LE POUSSIN @ WHITLEY RIDGE: A NEW YEAR IN THE NEW FOREST
As birthday treats go, it was one of the best.
A magical mystery tour to The New Forest and the charming town of Lyndhurst and then, after a short walk and a couple of pints, back to the hotel for a quick shower and off to Le Poussin at Whitley Ridge for a birthday meal.
In the twenty odd years since Alex Aitken first started Le Poussin, he has been the very model of consistency. Earning a Michelin star in his first year and maintaining one every year since (I believe)
Tonight’s meal showed just why. While there was nothing here that would bring down the walls of Jericho, there was evidence of the most able of kitchen’s doing what they do well without trying to reinvent the wheel. From the look of the people at the other tables, I suspect that's what keeps bringing back an obviously loyal clientele.
While sipping on a glass of Billecarte Rose, we both decided to go for the tasting menu (£59) with the accompanying wine flight (£35)
An amuse of butternut squash veloute with wild mushrooms was deliciously savoury. Good depth of flavour from decent stock. Not always the case.
Followed by one of the star dishes of the night, a small roasted sweetbread with a slice of braised veal tongue and a langoustine. The sweetbread on its own was perfect with a slight crunch on the outside and melting inside. Small batons of carrot added little, but overall an accomplished dish and it worked with the glass of Bergerac Sec which we had with this and the second dish.
Perhaps the weakest dish of the whole meal was a ravioli of quail egg with sauce albarfura black truffle. Not only misconceived but poorly executed with the egg cooked until hard rather than soft allowing the yolk to run out and form part of the sauce. Just wrong and not a good match for the wine.
Things perked up again, as they so often do, with the fish course. A fabulous piece of sea bass on top of a tomato fondue. As much as the previous dish flopped, this succeeded. Lovely.
With this and the next dish came a glass of Bonnydoon Ca Del Solo which was a new one on me and complimented both the Sea Bass and the next small plate of a medium cooked scallop on top of a puree of artichoke and slices of black truffle. The scallop was cooked as it should be, but the truffle threatened to over power as it can when not used with caution.
With this level of cooking I always find that meat courses fail to raise an eyebrow. No change here. Small slices of lamb were over cooked and over powered both by too strong a reduction in the sauce and a foam of smoked garlic. A small kidney on top provided a welcome change in texture, however and the smokiness of the sauce held up against a young and powerful Chateau Musar which could probably do with a few more years.
A classic combination for the cheese course. Poached pear with Roquefort and caramelised walnuts. There is a reason why such things are classics. It is because they work and this certainly worked as did a glass of Banyuls
After a little pre dessert which entirely escapes my mind, the puddings for which Le Poussin is, apparently very well known. In the case of tonight’s menu, a passion fruit soufflé with a small cone of vanilla ice cream. Not much to say other than it was a good combination and well made. I was not convinced by the glass of Loupiac that came with it although, by that point, I had drunk so much they could have given me Draino and I would have said it had a nice nose.
Mind you I was not so far gone as to enjoy the Sommelier’s little post dinner creation of Amaretto with apple juice which was just plain nasty.
With some fresh mint tea and decent petit fours, the whole thing came to about £100 a pop which is a lot to spend for dinner particularly on someone like me, but I really did appreciate the thought and effort Dawn put into organising it. Hell knows I am not worth it.
But, Le Poussin is definitely worth its star and, at this level is certainly better value than most of its London equivalents. Mind you, you have to get to The New Forest to enjoy it and, because I slept in the car both on the way there and the way back, I am still not exactly certain where that is.
A mystery tour indeed