We usually do not write about bad experiences, but when we read a couple of weeks ago that the new head chef Matthew Whitfield had just replaced his friend and former mentor, Roux scholar Matthew Tomkinson, at The Terrace at the Montagu Arms, we decided to make an exception.
When we visited last summer, we were aware that the restaurant had lost its Michelin star and that no one expected them to gain it back anytime soon. The ratings were still pretty decent and fine dining options in the New Forest are limited. Immediately upon arrival, staff advised us that because of major construction works inside the building, the work in the kitchen was slightly impaired and the menu reduced. During the first half of our stay, we were alone in the large, stuffy, ancient dining hall, during the second half three other couples joined, all well into their late sixties and seventies (it’s perfectly fine to be of that age, of course, but typically not a good sign if all other guests are of that age).
Our waitress was bizarrely clumsy, very slow, clearly untrained, surprisingly self-confident, exceptionally talkative and overly friendly. After a few minutes of pondering, we decided to go for butternut squash veloute with pumpkin, arancini, coriander and toasted seeds, peppered beef carpaccio with horseradish cream, beetroot, and toasted hazelnuts for starters. As main Ms B chose escalope of salmon with grilled tender stem broccoli, crispy potato, almonds, and brown shrimp butter sauce, I opted for roasted rump of lamb with braised shoulder, olive gnocchi, glazed carrot, and saffron sauce.
After about 30 minutes, our starters arrived, and we were both very pleased with our choices. It took another 30 minutes until our mains arrived. The salmon was slightly above average and went well with the brown shrimp butter sauce, which was relatively light.
But the rump of lamb, oh dear oh dear. It didn’t smell right and it very certainly didn’t taste right. My first thought was: did they find a sheep somewhere that had died of old age and decide to turn it into chops!? I literally wasn’t able to swallow any of it. “Disgusting” is the only word that comes to mind. When I politely made the waitress aware of the fact that I did not consider the meal edible, the previous social-butterfly entertainer-of-the-year attitude changed quickly. Suddenly she didn’t seem to be able to talk anymore. No apologies, no “I’ll speak with the chef”, no nothing. She just took the plate and carried it away. No one else showed up later to offer condolences in relation to our dreadful, deceased dinner date experience.
The new head chef comes with great credentials, has a very close connection to The Terrace (he’s from Southampton, previously worked there as head pastry chef, and wanted to become head chef of this restaurant ever since he was a kid, the restaurant’s webpage says) and has just completed a tenure at three-star Eleven Madison Park (listed in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, #1 in 2017, currently #4), where he worked under head chef Daniel Humm. He worked for several other Michelin-starred restaurants before, including as head chef of the one-star Driftwood Restaurant in Cornwall.
0 out of 5 in our book (and that’s us being nice), but who knows, maybe we’ll stop by for a meal during our next visit to the New Forest.
Or perhaps looking for some travel inspiration and adventure? Try our ride with a helicopter above London, with a powerboat and a jetlev near Cambridge, or read our post about our visit to the Cotswolds in a 1980s Jaguar, a day-trip to the Douro Valley, or a weekend at the best medieval pageant in Europe: Burghausen Castle Festival.