One of the Best Restaurants in the New Forest

One of the Best Restaurants in the New Forest
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Dinner and afternoon tea at Balmer Lawn Hotel

Not only is the Balmer Lawn hotel a great place to stay, this Brockenhurst hotel also has one of the best restaurants in the New Forest. I’ve sampled the tasting menu at Beresford’s alongside the wine flight, and I’ve also been treated to afternoon tea there. Read on to discover why this New Forest hotel is a great place for food as well as being a great place to stay. It offers fine yet relaxed dining.

afternoon tea balmer lawn
Afternoon tea at Balmer Lawn may involve cricket and ponies as well as tea, scones and cake

Afternoon tea in the New Forest

The very idea of an afternoon tea can get my mouth watering. Piles of freshly-baked, fluffy scones, homemade jam and clotted cream, pretty cakes, elegant finger sandwiches and as much tea (or coffee) as you can drink… but where, pray, can you get the best afternoon tea in the New Forest?

We were lucky enough to be given a gift voucher to have afternoon tea at the Balmer Lawn, Brockenhurst, in the very heart of the New Forest. We promptly got excited about it, thought of all the delicious goodies we would eat – then put in a drawer and forgot all about it. Oops.

Never mind, all was well. We salvaged the voucher before its expiry date, secured a babysitter and booked a table. It was a weekday in mid-January, so as you might expect it wasn’t very busy; we were one of only three tables in at the time.

A good spot

Afternoon tea at Balmer Lawn is served right by reception. Which may sound off-putting, but really, it is quite the reverse. For one thing, you are seated far enough away from the doors, and all the comings and goings, not to be adversely affected by noise or draughts. In fact, it makes a good spot for a little bit of people watching. And pony watching, too. Then there’s cricket…

Ponies and Cricket

There is another reason for the location. The room has tall windows that look out over a vast expanse of green. On the day we visited, there were several New Forest ponies happily grazing, blissfully unaware of the human eyes fondly gazing upon them. In the summer, cricket is played out there, so if you time it right you can get a good view of the innings, too. Cue Mister’s disappointment that we’d missed that little sporting bonus.

balmer lawn hotel
I love to spot the landmark Balmer Lawn on the road between Lymington and Lyndhurst

An afternoon feast

Our food, and freshly-made pots of tea, arrived. There were two sizeable scones a-piece – one fruit, one plain. Four cakes each – and they weren’t tiny little petit-fours, either. A slab each of fruit cake, a mini cherry cupcake, and an intricate, layered rectangular chocolate confection. The fourth wasn’t actually a cake, but a small amount of a smooth, sweet, white chocolate custard-like pudding, topped with a fresh raspberry and served in a dinky ceramic pot.

The Score

The sandwiches were elegant, generously filled – and joy of joys – not hardening or curling at the edges. My friend, who deals with hotels every single day of her working life and has had umpteen afternoon teas (you can practically see Earl Grey and French fancies leaking from her ears), asked about this first. In fact, she told me about another hotel in the area, which I shall not name, that serves up the most disappointing afternoon tea, yet has the cheek to charge handsomely for it. Four times, she’s been; four times, let down.

Anyway, our sandwiches were freshly cut and contained thick slices of locally-sourced ham and wholegrain mustard, egg mayonnaise, smoked salmon and cream cheese and cucumber. All three I had were delicious; I declined the cucumber as I dislike it but it went down very well with Mister, who devoured mine too.

Tea Service

Our teapots were replaced as required and the staff were very helpful and friendly. In fact, they consoled Mister somewhat, for his missing out on a view of the cricket, by letting him sample a little of their own real ale for free. As is often the case, solace in the form of a glass of something was sought and duly given.

It all felt very genteel, yet the atmosphere was informal and friendly, which suited me perfectly. I’m not keen on stuffy places or people, or hotels that think more highly of themselves than their guests. I do love, also, that it seemed so quintessentially British. Of all New Forest restaurants, this is one of my all-time favourites – and having an afternoon tea is one of the things to do in the New Forest.

Have we found the best afternoon tea in Brockenhurst?

We would go back – but it will have to be during cricket season next time. Having now developed something of a penchant for bottomless tea, photogenic cakes and heavily-laden scones – with a few sandwiches just to level things out, of course.

Three tips, if I may. Firstly, go during a cricket match if you or your companion enjoys it. You wouldn’t want them to miss out. Two – go hungry. Do not be tempted to eat lunch first, nor even a snack. Finally, don’t worry if you can’t eat it all – the water kindly offered to box up any leftovers for us. Alas, by that time, we were already bursting at the seams, plates strewn with the messy remains of what we just couldn’t quite squeeze into our distended bellies.

Beresford's restaurant
Goat’s cheese and caviar starter at Beresford’s restaurant

Dinner at Beresford’s restaurant

A booze-fuelled flight?

No, I didn’t know what a wine flight was until relatively recently, either. Before I had dinner at the Balmer Lawn in Beresfords restaurant, I imagined being tightly squeezed into an economy class seat, sipping at a glass of cheap, tepid non-vintage. Some vain, utterly useless attempt at grabbing some shut-eye, on a long haul trip.

Perhaps it was more upmarket? Chilling out in the luxurious business class cabin, impeccably dressed air attendants pouring glass after glass of wine. Chosen by me from an impressive list. Making me just the right degree of sleepy to sink into my flat-bed seat, to snooze my happy way home. I’ve kind of been there and done that, actually – but it was Bellinis courtesy of BA. On the downside, I was nursing Delhi belly, having just been to India on a free ‘educational’ trip. The travel trade is tough.

Back to Balmer Lawn

I digress. Back to the New Forest, and the Balmer Lawn hotel, whose afternoon tea had impressed me some months earlier. This time, we were bound for Beresfords, their fine-dining restaurant in the New Forest, and the full blow-out. A Tasting menu, complete with matching wines for each course. In for a penny and all that. Actually, the menu is very competitively priced. Pretty good, I reckon, when you see what else is around. What you actually get for your hard-earned cash.

There were a dozen of us, so rather than dine in the restaurant we took a private dining room. Perhaps just as well, as after-dinner conversation topics included Findus Crispy Pancakes and free hall passes; but that’s another story. The room was beautifully done – businesslike, yet oozing character, with a pretty view of a small garden.

Balmer Lawn restaurant
Perfectly cooked duck was a highlight of dinner at Balmer Lawn

From water to wine

Thankfully, with all that wine, the waiters were most attentive, topping up our water glasses with well-practiced regularity. I was very grateful to them the next morning, I can tell you, as we didn’t stop after the wine flight. The cosy, convivial bar was just too tempting. Well, we just had to sample the beer made on site at the hotel’s very own microbrewery…

A fabulous feed

So, the food. It was fabulous. The best thing was, I probably wouldn’t have chosen to order anything like what I actually ate, but I would have missed out. Goat’s cheese, mackerel, duck… none of them are my favourite things – or were, previously. Past tense. I would order any of them again, and would be far more than content to do so. The accompaniments to each course were perfectly judged and elegantly executed, and the flavours married as beautifully as the dishes were presented. Local produce featured heavily throughout.

Two words – two puddings. A sweet-toothed type like me has got to be happy with that, and delighted I was – very much so. Again, both flawless both in execution; inventive, satisfying and completely gorgeous. Music in the mouth. Sadly, they were gone far too soon.

New Horizons

What I really loved about the Tasting menu was trying new things, as I’ve mentioned, but it’s more than that. For someone like me, who likes just about every kind of food there is (or to put it another way, I’m a greedy gannet), it’s tricky to choose what to order. Putting that into someone else’s hands is surprisingly relaxing – and pleasing. Why not trust the experts? For that is exactly what they are.

New Forest restaurant
Dessert was almost too good to eat. Almost.

A family affair

The Balmer Lawn hotel is family-owned, and it shows. Funnily enough I’ve pretty much always preferred 4-star hotels to 5-star establishments; perhaps not having that extra star makes them work a little harder, striving for streamlined perfection. I prefer the personal touch, and the more relaxed, homely feel of your average 4-star, and the Balmer Lawn hotel in Brockenhurst is no exception. Not that I can think of anything they could improve upon, really. 

Not only one of the best restaurants in the New Forest

The quality of food, drinks and service at Balmer Lawn is faultless, but the best thing about it was feeling – after our 2-night stay – that some of the staff had become friends. Balmer Lawn is down-to-earth and welcoming to humans – with wellies by the door – and is dog friendly too. I’m looking forward already to our next stay, which I’m already thinking of as something of a homecoming. Which in a way, it is, because – luckily for us – the Balmer Lawn and one of the best restaurants in the New Forest is only 20 minutes’ drive away. Amen to that.

If you fancy staying at Balmer Lawn – which I heartily recommend – you can see prices and reviews HERE.

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Note –  This post may contain affiliate links. If you buy via these, I may earn a small fee. This has absolutely no effect on the price you pay. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. 

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