THERE is nothing quite like the taste of a locally picked strawberry for the executive chef at one Hampshire’s grandest hotels.

At the helm of Tylney Hall’s award winning restaurant since it opened in 1985, Stephen Hine must have worked with the finest ingredients over the last 25 years but the county’s strawberries still make his mouth almost visibly water.

“They are wonderful,” he says. “You can actually taste that when they are delivered to me at 6pm that they were picked that morning.”

And Stephen’s praise isn’t just limited to strawberries when it comes to Hampshire produce.

Asparagus, mushrooms and berries in general are superb, he says. And when it comes to cheeses, only those made in Hampshire are served at Tylney.

“Hampshire has an enormous amount to offer,” says Stephen, who trained at the world-renowned Dorchester hotel in London’s Mayfair.

Keen to showcase this wealth, the beautiful country house hotel in Rotherwick near Hook takes part in Hampshire’s annual food festival, which is held each July.

While Stephen is clearly a huge fan of Hampshire produce, it would be extremely difficult for a hotel the size of Tylney to use local ingredients exclusively in their Oak Room restaurant, which boasts two AA rosettes.

Catering for around 600 people every week for lunch and dinner, as well as numerous functions, Tylney Hall is a huge operation.

Last Christmas alone, Stephen and his team peeled 125kg of potatoes, prepared 1,500 mince pies and made 2,500 bread rolls.

His festive shopping list included 153kg of fresh turkey, 240 dozen eggs, 80 lobsters, two whole ‘truckles’ of Stilton cheese, 32 bottles of port, rum, brandy and red wine to use for cooking, 35kg of Brussel sprouts,120 pints of double cream and 20 pheasants.

Planning his menus six months in advance, the quantities needed are often too huge for local producers to deal with. In the past Stephen has encountered particular difficulties sourcing enough Hampshire lamb and chicken.

“If we were a smaller restaurant we could probably source it all locally but here it just isn’t possible,” he says.

Despite this Stephen remains extremely keen to use as much local food as he can. Associated with Hampshire Fayre for the last four years, he is currently looking at sourcing game and venison from within the county.