Football has come home, Centre Court has closed and EastEnders is back in its regular BBC1 time slots. Normality has just about resumed in England – the only thing still missing is rain. If the weather forecasters are to be believed though (which they shouldn’t always be – looking at you, Michael Fish), it could be another six weeks before the UK starts to cool down.
You’ll hear no complaints from me about the unusually hot summer Britain’s been having, however. I’m loving the post-work pitchers of Pimms in sunny pub gardens, the impromptu BBQs and the fact I can put my car roof down without fear of a downpour. When the weather’s this good though, the last thing I wanna do is sit inside hunched over my laptop. Which is why this post has been such a long time coming.
Over two months have passed since I visited The Mayflower, and a hell of a lot has happened during that time. As well as cheering on our young, inexperienced World Cup squad for longer than I thought I would be, I’ve been decorating my (not so new anymore) house, I’ve accepted a new job offer, I’ve celebrated a birthday and I’ve had a cheeky little holiday with my girlfriends. Whenever I’m sat having a Pimms in a pub garden though, I’m reminded of the lovely evening I spent in Lymington during my south coast road trip back in May.
Lymington is a quaint, historic little coastal town, nestled in the heart of my favourite place in Britain, the New Forest. Lymington is also one of the most “quintessentially British” places I’ve ever been to, so when my Icelandic friend Björn suggested we go on a mini road trip when he visited the UK, I knew a stop in Lymington was a must. But where should we stay? What should we do? And most importantly, where should we eat?
I wanted Björn to experience real British food in a real British pub, so after a bit of Googling of restaurant reviews and menus, The Mayflower seemed the obvious choice to answer that last question. Plus it was ideally located, set just behind the Royal Lymington Yacht Club (as posh as it sounds) and a 10-minute walk from the town centre. Oh, and Google said it was the childhood home of the late English cricketer Chris Allen.
Built in that early 20th Century mock-Tudor style that’s commonplace in rural Britain, the rendered concrete, bare red brick and exposed timber exterior of The Mayflower screamed “this is England” as we entered the car park. The traditional white and black look had been given a modern twist though, as the pub was sporting a blue and grey paint job.
“We couldn’t have found a more British place if we tried,” I thought to myself as we pushed open the door and stepped inside. Greeted by a young, friendly trio of waiting staff, we were quickly ushered to a table in the dining room, and introduced to the gorgeous Dionne, who would be looking after us for the evening.
The Mayflower – what’s being served?
As soon as I saw the menu at The Mayflower, I knew deciding what to eat would be tough. I liked the sound of pretty much everything on offer; should I play it safe and go with something familiar that I knew I’d like, such as the pork belly or the pie? Or try something a little more adventurous, like the lobster, crayfish, crab and spinach lasagne (an unusual sounding combination that I don’t think I’ve ever seen anywhere else).
While Björn and I pondered the menus, Dionne went off to make our drinks. A cold pint of Heineken and a gigantic glass of Pimms arrived on our table moments later. After debating a few of the starters and listening to Dionne’s recommendations, we placed our food order and handed back the menus. Sitting there alone in the dining room, we sipped our drinks and chatted about this and that. The restaurant seemed quiet for a Sunday evening – but that meant we could snap a few (or in my case, hundreds of) pictures, without annoying anyone trying to eat their dinner.
Being in a pub by the coast, surrounded by nautical decor, it wasn’t surprising that we were both drawn to seafood starters. Björn chose the crispy calamari and I went for the potted Lymington crab with prawns and avocado. Dionne brought the dishes to our table about 10 minutes after ordering, beautifully presented on wooden chopping blocks covered with sheets of personalised Mayflower grease-proof paper.
After an afternoon spent drinking Pimms and pints over at The Mill in Gordleton (can you see a theme here?), we were both quite hungry, so eagerly started tucking in – well, as soon as Björn did as he was told and put his lemon wedge back on the board so I could take a picture or two, anyway.
The Mayflower prides itself on serving dishes made from fresh, locally sourced British ingredients, so I had high expectations for my Lymington crab starter – though admittedly, no expectation of how it would be presented. When it arrived on the board in the cutest, tiniest Kilner jar I’ve ever seen, I was pleasantly surprised. Once Dionne was out of earshot, Björn and I jokingly whispered about how we could sneak the jar home with us (don’t worry, no Kilner jars were stolen that night).
The blended mixture of white crab meat, prawns and bright green avocado was really moreish, and had I not been in an AA 4 star rated restaurant, I probably would have scraped the Kilner jar clean with my finger. Spread (using a knife) onto chunks of warm, homemade sweet pepper and chilli scones and given a little squeeze of lemon juice, the crab mix was the right combination of sweet and tangy.
Calamari wouldn’t usually be my first choice of starter, as I’ve found it can be a bit hit-or-miss. On times I’ve had batter that’s been soggy, or squid which is incredibly rubbery. But after having a bite of Björn’s calamari (not a euphemism), I had pangs of food envy. Not that there was anything wrong with my crab, but that was, hands down, the best calamari I’ve ever eaten.
As soon as our cutlery went down, Dionne was at our side delivering two more ice-cold drinks and collecting up the now empty boards. Jokes were made about really disliking our starters, but I think the sarcasm went over Björn’s Icelandic head, bless him.
While we waited for our mains, we struck up conversation with an older couple who’d been sat on the table next to us. They’d just finished the lambing season on their farm in Wiltshire, so were treating themselves to a well-deserved mini break in the New Forest after delivering over 10,000 lambs.
As we happily (and stereotypically) chatted about the glorious weather we’d been having, it sounded like our foursome had been life-long friends, rather than strangers who’d just met. We’re such a hospitable, neighbourly nation, which is one thing I absolutely love about Britain – and something Björn actually remarked on, in private, later that evening. However, as soon as Dionne placed our mains on the table, the weather chatter waned – there was only one thing we could focus on: the food.
Björn had chosen the 8oz sirloin steak, cooked medium-rare. Sourced locally from the Isle of Wight, it was served with chunky chips, a fried Portobello mushroom and some grilled tomatoes. He opted for a béarnaise sauce too, though peppercorn sauce was also on the menu. He didn’t say much when I asked how his food was – but then Björn’s a man of few words most of the time, anyway. The clean board at the end seemed to indicate he liked it, though I noticed he struggled with his steak knife a bit, which was a tad blunt.
Luckily I didn’t need a sharp knife; in the end I plumped for the seared tuna niçoise salad. The tuna steak was so tender it just flaked apart when I stabbed it with my fork. When it arrived, again I was surprised – surprised by how bright and colourful the dish was. I had every hue of the rainbow on my plate (minus blue, though I’ve always thought blue food is a little suspicious). There were two yellow runny egg yolks, plenty of red slices of tomato, and three different shades of green provided by the lettuce, the olives and the green beans – but what were those unexpected purple pieces? Aubergine? Beetroot?
Taking a tentative nibble, the taste was instantly recognisable: potato. I’ve never eaten a purple potato in my life, so this gave a familiar favourite, the tuna niçoise, a little twist.
Mains finished, the lovely Dionne was back at our side, asking if we’d like dessert. We both agreed we were too full, but like all well-trained waitresses, Dionne promised to bring dessert menus over anyway. “I’m sure something on there will tempt you”, she said as she walked back towards the kitchen carrying all our empty plates.
She was right, of course. Purbeck is one of my favourite brands of ice cream, so as soon as I spied it on the menu, I wanted some. But which flavour should I go for? Salted caramel or honeycomb? I asked Dionne to surprise me with one or the other, while Björn went for chocolate.
Five minutes later and Dionne was back, placing two works of art down on our table. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a scoop of ice cream presented so nicely, it seemed a shame to eat it – though it was melting fast in the heat, so it would’ve been wasteful not to.
As I put a spoon of ice cream to my mouth, I recognised the sweet, toffee-like taste of honeycomb instantly. Good choice Dionne. The clean plates would seem to suggest that we did indeed have room for dessert, despite saying we were full.
The Mayflower – what’s inside?
Being on the coast, it wasn’t surprising that the interior of The Mayflower had adopted a nautical theme. The décor actually reminded me of the Hope and Anchor up in Lincolnshire, which I’ve visited a few times – though this pub seemed brighter, airier. The walls were adorned with framed prints and paintings of boats at sea – oh, and a polite request asking us to not feed the seagulls. We laughed at this, having been in Brighton a few days before, where Björn nearly had his donut taken by a seagull on the pier.
One wall was covered in floor to ceiling wood panelling, painted in a similar blue-grey to the exterior of the pub. In the middle of this wall was a free-standing log burner, which I could only imagine would heat the whole room when it’s chilly.
It was clear that the owner of the pub cared about attention to detail. Every table in The Mayflower’s dining room was beautifully set with gleaming cutlery, clean cloth napkins, crystal clear wine and water glasses and little posies of fresh flowers. You know a restaurant is nice when the flowers on the table aren’t fake.
As we wandered from the dining room into the bar to have another drink and wait for our taxi back to The Mill in Gordleton, the traveller in me eyed up a beautiful vintage globe on the window sill – could we sneak that home with us, too? As it was too large to put in my bag, I decided against it, settling for a photo instead. If anyone does know where I can get my hands on a globe like this though, do let me know – it would look fab in my living room. As would a lot of The Mayflower’s décor actually.
Before the taxi arrived, I made a quick trip to the ladies, which revealed that the nautical theme didn’t stop at just the dining room and bar area. Porthole style mirrors were hanging on a wooden panelled wall above pristine porcelain square sinks, while underfoot the geometric tiled floor begged me to take a picture of it (though this may have been influenced by the Pimms?). What is it with pretty tiled floors? I just love them.
The Mayflower – what’s the verdict?
I think it’s obvious that Björn and I liked our food (and many drinks) at The Mayflower, the clean plates being the main giveaway. But I really liked the pub building itself: the nautical décor and cute little details everywhere gave The Mayflower so much character. And the location made it the ideal place to take a foreigner wanting a taste of “real Britain”.
What really made our evening at the pub so special though, was Dionne. It’s been a long time since I’ve been served by such a smiley, bubbly waitress, and I think she’s a real credit to The Mayflower.
A special mention should also be made for the young Scottish girl who rang five different taxi companies trying to arrange a ride back to Gordleton for us. Unfortunately we had to wait in the bar another 40 minutes before a taxi was free to pick us up – or perhaps that should be fortunately, as it meant we had time for one more drink in the cosy bar area…
Disclaimer: We ate at The Mayflower in Lymington on Sunday 13 May 2018. Our food and drink was complimentary, with thanks to StayInAPub.com and The Mayflower. All opinions in this review are my own, however.