walls were a delicious burnt orange with framed reviews of the hotel and its owners, Gerard and Nina Basset. Some would say ostentatious, but it really didn’t look out of place, on the contrary, it looked right.
The hotel boasts eleven individually styled rooms, all named after wines. I was delighted to find that our room was Vin Santo; a dessert wine that I adore with cantuccini to dip into a glass of the golden sweetness.
We received our menus with a stifled squeal from me; I could’ve eaten everything from it, so it took a while to decide.
With dishes chosen, we left the wines to Gerard; after all, he is the World’s Best Sommelier! Now you might just think with that sort of accolade the wine list would be out of most people’s pockets, but let me tell you eight of the house wines were under £25 a bottle, were unusual, were delicious and were all by the glass too. The wine list of 24 pages was comprehensive and made a good read (from £16.75 for house wine to £485 for a 1998 Dom Perignon, Brut Rosé).
Now for the food. From the menu that featured croquette of pig’s head, lamb breast with black pudding, and Brixham scallop ceviche; I went for asparagus with crispy poached duck egg (actually a main).
As I tentitively plunged my knife into the egg, it flowed like sunshine over the emerald spears – oh joy, oh bliss! Perfect ‘gus, perfect egg, perfect wine – Côtes de Gascogne, Gros Manseng D. des Cassagnoles, from the south west of France. Gerard knew my dislike of Sauvignon Blanc and the white he’d picked had the right balance of grassy notes and acidity to do justice to my starter. BOGG on the other hand, for his pigeon with earthy lentils, salty pancetta, chilli and apricot needed something that would cope with the all those flavours, a fragrant red Sancerre worked well with the complex dish. We were given an extra course, the crab and smoked mackerel tian. The wine presented with the dish, I was convinced was a Riesling. Oh boy, was I wrong! Despite the petroly nose and the flinty dryness, Gerard smiled knowingly and told us that it was a Pedro Ximenez, Elki, Elqui Valley from Chile. It just blew us away. Onto the mains. Who can resist a pie? Not me! And that’s exactly what I had – rabbit pie. It arrived a golden-crusted orb, abundantly filled with succulent flesh, a hint of mustard and cider scent escaped as I cut into the buttery pastry. Halibut was his choice. Another intense plate of gorgeous looking food. Salisfy puree, Roscoff onion fragrant and sweet, alongside a pannéed oyster (breadcrumbed then pan-fried in layman’s terms). Our wine arrived in the most exquisite glasses – it was shaped like a globe artichoke; I fell in love with it. A deep-coloured Rosé de Syrah was the grape of preference for my rabbit and the fish was chaperoned by Mas de Daumas Gassac, subtle in its minerality. Gerard took his leave from us before our dessert, but we were more than happy to be left in the capable hands of his assistant sommelier, Tanguy. With the man going for chocolate rather than yours truly, I fancied the financier with peach carpaccio, burnt cream and coconut sorbet. Tanguy’s choice for me was a Spanish sticky, Ariyanas Dolce; its honeyed sweetness beautiful with the warm almondy cake and wafer-thin frozen peach, rich cream and smooth ice. The brownie was complemented by a glass of rich and warming Madeira. The only tiny, wee glitch with his pud was the Earl Grey cream – it was too strong and marred an otherwise sublime creation. Breakfast the following day was equally good with local bacon, eggs and sausages. BOGG had the full English while I immersed myself in smoked salmon and poached eggs.
Replete from breaking our fast, we waddled through the restaurant and as we drew closer to the kitchen’s open pass, I recognised a familiar voice and profile. I whispered to BOGG, “I know him, that’s Alan Murchison!”
I introduced myself as BakersBunny and the cogs whirred as Alan dug into the depths of his memory; looking earnestly at me, he beamed, “You’re responsible for Team Greenaway!” (a reference to Edinburgh Twitterati supporting our local boy, Mark Greenaway on the Great British Menu). We spent the next ten minutes chatting to him. I didn’t have a camera so no photograph. I hadn’t realised that TerraVina had just recently merged with 10in8, The Fine Dining Group, (comprising of restaurants: L’Ortolan, La Bécasse, Paris House and The Angel) founded by famous Michelin star chef and he was here for a board meeting, at which point we said goodbye. After a couple of hours on the veranda reading, we headed out to explore the New Forest countryside and coast. Another glorious day of sunshine, although the coast was a bit breezy. We shared a plate of chips at Milford on Sea with its fantastic view of the Needles and the Isle of White, or as a friend calls it, Isle de Blanc! We were hoping for a dip in the pool, but we didn’t leave any time for a splash as our second dinner beckoned. I’d requested a table looking towards the pass and with a full house, I was impressed at the speed with which the kitchen was able to despatch the food. I had chosen the most popular starter that evening, pickled summer veggies, with chickpea mousse and herby cream cheese croquettes. It was visually stunning. Vibrant colours, fresh, clean taste and textures. The pig’s head wasn’t going to be overlooked that night and we tried exceedingly hard not to wolfishly devour the food in front of us.
As we waited for our main, we were told that there would be a slight delay. How long is a delay? In British rail terms it could be ages, but a delay at TerraVina is no more than five minutes tops! One of our benchmarks is to see how a kitchen handles steak, so I jumped in before BOGG and ordered the rib eye. I’m always a bit nervous about this cut as it can be a bit sinuous and, dare I say it, tough. Not here at TerraVina; bloody, juicy, tender as a lover’s kiss. Fat chips and a side of asparagus and I was away with the angels in meaty heaven. BOGG’s plate of guinea fowl was a picture of culinary artistry. We watched as other tables received their dinner and every plate was consistently perfect. Dessert for me was apple and blackberry, a dish that reminded me of Mark Greenaway’s puddings. A deep purple blackberry cannelloni, apple sorbet and compote, crumble crumbs. All the elements of an apple and blackberry crumble, but without the custard. I loved it.
A reluctant BOGG, under provocation from me, ended up with pineapple, cherry cake and compote with an unusual tarragon ice cream. I needed no encouragement to finish mine and surprisingly neither did he. Both our plates were scrapped clean! His ice cream was the highlight of the desserts.
Without any note taking, I can’t remember the wines we had, but I do know that I did have a glass of the white PX with my starter.
Staying at TerraVina is a joy. Professional in every aspect without being claustrophobic. The food was almost faultless under the watchful and talented eye of chef number two, Gavin. Head chef Neil should be proud of his brigade, as the execution in the kitchen was slick, calm and entertaining in his absence. I would expect nothing else from Gerard and Nina; after all, they were co-founders of Hotel du Vin!
We took up one of TerraVina’s special breaks and our first night was just under £200 for dinner, bed and breakfast for the two of us. In her email, Nina offered us ‘a complimentary night for the second evening providing we were blogged about (hopefully positively).’
Even if we had paid for all of our stay, my words would be exactly the same. You only have to read the many articles written about TerraVina to realise that it is somewhere special. In addition, we hope to stay again soon; our only regret was that we didn’t get to meet Nina.
174 WOODLANDS ROAD
TEL: +44 (0)23 8029 3784
© Lea Harris, Off the Eaten Track 2012.