Restaurant hotels are rarely chosen for their aesthetics or warmth of feeling. Diners are, more often than not, business execs, a lunch club, school reunion party, funeral gathering and such-like.
I fail to recall a hotel dining experience in this country, or in other lands, that grabs.
The Brookfield Hotel has this feel, the safe blandness of the décor – green-grey, muted – matching the safe-ish menu.
Now under the umbrella of the Delicious Dining Group, it has the look of anywheresville: an inset of logs above a faux fireplace, large ornate basketry squeezed into inappropriate corners, bucket chairs and faux leather sofas.
The swirly-carpeted restaurant plays X Factor-type muzak and starched white tablecloths and proper cloth napkins (hurrah) make a crisp presence in the unexciting room overlooking a neat garden.
If lunching – my choice – there’s a set two-course for £12.50 or three for £15.95. But you can also choose from the à la carte offering, maybe tiger prawns with mango salad; ham hock with crispy cauliflower or rabbit tortellini to start. You could move on to chargrilled baby gem lettuce, roasted tomatoes and couscous; black bream with tomato linguine; braised lamb with a leeks and broad bean broth, and lamb sausages. Prices from £5.50 for soup to £19.50 for the lamb.
From the set lunch menu are spicy mackerel pâté with crostini and confit of duck with a port sauce, purple potatoes and Chantenay carrots. Other dishes included mushroom soup, grilled mackerel with buttered samphire, and cottage pie.
The mackerel was three small rolls intersected by two lemon wedges and three Lilliputian toasts. The over-processed pâté a one-note chilli samba. A pretty look but the fish itself wasn’t allowed to feature. A dull roll was served too as well as patterned butter, the latter usually only found in hotels. Such pretention is best left to the past.
The duck confit was a colourful affair. The vibrant purple potatoes colour-boosted by stubby carrots and deep port sauce. The meat, with reasonably crispy skin was fine, just erring on the tough side in places, the sauce excellent.
But the potatoes were merely chosen for their ‘oh, look at us, we’re not what you may be used to,’ appearance, certainly not for their taste which was dry and floury. This old variety of potato, which I first met on an Orkney smallholding years ago, was a novelty then, but many other potatoes having a superior taste. Chantenay carrots are a fad too and offer no enhanced flavour.
You might be offered a praline semifreddo for dessert, a chocolate orange tart or baked Alaska, that surprising concoction of both hot and cold, most at £6.25.
The wine list offers 13 wines by the glass, the Nina Merlot from Veneto a fine demonstration of a pleasing wine list. I had ordered a small glass, but got a medium one.
Service is on the formal side. But what brought the restaurant alive was a delightful French student from Nice whose warmth and charm created an atmosphere sorely lacking without her presence. Her fantastic eye contact and sincere smile gave the impression of being totally engaged with her job. I was charmed.
My bill came to just under £20, not including a tip.
Brookfield Hotel, Havant Road, Emsworth, Hampshire PO10 7LF 01243 373363. Open 12 – 2 and 7 – 9.30 (last orders) seven days a week.
Disabled access: Perfect in every way.
Directions: follow the signs from the A27 to Emsworth. The hotel is on the left before the town’s main roundabout.