Hartnett Holder & Co at Lime Wood Hotel

So much of rebranding and redesigning starts with a sign, a font, a colour or a texture. In the case of Lime Wood Hotel, whose dining room was felt by Chairman Robin Hutson and Director David Elton to be a tad too formal, starched and serious, the cognitive resonance has now switched and turned to country house hotel meets lunch out in a rural, brasserie style gastro-pub with rooms. It’s all change. There is still the grandeur of the drawing room, library and reception areas, but gone are the linens, fine dining and big plates of yesteryear’s dining room.

Hartnett Holder & Co, a partnership between Murano Chef Angela Hartnett and Lime Wood’s Head Chef Luke Holder, has opened in a redesigned room {enter Martin Brudnizki, who has designed more restaurants than most of us will ever eat at} kitted out like a gentleman’s club lounge in reds, greens, golds and copper detailing. There are thick, mustard coloured silk curtains from ceiling to floor, red letter banquettes and chairs, dark wooden floors, lantern lights and framed contemporary art work on every conceivable inch of wall space. The atmosphere is warm, buzzing and uncluttered – you look out onto the perfectly manicured gardens and glistening ponds, and even on a weekday lunch time nearly every table is taken.

In the centre of the room there is a bar area, and the bar menu features nibbles of bruschetta with fresh vegetable purees, cured meats, pickles and salted nuts. The idea came to Chef Luke Holder when he travelled on holiday to Spain, and sitting outside non-descript restaurants in the middle of the countryside, the waiter would bring out wooden boards filled with the most delicious homemade smoked fish and salted hams, served with cold beers or sherry. He wanted to transport the idea of sharing Mediterranean small plates, snacks and bowls between friends and family to an English country house setting. So you can either sit on bar stools around the shiny, sparkly bar, watching the handsome waiters {the staff members all look as if their portfolio is sitting at Storm Model Agency HQ} mixing cocktails, or in the courtyard-conservatory {the place to see and be seen, methinks}.

The Menu is influenced by provenance of ingredients – we are after all in the New Forest, one of Britain’s most protected remaining tracts of unenclosed pasture lands, heathlands and forests, home to wild boars, pigs and cattle, as well as famed for its mushroom, wild herb and snail foraging. You are a very short distance from the waters of the Solent, home to lobster, crab and cray fish, as well as flounder, bass, eel and whiting. Hampshire is also home to artisan cheeses such as Tunworth, New Forest Blue, Old Sarum, Old Winchester and Rosary Plain.

But the main influence comes from the Head Chefs, who share a love and understanding of Italian cookery and “cucina casalinga”, the food of home and hearth. Angela Hartnett’s ancestors hail from Bardi, in Emilia Romagna, the land where pork is king, fresh egg pasta is made every day, sauces are rich, cakes are light and Parmigiano Reggiano is grated on everything. Luke Holder is a British Chef who worked at the Orrery, The Sloane Club, the Oxo Tower, and most recently the 3 Michelin starred Enoteca Pinchiorri in Florence, where he fell in love with Italian ingredients and recipes.

So the Menu at Hartnett Holder & Co is short, sharp and succinct, printed in bright brasserie red, on thick uncoated paper that is illustrated by Ed McLachlan {illustrator of The Spectator and The Oldie} showing Angela and Luke surrounded by the colourful bounty of the land around them on one side. On the other are lists of “Soups, Salads and Smokehouse”, “Pasta, Gnocchi and Risotto”, “Fish and Meat”, “Grills” and “Sides”. The smokehouse is a big part of the local provenance philosophy: chorizo, salame, coppa, pancetta, bresaola and smoked salmon are all made at the bottom of the garden, in a converted coal shed. It is open for all guests to visit, and it is fascinating to learn the work that goes on there.

Bearing in mind Lime Wood is a 5 star luxury hotel, it goes without saying there is the obligatory spa and treatment complex in the grounds where there is also, surprisingly, another, very informal, bar style “raw and cured” lunch bar. Here raw vegetable salads, wraps, smoothies, juices, dips and soups can be enjoyed looking out over the pool and steam baths. It seems a world away from the restaurant where just looking at all the charcuterie, buttery sauces and slow cooked barnyard animals on offer will widen your girth. A different sort of customer sits here: thin, blonde, beautiful, firm and honed. The clatter of cutlery and wine glasses cannot be heard amidst the electric blending of pineapple, banana, lime and lemon grass infusions.

Back in Hartnett Holder & Co. dishes are generous, bright and sparingly decorated: a crisp, young vegetable salad is served on top of ewes cheese with honey and pumpkin seeds; a salty wild mushroom pizzetta is topped with horseradish and parmigiano; plump agnolotti are stuffed with guinea fowl and burrata; unimaginably huge razor clams are dotted with perfect dice of chorizo, finely chopped parsley and garlic.

The homemade pasta is paper thin and saffron yellow in colour: the chefs buy their eggs from nearby Fluffetts Farm, where chickens are fed on marigold flowers to make the yolks extra yellow.

One would not call the cooking style homely, because the deft hands of seasoned chefs are evident behind the professional, precise execution, but the intent here is to deliver a nonna’s kitchen table dining experience to Lime Wood’s affluent, cosmopolitan and chic demographic customer base, who may well be used to eating at L’Anima, Zucca, Locanda Locatelli and Polpo during the weekend.

Yet amidst the Hunter welly, Birkin bag and Barbour jacket fashionistas are also young mothers with babies and grandparents celebrating their birthday. Lime Wood is posh, it’s big and it’s bling, but it is also friendly, eccentric and fun and despite the never-ending news bulletins of austerity, economic Armageddon and fiscal tightening, the tills are ringing here.

It is extraordinary to think that a little sleepy backwater town such as Lyndhurst, with a population of a mere 3000 people, boasts a Maserati dealership and this palatial Relais & Chateau hotel with rooms costing between £250 and £750 a night. But if the marketing brains have got the branding formula right, Hartnett Holder & Co. could be a real winner for the group, which now encompasses The Pig in Southampton and Brockenhurst as well as two Courcheval properties. By creating an affordable, relaxed, engaging and well thought out restaurant hub, visitors might well feel less intimidated to try it all out, enjoying the larder and the look even if a night’s stay is beyond their reach.

On the long Beaulieu Road that takes you out of Lyndhurst, past a flat and open landscape of wild ponies, gorse and brown bracken, you will see a discreet painted white sign pointing you to Lime Wood Hotel on your right. The Hartnett Holder & Co font, courier red and in capital letters, sits beneath the elegant Lime Wood brand. Once up the baronial driveway, before you stands the pillared, Regency mansion that was once a 13th century hunting lodge, but over the generations has expanded every which way and in every architectural style conceivable. The thought and fragrance of tender ravioli, on soft, billowy polenta with hot Dorset truffles and artichokes should keep you coming up this driveway.

Further Information

Lime Wood Hotel: www.limewood.co.uk

Follow the team on twitter: @Limewoodhotel

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