Vatika, Wickham Vineyard, Botley Road, Shedfield, Southampton

A restaurant attached to an English vineyard is normally best approached with caution, rather like a bottle of English wine. Sure, you'd try it, just to be polite, but let's be honest, wouldn't something French or Italian just be so much better? But put aside those preconceptions, because here we are in Wickham Vineyard, near Southampton, on a gorgeous sunny afternoon, and it's wonderful. Not only is the wine – a flinty, Germanic little number called Wickham Dry – going down a treat, but we're loving the room, a high-ceilinged, discreetly stylish affair somewhere between a chapel and the world's smartest barn conversion.

Picture windows look out over glorious acres of wind-ruffled vineyards. The grey walls are lined with bottles, lovingly displayed like rare artefacts. A retinue of waiting staff pads around attentively. Blimey. Who knew it would be so posh? This is the kind of place that makes you think "I knew I should have worn a jacket..." (or more accurately, in our case, "I said you should have worn a jacket").

The formality of the setting is carried through to the menu, which at first glance seems to offer your standard kind of posh restaurant fodder: venison carpaccio, seared scallops, roasted sea bass. But then the bread arrives – exquisite rolls scented with black onion seed or nubbly granary bread spiked with chilli and coriander, served with tiny phials of spiced salts. And then the pre-starters: a turmeric-dusted crunch of deep-fried whitebait; a creamy mouthful of chicken tikka pâté in filo pastry; and a vividly spiced ball of black lentils and rice, with a tongue-tingling dab of curried mayonnaise.

At which point, the temptation is to move on from the £6 glass of Wickham Dry to something serious from the higher slopes of the wine list. Because clearly this isn't going to be just another lunch. Vatika opened in August, under the direction of the Michelin-starred chef Atul Kochhar. But while his London restaurant Benares serves a sophisticated, European-influenced version of Indian food, here the emphasis is reversed. This isn't Indian food, but contemporary – even cutting-edge – cooking, using local ingredients and state-of-the-art techniques, in a kitchen where the tandoor sits comfortably alongside the Pacojet frozen food maker.

Our starters showed just how well the head chef Jitin Joshi, whose CV includes The Capital as well as Benares, uses Indian spicing to get the most out of ingredients. Local squab pigeon was marinated in garam masala and cooked in a tandoor, giving the pink and tender breast a thrilling savoury bite to play against the sweeter notes of the accompanying pigeon and beetroot consommé. Monkfish poached in a tamarind broth came with yoghurt and cucumber parfait; a rewritten raita that worked brilliantly.

This reworking of familiar Indian dishes is a recurring theme, though it never becomes gimmicky. There's a nod to sag aloo in the spinach gnocchi, flavoured with Parmesan and cumin seeds, that accompany a main course of spiced shoulder of lamb, the meat cooked at a low temperature for 24 hours, emerging so soft it would yield to a spoon, and partnered with a punchy lamb patty and lavender-infused yoghurt. And a lobster dish pays homage to both the chef Thomas Keller and Kerala, partnering a lobster tail poached in butter and spiced oil (inspired by a visit to Keller's French Laundry) with a Keralan-influenced lobster salad with mustard seeds and curry leaf.

Towards the end of the meal, we were struggling to find something not to like, so flawless was the food and its delivery. It was almost a relief when one of us was brought the wrong pudding; but the manageress noticed at once and whisked both plates away with an apology, so that even this mistake ended up as a plus point. We had to console ourselves with deploring the menu's use of underscorings to summarise its offerings – "spinach_lamb" or "sardine_olive" – as though you could email each dish a thank you message when you got home.

By the time we got to "coffee_bill", we'd spent around £55 a head, including wine and service, though we could have romped madly through a well-chosen wine list that's compiled to appeal to wine tourists, with a heavy emphasis on fine vintages.

Vatika obviously has ambitions beyond the local, and already word seems to have spread; some dressed-up ladies were in for a birthday celebration, and several tables of gastronauts seemed to have made longer journeys. One group even moved outside to finish lunch on the terrace. Surrounded by sun-kissed vines, they could have been in Tuscany, rather than just off the A334.

Driving home, we felt like we'd taken our mouths on a little holiday. "That must be one of the best restaurants in Britain," reflected my companion, who isn't given to hyperbole. Vatika is rewriting the rulebook, and doing it with confidence and the lightest of touches. Never mind those French and Italian wallahs – this is Modern British food at its best, and it's thrilling.

Vatika, Wickham Vineyard, Botley Road, Shedfield, Southampton (01329 830405). Three courses à la carte £35 a head before wine and service.

Food 5 stars
Ambience 4 stars
Service 5 stars

Tipping policy

"Service charge is 12.5 per cent discretionary, of which 100 per cent goes to the staff; all tips go to the staff"

Side Orders: A fine bunch

Chapel Down

Try Richard Phillips' Kentish venison with Chapel Down red wine sauce (£16.95) at this stunning vineyard.

Tenterden Vineyard, Small Hythe, Tenterden, Kent (01580 761616)

The Leaping Hare

This award-winning restaurant serves exemplary seasonal food; open Friday and Saturday evenings only.

Wyken Hall Vineyard, Stanton, Bury St Edmunds (01359 250287)

Calon

Mains include a salmon confit with fricassée of Penclawdd cockles and Cariad wine at this glorious vineyard.

Llanerch Vineyard, Hensol, Pendoylan, Wales (01443 225877)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Car Sales Executive - Franchised Main Dealer

    £30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

    Recruitment Genius: Group Sales Manager - Field Based

    £21000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Located on the stunning Sandban...

    Guru Careers: Email Marketing Specialist

    £26 - 35k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Email Marketing Specialist is needed to join...

    Recruitment Genius: Tour Drivers - UK & European

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity to join a is a...

    Day In a Page

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
    Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

    The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

    Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
    Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

    A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
    How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

    How books can defeat Isis

    Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
    The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

    The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

    The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
    Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

    Young carers to make dance debut

    What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
    Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

    Design Council's 70th anniversary

    Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
    Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

    Dame Harriet Walter interview

    The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

    Bill Granger's winter salads

    Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
    England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

    George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

    No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
    Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links