'Dinner with the boss' - the Husband's boss and his new wife, to be precise, has been on the cards for a few months. A 'thank you' to the Husband for his hard work, and to me for putting up with the travelling, the last minute changes of plan, the general embuggerance factor that his work adds to our lives. There are plenty of bosses who wouldn't even recognise this, let alone do something about it, and, let's face it, it makes a change to be appreciated.
Various dates for this happening had been selected then discarded for various reasons, but 8th of February suited him and us. Sorted.
A couple of weeks earlier, the Husband brings the subject up. "We have to book somewhere". That's him using the 'royal we' to mean ME. I have never met the Husband's Boss. I have formed a picture of him in my mind based on snippets from the Husband. I am not quite sure what picture he might have had of me in his mind, but it is to him that I served, via the Husband, the nipple cakes.
Hard to know, then, what sort of place to book. The Husband gave me vague parameters, which basically set me somewhere between Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons (not so far away from us) and Nandos in Basingstoke.
Let me tell you that last night, there was not enough Origins GinZing in the world to make my tired eyes look instantly alive. The Husband and I were both shattered, but we girded ourselves and headed out.
We got a little bit waylaid by the twisty lanes in the dark and didn't make it quite as early as we'd hoped. The Husband's Boss was already there by the time we arrived - they'd had been there for some time, as the delights of the Premier Inn, Basingstoke (where they were staying the night) had not held them enthralled. We were all tired - on a Friday night, I don't think any of us were at our best - but if the conversation flagged occasionally, we need not have feared, for the venue and the food - my goodness: AMAZING.
The Wellington Arms in Baughurst, on the Hampshire/Berkshire border, has been on my secret list of places I'd like to have dinner for quite some time. It has been voted No.2 in The Times 'Best Places to Eat in the Countryside', and Jason the 'Best Pub Chef' by the Good Food Guide. The accolades that drift gently across their website come from people such as Giles Coren and Diana Henry. A couple of friends have recommended it, and they make the chutneys that accompany the Hampshire tapas served at our friendly local wine merchants.
Having discarded both Le Manoir and Nandos as options (for very different reasons), I don't think I could have picked a better place. Physically, it's a very pretty pub (oak beams, Farrow & Ball, crackling fires). They keep bees and chickens, sheep and pigs and most of the veg comes out of their own kitchen garden. Ingredients that they don't produce themselves are sourced as locally as possible (local farms, local produce, fish driven up from Brixham). Totally fabulous. The atmosphere was relaxed, so when our own conversation faltered, the chatter and sounds of other people enjoying their evening carried us on. Having been unable to resist the lure of a couple of quick tweets before the evening, when we arrived, Simon, one of the owners, discreetly enquired who was the Recipe Junkie. I like that. I like that someone has taken the trouble to put 2 and 2 together. Wonderful, gentle hospitality.
You'll appreciate that taking photos of the food would not have been appropriate, so I didn't and you'll have to conjure up some mental pictures here. What I can say, in no uncertain terms, is that is that it is utterly to die for.
I had an amazing twice baked cheese souffle (a friend who's eaten there before had recommended it, and the waitress said that it had been on the menu since the place had opened) followed by mussels in coconut milk and yellow curry with fantastic thick cut chips. Not perhaps taking advantage of the locally sourced meat, but I had a real hankering for the mussels and I wasn't disappointed.They were creamy and the soup was fresh and full of chilli and coriander. The souffle was filled with leeks and was creamy and cheesy but not at all heavy or stodgy. I had a brief flashback to a cheese souffle I once served up at a dinner party, and cringed. The Husband had an Ox tongue terrine which I didn't try because I just can't do tongue, but I have it on his good authority that it was delicious, followed by a steak. Both the Husband and Boss had the steak. One was rare, and the other was medium, as requested. I tried the Husband's rare steak and it was that 'melt in the mouth' thing that people talk about. Really really luscious. The puddings looked fantastic, but I couldn't fit one in. I was contemplating trying, but then I saw that they did handmade truffles as an option. So a really good hot cup of coffee and a heavenly dark chocolate truffle and I was more than happy. Husband's Boss had a treacle tart which was so amazing that he bought another one to take home with him.
It was truly fantastic. Didn't stop me being as tired as a dog, but I was thoroughly cheered by the time we left. Thank you Simon, and Jason, for a wonderful meal. We'll be back.