by Stephen Doig, The Telegraph, December 29, 2017
It’s testament to the flourish of mixologist James Edwards that the arrival of the innocuous sounding “The Garden” cocktail is met with curious glances, double takes and patrons venturing over to enquire just what this wildly inventive concoction is.
A burnished metal tankard with soil spilling over the top, erupting with foliage and a mini carrot atop (who needs a cocktail umbrella?), it looks more suiting to the potting shed than the sumptuous surroundings of Wild Carrot, the Four Seasons Hampshire’s recently refurbished bar.
Thankfully, the earthly delights of its appearance don’t parlay into the taste; the crumbling “soil” on top is burnt chocolate, with sloe gin, violet and lavender making for a hit of herbally freshness. The starting point, as with all the cocktails on the carefully edited menu, is the history of the environment.
The majestic Georgian house sits in 500 acres of rolling English countryside, Dogmersfield Park, a site that was mentioned in the Domesday Book and was the meeting point of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon.
The bucolic surroundings of this former girls' school - the walled gardens and vegetable gardens - are the starting point for the ingredients, which make the most of the natural bounty on offer; blackberries from the estate are transformed into a liqueur, for example.
The menu too - themed as a storybook filled with botanical illustrations, entitled “The Cause of Lady Ecton’s Madness” - alludes to the rich history of the park.
The Thyme and Date cocktail (see what they did there?) employs those ingredients because they were common place in cooking at the time the foundations were laid, while Meeting of the Monarchs references the fateful day when Henry VII met his soon-to-be bride.
That particular blend - employing bourbon whiskey and a reduction of Campari and Aperol together (Italophiles look away now) - is Wild Carrot’s take on the classic Old Fashioned. Other traditional cocktails are given a unique spin throughout - there are also twists on the Sidecar and the Kir Royale.
The Aged Negroni is a heady affair; the Campari has been aged in whiskey barrels, creating a smokier and richer effect than the usually fresh, bitter taste.
The great outdoors (sit around for too long and a staff member will urge you to rent a bike or book in a horse-riding session) also informs the decor, freshly re-designed by interior architect Martin Brudnizki, whose work includes Soho House, The Ivy Chelsea Garden and Sexy Fish.
Foliage wallpaper and wood panelling could be straight from a country house, but have been juxtaposed with a gleaming, gold, 1930s-style bar with pink-tinged marble and sleek bar stools.
Away from the darkly lit Wild Carrot bar, the restaurant offers fare that a 16th-century tyrannical monarch would heartily approve of: a festive-looking partridge pie; oozing, crimson-tinged bavette steak; and indulgent truffle mac and cheese - ideal for soaking up the effects of the potent Wild Carrot concoctions.
In such pastoral environs (coaches filled with day trippers on route to Downton Abbey’s real life home, Highclere Castle are a regular occurrence) it would be easy for Wild Carrot to rest on its perfectly-tended-to laurels and supply a steady drip of standard issue cosmos and espresso martinis. Instead, it’s a botanical adventure, with a hint of history on the side.