Hartnett Holder & Co
Lime Wood Hotel
Tel: 023 8028 7177
As we pulled out of the station the snow flurries subsided and the sun began to shine. As it turned out it proved a good omen. The weather in London had been pretty inclement to put it mildly. Freezing winds had turned the streets Siberian. Time for a change and where better to head than the Hampshire countryside, off to Hartnett Holder & Co the new restaurant in the ever so swanky but cool Lime Wood Hotel. You may have heard of Lime Wood as a spa destination where London clubhouse meets country pile. The 90 minutes on the train flew by as I chatted to my companions. We were all very keen to try this joint venture from Michelin starred Angela Hartnett and Lime Wood’s own Luke Holder.
The short journey from the station to the hotel gave the bad weather a final send off; it was cold but brilliantly sunny. As you approach the hotel which sits very comfortably in the New Forest you can immediately see its original purpose as a hunting lodge was well thought through. High on a hill it has a sweeping drive with the occasional piece of sculpture glimpsed through the trees. It really is like being invited to the country house of a rich friend. The interiors are cool, relaxed and modern without being a victim of change. Selective quality art adorns the walls. Everything looks just right.
Some killer cocktails were served in a retractable glass-covered courtyard with a mosaic floor, a really graceful space. This set the tone nicely, we moved seamlessly into the main dining area, which has recently had a refurbishment. Not only did they redecorate but they also threw out all the crisp linen tablecloths and starch that went with them. This is an ultra cool room where the staff, seem to float effortlessly and your glass is never empty but you don’t see who filled it.
Luke Holder is a passionate cook, forager and exponent of smoked food. He has created his own smokehouse where hams are left for months on end to mature into something wonderful. Air-dried bresaola and chorizo also have their place on the shelves. In fact he told me that after a few teething problems things are up and running so well that they are going to have to find a way of producing more, a lot more as it’s so popular with the guests and diners.
Lunch was a lazy drawn out affair with some smokehouse snacks served on wooden boards to kick things off. Beautiful salmon and cured meats with pickles, some Parmesan with eight year old balsamic that dripped in slow motion such was its viscosity. Bolstered by crispy bread and chicken liver paté this was lovely way to share food and fall under the Lime Wood spell. That’s really what this place is all about, informal fine dining where you don’t have to whisper or worry about dress code. Just enjoy the casual but very high quality food with family and friends, the first round a true amuse-gueule that made us all smile.
The menu is in traditional Italian style, soup, salads, pasta, risotto, fish and meat, grills etc. But they are totally flexible in how you want to eat, starters can be mains and vice versa I suspect if you have a sweet tooth you could just have three puddings! I’ve lost count of restaurants that will not go even slightly off piste to accommodate paying diners. I went for ravioli, soft polenta, Dorset truffle and artichokes, which was divine. The soft but just firm enough pasta had been made with love. The food here is cared about, although casual in presentation it still has a beauty. Next came a fillet of beef sliced, lounging on half a courgette with pine nuts and basil in a dressing. Full of flavour, I had asked for rare and I’d say it was perfect the dressing unified the gentle courgette with the robust meat. A number of sides were shared, sautéed potatoes, leaf spinach and very cute deep fried courgettes that looked like string chips and proved popular.
The long banquette I was sat on was turning out to be very comfortable and had a pleasing view of the grounds. I could see some of the accommodation, which seemed very secluded and private. They even have bikes and wellingtons for guests to discover the wilds of the New Forest.
Pudding was not taken by all but I was tempted by a lemon cream concoction which had layers of jelly and lemon posset with salted oats sprinkled on top. I am not a glass half empty type of person, but due to my profession I frequently end up being a glass completely scraped empty person but for the right reason. I would have preferred more of a salt hit with the sweetness but it was good and my glass was scraped empty in no time.
Luke took us to have a look at the smokehouse in the grounds he really is on to something here. There are raw local ingredients being made into delicious food for the restaurant with zero food miles. I fully commend the commitment shown by Lime Wood for this type of endeavor, it’s forward thinking, gives the customer excellent food and the chefs something to be proud of.
The spa with its outdoor steaming hot pool, steam room, forest sauna and yoga lessons in the herb garden has all the attributes of a Hollywood starlet’s dream, I don’t know for sure but maybe Hollywood starlets actually do their dreaming here? But all that exercise would create an appetite so they have included a kind of healthy option place to graze called Raw & Cured. They make great wraps and juices but the thing that blew me away was what looked like a chocolate mouse, tasted like one but was made with cocoa powder and avocado. Never in a million years would I have guessed that ingredient, very clever, very tasty.
So lunch and our little tour over, it was time to head back to the station and we all felt that it had been an afternoon well spent. Lunch comes in at £55 a head and if you let them do the choosing and provision of wine add £35. I’d do this if I were you, it will give you more time to chill out in that oh so cool way that is Lime Wood. With Hampshire as its larder Hartnett & Holder have subtly provided collaboration for all to calmly enjoy. This is quite a special place, may the sun continue to shine on it. If you go, you might find yourself staying for more than just lunch.