[Sparsholt, Hampshire] The Avenue restaurant at Lainston House Hotel

We needed somewhere to stay near Southampton (prior to a cruise) and picked Lainston House because its restaurant is Good Food Guide listed.

It was to be an enjoyable meal but not without some minor issues. The first of these issues was early in the evening. When you’re having your aperitif in the bar, having ordered your dinner, and you’re invited through to the dining room, it’s reasonable to expect that some food is going to appear quickly, even if it’s just bread. But no such luck. It took quite a while. Fingers had started to tap. Bread, when it finally made it to the table, was very good. A brioche, a sourdough and another with lemon & thyme baked into it. And it’s one of those places where they offer more bread once you’ve scoffed the first lot. It was certainly better than the amuse bouche – a mushroom foam “enhanced” with pickled turnip and chorizo. It was the pickling that was just wrong, giving it a sour, unpleasant taste. Nothing “amuse” here.

I suppose you shouldn’t be surprised that a starter title “scallop” is literally just one. So, unsurprising - but miserly. It was, however, perfectly cooked and came with a parmesan cream and an avocado puree.

Slices of cured salmon were lovely – the texture of smoked salmon, but not smoked salmon. The accompanying horseradish cream should have worked really well, but it need a much bigger kick from horseradish.

The main course lamb loin was bang-on for pinkness and flavour and came with good mashed potato and asparagus. There was a well balanced slightly sweetened sauce which worked well. A small fillet of halibut was just a tad overcooked for perfection. There was a good dauphinoise providing the carb and a selection of veg – carrot, cabbage, salsify, mixed with bacon. It all worked.

The pre-dessert was an absolute belter. Red berry compote topped with a lime yoghurt and granola. Desserts proper were a bit of a let down after it. A chocolate cylinder enclosed a chocolate mousse and sticky caramel. It should have been a rich ending to the meal and you could see what the chef was getting at but it all felt a bit too gloopy with the caramel. The other dessert was a white chocolate mousse encased in dark chocolate and topped with a strawberry jelly. Textures were fine with this one but everything was just underflavoured. It need more strawberry, more oomph, more anything really.

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“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold