The Journey "Begins"

By the time you read of my Scottish exploits in Square Mile, it will appear to be a 14-16 day trawl around the UK, from south to north and back again. Via lovely hotels and excellent restaurants and distilleries and such like - possibly even Heston Blumenthal's Little Chef.

The logistical reality though is the trip has already started. Sort of. This Friday sees the delivery of my vehicle - a BMW 730d with lots of mod cons, should anyone feel like watching DVDs in the back - and the first night heading north. To, er, Luton, which isn't exactly a mission when you live in North London but never mind: journeys start with a single step and all that.

As for the southern leg, we took on a big chunk of that this weekend with nights at The Montagu Arms and Cotswolds House. The former was a very nice hotel with a very good restaurant attached, or possibly vice versa. The latter was an excellent hotel with... well, let's just say the restaurant's execution didn't match the obvious ambition. But more on that in part II.

First up was the newly Michelin-starred The Montag
u Arms. Set in the pretty New Forest village of Beaulieu, The Montagu is a close neighbour of the National Motoring Museum and assorted ponies that wander happily about the High Street. It's a lovely old-fashioned place, with lots of wood-panelling and, rather charmingly, a four-poster bed in our suite - not to mention two bathrooms, a lounge, two TVs... It was a shame we were only staying one night, a feeling certainly enhanced by Matthew Tomkinson's cooking.

Essentially, from the olives - fat, succulent - and the nuts - sweet, spicy - to the petit fours, the meal didn't put a foot wrong. An amuse of butternut squash veloute with toasted pumpkin seeds scored highly in terms of deep flavours and textures (I'm going to be sprinkling seeds on every soup from now until it gets boring). A single raviolo of salmon and langoustine was delicate and light, while the lasagne of braised oxtail was rich and unctuous. Honey roast partridge was sweet yet gamey, halibut was perfectly cooked - and topped with an exquisite and frivolous crown of potato - and then the raspberry souffle came damn close to blowing everything out of the water, particulalry the accompanying rice pudding ice cream. That resulted in a cracking night's sleep, followed by a breakfast of home made jams and smoked haddock with a poached egg. Shame the bread was standard sliced stuff, but that was the only false note in an otherwise exemplary dinner, bed and breakfast package.

And then it was onto the Cotswolds for a fabulous room and a weird dinner. And more on that later.


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