THE popular Zen Garden restaurant in the heart of the New Forest has three Thai chefs so you can be assured of a truly authentic dining experience.

And a visit is also an incredibly relaxing experience because the eatery part of the SenSpa at the Carey's Manor Hotel in Brockenhurst.

The calm ambience of the popular spa drifts easily into the restaurant next door.

Guests and non residents alike are welcome.

The Zen Garden offers some of the finest Thai food in Hampshire and a superb wine list. It is elegant without being in the slightest bit pretentious.

The charming restaurant manager Presh is a terrific guide around the subtleties of the exotic menu - and he hails from Poland.

He has been in charge there for three years, previously running the Red Lion pub in Boldre.

"It has been a big learning experience for me and the chefs have taught me a lot," he said.

Presh is obviously incredibly proud of the Zen Garden and he is super efficient.

No detail is left to chance.

All the staff have a natural ease and grace which adds to the sense of tranquility. If that sounds unlikely in a restaurant, then you'll probably need to try it yourself.

Around 60 per cent of the ingredients used at the Zen Gare are imported from Thailand.

And while the menu covers the familiar dishes you would expect to find, it goes quite a lot further.

"Of course we do the classics like chicken with cashew nuts, beef in oyster sauce, green curry, red curry," said Presh.

"But we also offer many other specialists dishes that you are unlikely to find on the high street. We try to stay one step ahead because the sector is very tough at the moment."

One such dish is the Pu Phad Phong Karee (£16.95). Soft shell crab, squid, mussels and tiger prawn, with stir fry egg in curry, celery, red chilli, pepper, onion and oyster sauce.

The restaurant's ethical food policy means dishes are served using organic, free range and local ingredients where possible.

We begin with the tasting starter for two, the Zen Garden Ruam Mid (£16.95)

This the perfect way to begin, with spring rolls, chicken satay, prawn and pork dumpling and a sumptuous cucumber and prawn salad.

For the man course, I chose the classic beef with oyster sauce (Neus Nam Mon Hoi, £15.75), wok seared with bell peppers, mushrooms and spring onion.

My guest opted for Ped Sam Rod (£15.80), crispy duck with three tastes, shredded Chinese leaves, fresh bail, garlic, chilli and tamarind. Both dishes were accompanied egg fried rice.

The food did not disappoint, as fresh, fragrant and delicious as it had been billed.

The desserts include tasty treats such as pumpkin custard, banana fritters, fresh mango and coconut sorbets, and iced ginger and palm sugar parfait.

The restaurant has an excellent selection of wines from around the world which reflect and complement the breadth and subtlety of the food.

It may take you some time to make your choice of dishes, such are the options.

But even if it does, you will almost certainly be relaxing and unwinding all the while.