Hartnett Holder & Co at Lime Wood

I could stay at Lime Wood forever. Seriously, I could. And it is a distinct option for the not so distant future, should I ever make at decent stab at earning gajillions of pounds in the meantime. No retirement home for me. No way. I want to end my days shuffling around a quirky, luxurious, slightly posh, slightly bohemian, country house hotel thank you very much.

Mornings spent in a deep leather chair, rustling through daily papers and drinking basil infused gin in the corner of some indoor yet airy courtyard bar. Afternoons relaxing on a cushioned table whilst hands ease out the knots in my poor old back, helping to expel some noxious wind. Warm evenings eating wonderful food, drinking fine wines and regaling stories from days of yore, to any ears that would care to listen. I could be a character around the place. Entertaining and fun for other people staying, who would take turns to guess who I actually was. A craggy and bloated Tory politician? A washed up film star whose good looks have flown south? The bass player from Cud! He's the bass player from Cud! Who?!

Yes, in my dotage, I am sure that I could add some colour to a place like Lime Wood but ultimately, I fear that I would only end up putting the guests off. Not for being overly ebullient or drunk or trying to cop off with the waitresses (or waiters) or anything like that. No, I think sooner or later, the management would want to curtail and cut short any planned residency because I would insist upon having a bed installed in the wonderful Hansel and Gretel smoke house they have on site. So that I may sleep, all cosied up, with hanging hams and rolls of brisket. And whilst the hotel may well be agreeable to the proposition at first; having a doddery old fart wander around the place, perma-tanned and stinking to high heaven would eventually become too much. Plus I am sure that head chef Luke Holder would soon get pissed off with having his precious cured meats ransacked all the time. I suspect that Angela Hartnett, wanting to warrant justice with a wooden pasta rolling pin, would also have to be held back too.

Of course, this sort of scenario makes no sense whatsoever. Chopping and changing the space-time continuum and imagining an alternate universe, in which I regress into an old age pensioner whilst Luke and Angela remain ageless, doesn't help when it comes to reviewing Lime Wood. But I think you can guess already that I was mightily impressed with the smoke house.

Situated in the heart of the New Forest in Hampshire, Lime Wood bills itself as boutique retreat, mashing up the classical with the contemporary and it definitely has some unusual features. Gigantic swings for two by ponds, Hunter wellies to borrow for trekking and walking off with, iron rabbits, rusted and frozen mid-hop on the lawn are just a few idiosyncrasies I could mention.

Add a peculiar, architectural schizophrenia which suggests to me that someone really couldn't make their minds up ("I am fed of this Regency shizz, build me some New England cottages..... No wait! What about a Roman basilica?") and you sort of get the idea that this hotel is purposefully aiming to be different. It's certainly a million miles away from the Travelodge near Lakeside shopping centre and if I had known about this place sooner, I definitely would have booked Lime Wood for our 10th wedding anniversary instead.

On the food side of the business, there also seems to a conscientious drive to blend originality with the traditional. The partnership of Luke Holder and Angela Hartnett is a relatively new one but since its inception, they have certainly been making waves; combining good ol' fashioned Italian home-cooking sensibilities, with a focus on sourcing produce as local as the surrounding fields. The resulting approach is that the menu should be geared towards 'fun dining and not fine dining' and judging from some of the photographs on the website, you can tell that the team aren't too fussed about being taken seriously. Which in my opinion is a good thing. Please save us, save us all from stuffy, ball crushing, overly pretentious restaurants that destroy enjoyment as well as the soul

Asparagus with brown shrimp and burnt butter
Saying that though, the lunch I had at Lime Wood was very good. I must admit, on first glance, I was worried that my starter of asparagus with brown shrimp and burnt butter was going to totter over the edge into soft oily oblivion. But the vegetables fought back with a lovely, fresh crunch and countered the melted butter perfectly. Little, beautifully sour, plump parcels of unknown origin also helped to cut through the sauce. Unknown until I asked the waitress what they were. "Pickled sultanas," she replied, after which I spent a short period of time staring into space like Homer, dribbling and repeating "Hmm, pickled sultanas...."

Turbot with smoked corn, cockles and chilli
My main course of turbot with smoked corn, cockles and chilli was even better. When cooked well, you can't really go wrong with this meaty flatfish and after digging in with my fork, I was happy to find flakes that were still firm yet quite succulent. The addition of briny seafood and a subtle hint of heat also went well with the turbot but it was the smoked corn that got me raving at the table. It was really good. These sweet nuggets of gold definitely benefit from a touch of smolder. At home, I have been trying to work out how to impart the flavour into a tin of Green Giant ever since. Chucking a tin on the barbecue doesn't work by the way.

Lemon curd, jelly with salted oats
Accompanying side dishes came in all sorts of shapes and sizes with highlights being the courgette fries and panzanella and dessert was a palate cleansing lemon curd and jelly with salted oats which hit the spot eloquently, delivering a pleasing cat's bum pursing of the lips. Although I have to say, some of the other choices made by our group, which were shared, did fall over at the last hurdle. A decadent 70's chalice of dark chocolate and caramel with honeycomb and hazelnuts threatened to beat everyone into soporific submission with it's cloying heaviness and a capricious dollop of basil sorbet unfortunately spoiled a buttermilk pannacotta with strawberries. I rather like herbs used with fruit but the serving of sorbet was just too large. My compadre did his best to finish but in the end he had to give up, smiling meekly with Incredible Hulk teeth. So if I had to be picky, I'd say that some of the desserts needed balancing out and tweaking with regards to portion sizes.

In typical topsy turvy fashion, I have neglected so far to talk about the home made charcuterie and smoked salmon that came up at the very start of meal. Largely because I want to wang on about the whole shebang like a giddy schoolboy. Actually, everytime I remember the platter, I keep wetting myself thinking about it. The salmon, brisket, rosemary cured loin and chorizo was pretty special. All delicate and light and melting on the tongue . OK, in all honesty, the chorizo was a long way off any Spanish version that I've tried but nevertheless, a UK restaurant having a crack at the Continental whip deserves full credit and I felt that the meat and fish served on that wooden board could hold it's head up high. The whole deal of setting up a smoke house has obviously been a labour of love for the guys at Lime Wood, as after lunch we were treated to a small tour of the converted fairytale cottage by sous chef, Chris Davies and the pride on his face was palpable. I got the impression that it has been a rocky road with stories about swollen spoiled hams and dark, blackened faces. Preserving might be a basic process but a lot can easily go wrong, so it seems and Chris was eager to point out that they are continually learning. Now managing to get through a ham a week, they are obviously doing something right though. And I have to say, standing there, listening to him and looking at all these lumps of meat that have been hanging for up to 24 months was the most pleasurable thing I've done in a long time.

Alas, I had to be dragged out by the scruff of my neck for fear of missing our train back to London and as such, I couldn't take any measurements, not even for a humble camp bed. But like I said, I am seriously thinking of writing to Lime Wood to see if I can negotiate some affordable rates to stay there when I'm 64. I've got a sneaky feeling that I am going to have to wait for a particular character in residence to move on before they consider me though.

For her name is Rita and she always sits at the same stool at the bar and she laaaaves the food and she laaaaaves the staff.

And she is a different story altogether.

Chris Davies with the smoker

Rolled brisket
Hanging hams

Pride and joy
Thanks goes to Lime Wood and Angel Publicity to inviting me to review


Unknown said…
Nice place. Nice review. Nice rolled brisket.
Kavey said…
I reckon an old fart like you wandering, peaty as an Arbroath smokie, around the property, dispensing your odd little statements, would surely be quite a draw?

Looks lovely, perhaps shall visit some day!
Lime Wood said…
What a great review - thanks! We would love to have you as a resident strolling around the grounds - you might have to fight Luke for the camp bed in the Smoke House idea...we think he'd rather like to sleep there too!
Relish said…
We stayed here last Monday, after doing a book launch, Relish South East featuring both Luke and Angela.
What a beautiful quirky contemporary stunning place. The staff were a delight. We only stayed for one night but I'm already planning my next visit. We shall look for you and Luke in the smokehouse, next time!

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