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The Montagu Arms – New Forest
The New Forest is a beautiful and ancient area in the
south of England and is in fact very far from ‘new’. It was a
royal hunting estate and was created in 1079 by William I. You will
likely know him as William the Conqueror who took possession of that
tract of land and everything else in England after that celebrated
Hastings battle of 1066.
It was first recorded as "Nova Foresta" in the Domesday Book in 1086.
This was a survey of all the king’s possessions including people and
other livestock. It is the only forest that the book considers in
detail, indicating its significance.
The unique forest still maintains many of the benefits given to local
people by the Crown hundreds of years ago. There are pasturing rights
for the locals, known as commoners, to graze their ponies, cattle, pigs
and donkeys in the open forest.
Palace House was begun in 1204 as the gatehouse to Beaulieu Abbey, and
has been the ancestral home of the Montagu family since 1538, when it
was bought following the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII.
It was extended in the 16th century, and again in the
19th. The Beaulieu River runs through the estate and is one of the few
privately owned rivers in the world.
The Montagu Arms is on the Beaulieu Estate but not owned by it, and was
built around 200 years ago. Since the 16th century there has been an
inn on the site of this hotel, which would originally have been a
meeting place for those aforementioned commoners. It held timber
auctions and a cattle market, which took place at the inn until 1809.
The original building front was demolished in 1887, with the new
building, incorporating Monty's Inn, being completed in 1888. In 1925
the building was extended to its present size.
The front of The Montagu Arms is classically English and somehow frozen
in time, but park around the back and enter through the garden and you
see another facet of Englishness. Tight planting of traditional shrubs
and annuals with small manicured lawns welcomes the guest who might be
staying over or just on a visit for the celebrated Afternoon Tea.
The reception area is cosy and a vision of dark oak panels. A wide sweeping
guests to the first floor and 22 stunning bedrooms and
suites. Our rooms consisted of a sumptuous bedroom with leaded windows
but contemporary furniture accented with antiques. The bathroom was
huge, light, bright and far from anything experienced by guests 200
years ago; that would probably have consisted of a bucket. I love
The adjoining private sitting room was stylishly furnished, with coffee
and tea-making facilities (although there is a wake-up-cuppa service
for those who need a bit of morning encouragement). This space is ideal
for after-dinner unwinding. The turn-down service will have been in
while you dined and will have closed the curtains and puffed up the
cushions. A break at The Montagu Arms isn’t a thing to be hurried. Take
your cue from the ponies: graze and wander and enjoy the quiet.
The Montagu Arms is blessed with a Michelin-starred restaurant. The
Terrace is presided over by Chef Matthew Tomkinson. He has a passion
for local and seasonal produce. He respects it and presents it with
innovation. He can confection a simple soup that you’ll still be
talking about when you are sipping coffee in your private sitting room
– how often can you say that a soup has held your attention?
The Terrace is wood-panelled and has a 1920s feel about it. The tables
are well-spaced to allow for relaxed conversation. The menu changes
with the season and there will always be a new slant on even the most
common of vegetables. The food is what you might expect to find in
France but it is truly British. It’s a myth to suppose that we need to
cross La Manche to find a spectacular dinner.
Cannelloni of Braised Rabbit with Glazed Spring Vegetables, Black Pudding
Mustard Sauce was my starter. Take the opportunity to try
bunny. It’s a healthy meat and flavourful without being over-gamey. The
sauce added an aromatic heat.
We were served a little amuse bouche of beetroot soup with goats curd.
This was almost too beautiful to eat; the culinary equivalent of that
ruby-red cut-glass from Eastern Europe. Beetroot is becoming more
popular and is now seen fresh in supermarkets, and is being treated as
a sweet vegetable rather than a pickle reserved for Sunday teatime.
Saddle of Welsh Spring Lamb with Confit Belly, Crispy Sweetbread,
Glazed Potatoes, Goat’s Curd and Capers was outstanding. Sweetbreads
are often mistakenly believed to be the dangly bits of an animal. In
fact, they’re two separate glands - the thymus (from the throat) and
the pancreas (from the heart or stomach) that can be taken from calves
or lambs. I love them and can honestly say that there is nothing not to
like. It’s offal but it’s mild in flavour and usually with a soft and
comforting texture; here Matthew adds a crunchy coating. A must try
dish on this menu.
Assiette of Pennington House Apples with Apple Sorbet and Butterscotch
dessert. This was a medley of apple sweets, and was a
showcase for Matthew Tomkinson's skill. Yes, it’s only apples as the
star ingredient but it’s a dessert that illustrates why that Michelin
star has found a home here. This as well as the rest of the menu
offered a few ideas that I might try at home. OK, there was plenty that
was cheffy but there were elements that would work in a domestic
kitchen with a regular home cook at the range.
The Montagu Arms takes cheese seriously. It has a proper cheese trolley
which is a fast-disappearing vehicle. It rolls around the restaurant
offering a full complement of cheese, giving guests the opportunity to
taste some of the carefully chosen selection.
The gastronomic delights continue with breakfast. Matthew and his staff
keep chickens and those free-range eggs are used to great advantage at
breakfast. Those and the fresh vegetables are delivered to the kitchen
daily, and sometimes more frequently than that. Excellent produce
transformed into Michelin-standard meals, and all in this idyllic and
historic corner of the New Forest. The Montagu Arms is just what you
would hope it to be.
The Montagu Arms Hotel
Phone: 01590 612324
Visit The Montagu Arms Hotel here