Hartnett Holder & co, restaurant review: The halibut looked as if it had spent 45 minutes under a sun lamp
Hartnett Holder & Co, Lime Wood Hotel Beaulieu Road Lyndhurst, Hampshire (02380 287167)
Prolific writer and commentator John Walsh contributes columns to the paper as well as writing features, interviews and restaurant reviews. He has been editor of The Independent Magazine, literary editor of the Sunday Times and features editor of the London Evening Standard.
Saturday 03 May 2014
Both the name and the concept suggest a pop supergroup of the 1970s: Angela Hartnett, the doyenne of posh Michelin-star cooking – who's her rock'n'roll equivalent? Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders? – linking up with Luke Holder, the bearded, down-to-earth purveyor of gutsy Italian grub (Mick Jones of The Clash?) to form a classy but no-nonsense hybrid (Blind Faith? The Good, the Bad and the Queen?) in rural Hampshire.
Holder (who is, as far as I know, no relation to Noddy from Slade) learnt his trade at London's Sloane Club and Oxo Tower before legging it to Tuscany for a year to learn the dark arts of Florentine cuisine at the three-Michelin-star Enoteca Pinchiorri in Tuscany. He returned to run the Lime Wood, a Georgian country house (and sister to The Pig Hotel in Brockenhurst) renovated at vast expense in 2008. Ms Hartnett, I hardly need remind you, once played second fiddle to Gordon Ramsay at Aubergine, then to Marcus Wareing at Pétrus, before she took over lead guitar duties (perhaps I should drop this metaphor) and opened two successful Mayfair venues, Murano and Café Murano. The pair announced their joint album, so to speak, a year ago.
The hotel is a fine sight, although the owners seem unsure whether to stress the place's antiquity or glossy newness. There's a venerable smokery half-sunk in the earth beside an oak tree – but the view is dominated by a Godzilla-sized metal fish on the hillside. Inside, all is luxury. The bar, an enclosed, glass-ceilinged courtyard, is all cushiony pastels; it's like being inside a box of Ladurée macarons. The dining-room is wonderfully cosy, full of 18th-century touches: wooden tables and button-back armchairs surround a horseshoe bar. A magnificent carvery dome houses the cheese. Huge HMS Bounty coach lamps hang overhead. On the banquettes, bolster cushions separate the diners (a nice touch), the floors are wood-blocked and the walls festooned with monochrome art. It's amazingly comfortable and the all-male staff (who all resemble variants of Jesse Eisenberg and Andrew Garfield) are charmingly attentive.
The menu promises several Italian treats, such as ribollita, that thick bread-soup introduced to English palates by the River Café, and agnolotti, pasta parcels enclosing pappa al pomodoro e basil. They were fabulously al dente and fresh, as if tomatoes and basil were picked just minutes before. I tried a selection of the smokehouse's greatest hits, and relished the rosemary cured pork loin, smoked salmon with caperberries, fennel salami and homemade chorizo. But the star was coda uova affumicato – smoked cod roe with radish served on rye biscuits. It was astoundingly creamy and taramasalata-ish, the roes whipped up with vegetable oil, fennel and crème fraîche before being given a gritting of pork crackling. Fish cream and pigskin together – who thought that might work out? Was it Angela? Was it Noddy – sorry, Luke? Did they kid around for a while ("Luke! What are you like?") before deciding, oh go on then, let's put it on the menu?
Main course included fillet of beef for two with Jerusalem artichoke ragout (£80), turbot with preserved lemon for two (£65), and pot-roasted Capriole goat for two (£45 – does it really matter where the goat comes from?). My wife's halibut was a beautiful tranche that looked as if had spent 45 minutes under a sun lamp. It was served on a caponata of smoked aubergine, bizarrely arrayed with pine nuts and raisins. "It's cooked just fine," she said, "but it's been over-complicated with sweet-and-sour extras." I had to agree.
My short saddle of hogget, or year-old lamb, was a medium-rare delight, thin-sliced and meltingly tender, served on a bed of artichoke, celery and cauliflower, plus a smidgen of lardo, without which no Tuscan dish is complete. Side-order sautéed pink fir potatoes were overcooked but wonderfully crunchy, though spinach and taleggio weren't the happiest of partners. "I wanted something green," wailed Angie, "not something-green-with-cream-cheese-in-it."
From several predictable puddings (crème caramel, affogato, cantucci with vin santo) one stood out: millefeuille with apple and calvados. It was a brilliantly-constructed fortress of puff pastry that shattered at the touch and yielded up its fruity secret: it was made with sweet apple sauce at the base and tart slices of Granny Smith up above. Such finesse! And served with a glass of sweet Dowie Doole viognier from my favourite McLaren Vale vineyard.
Hartnett Holder & Co may have one or two musical differences (like about how many accessories you need on a main-course plate) but they're a supergroup who've produced a real winner in the heart of the New Forest. I hope it's a long-player. (That's enough music metaphors – Ed).
Hartnett Holder & Co, Lime Wood Hotel Beaulieu Road Lyndhurst, Hampshire (02380 287167). Around £140 for two, with cocktails and wine
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