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Our little black book of enchanting places



Posted in FOOD + DRINK By Maggie O'Sullivan

This is Violet Beauregarde. Not the little girl in the Roald Dahl story, obviously, but a pudding made by David Wykes. David is the owner and multi-award-winning chef at Verveine, in Milford on Sea, Hampshire. I happen to think he is one of the best chefs in the country, so when he invited me for lunch at short notice last week, I naturally moved heaven and earth to be there.

When I arrived, David was already busy in the open kitchen, but he welcomed me warmly and checked that I didn’t have any allergies or strong dislikes. ‘Just rice pudding and custard…’ I replied. David assured me that the deconstructed rice pudding that he made occasionally was a world away from the horror served up at my Irish Catholic grammar school. I’ve read that one of the inspirations for Heston Blumenthal’s ‘multi-sensory’ style of cooking was the fact that his first restaurant, The Fat Duck, was small and unshowy – he had to find another way to capture the imagination of his diners. I get the feeling that David (above) has a similar challenge. Verveine only has 35 or so covers, all tightly packed into a few tables in the main dining room. While the seaside-inspired décor is gentle and soothing, the emphasis is most definitely on the myriad flavours on your plate. I rarely sit down to eat in a restaurant on my own so at first I felt a little lonely and slightly awkward. But as plate after plate of innovative and exciting dishes were presented, I began to appreciate the silence around me. Instead of chatting, I was able to concentrate on the food.First came a pre-starter (above) of homemade granary bread (everything is home made, even the cêp butter) accompanied by a little flower pot filled with ‘soil’ which turned out to be cream cheese and mackerel pâté, and planted with whole radishes.In the flower pot’s wake came Solent crab sprinkled with chestnuts and finished with strips of roasted parsnip; the crunchiest of pickled artichokes (who knew artichokes could be this crunchy?), Welsh goat’s cheese and charred apple purée topped with a scorched honey; turbot on a bed of homemade pappardelle, surrounded by sundried tomatoes; scallops with roasted sweet red peppers and a dressing made with 50-year-old balsamic vinegar (above). There may have been more but David ordered me to stop taking notes and start enjoying the dishes. So I did.And so to the aforementioned Violet Beauregarde (above). David’s pièce de résistance is inspired by the little girl in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory who blew up like a blueberry: blueberry sorbet, fresh blueberries, blueberry foam, blueberry meringue and bubblegum-flavoured panna cotta. One flavour, lots of textures, all gently crammed onto a single plate with a little popping rice on the side. It’s not true. You can’t have too much of a good thing.

After lunch, David led me through the fishmongers at the front of the restaurant and out into the freezing Milford air. His parting words have stuck with me: 'I am beyond being passionate about my cooking,' he said. 'It is just part of my make-up. I wouldn’t know how to live life and not cook.' 

Verveine, 98 High Street, Milford on Sea, Lymington, Hampshire, SO41 0QE. 01590 642176; Verveine

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