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 wineReuse content