It’s getting crowded in the New Forest with so many luxury hotels - the Pig, Limewood, TerraVina, and Chewton Glen to name but four. No wonder the owners of Burley Manor wanted to find themselves some distinctive positioning after spending £1.8million on refurbishment, writes James Shore.
Which is why Burley Manor portrays itself as a restaurant with rooms, which as a description is a bit of a stretch as there are forty of them. A modest spa has been added to the other facility (an outdoor pool), so it does mean that as a proposition,
Burley Manor really does stands or fall by its restaurant.
But let’s start at the beginning. The original owner was Roger de Burley back in 1212. The current building was completed in 1852 and became a hotel in the 1930’s. And has been ever since, apart from being requisitioned by Lord Montgomery during the war.
We over-compensated for the holiday traffic and arrived a couple of hours earlier than the check in time of 1400. It’s possible to move that forward a couple of hours to midday, but that will be an extra £20 please. In our room, it’s made very clear that the bathrobe costs £35 if it intends to leave the building, and should you want to sneak the Killner-clip top bottle into a suitcase after consuming the mineral water, that will be £7.50. Odd that anyone should want to do that, but obviously it happens. I didn’t notice a price on the towels or bed linen.
There’s plenty of room in the Garden Room suite for me to harrumph about this and other matters. The ceilings are considerably higher than in most conventional hotel rooms, and of course hot air rises. The Wedgwood green decor is appropriate for the New Forest setting: loved the old fashioned phone fitted with push buttons instead of a dial and the vintage style Roberts DAB radio on the bedside table.
The bed amply accommodates a 6ft 3ins frame (I’m talking head to toe), which isn’t always a given. The bathroom was terracota, with a power shower which didn’t disappoint. And it was here in the bathroom that the extraordinary attention to detail - indeed craftsmanship- - with the decor became apparent, not just in the design but the execution. The thin black line grouting between all the tiles in the bathroom was perfect and precise. The cutting in between the wall and skirting board was spot on, of the standard you’d expect to see in the restoration of a stately home.
A problem with rooming in the annexe isn’t that there’s a schlep to the main building. But the two-minute walk does necessitate stepping out into the elements for a few steps, and that evening there were elements.
In the lounge, with its open fire, the subdued lighting, being able to relax was tangible. The waitress placed a bowl of nibbles on our table, which I eyed with some suspicion. Once in a hotel which interpreted subdued lighting as virtual darkness, I found myself munching through the poupourri.
Then there was the restaurant. Now I’ll put the proverbial deck on the table. Mindless background music I find intrusive, aural babble. The trouble is, Burley Manor had it a little louder than that. The staff were amenable to reducing the decibels, and do you know what, people began to talk to each other at their tables, demonstrably enjoying each other’s company more. Some even put their mobiles away.
The restaurant has a theme, ‘a wood-fired kitchen with a menu inspired by the rustic dishes and bold flavours of the Mediterranean’. Starters included wild mushroom and mozzarella croquettes, and crispy salt cod. And the imagination applied is apparent with what the menu coquettishly describes as ‘little extras’, such as truffle polenta chips, sweet potato cooked with sherry vinegar, raisins, and maple.
Because of the background music thing I was in a bit of a ‘yeah, right’ mood and asked for the ‘day boat west coast fish’ mainly so I could ask the waitress if they had the ‘night boat’ option.
What was brought to the table was a perfectly seasoned fish soup (in other words it wasn’t the seasoning you could taste), with all of the different fish cooked to a quality you would expect if each one was the main course. I’ve eaten Bouillabaisse in Marseilles and Zuppa di Peche in Camogli, but this was sensational. I wish I’d had it as the main course. I can’t stop thinking about it now. How many dishes can you recall, even at multi-starred restaurants, as being memorable? For that alone, I won’t forget Burley Manor.
On the other side of the table, the full-flavour beef sirloin fell away with just a touch of the fork. The roast sauteed potatoes, or patatas bravas to keep the Mediterranean flavour, were an imaginative touch. For dessert, the stone baked rice pudding with prunes and coconut, and the chocolate and rum fondue, with cardamon and thyme shortbread.
There’s an eclectic clientele, rather like the crush bar at the London Coliseum (English National Opera), where bow tie and open-neck shirt happily co-exist. The restaurant, once the background music had subsided, is one where you can feel your metabolism slow down; you’re here to enjoy the food rather than just eat it.
At breakfast the restaurant filled up a bit, but even when it’s busy it isn’t crowded, and even though we ordered our breakfasts separately, they arrived at our table at the same time. Freshly squeezed orange was noted, and the porridge with poached plums, toasted mixed nuts and seeds was like a morning dessert (there’s a gluten free alternative); also appearing at the buffet were organic muesli and organic cereal flakes. There’s a real attempt to create culinary interest at what for me is the wrong end of the day - mushrooms on sourdough with oregano and poached egg; the free range chicken, spinach, and scrambled egg whites.
And after being snitty about there being such a high profile for theft from room charges, I have to tell you that during the day there’s a plate of lemon drizzle cake and a bowl in of meringues in the lounge and guests can just help themselves. It’s always a delight is to find a completely idiosyncratic touch.
Garden suite £132.30. Double room £105.30.
Dinner (without wine) for two, £66