It is worth driving a long way to eat at the Three Lions at Stuckton and a lot of people do. It isn't easy to find but it's worth persevering. It lies just off the A338, about a mile South-East of Fordingbridge, at the Western end of the New Forest which itself lies to the West of Southampton.
It sounds like a pub and it is indeed a Freehouse, which means that it is independent, not tied to a Brewery. It also looks like a pub from the outside, with attractive, well kept gardens and a small terrace where one can enjoy a drink outside in the summer. The smart cars in the car park suggest that it might not be the sort of place where one would drop in straight from the fields for a pint and a pie or a game of darts.
Inside, there is a small bar with a few alcoves to sit in. Most of the space is given over to two or three adjoining rooms, simply furnished with pine tables and chairs, happily not too close together.
The menu is written on a blackboard near the bar, and it lists many good things. Bread is generally the first thing eaten and, if only for that reason, it is important. Here it is freshly home baked and it tastes excellent.
A gallette of smoked haddock contained fish flakes in a little cake of sweet corn surrounded by haddock sauce. It was delicious and it must be said, would have done nicely on its own, with some salad, for a summer lunch. Indeed, all the helpings are welcomingly generous without overwhelming.
Another first course was ducks' livers with pancetta and a splendid rich sauce with pine nuts. Scallops were plentiful with not too much coral, which happens to suit me. They were lightly cooked in a sauce of Noilly Prat, brandy and fish stock and were outstanding. Also on offer were a parsnip, apple and ginger soup; cannelloni of crab with brandy sauce and ravioli of artichoke and asparagus.
For our main courses we tried the Quantock Crisp Duck with nectarines and another splendid rich sauce. Turbot was lightly and beautifully cooked in a sea-food sauce - all beautifully fresh. Lemon Sole was presented off the bone with a pungent saffron sauce.
For dessert, the hot chocolate pudding was crisp on the outside and soft within, served in a ramekin - this was a quality dish! Other desserts included pear tarte tatin, bread and butter pudding and lemon posset.
The wine list is surprisingly extensive with wines from the the New World, South America and the Lebanon as well as from the traditional wine making regions. Prices are quite strongly marked up: rather than house wines, there is a house selection with prices beginning at 11.25. The cheapest Champagne costs 28.50, and a mere Cremant weighed in at 19.50. There are several good second growth clarets on the list with prices to match.
Service was friendly and efficient and the atmosphere is relaxed and agreeable. Our party, as it happened, included two wheel chairs. Our telephoned reservation was enthusiastically accepted and every kindness and consideration was shown, even to bringing the blackboard out to where we were sitting, so that we could order without moving.
Chef proprietor is Michael Wormesley who together with his wife is maintaining and developing the high standards set by the previous continental owners. The Three Lions is a good place to eat and although not cheap, you get what you pay for in terms of quality and value for money.
Price Guide: Starters 3.50 to 7.50
Main courses 12.25 to 15.50
Puddings 3.95, coffee and petits fours 1.95
The Three Lions, Stuckton, Hampshire
Tel: 01425 652489
Open Tuesday to Sunday for lunch and dinner.
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