JC Stays - Burley Manor, New Forest

The perfect short break for foodies? Locally sourced ingredients and Mediterranean-inspired menus set this Hampshire hotel apart


I’ve got a thing about toast. It should be hot, crisp and just the right shade of golden brown. So many hotels get it wrong, offering up soggy, blackened or — the cardinal sin — thin sliced, Mother’s Pride style slices. It can ruin a perfectly lovely stay.

The breakfast menu at Burley Manor, on the south west side of the New Forest, allayed all toast anxiety. This is not the usual formulaic hotel breakfast.

Ingredients are locally sourced where possible and name-checked — Chalkstream trout (the type that looks like smoked salmon) is fished from the local Rivers Itchen and Test and full of flavour; eggs (which are poached, scrambled or served Florentine or Benedict) are sourced from Clayton’s, a local free-range producer. Jams are made in Hampshire.

And that toast? Bread baked by local artisan bakery, Bread Port, topped with mushrooms and poached eggs was immaculate. The final touches to start our day, the breakfast buffet offered thick, Greek yoghurt; two sticky dried fruit compotes: apricots with star anise and another of prunes, plus a range of granolas and cereals plus the brown or white bread to toast.

With huge mugs (more in keeping with a farmhouse kitchen table) and similarly oversized cafetière of great coffee, I was in breakfast heaven.

Much of our overnight stay was about the food, something the hotel prides itself on. Rewind to Sunday lunch the day before, and menus reflected current fashions for Middle Eastern and Mediterranean dishes. Chef James Forman has thrown country house hotel tradition out of the window and imported tapas and antipasti, again made from local ingredients where possible.

Our meal in the relaxed dining room borrowed from all over the Med. Perfectly seasoned garlic oyster mushrooms; mozzarella croquetas and crispy salt cod baccala (golden fritters of salt cod and potato), followed by lemon sole (for Mr P) and roasted hake with Israeli couscous and samphire for me.

The rustic feel of the food is matched by the dining room décor — darkly painted walls, covered in pictures. Tables are naked and there are no side plates, a deliberate choice to keep things casual (although you can have one if you ask).

The distinctive dining style extends to the room service menu, which Mr P was dismayed to see only offers tapas and not the sandwich he was chalashing at 8pm. The helpful receptionist offered to ask chef for a sarnie, but as we’d eaten our body weight in tapas, we declined.

Burley Manor has sat on this site since the 13th century, the current incarnation was built in 1852. Converted to a hotel in the 1930s, it underwent a £1.8 million refurbishment last year, when acquired by the New Forest Hotel Company. It retains that cosy country-house feel but with added quirky character.

Our room, the Burley Suite, at the end of a long corridor extension, was huge and dressed in velvet and floral fabrics. Too full of tapas to plunder the home-baked cookie jar, we flopped on the sofa with newspapers borrowed from the well-stocked hotel lounge. The bathroom — all clean modern lines, white tiles, power showers and fluffy towels — was well stocked with the hotel spa’s Temple Spa products. If we had had time to make use of it, the spa offers a 30 per cent discount for hotel guests.

Looking out onto the hotel’s outdoor heated pool, the silence was almost disconcerting. According to restaurant manager Arthur Scalecki, a few weeks earlier would have been a different picture with stags and deer getting friendly in the adjoining forest.

He also revealed that the hotel’s resident ghost — a lady — is rumoured to appear in the Manor itself, but she failed to disturb our slumbers.

After almost 24 hours of scoffing, we felt the need for a bit of exercise. And Burley village is only a 10-minute saunter to the top of the Manor’s long driveway, little more than a small collection of shops, tea rooms, pubs and estate agents, flavoured with a history of witchcraft. White witch, Sybil Leek lived there during the late 1950s and was to be seen roaming around in her long black cloak with her pet jackdaw sitting on her shoulder. Her legacy is a couple of spooky shops offering all things occult.

For a sweeter souvenir, Burley Fudge has a huge range with flavours from salted caramel to choc mint. I challenge anyone to leave without sampling — although perhaps not the Marmite version.

But there were no divided opinions on the rest of our stay: well-fed and relaxed after our short break in the New Forest, we were loath to leave.

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