Nine years ago, a very nervous 15 year old me sent what may have been the most exhilaratingly bold message of my life so far:
“So, are we a ting?”
Yes, you read that right. Not a typo. I said ‘ting’.
You can call me Hattie du Lac, queen of the chat, pick-up artist extraordinaire. The exchange happened at about 2am on MSN messenger, without which I undoubtedly wouldn’t be in a relationship now. You see, an achingly long minute later I got a response that made my stomach feel like I’d put it in a blender:
So there you have it, the start of my current relationship, immortalised in all its romantic glory.
Nine years later and I like to think we’ve both improved on the communication front, as well as the mandatory post-indie phase glow up that didn’t settle in until a few years later. A lot of people are taken aback when I say how long we’ve been together, but it doesn’t really feel like an achievement. We don’t hold the keys to having a good relationship (and frankly, if I said we did I hope you’d run a mile), but we do still somehow enjoy each other’s company.
Enough so, in fact, that we opted to spend the evening of our anniversary breaking one of my cardinal rules – eating at a restaurant we’ve been to before.
I first visited The Elderflower in Lymington on my 24th birthday, where I left on a dizzy high from the seven course tasting menu (including slow cooked duck, cod, beef cheek and hazelnut soufflé) and the wine. One of the loveliest dining experiences to date, I couldn’t wait to go back and try it out, so when our anniversary gave us the excuse to spend some cash on a nice dinner, we jumped at the chance.
The best thing about tasting menus is the removal of choice. As a bit of a control freak, having someone else taking the wheel and making the decisions can only be a good thing. I’m also not much of a fussy eater, which helps.
Another important element of the tasting menu is the rare breaking of my one and only cardinal rule for couples eating out: ordering the exact same thing. I just don’t get it when couples go to a restaurant and order two of the same dish. I don’t care how sure you are you want that food, you’re doing yourself a disservice by not maximising your variety and splitting two dishes between you.
A tasting menu affords you the luxury of having all the variety you could ask for, but also keeping your portions to yourself. For me, it’s a good workaround to the tapas table mentality that dominates my dining habits.
And what a tasting menu it was. Taking on all the robust, earthy flavours of Autumn, The Elderflower delivered a deliciously hearty New Forest dinner.
Sometimes the simple things in life are best. Such is the case with the bread and butter you get before you stuff your face with seven courses. A warm crusty roll with a slab of butter? Yes please.
Squirrel boudin with chestnut puree and cobnut pesto
Yep, squirrel. Possibly a spritely thing that spent most of its days scurrying through treetops in search of acorns. Also, I had to Google what a cobnut is and it turns out it’s just a hazelnut. Who’d have guessed?
But really, this dish was all kinds of smoky, autumnal and hearty, with tender, slow-cooked meat that melted in the mouth.
Venison carpaccio with a seaweed tuille
My second first of the meal! I’d never had venison before, and I was not disappointed. There was something very hunter-gathery about this menu that came through right from the word go, making my choice of a white wine a bit questionable. With braised celery and pickled mirabelles providing a perfect layer of freshness and texture, this proved to be a truly delightful little course.
Roasted pumpkin, chicken boudin and chicken liver with butternut squash puree, roasted pumpkin seeds and crispy chicken skin
Okay, I’m going to add somewhat of a spoiler alert here. This course was hands down my favourite of the night. We all know that chicken skin is the best part of whatever meal it’s in, but with this one it was just one mouthwatering element of many. All served in a mini pumpkin, which makes it the most adorable dish I’ve ever been served 😭😩
You know when you just take a few bites of a dish and all the separate pieces just work perfectly together and you transcend to a higher plane? Yeah, that’s what eating this was like. Sweet, smooth purée, savoury chicken sausage, nuttiness from the roasted pumpkin seeds and flesh… and a supreme level of crunch from that chicken skin. I loved this. So, so much.
Pan seared cod with a gladioli petal
Okay, I think sometimes when a restaurant tries too hard to be innovative, they do things like putting petals on their food. Does it make sense in a rose-scented Persian dish? Perhaps. Not so much on a plain ole bit o’ cod.
It’s a shame, because the fish was actually cooked perfectly, served with white beans, girolle mushrooms and baby leeks, flavoured delicately with an elderberry sauce . It didn’t need the pretentious crunch of a gladioli petal atop it to make it great.
Grouse breast, confit grouse leg, almond puree and roasted fig
This is the first time I’ve ever had the experience of eating game that contained shot, and let me tell you, it was not ideal. There’s really nothing like the brow sweat induced by biting into a piece of meat that could exfoliate a tooth.
That said, the meat itself was delicious – juicy, tender and crisp. Especially in the breast (heh). One thing I really like about the food at The Elderflower is that it seems to relish the balance between sweet and savoury. I love the way adding just a touch of roasted fruit transformed the flavours of this dish from being overbearingly meaty to being just right.
Raspberry sorbet, raspberry mousse, champagne
Sorbet is one of my favourite forms of sweet food. All the great things about ice cream with none of the weird dairy aftertaste sticking around. And what’s better than fruit with champagne?
New Forest gateau
I don’t think I’ve ever had a dessert presented quite so beautifully to me before. Pistachio sponge served with a chocolate trunk filled with hazelnut parfait adorned with chocolate soil, candied apple, hazelnuts and blackberry sorbet. A true work of art!
(And it tasted good, too)
Too often, I think there’s a pretentiousness to tasting menus that doesn’t quite shake itself off throughout the courses. Which is fine, if they really lean into it. But The Elderflower, even with its white glove service and softly-spoken waiting staff who describe the components of your meal as though doing the voiceover for an M&S advert, has a cosy feel to it – and only a touch of the gladioli petal on a bit of cod kinda vibe.
All in all, I had a lovely anniversary – and a lovely anniversary dinner to celebrate the past 9 years of my life, which has had almost as many highs as this tasting menu (and plenty more lows). If you’re thinking of celebrating something special, I would absolutely recommend celebrating with seven courses of delicious food.