lunches at Verveine...

I was surprised to discover that the Hampshire Life 2011 Restaurant of the Year, and Chef of the Year awards belonged to a little fish restaurant about ten minutes from my house in the Forest. I'd had recommendations for Verveine, but somehow it had landed in my radar with more of a plink than a splash.  Given the lack of a decent fishmonger in our area (ridiculous when you live on the coast), Verveine went straight onto my to-try list..

Cajun salmon mousse
Verveine is located on the High Street at Milford-on-Sea, and for non-locals, is just down the road front the lovely Chewton Glen Hotel.  The front of the restaurant is the fishmongers, with a light and bright restaurant extension at the back.  The kitchen is run by Chef Patron David Wykes.  

I dragged along my usual accomplices, Dennis and Vicky.  We were greeted warmly, and offered some Cajun salmon mousse, with crisps.  The mousse was whipped, with a with a rich and earthy flavour, but the spice was a little raw, and made the texture a little granular.

Our Garden in Spring
To begin I had Our Garden in Spring with goat's curd, pickled beet, radish, asparagus, peas, asparagus, garlic flowers and olive oil soil.  The olive is scattered on top of the curd and acts like a seasoning.  The richness of both is offset by the sweetness of the raw vegetables, and the pickling of the soused vegetables.  There's also an interesting combination of textures on the plate - I particularly liked the goat curd.  And, let's face it, it's a very pretty dish...

Verveine preserves a lot of its ingredients to add flavour, in fact they make a number of their key components themselves and try to be as self-sufficient as possible. There's also a small garden at the rear where they grow their own ingredients, including some of those in my starter.

Brixham octopus with chorizo, rice, chicken skin
Dennis opted for the finely diced Brixham octopus with chorizo, puffed rice, preserved lemons and crispy chicken skin.  He enjoyed the surf 'n' turf combinations of the dish.

The main course is based on the premise that you choose your fish from the blackboard (with all the days specials priced out), and then have it cooked in one of four treatments.  These were:

Provençale - Mediterranean vegetables, home-made potato gnocchi, Provençale sauce
Forest - Wild garlic risotto, wild mushrooms, squash puree, almonds
Sea - Sea vegetables, Jersey Royals, olive oil emulsion
Barigole - Morteau sausage, creamed potato, broad beans, baby artichokes
Turbot, Sea

We decided to opt for the turbot, and to each take a particular plating style.  I had Sea - turbot with samphire, broad beans, jersey potatoes, and seaweed.  The little blobs are purees of beetroot and I think butternut squash - they added a sweet depth to counter the salty sea vegetables.

The samphire was pickled, so was acidic rather than salty.

The purees look very pretty, and eat well, but as the dish had been kept under the pass for a little while, and were drying out.

Turbot, Provencale
Dennis opted for the Provençale, which came with courgettes, roast tomatoes, artichokes, gnocchi, and a scrape of aubergine.  The various elements were less 'mushy' than a traditional ratatouille, allowing each ingredient to stand for itself.

Turbot, Forest
Vicky opted for Forest - her turbot was plated with mushrooms, almonds, a risotto of grains, pesto, new season ransoms, and samphire.  I tried the grain risotto - I much prefer grain - it holds its texture much better than rice risotto where its an accompaniment (rather than the central element of the dish).

Sherbet Fountain

All of that was quite filling, and we weren't going to have a dessert, until our waiting staff told us about David's deconstructed dishes.  One was a take on a sherbet dab, and Dennis and I both plumped straight for that, liquorice addicts that we are...

The liquorice element is a deep and intense ice-cream made with soft liquorice - the sherbet is made with a mixture of Fizzy, icing sugar, and citric acid.  We loved this dish, absolutely delicious if you like liquorice.  I liked it so much that it immediately became a tribute dish, and you can find my Thermomix recipe here.

We had a long chat to David at the end of the meal, swapping recipe ideas, book choices and restaurant recommendations.  David has cooked in some very accomplished kitchens, and this shows in his approach.  From the freshly made butter, to the home-smoked ingredients, Verveine is as self sufficient as it can be.  This does occasionally have its drawbacks, and all three of us disliked the soused samphire - where an ingredient has such an admired texture and flavour, it seems churlish to alter both without good cause.  Plate dressings had also been allowed to dry out a little, which seems a shame, as the purees were actually very tasty.  Overall we enjoyed our lunch, and will happily add Verveine to our list of regular haunts.  The staff are very knowledgable and attentive, and one cheerfully selected a variety of leaves from the garden for another diner to taste.  David is a competent chef with lots of very interesting ideas, and I can't wait to try more of his deconstructed puddings.  Next time I think this has my name on it:

Violet Beauregarde - Blueberries, bubblegum pannacotta, caramelised brioche
‘Great heavens girl!’ screeched Mrs Beauregarde, ‘you’re blowing up like a balloon!!’ ‘Like a blueberry ‘said Mr Wonka, ‘prick her with a pin!!’ 

Verveine Fishmarket Restaurant
98 High Street
Milford on Sea
SO41 0QE