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Hotel review: An Inspector Calls at Hotel TerraVina, Southanpton
by The Inspector, Daily Mail, September 13th 2009
Talk about a labour of love. Hotel TerraVina, on the edge of the New Forest near Southampton, exudes warmth and enthusiasm, at every turn and is the antithesis of corporate blandness and of the badge-wearing, wilting-rose-in-lapel culture.
It's run spectacularly well by Gerard Basset, who is French, and his English wife, Nina, and I can guarantee you will leave here feeling a lot more optimistic about the hospitality business in Britain.
Which isn't to say you'll necessarily be bowled over by the so-called 'contemporary twist' decor, the stairs with stainless steel ballustrades and the acres of space on the downstairs walls given over to framed features and interviews with Mr and Mrs Basset that have appeared in newspapers and magazines since they opened two years ago.
But when it comes to the food, wine list and razor-sharp service, this bustling, 11-room hotel is in tip-top shape.
Opening the big orange door of what is an indifferent suburban house with bits added here and there - including a wood cabin construction housing the verandah - felt like arriving late for a party already at full throttle.
Waiters and waitresses in smart black uniforms darted back and forth and, at all times, in among them was the boss and his wife; Nina, standing just outside the open-plan kitchens like a football manager in his dug-out, Gerard opening bottles of wine and smelling the corks. There was a wedding gathering in the private dining room, the restaurant was almost full, the bar humming.
The Bassets met several years ago when both were working at nearby, swanky Chewton Glen. He went on to become a co-founder of the Hotel du Vin chain, selling his stake in 2004 for £2.4million and twice being named UK Sommelier of the Year along the way. In other words, the man's got experience - and it shows.
Rooms are beautifully finished, with lots of wood, neutral colours, top-notch fixtures and fittings, generous bathrooms. Our shower gave us a proper drenching and the basin was a big 'un.
On arrival, we had asked if there was a choice of room and were immediately allowed to inspect a couple of options. No fuss, no raised eyebrows. Ours had a huge terrace, with two sun loungers stationed on it - just in case.
The English barman knew how to make a cocktail and my wife liked the way her virgin mary came with seconds in a little decanter.
We placed our order and then Gerard asked us about wine. I told him we had visited the Beaujolais region recently and he said: 'Leave it to me.' What he produced - at a reasonable price - went wonderfully with my wife's filet of beef and my calf's liver. In fact, the dinner was a triumph.
There was no sign of the Bassets at breakfast, but it was business as usual. We had the perfect breakfast and enjoyed watching the wedding party trying to clear their heads.
A walk in the garden concluded our visit. There's a swimming pool and plenty of lawn but, somehow, we didn't want to linger. The Bassets are brilliant hoteliers in need of a brilliant landscape designer.
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