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Cottage spy

Published 9 November 1997
Style Magazine
226th article

House proud: Michael Winner with the Matysik family at the Thatched Cottage

Lord Montagu of Beaulieu is clever. He planned to be unavailable months before he even knew I was coming to Hampshire. "Sorry, Michael," he said. "On Saturday my daughter's getting married and on Sunday I'm going to Silverstone." He would leave instructions that I be let into the house and motor museum. The museum is fantastic, though I was sorry not to find a Rover 3.5L coupe, one of Britain's great cars, which I once owned.

His Lordship also recommended I visit the Thatched Cottage in Brockenhurst. This is described on a notice board outside as "A cottage for the happy few". Rambling roses up the wall, baskets brimful to overflowing with flowers. Unfortunately, it's opposite a row of hideous modern bungalows.

We arrived at 12.40pm, announced by the shouts of a driver enraged that I had turned into the parking area without signalling. "That's a man in a hurry," said Robert Matysik, a member of the family that owns the place. "I'm such a terrible driver, I'm used to it," I responded cheerfully. I was introduced to his mother and his brothers, Matt and Martin, who smilingly presented his beautiful "Japanese souvenir wife", who is in charge of the kitchen.

We wandered into the restaurant, all very twee and olde worlde. Martin indicated a table for two people. "What about that one?" I asked, pointing to one for three with a good view of the room. "I'm afraid we're very busy today," apologised Martin.

I turned my attention to the open-plan kitchen where a basket of small sausage rolls attracted my eye. I took one. This was definitely the best sausage roll I have ever eaten. It was made of New Forest venison, still warm from the oven. I grabbed another. Then, as we were early, Vanessa encouraged me to visit a local shop so she could buy a cycle helmet. When we returned, the larger table for three by the door had been relaid for two, and we were shown to it. "Good," I thought, "I can watch people coming in."

The butter was sculpted in the shape of a flower, with leaves underneath, all sitting on top of the butter in a jar. There were three home-made breads on offer - not very good and none of them warm. Definitely a minus.

I noticed another table being served with large, long-stemmed wine glasses of clear liquid with red stuff floating on top. "I'll have that, please," I said. It turned out to be lemonade and red wine, with berries and grapes hanging on the side. The first thing I said on sipping it was: "Very strange." The second thing I said on sipping it again was: "Very strange." Vanessa liked it.

An iced blueberry soup was served as a freebie starter with my old friend the venison sausage roll. Except now the roll was cold and not the better for it. Why not serve it warm, I thought. I had excellent smoked venison for a first course; Vanessa had haddock. She thought the sauce too rich. As she'd found the soup too sweet, it was par for the course.

My main course of lamb, wrapped in a rosti of potato, leek and garlic, was only fair. The lamb was not the quality I get at home from R Allen of Mount Street. I had not been asked how I wanted it cooked, and it was a bit overdone. Vanessa had dover sole with a souffle of sea urchin. She gave me a bit. "Sea urchin," I said. It was the sole. The whole thing was so overdressed it was absurd. The main ingredient, the sole, was rubbery and indifferent - when you could find it. The ice I always like on my table was taken away before the dessert even though the water remained. Odd.

The dessert shot things up the scale again. My cup of cappuccino came with a handle of meringue and whipped cream on top. It looked like something from Beauty and the Beast. I expected it to sing and dance. The meringue was the best I've ever eaten. There was a large disc of it. I had two more at the table and three with coffee in the lounge. Vanessa enjoyed her dessert, too - whatever it was. But she didn't like the proximity of the kitchen. "I don't like smelling everyone else's lunch," she said.

The gated door to the lounge-cum-lobby had Austrian cowbells hanging on it. It's all picturesque, inside and out. Bad it isn't, too messed about it is. To cap it all, we were offered juniper spirit in a musical bottle that came from Martin's grandmother. It played a German song. At least you won't get that anywhere else.


Thank you, Michael Winner, for making my Sundays so enjoyable. Your articles are a breath of fresh air compared to the nauseating columns written elsewhere. I agree wholeheartedly with the principles you apply, and believe that we diners must take up the cause. Please continue to seek out unknown local treasures. Those that I have visited have been well worth the trek.
Graham Pike, South Benfleet, Essex.

What a lout Michael Winner has shown himself to be (Style, October 19). He sticks his fingers into a child's plate, grabs some food, then flashes his money around to justify his rudeness and exempt him from an apology. I wish I had been at the Fishermen's Hut and that he had thrust his trotters into my plate. I would have been delighted to have boxed his ears, as his nanny should have done - repeatedly - years ago.
Charles Flood, London SW15

We were surprised to read Michael Winner's tirade a few months ago against the Normandy Hotel in Deauville (Style, June 8). We have stayed there several times, and wondered if things had changed. Last week we finished off a motoring holiday at the Normandy and found the usual welcome, high standard of rooms, charming staff and excellent food. We can only conclude that Mr Winner is so spoilt that he does not recognise value for money.
Shirley and Walter Morris, Newbury, Berks

It appears that Michael Winner's weekly reports of his gastronomic adventures are an elaborate cover-up for a far more prosaic occupation: that of a travelling wet-wipe salesman in America. The evidence? A wet-wipe labelled "Winner's Towelette" that I spotted in a cafe in Maine, where seafood customers think nothing of wiping their hands on his name. I hope that Mr Winner will now "come clean" with his readers.
Patrick Howell, Ashby de la Zouche, Leics.