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Trimbach Pinot Blanc 2007Cedric the Belgian’s wine choice for the main course was a claret – Château Lassegue Grand Cru 2000 St Emilion £64, and there was me continuing the Barbera kick and aiming at a bottle of Barbera d’Alba Bric Bertu 2005 Negro-Piemonte at £50.

We came to a compromise. Being the restaurant head at the Montagu Arms he suggested I sample the Bordeaux and if not to my liking he would open the Italian. Nice chap is Cedric the Belgian.

To start though a bottle of Trimbach’s Pinot Blanc 2007 caused no problem and proved a rather fine choice to accompany my starter of “Spiced Diver Caught Scallops with Cauliflower Puree Apple, Coriander and Cumin Velouté” (£18) wasn’t bad either with the bloke sitting across the table and his choice of “Chilled Cucumber and Horseradish Velouté with Home Smoked Organic Salmon and Avruga Caviar” (£13). The scallops had an interesting textural addition, rice deep fried… Freshly baked bread and locally churned butter (with 3% sea salt) and we were off…

I should have mentioned the Gourgeres we savoured outside on the terrace beforehand. Oh and the plate of nuts and olives were delicious and made the wine decisions an overly protracted affair.

As it transpired the claret did have a rather nice floral quality to the nose but you know what, I’m just not a fan of claret! The Barbera though was sensational and all the more perfect with the chef’s special of the night a perfectly water-bathed steak with home grown beans. And indeed they are home grown as you can wander through the kitchen garden with ease (it’s through the terraced gardens to the right a little after the croquet lawn). It was here, betwixt the chicken pens and tomato stuffed poly tunnels that I turned my Canon to the film mode and caught the head chef, Roux Scholar Matthew Tomkinson, chat to my dining companion Douglas Blyde.

While Dougie-boy tucked into his beautifully presented “Roast Crown of Landes Pigeon with Crispy Leg Meat Samoas Slow Cooked Sweet Onions and Sage Gnocchi” (£35) we contemplated if we should have gone with the Chef’s Menu Surprise.

“For a unique dining experience, Matthew will create a surprise seven-course tasting menu from the best of the day’s seasonal produce. Menus will not be presented at the table. Instead dishes will be described to guests as they are served.”

Each course is presented with a wine pairing – giving Cedric a chance to delve into the wine list – for a cost of £110 per person. Next time perhaps…

We abandoned the idea of accompanying the dessert with a suggested wine, coffee sufficed at this stage (blaming those pre-dining double G&T’s), but my “Dark Chocolate Delice with Crispy Praline Lavender Ice Cream and Burnt Orange Syrup” (£10) has the recommendation of a glass of Skillgalee Liqueur Muscat from Australia (£6.50) while Dougie-boy’s “Warm Pistachio Sponge Cake with Rhubarb Sorbet, Rhubarb Compote and Vanilla Custard” (£10) would have been even better perhaps with a glass of 2007 Höpler Trockenbeerenauslese, from Berganland in Austria (£12.75).

Our new best Belgian friend hasn’t been at the Montague Arms for much more than 4 weeks; the wine list by his own admission needs a little tweeking and less reliance on just one supplier but I will have to insist that the Barbera is retained; ’cause it was just gorgeous with that Tomkinson-caressed steak. The claret went ‘quite nicely’ with the Pigeon.
Simply one of the most joyous and tasty meals I’ve had the pleasure to consume.

The Montagu Arms Hotel,
Beaulieu, New Forest,
Hampshire. SO42 7ZL

Gougeres, Montague Arms
Amuse Bouch
Starter Scallops
Main - Chef's Beef Special
Dessert - Chocolate Delice

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