Fine dining and picture-perfect views in the New Forest
'MISS BEVAN, I have been worrying about you,' a slightly portly Spanish gentlemen gasps as he scurries down the pebble drive and scoops all my bags out of my arms. 'There are delays on the road from London and I thought you might be late.' We are late, but that's because I got east and west mixed up on the map (no kidding) and directed us off the wrong exit at the motorway.
We are whisked straight up to our room, where Alfonso checks us in from the comfort of the edge of the bed. There's a huge bowl of fruit on the dressing table, but there's no time to sit and munch: we have a date at Simply Poussin in nearby Brokenhurst, owner Alex Aitken's first restaurant and the (slightly) cheaper version of the Michelin-starred Le Poussin - Whitley Ridge's in-house restaurant and raison de être.
A former royal hunting lodge nestled in the heart of the New Forest, there are only 18 bedrooms at Whitley Ridge and although they're all beautifully decorated, some with four-poster beds, it's really all about the food. Alex Aiken commands Le Poussin, while his son runs Simply Poussin down the road. Both offer exquisite fine dining, with a slightly less formal setting at the latter. Having said that, the hushed awe is present at both – although maybe that's just to do with everyone being too full to talk.
Back to the night in hand: Alfonso entertains us with tales of his cruise ship past on the drive to Simply Poussin, where we feast on 'the best scallops I've ever tasted' (according to the boyfriend) and 'the best chocolate pudding I've ever tasted' (me).
With the entire weekend leading up to dinner on the Saturday night at Whitley Ridge, Saturday day is spent enjoying (or should that be enduring) a 23-mile bike ride in an effort to burn all the calories we'd consumed the night before, at breakfast (delicious fruit salad and pain an chocolates worthy of a Parisian patisserie) and planned to consume later.
And so dinner: canapés served in front of a roaring log fire, an army of attentive waiters, more unbelievable scallops, delicious wine and then, an appropriately grand finale, passion fruit soufflé that was sliced on the plate and then sighed gently as hot passion fruit juice was poured into its belly. Rich in every sense of the word, this was food that renders the eater so spellbound I am tempted to ask Alfonso to carry me up the stairs to bed.
Details: Whitley Ridge, Beaulieu Road, Brockenhurst, Hampshire SO42 7QL (01590 622354, www.whitleyridge.co.uk)
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