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The Fleur-de-Lys

The oldest pub in The New Forest has exceptional cuisine

Al Fresco Lunch
 June 2006

Six of us breezed in for late lunch refreshments and we ate out in the garden where the furniture was of a higher quality than in most people's back gardens, so we sat and ate in comfort.

The sandwiches were substantial, the crab particularly fresh and flavoursome. We had a couple of starters from the main menu, both were well presented - the scallops as good as you'd get anywhere, and the pigeon breasts were deliciously pink, though a blob of accompanying foie gras was so undercooked even I baulked at it. The rib eye steak was generous and juicy.

But the chipped potatoes, ah! - worth driving all the way to Pilley near Lymington for! Probably the best you'll find anywhere - crispy on the outside, meltingly soft inside and tasting of potato, not fat - excellent! We'll be back later in the summer to review this place properly.

Not only is the Fleur-de-Lys the oldest pub in the Forest, going back to 1096 and with a list of landlords beginning in 1498, it is also one of the prettiest, smothered under a hugely thick thatched roof. The current proprietors have done a radical but sensitive restoration, and it is plainly but tastefully furnished with the accent more on dining, though bar drinkers and lunchtime grazers are also well catered for.

I had high hopes for an excellent dinner here after our lunch visit a couple of months ago (see the box on the right). This time, seven of us descended on the restaurant and I can honestly say that there was not a disappointing dish. Perhaps the side order chips weren't quite as good as they were in June, but when I raised this with the proprietor Steve Westall, he explained  that particular kind of potato is no longer available. 

What was clearly apparent was the great attention to detail. Each dish was perfectly garnished with its own specific vegetable creations. The presentations were precise, creative and not over elaborate. Above all, it was clear that care had been taken over the sourcing of the ingredients, and equal care taken to ensure that flavours were not overwhelmed by too much tinkering. I wasn't surprised to learn that Chef Lance Bartlett was originally a pastry chef - apart from his excellent desserts, touches like the beautiful quenelles of pea purée and of ceps that accompanied my starter of red mullet had a superior finish that often eludes the more general chef.

A starter salad of smoked duck with seared foie gras was luxurious, and its spiced apple garnish cut the richness most ably. The twice baked cheese soufflé had been gratinated in a tasty sea of molten cheesy sauce like a sort of savoury Ile Flottant. Fresh crab meat had been packed into a generous parcel of smoked salmon with a crème fraiche dressing flavoured with a hint of horseradish and a little caviar to give texture. Starters cost between five and six pounds except for the soup (£4.95) the smoked duck (£6.95) and the crab (£9.95).

The main course dishes were also excellent, with beautifully prepared vegetable creations -portions are generous without being over facing and every dish has several brilliantly executed garnishes. The roast pigeon breast (£13.95) was a triumph, stuffed with girolles that had a truffle like intensity, with gnocchi that were soft, comforting little pillows. Also on the menu was a delicious cut of local venison (£17.95), wrapped in Parma ham and married up with a square of Dauphinois potatoes and poached pear. The monkfish (£15.95) and its crispy potato cake was also good, but perhaps the most dramatic dish of all was the chargrilled fillet of beef (£17.95), sitting up on the plate like a proud top hat surrounded by a broodingly dark reduced red wine  sauce. The plate was dressed with the most perfect cylinders of fondant potato, alternating with little bundles of accurately sized green beans wrapped in leek, looking for all the world as though they had strayed in from a top class sushi bar!

Desserts were fabulous, and well differentiated, for instance the delicious selection of home made ice creams was different from  the ices which were integrated into other desserts - now that's classy! So there was a graceful rose water sorbet to accompany the Champagne crème brûlée (I could have done without the Champagne flavour), and an extraordinary blue cheese parfait to go with honey roasted figs, an exotic combination that really worked. The wine list is interesting and not too pricey with a good selection of wines under £20 - we drank an excellent Chilean Sauvignon Blanc which was a bargain at £14.50. We came away wishing we had a neighbourhood restaurant with such exciting menu choices, and I am pleased to award the Fleur-de-Lys a Dine Online Accolade.

Dine Online Highly Recommended Restaurant

Clifford Mould, August 2006

The Fleur-de-Lys Inn, Pilley near Lymington, Hampshire

Tel: 01590 672158

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