With 3 AA Rosettes, Cambium is all about the Food, the Service, the Sommelier and the Finishing Touches
In search of a fabulous all round New Forest Restaurant Dining Experience
Eagerly awaited Cambium, the totally renovated restaurant at Careys Manor Hotel Brockenhurst, was opened to a burst of publicity last spring, promising “relaxed refinement” and Chef Paul Peter’s “traditional dishes interpreted with delicate wit, capturing the essence of the local area and embracing the nature of the seasons”. Or in the words of our host for our own Cambium dining experience: “Local ingredients used in a worldly way”.
In January 2016, Cambium was awarded Three AA Rosettes.
What does three AA rosettes mean?
The long-established AA Rosette scheme recognises “successful cooking at different levels” across the UK. But an AA Rosette takes into account more factors than just the cooking. And, AA Rosettes are awarded by AA Hotel and Restaurant Inspectors who arrive unannounced and do not say who they are until they are leaving, and may visit more than once in order to build the full picture necessary to evaluate all the elements of the dining experience.
In fact the awarding of a Rosette seems designed to reflect real life customer expectations, encompassing the food... the service...the sommelier...and the finishing touches!
About 10% of restaurants nationwide are of a standard that is worthy of One Rosette and above. So on that basis, three Rosettes is a fantastic achievement by Cambium less than a year after it first opened.
So with eager anticipation we sat down to dinner!
Dining out: above all it’s about the food
The “Tasting Menu” at £65 looked very long! After discussion with our host Joshua we decided that our appetites on this mid week evening were not sufficient to do it justice. So we opted instead for the standard menu: two courses for £40, three for £49.50 – and in the event we did succumb to delectable sounding desserts.
From a choice of 5 starters we sampled the mackerel “escabeche” including roasted fennel, carrot, orange and citrus dressing which was excellent, and the hand dived scallops with celeriac, pear, roasted hazelnuts and celery cress which was quite simply out of this world and definitely to be recommended.
The menu is changed seasonally, and Careys Manor guests staying even for just a couple of nights will often choose to take at least one meal at one of the other two restaurants - so they don’t tend to run out of choices.
For mains there were again 5 options, my partner chose the pan fried halibut with prawn gnocchi, butternut squash, bacon, brussel sprouts and prawn bisque. The combination sounded a little alternative, but the result was pronounced delicious! I opted for the braised haunch – and loin! - of venison with pickled beetroot, parsnip, spinach and “bitter chocolate”, again an interesting sounding combination which really worked, in fact was quite stupendous - I may run out of superlatives.
Amazingly we found ourselves able to contemplate the dessert menu! The pistachio creme brulee with blackberries and New Forest yoghurt was light, not too sweet, really rather perfect. Whilst the “green apple” cheesecake with sultanas and brown bread ice cream was also wonderful.
I would say that all the portions were very adequate but not too enormous - which for those brought up to eat everything on their plates should be welcome news. Another time I’d be tempted to miss a couple of meals beforehand so as to be able to take advantage of the tasting menu - which does look like fantastic value for a top quality feast!
Discreet, professional service
The service was quiet, professional, not in your face (in some of the more expensive restaurants the staff seem to hover, which is just too much) but still attentive, and friendly too. The photo below is of Sommelier Michael Driscoll with Restaurant Managers Jeremy Whitworth and Joshua Doling.
An exceptional sommelier
A great dining experience enhanced by the knowledge and personality of the sommelier is something else entirely, and I think our stand out memory of this meal is the absolutely first class sommelier Michael, whom we thought Cambium were really fortunate to have on board - but delightfully, Michael is equally happy to be part of the Cambium team. He’s young, learning but already immensely knowledgeable, and so enthusiastic it’s really infectious.
So, in the mood to try new wine, one eating fish and the other venison, and also driving (a small price to pay for living in the wilds of the New Forest – it’s not like London where you can just come out and hail a cab!) we opted for wine by the glass to complement our dishes, and placed ourselves at the mercy of Michael’s recommendations – which turned out to be brilliant!
We also learned lots, about a grape we’d never knowingly tasted – the Albarino from Galicia in north west Spain which is nurtured by the sea air coming gently down off the coastal mountains and results in a wine which tastes discernibly and deliciously of the sea.
An all round dining experience - the finishing touches
The welcome you receive on arrival, the decor, the temperature, the comfort and support of your seat and its height in relation to the table, the ergonomics of the cutlery, the weight and feel of the glass, the ambience (including the proximity of other diners who can seem closer than you’d like when they’re noisy) these are all vital elements of the dining out experience, which can coincide to complement or to detract from an otherwise great meal on any particular occasion.
A restaurant cannot control all of these elements - but it can do its best to minimise the possible effects of the ones it can’t.
Cambium’s subtle layout and the modern decor (with evidence of significant interior design input) lends a sense of space – but with the rear section closed off for mid winter and lower diner numbers, it’s pleasantly cosy too. The subtly positioned love seat style seating is private for couples, while others may prefer the tables set with standard seats. The overall atmosphere I'd describe as peaceful - and despite a table of revellers close by we didn't feel disturbed. .
All in all Cambium was very pleasurable dining experience – and we’ll definitely be back with friends, for the Tasting Menu.
Contact Cambium to book a table.
Date of review: 28 January 2016