Just minutes away from the dense woodland, open hilltops and wild ponies of the New Forest, Careys Manor offers a hotel retreat that is absolutely in tune with its surrounding countryside while also proposing an experience from another land.
The wood-panelled manor house, complete with real fire and exposed beams, comprises the hotel’s lounge, reception and a few bedrooms, while extensions over the years have seen the inclusion of a stunning spa and a luxurious total of three dining options.
Not uncommon for a London hotel, true, but having the three diverse F&B outlets in a small village, when Careys tops out at a modest 78 bedrooms, suggests the level of quality and customer-pulling power of the available dining options before you even arrive. How are they doing it? The evidence is all there to be eaten.
“It is great for customers,” says head chef Alistair Craig. “They can come for a couple of days and have different options and we want to keep people on-site and interested in the different food styles.”
In Brockenhurst, Hampshire, Careys Manor has been growing its reputation for quality food for a number of years. It is coupled with nearby sister site and former Michelin-starred hotel The Montagu Arms, so when its premier dining destination Cambium launched in 2015, expectations were high.
Two years later and the hotel’s F&B is continuing to be a huge draw for customers both near and far.
“It’s a real mix, but our customers are more London-based, coming here to escape for the weekend,” says Sunil Kanjanghat, hotel general manager.
“We have seen a big change in people coming here from England, holidaying at home. We have a lot of locals come and stay, too.”
A former F&B manager at Le Meridien Hotel in Piccadilly, London, and for the Macdonald’s Hotel Grou,p Kanjanghat has previously been restaurant manager at Careys Manor and was a fundamental part of the plans when Cambium was created.
“It took us nearly a year to come up with the Cambium concept,” he says. “At the time it was the Manor restaurant, but we had many meetings to discuss why the Manor restaurant wasn’t working. And we felt it was because it was very traditional.
“People are moving away from that. It needed to be a bit more relaxed but retain fine foods.”
Inspired by nature, Cambium’s concept and brand had to be strong to both shake off the past of the Manor restaurant but also create a destination restaurant in its own right.
“We went through various concepts but wanted to have a brand that stands out on its own,” says Kanjanghat. “Not as a Careys Manor hotel restaurant but as Cambium itself, so locals come to Cambium and not Careys Manor to eat.”
The interior of Cambium features hand-painted English trees on the walls, the chairs are upholstered in moss-like fabric, while bespoke oak-leaf golden screens separate the diners.
“Each restaurant should have its own brand and identity, it is very important,” he adds.
The wine list also has a heavy UK presence, featuring vineyards such as Camel Valley, Ridgeview and Chapel Down, maintained by head sommelier Michael Driscoll, who is also on-hand for wine pairings during your meal.
Classically trained, head chef Craig takes French influence to create dishes that aim to capture the essence of the local area and embrace the nature of the seasons.
“I like to use local ingredients in a worldly way, reinterpreting a dish to take advantage of the local area’s rich natural resources,” he says.
The nine-strong kitchen creates standout dishes including the pickled white crab, brown custard, avocado and ink grapefruit granita, made with S&J Shellfish produce from nearby Lymington; cod, pancetta, clams, peas, runner beans, turnips and Coco de Paimpol beans; crisp aubergine parcel with quinoa salad and roast grapes in pomegranate molasses; and pork belly, cheek, cauliflower and tamarind.
Edible flowers, grown on-site, are used, not only to create visually beautiful dishes but to enhance the flavour, too.
Cambium Tasting Menu
£65 per person | £115 per person with wine pairing
Garden Salad h2. Goat’s curd, vegetables, herbs and flowers (vegetables picked fresh from the kitchen garden)
Rabbit Pappardelle h2. (a comforting dish with home-made pasta)
Pickled white crab, brown custard, avocado, pink grapefruit granita h2. (S&J Shellfish lands these crabs in Lymington)
Pork belly, cheek, cauliflower, tamarind h2. (tangy tamarind elevates the flavour of the tender pork)
Pre Dessert h2. Chef’s choice h2. Chocolate crémeux, caramel, milk ice cream h2. Crémeux is French for ‘creamy’
Cheese h2. Selection of British and French cheeses (£9 supplement)
Another way that Careys Manor is winning is with its diverse nature of F&B options.
The three dining concepts are all very different.
The French bistro-style at Le Blaireau provides a relaxed enjoyable atmosphere, offering high-quality authentic French cuisine.
Situated in the grounds of the hotel, the brasserie and bar allow guests to sample some of the best French cuisine in Hampshire, with a menu inspired by regional French cooking, a selection of fine wines and a vibrant informal atmosphere.
Dishes include classics such as Boeuf Bourguignon; Le Canard Landais – pan-fried Landais duck breast in orange sauce; Coquille St Jacques aux baies roses – scallops in puff pastry and pink peppercorn sauce; and Escargots De Bourgogne – Burgundy snails in garlic butter.
Down at the SenSpa, a third restaurant and mandatory visit comes in the shape of the Zen Garden. In the light, bamboo-adorned room, diners are usually robe-clad from their visit to the spa.
“The Thai is the most popular. There are packages sold for people using the spa to experience the dining as well,” says Kanjanghat. “The popularity of wellness and healthy eating has tied into that, and the restaurant is always full.”
I can vouch for this, having arrived on a Thursday afternoon to find our reserved table the only empty one in the restaurant.
Four Thai chefs create a menu that, like the spa, provides escapism. Though the ingredients being used are often a “challenge” to source, and don’t fall into the ultra-local perspective of Cambium, having this diverse option available at the hotel wins business.
“Having the different options attracts guests. It means that they can have a more formal meal and then a relaxing meal if they want to across two or three days,” says Kanjanghat.
“Cambium is more structured. At the French bistro it is much more casual dining and lively, and the Thai is more of an
While in the morning the kitchen serves a healthy breakfast selection including herbal infusions, teas and coffees, as well as smoothies and juices and continental breakfasts, the restaurant comes alive at lunchtime with a tasting menu option or dishes across the more traditional three courses.
The sounds and smells from the kitchen are the real thing and the scent of lemongrass and light flavoursome food help to make it a very relaxed, very Thai experience.
Dishes to look out for include Goong Ma Khue – twin tiger prawns with chicken on grilled aubergine with red onion, spring onion and chilli syrup sauce; Meang Khum – a combination of crispy dry shrimp, dry coconut, cashew nut, red onion, lime, chilli and bitter nut leaves; Gaeng Kiew Wan Gai – the classic chicken green curry cooked in coconut milk with aubergine, courgettes, bell peppers, basil and kaffir lime; and Pla Krapong Nueng Manow – steamed seabass with pak choi and lemon chilli dressing.
While Cambium’s focus tends to be on the local and seasonal, the F&B outlook across all three of the dining options still ties into modern trends, as Kanjanghat explains.
“We always try to go out and sample other restaurants and look at what the trends are,” he says. “They want to be relaxed with good food and for the service to be slick and simple.”
One trend that Cambium has really got behind is that of producing an entirely vegan menu.
With the number of people going vegan rising year on year, it is becoming more and more important for restaurants to offer something that satisfies that market. But Cambium has gone further.
“Cambium is one of the only restaurants in this part of the country that has a complete vegan menu,” says Kanjanghat. “And it is getting very popular. People are coming down from London to visit just for the vegan menu. Having this option is essential to our restaurant now.”
It includes dishes such as the orzotto – caramelised onion, beer-pickled onions, hazelnuts and rainbow chard; gazpacho – chilled garden tomato soup; celeriac – salt-baked with turnips, peas, beans, tender stem broccoli and capers; and avocado chocolate mousse with coffee granita.
This all feeds into the Careys Manor way of thinking.
“Less and less people are looking for traditional dining. It more about experience.
“The quality is very importan but people are getting away from the complications of dining.”