There’s something about eating outdoors that makes everything taste so much better! With that in mind, we’ve done the leg-work to find your perfect New Forest al fresco dining spot…
1. For garden lovers…If your idea of pure joy is being able to gaze upon a Gertrude Jekyll-style garden – complete with sculpted water feature - then you’ve come to the right place. The Terrace restaurant at The Montagu Arms in Beaulieu is aptly named. And the food, created by a Roux Scholar chef Matt Tomkinson is to die for, with some of the ingredients coming from the very garden you are sitting in. Start with fennel velouté with crispy mussels, samphire and dill oil, with honey roast free range chicken and broccoli puree for mains, and white chocolate and passionfruit cheesecake with crème fraiche sorbet to finish.
2. For Modern Italian … It has to be Hartnett & Holder at Lime Wood near Lyndhurst. Angela Hartnett and Luke Holder create locally sourced Italian dishes and during the warm weather you can eat them outside in the true Italian manner. Looking for a special place for a drink and a graze but worried about showers? Lime Wood’s Courtyard bar literally has that covered – they have a retractable roof!
3. For Five star dining …There’s only one New Forest establishment that has this many stars. It’s the restaurant where James Martin was famously the pastry chef and an al fresco lunch at the Chewton Glen near New Milton is something you’ll remember for the rest of the year. However… what you may not know is that you can eat this lunch overlooking Chewton Glen’s delectable surroundings for under £30. Yes, really.
4. For walkers and bikers – If you’re enjoying our great outdoors, then Balmer Lawn’s Beresford Restaurant near Brockenhurst, is a great place to break off for lunch. They have three giant parasols to shelter you from the sun, heaters for when the cool wind blows and a menu of fresh food, sourced locally, to re-fuel on for the next part of your day. Or you could just spend the rest of the time with them, admiring the view of the ponies and the forest from their terrace.
5. For a country house atmosphere – The Courtyard at The Pig. With its traditional entrance hall, greenhouse dining room, bar, drawing room and library room, The Pig at Brockenhurst wouldn’t be out of place in a game of Cluedo. So, if it’s outdoor dining with uncomplicated British garden food you’re after, then it’ll be You, with the Piggy Bits, and then, possibly, a Tomahawk Pork chop, with tobacco onions and garden rocket, followed by Lemon basil posset and shortbread in the Courtyard, which is sheltered by walls and has a wonderful fire for chillier times and evenings.
6. For when it might possibly rain …If the forecast is a bit ‘meh’ for your intended lunch out, why not compromise with lunch in the conservatory area at Burley Manor? When the sun shines you’ll feel you’re outdoors. But, if it clouds over, you can chomp away at their Mediterranean-inspired menu (the tapas are perfect summer fayre) and know you won’t get damp.
7. For perfect views ….The Grill Room at Rhinefield House Hotel is another of those clever eating spaces that has a year-round outdoor feel. However, in the summer they open the terraces to diners so you can enjoy the view across their ornamental ponds, and the gardens to the forest beyond. The worst part of the whole experience will be having to leave at the end!
8. For furry friends …Sometimes you can’t bear to leave your best friend at home. And of course, if you’re enjoying a day in the Forest, you certainly can’t leave him in the car. Forest Lodge Hotel near Lyndhurst provides the perfect solution because they allow pooches. If you're feeling a little peckish, their Glasshouse Brasserie and Bar serves up light bites and British classic dishes.
9. For river views – Try the Yachtsman’s bar and garden at The Master Builder’s, Bucker’s Hard. Being so close to the water, you’ll want to eat some sumptuous seafood; maybe their spiced, potted crab, or beer battered haddock and chips, all washed down with clotted cream panna cotta, or, possibly, banana sticky toffee pudding.
10. For art in the garden - Gordleton Mill near Hordle has a number of local and national artists exhibiting. They also have an Art Walk, a tour around the grounds and a traditional knot garden as well as their best-kept secret, a newly renovated Victorian swimming pool, now used as a pond, complete with a stunning tree fountain made by family friend Julian Bailey. The food is just as delightful, served in proximity to such beautiful works.