It is currently the Hampshire food festival; can you imagine a more jolly celebration of loveliness that doesn’t happen in Burgundy? A lot of establishments are taking part; the Lainston House Hotel are offering a lunch menu based around Hampshire produce. You’d do well to go and sample it.
The Lainston House Hotel is an impressive pile just outside Winchester. It is the kind of place I imagine a lot of weddings and spiffy functions are hosted at. As such, I didn’t expect too many other people to be in the dining room with us. The fact that it was reasonably full and the next room was booked with the ‘Hampshire Ladies Who Lunch’ group suggested the food might be worthy of this being a destination.
The lunch menu was short and focussed, with reasonable information about the local ingredients. It didn’t sound like it was going to be pant-bulgingly exciting, but the editor and I both thought we’d enjoy the dishes we chose. Lunch was perfectly reasonably priced as were the tasting menus which sounded considerably more lust-worthy. But we were there for lunch.
I had a pretty good time with the wine list. It was somewhat ‘exclusive hotel’ in content, by which I mean there was a lot of name-checking of well-known, but not necessarily enticing, premium wines that would appeal to a well-heeled but only partially informed audience. However, there were a reasonable number of wines within my limited means that also tickled my booze-obsessive sensibilities. We were rather pleased to have a bottle of Domaine du Colombier Crozes-Hermitage Cuvee Gaby 2009; it was an excellent match for our lunch choices.
What is it with chefs and gazpacho? They’re obsessed with the stuff, obsessed! It’s the amuse bouches of choice at every restaurant I visit and, whilst they are quite enlivening before a meal, I’d like something different for a change. Please! The Lainston House Hotel’s gazpacho was a good example of the genre, refreshing and quite packed with meaty lumps of prawn, but still yet another bloody gazpacho! On my next visit I want something different or I’ll scream and scream and scream.
The starter was very good in all but one regard, and I don’t really mind its failing. We had smoked pigeon breast with celeriac, cauliflower puree, grapefruit and cubes of coffee jelly. The pigeon had a great flavour of both smoke and the bird itself, greatly enhanced by all the ingredients apart from the coffee jelly. That was awful. It had a weird, unattractive, bitter flavour that I felt clashed with the pigeon without adding anything nice to the experience. Luckily, once I’d established I didn’t like the jelly it was easy to ignore the cubes and not have them mar the otherwise good starter. Basically a very enjoyable dish.
Our main courses were properly excellent. Ham hock with poached, fried egg and chips. The ham hock was deliciously rich and flavourful, with powerful piggy flavours accompanied by little bits of cornichon and whole grain mustard. The Lainston House Hotel keep their own pigs on the estate and judging by this fulsomely flavourful hog they must be a good breed and very well treated. The egg was perfectly cooked, with a yolk that was liquid you could mix in with your ham. I loved its breadcrumb crust which gave it a good texture. Even the chips were pretty good; fluffy and light on the inside and very nearly perfectly crisp on the outside. Highly gratifying, but when isn’t a serious Hampshire porking pleasurable?
The ladies who lunch are right to choose this as a destination. It is not the most experimentally weird and wacky food in the world, but it is skilfully prepared with quality ingredients. It also will not cost the Earth. As we got a lot of pleasure out of our meal we would certainly like to return, as long as the amuse bouches isn’t bloody gazacho again! Definitely recommended.