The sweeping views across the clear blue Solent right to the Isle of Wight on a clear day are one of the many reasons to visit Westover Hall. It was once the Victorian home of Alexander Siemens, the General electrical engineering industrialist who came to settle in the sleepy seaside town of Milford-on-Sea in Hampshire in 1897.
If you love the highly decorative 19th Century style of coloured, stained glass windows, wood panelling, brass chandeliers, floral tiling and carved brown furniture, this is your design kingdom.
Behold white orchids in tall vases, a fan of magazines on a round reception table, gentle music playing from invisible speakers, patterned kilims on polished oak floors and that unmistakeable genteel ambiance of seaside Grand Hotel (capital “G”, capital “H”) that make you feel immediately as if you are on holiday. A few surprises lie in store for the foodie traveller.
Firstly, despite its austere appearance from the driveway, straight off the B3058 road that traverses the town, Westover Hall is run by a very friendly team. They meet you, greet you, pamper you, cosset and reassure you in a way that very few hotels do nowadays.
And before you know it, there you are, ensconced in a wide, deep velvet sofa, surrounded by squashy cushions, in an elegant drawing room, sipping your favourite drink, perusing the menu, looking at lovely paintings and wanting one of everything, in every colour.
The second surprise is that the Vista restaurant dining room where you eat is ultra-modern, very Homes and Gardens: block herringbone wooden floors, shiny tables, red cut glasses, orange table flowers, black accessories and modern crockery and cutlery.
Yet the quiet, period references of this illustrious house’s history are all around you: beautiful, detailed cornices, stucco ceilings, ornate ironmongery and arched windows so large you could be in church.
Your immediate view is of a neat patio with teak furniture for sunny sun-downers and a pretty, white dovecote standing in the immaculate gardens. And beyond, that sparkling crystal blue sea, shimmering in the flickering light, as sailing boats go bobbing along in the horizon. Bliss.
Thirdly, the food: this must be one of the very best hotel restaurants in the land, showcasing fine ingredients with integrity and authenticity, in a refined yet unassuming manner. Of course you should order the fish specialties, but if you are a carnivore, fear not, there is a really well hung Donald Russell Rib eye steak served with extremely well made chips of such hefty proportions they almost constitute a whole course in their own right.
The scallops, prawns, salmon, sea bass and bream are extremely fresh, simply cooked, well-seasoned and beautifully served.
Do look out for the seared scallops with soft, slow cooked belly pork and cauliflower puree and the Tempura prawns with satay sauce, cured salmon and pepper salad in particular. It is often with the most simple of dishes that the greatest mastery is required. You will not be disappointed.
The fish of the day is always worth investigating and on that day this turned out to be al dente linguine with salmon and cream, again very well cooked, with just the right amount of saltiness juxtaposed with enough creamy sauce to cut through the salmon’s oiliness.
In particular we must mention the two course lunch special menu where, for a remarkable £10.00 you can feast like a king every Monday to Saturday. This must be the best offering in the whole of The Foodie Bugle “Eating Out” section.
Make sure that you leave enough room for pudding, and in particular the passion fruit tart with mango ice cream, the apple tarte tatin with Chantilly cream and the highlight of the entire meal, a very delicate, fragrant fennel pannacotta with coconut sorbet. The kitchen’s brigade delivered good pastry, excellent fruity flavours and very attractive presentation.
Take your time to enjoy this location, this occasion, this experience. Take a walk on the pebble beach, hear the crashing of the waves, saunter into town and browse through the little antique shops. Maybe make your way back for tea before driving home. Westover Hall is a gentle world of gracious hospitality, seamless efficiency and attention to detail: thank goodness it exists.