Alexander Larman spends a blissful night at Lainston House, Hampshire and find a luxury country house firing on all gastro cylinders
Set a couple of miles outside Winchester, the first thing that you notice when you arrive up Lainston’s long and winding drive is the beautiful 17th century house that greets you. The second is the warmth and friendliness of the ever-capable staff, who are equally adept at dealing with guests popping down for a romantic weekend as they are with the hordes of weddings that colonise the picture-perfect setting at summer weekends. Food lovers will also be intrigued by the new cookery school, Season, which is lurking in a converted 17th century barn just up from the main hotel; once inside, they’ll find themselves in a prep kitchen worthy of Masterchef.
Thankfully eschewing the soulless “modern wing” approach, the bedrooms here are either in the main house or roundabouts in the original buildings. We stayed in the sumptuously appointed Chapel Suite, which came complete with a variety of welcome and unusual touches; the Jacuzzi in the bathroom was an unexpected delight, as was the TV that emerged, as if by magic, from the foot of the bed. Although what you’d be doing watching TV in somewhere this magical is beyond us. Everything was, as ever, up to luxury standard, and the view over the old chapel grounds (hence the name) was pure joy to wake up to.
Food and drink
On a previous visit to Lainston, the gorgeous wood-panelled dining room had been let down by a rather mundane dinner. Now, thanks to the appointment of head chef Olly Rouse, the food is up to spectacular standards in the Avenue restaurant. The bold can try an eight-course tasting menu with matching wines, but those of smaller appetites will be very happy with the a la carte, which shows a rare intelligence and sophistication. Starters of crab with Iberico ham and ham hock and foie gras terrine are sumptuous; mains of salmon and lamb, even more so. The brief menu descriptions of the main ingredient and the supporting cast of flavours don’t even begin to do justice to Rouse’s complex, delectable cooking. A wide-ranging wine list offers some decent options by the glass if you’re erring on the side of conservatism.
In a nutshell
In a county famous for some of the country’s best hotels, Lainston is one of the absolute best, and now has something to offer the most exacting – and inquisitive – of gourmands.