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From cheesy croquettes to the ultimate chocolate dessert, a night at this historic hotel tucked away in the New Forest was the ultimate treat for two keen foodies, says Sarah Richardson.
As we took our first heavenly mouthfuls of possibly the best tapas we’d ever eaten, Alex and I nodded slowly in unison. It was our contented acknowledgement that we were in safe hands, dinner-wise, at Burley Manor. But here I am, true to form, fast- forwarding to my stomach. I should, instead, start by mentioning the lovely welcome we were given at the beautiful old manor-house hotel earlier that afternoon. A bit of banter with the reception staff was a great start to our stay.
The imposing building in its current form was built in the 1850s and has been a hotel since 1935, apart from a short spell as a military HQ during World War II. It has been sensitively and lovingly restored, and my abiding memory is of the warmth and grandeur of the wood panelling in the reception and dining room.
Our lovely bedroom, in the main house rather than the separate garden wing, was furnished with antique furniture, which added a sense of history, while vibrant soft furnishings banished any hint of stuffiness. Quirky retro touches came in the form of a Roberts radio and an old-fashioned telephone. Oh, and the deer in the grounds made for a very special view from our window. The bathroom was small but generously stocked with high-end Temple Spa toiletries.
An intriguing-looking box labelled ‘Service en chambre’ was neatly packed with a kettle and a good selection of tea bags and coffee. Mini homemade cookies were another welcome addition – and I later wished that I had dipped into these on arrival, as my loudly rumbling stomach added an unexpected soundtrack to my facial in the hotel’s wellness centre. Therapist Jasmin kindly spared my blushes and didn’t mention it.
We finally worked up the motivation to go out and explore – and, while the hotel staff had recommended a four-mile walk around Burley village, we fancied a forest route instead. Heading for Picket Post, between Burley and the A31, we enjoyed a lovely ramble through the heather-covered landscape. Once we got under way, it was hard to believe how close the main road was. Finally, it was time to head back for that dinner. After we were shown to our seats in the bustling dining room – clearly a hotspot for local foodies as well as hotel guests – the dilemma of the evening was whether to opt for a tapas-only meal or mix things up with a non-tapas main course. We chose the latter. A highlight for me were the croquettes, my ultimate comfort food at the best of times. These ones, made with ham hock and Manchego, were a true taste sensation, delivering proper meaty texture as well as the cheesy silkiness you’d expect.
Next came my main – melt-in-the-mouth venison with pistachio dukkah, while Alex had the smoked beef brisket. Our desserts were New Forest strawberries with toasted almond panna cotta and, Alex’s absolute highlight of the whole stay, Valrhona chocolate orange bavarois – a creamy but firm-set delight, the memory of which continues to leave him starry-eyed.
The culinary delights didn’t end there as, the next morning after a great night’s sleep, the most delicious breakfast was served in the beautiful conservatory. As sun streamed through the glass, perfectly prepared eggs Benedict came with prosciutto on toasted sourdough, while the Burley Breakfast was everything you’d want in a full English. And if these dishes were the stars of the show, the buffet of pastries, meats, cheeses, fruit and cereals were a worthy supporting cast, and ensured that when, an hour or so later, we reluctantly packed up to leave, the rumbling of tummies was nowhere to be heard...
How to book:
A double room at Burley Manor costs from £129 per night, on a B&B basis (burleymanor.com).