We went back to Verviene on 26 Oct 2013, after much too long a gap. A last minute booking and they squeezed us in – a 2 hour slot early evening which suited us. Local parking is free from 6pm. This is a small restaurant that is essentially all in the back of a fish shop (and in the evenings the wet fishmonger part is closed and if you were passing you’d never know). Do not walk on by! A guest who’d not been before was highly impressed, and is planning another visit.
David Wykes hits a market between plain excellent fish and something too experimental and wacky. He does this generally with more novel starters and desserts, but main courses of maybe 20 varieties of top quality fish, each served with one of four accompanying themed garnishes. A chalk board lists the fish – the usual suspects plus some fish of the day. I didn’t memorise the entire menu, so apologies if I’ve not got the details right.
At ‘front of house’ Dominic Bonsell and his colleagues were in top form; although there’s not really a front of house at all because the entire restaurant – including the small kitchen, is all there to see, and the kitchen is nearer the front than the back! Apparently the new season’s menu had just started.
The complimentary nibbles was exotic breads, seaweed butter, and a flower pot with mackerel, edible soil and a crisp fresh radish (similar to the photo from buongustaio).
For starters, between us we tried the lightly smoked bass (served on a large rock – with seaweed and a little contrasting sauce) and plumptious scallops (with carrot) and I had Cornish Mussels – arranged as a picture of the shoreline – a ‘sand’ of parsnip and hay mash, some crushed walnut ‘rocks’ and foam ‘waves’ covering the mussels themselves. Excellent combination of tastes and textures.
We tried the Muscadet Sevre-et-Maine sur lie and the Danebury Hampshire Madeleine Angevine wines – both tasty examples of their genre - £25 a bottle.
For mains we went for some of the less standard fish: Megrim and John Dory, both top quality and perfectly cooked (we expect no less). With Megrim we tried both the chorizo and the Old Winchester garnishes, and with the John Dory I had walnut, sprouting broccoli, artichoke garnish – brilliant.
We shared a Textures White dessert of lychee sorbet, white chocolate crumb, a coconut jelly shaped like a lego brick etc. with a glass of Gewurztraminer. Complimentary petit fours – the salt fudge in edible wrapper and a Fisherman’s Friend flavoured palate cleanser.
There’s something about a restaurant team on a high when they know they are winning – there’s joy, enthusiasm and a sense of a shared experience (sorry if that’s too pretentious) – the staff in Verveine all know they are bringing customers a great meal. You walk out fuelled but not stuffed to the gills – the portions are manageable.
The master chef we’re paying for, and his team of one, are there slaving away in a hot kitchen – you can watch them at work - and the smells that occasionally waft provide a vicarious insight into other diners’ choices. I think there’s a new tasting menu (so to quote a line from an ex-Governor of California: ‘I’ll be back’)…
There is a non-fish dish; but if you don’t like fish, or if you think only plain fish and chips or only the wackiest experimental dishes are for you, then perhaps you might want to try elsewhere. Otherwise, if you like fish want a good value top quality and memorable meal then book for Verveine as soon as you possibly can. £50 a head including wine should mean you’re not stinting on anything. Towards the top of the price ranges for food the starters were around £10, mains around £20, and desserts around £8 and there is a good selection of £25 wines. No hidden extras, no surprises. Credit card left open for gratuity.
David is on the up escalator and getting towards the top and Verveine is small, and so my concerns are that either the restaurant gets a couple of Michelin stars (which it richly deserves) and booking goes ballistic and prices go up; or that David looks for a much larger premises and breaks the spell.
If you come from further afield the perfect weekend might be a nearby thatched New Forest Cottage and some bracing coastal and forest walks, one evening at Verviene and one evening at one of the many other excellent local restaurants – Gordleton Mill perhaps. If this doesn’t work feel free to sue me!
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