Since taking up the post as head chef at The Terrace Restaurant in January, The Montagu Arms’ flagship restaurant, talented young chef and Hampshire-born Matthew Whitfield has completely revolutionised the already exceptional a la carte and tasting menus and transformed this elegant and timeless hotel into one of Britain’s must-visit dining spots. With his remarkable talent for creating inventive, mouth-watering modern British dishes that never fail to impress, it’s only a matter of time before this three-AA-rosette-awarded restaurant is graced with a coveted Michelin star.
Nestled in the heart of Beaulieu village in a quiet corner of The New Forest, The Montagu Arms is the perfect English retreat, epitomising everything that makes the English countryside so appealing, and the hotel’s terrific and award-winning restaurant, The Terrace, is the icing on top of this already seductive and indulgent slice of Hampshire luxury.
Unwind within The Terrace’s intimate and sophisticated dining room overlooking the hotel’s manicured lawns and pristine hedges and allow head chef Matthew Whitfield to take you on a culinary journey inspired by his own fascinating story from wide-eyed country boy with a dream to the inspiring and accomplished chef he is today. Every dish that comes out of Matthew’s mind and onto his menus celebrates his many vivid childhood memories and the unforgettable moments his life has already lead him on, from growing up within the natural beauty of the New Forest, to his time spent in New York, working at one of the world’s best restaurants.
Coming to The Terrace fresh from the kitchen of the three-Michelin-star Eleven Madison Park in New York, where he was promoted to chef tournant under Daniel Humm in a record-breaking five months, Matthew chose the head chef position at The Terrace over the chance to work at a top London restaurant, wanting the freedom to do his own thing and the chance to cook his own food his way.
It’s no wonder The Montagu Arms managed to draw him back home and bring him full circle, as his history with the hotel is a remarkable one.
“When I was about six or seven, I was in the back of my grandparents’ car and we drove through Beaulieu. I saw the hotel and I asked her what it was. She asked me why and I said I’m going to work there one day.”
Years later, after finishing catering college in Eastleigh, his grandmother, who encouraged his culinary dream and gave him his first cooking lessons, saw an advert for a commis chef at the Montagu Arms, rang up the hotel, and arranged for him to have an interview, resulting in Matthew being hired by the Terrace at age 18.
After two years working with Marco Pierre White at his famous Yew Tree in Highclere, Matthew returned to The Montagu Arms to work under Matthew Tomkinson, first as a pastry chef and then as junior sous. After four years here, he headed to the two-Michelin-starred Sea Grill in Brussels before coming back to England to work under Chris Eden at the Michelin-starred Driftwood Hotel in Cornwall.
While working at The Driftwood Hotel in Cornwall, Matthew travelled to New York on holiday where a dinner at Eleven Madison Park changed his life. After returning home, he spent six months trying to get an interview at EMP, finally flying over there a year later to prove he had what it takes to work at one of the world’s best restaurants.
Asking Matthew to cook a dish for them with an ingredient they provided in an hour, the ingredient being a potato, Matthew wowed the chefs at EMP with his sweet potato fondant with purple potato fondue, potato crisps, pickled onions, and a roast onion and thyme consommé that secured him his position at the restaurant.
During his time at EMP, Matthew learnt an important lesson that he has brought to The Terrace Restaurant – that food is not just about the eating, but about the experience. Because of this, Matthew is surprisingly relaxed about the way his food is consumed; despite the fact that he still insists his kitchen team plate every dish with tweezers.
“I’m not one of those chefs where it’s all about my food. We have one customer who comes in and orders cod every week and he has ketchup with it. If that’s what he wants, that’s fine with me; it’s about people enjoying their food however they like it”.
All of the exquisitely presented dishes Matthew creates are meaningful to him and are inspired by moments in his life, using vegetables and herbs that are grown in The Montagu Arms’ garden, picked every day, and occasionally on the plate within an hour.
Some of his exceptional dishes are inspired by the important people in his life and the food they loved to make, like his mum’s roast lamb or the corned beef, beetroot and mayonnaise sandwich his dad used to make which Matthew still considers the best sandwich in the world.
His Szechuan spiced duck dish, for example, honours the restaurants that have shaped him into the chef he is today.
“The duck is very much EMP, which is famous for its lavender duck; the carrots remind me of working with Chris Eden at The Driftwood when we had carrots grown for us; the chou farci is something I learned with Marco”.
While his partridge dish perfectly captures the distinctive aromas of his home.
“I drove home through the New Forest one night in winter when they were burning the gorse and the heather. When you’re from here you know that smell, you know when they’re burning it. I thought it would be pretty cool to use that, so we serve a partridge under a cloche at the table, and when you lift the dome it releases a cloud of smoke that smells just like that burning gorse”.
After just two weeks as the new head chef at The Terrace, Matthew introduced two new tasting menus, including a vegetarian one that can be adjusted to become vegan and includes the likes of a Jerusalem artichoke salad with a slow-cooked hen’s yolk from the chickens in The Montagu Arms’ garden, and a crisp pink stem radish salad with a Cabernet Sauvignon vinegar, and he always has exciting plans for the future.
Despite always looking to reinvent things and move things forward, Matthew never forgets his roots or the people and experiences that have helped him on his journey to become one of Britain’s brightest young chefs.
“My grandma got me my first job here, and she would love the fact I’m back here now as head chef. She would have smiled. I have given up so much to be the chef I am today, but I know that being back here at the Montagu Arms where it all started is 100 percent right for me”.