Lime Wood Hotel is promoting small artisanal producers with the help of celebrity chef Angela Hartnett.
Luke Holder, co-head chef at Hartnett Holder & Co (HH&Co) at Lime Wood, is brandishing what looks like a small flame-coloured pumpkin. It’s actually a tomato, he says, holding the enormous fruit as delicately as though it had been blown from glass. A moment later, a juicy red cross-section is plated in front of us topped with a paper-thin slice of scallop carpaccio hand-dived from Orkney Island, a glossy island of textures lapped by a generous pool of Tuscan extra-virgin olive oil. The ingredients are deceptively simple; the taste is a firework of full-blown flavours.
Don’t get Holder started on tomatoes though, warns Angela Hartnett with an eye-roll and a wink. The celebrity chef and protégé of Gordon Ramsay and Marcus Wareing, with an OBE and a Michelin-starred restaurant (Murano) in her name, here at Lime Wood she runs the culinary show with Holder after launching their restaurant HH&Co together a decade ago.
But Holder needs no encouragement. “I just spent two weeks in Spain and realised we don’t know what a good tomato is,” he laments. “The ones in the supermarket are grown in greenhouses, fed a mix of coconut husk and nitrogen. This one has been grown in sunshine and soil, and it’s like a different taste altogether.
“Hospitality is a hands-and-heart sort of industry,” continues Holder, who was born in the UK and grew up in Dubai. “The most important thing we can teach the next generation of chefs is how to source good ingredients, to know when something is ripe and ready, and not overwork it.”
This is the distillation of the culinary philosophy at HH&Co, which finds its roots in classic Italian cookery: well-sourced ingredients rarely require much intervention. This, in fact, was what Hartnett was brought up on. After her Irish merchant navy father died when she was age seven, her Italian mother worked long hours as a nanny and a dinner lady to keep her and her siblings provided for. The children were essentially brought up by Hartnett’s Italian grandmother. Her culinary leanings were crystalised by a stint in Italy as an au pair when she was 18.
Hartnett and Holder are passionate about finding the smallest producers that supply really, really great ingredients. Fat langoustines caught by creel in the cold, clear Atlantic off western Scotland. A hand-reared porchetta from a heritage Lake District farm. Juicy Romano peppers from an Isle of Wight grower. Salt-aged beef from the Glenarm Estate in Northern Ireland. A grass-fed lamb butchered in the proper way. These small suppliers need support, says Holder, especially post-pandemic. But Lime Wood’s acclaimed restaurant can mean 130 covers a night, a number too high for small producers to cater to.
So, the two chefs came up with Hosted Backstage, a tasting menu for no more than 10, twice a month, held in an intimate rustic kitchen within the bowels of the hotel. It would enable them to work with their favourite small suppliers and artisan producers. The young and astute sommelier, Dan Warham, pairs delicious wines throughout, starting off with his favourite fizz, the Italian Ca del Bosco Saten from 2016, which we sip in Lime Wood’s cool red-brick cellar before being seated in the kitchen. There are some serious bottles in here, including one mysteriously labelled ‘not for sale’, which I later discover is an exclusive El Tamboril from Comando G. Perhaps it has been set aside for Robin and Judy Hutson, the husband-and-wife owners of Lime Wood and the Pig hotel collection, although Warham is giving nothing away. His pairings are unusual but brilliant; who would have thought that anchovies, Culatello and Zerbinati melon would provide the perfect backdrop for Manzanilla sherry?
Holder and Hartnett spar back and forth as they work, a comedy duo leaving everyone in stitches. Hartnett’s intention is to invite other chefs to the table from time to time, such as master baker Richard Bertinet and outdoor cooking expert Gill Meller. “We want to keep these dinners intimate and for the chefs to get pleasure out of it and be part of the event, not just cooking food, but getting involved and introducing everything,” she says.
“There is so much pressure on staffing in hospitality now,” continues Holder. “Ingredients need to come in ready-made for a quick service, bang, bang, bang, so now there is a decline in the traditional skills. We’ve become detached, restaurants have become very functional places.”
Hartnett points to enormous scallops, sourced from a husband-and-wife team that dives for them. “These people are not in it for the money, they’re in it for the life. It’s not luxury from the farmers’ point of view.”
“In this day and age, being a bit more humble has its place. More time sourcing and less time cooking,” adds Holder.
This philosophy permeates all aspects of Lime Wood, the milky, neo-classical country lodge secluded in the verdant heart of one of Europe’s most ancient forests. The winding drive up to the hotel is punctuated by the odd grazing New Forest pony, and one suddenly feels much further from London than the one-and-a-half-hour drive.
In its first life, Lime Wood was a 13th-century hunting lodge, thereafter owned by the Duke of Clarence. In its most recent iteration, its redesign was carried out over five years by architects Charles Morris and Ben Pentreath, with additional interior design projects on certain rooms. As we turn in for the night to our so-called called “cosy” room — cosy but also rather palatial in proportion — a duck egg-blue Roberts Revival radio quietly hums with the sounds of Radio 2; a large bowl of perfectly ripe strawberries welcomes us back, as if we could physically fit in anything more. The voluptuous mustard-coloured curtains have been drawn against the cool autumn sky; the large marble bath beckons, perhaps with a few drops of that lovely green Bamford’s bath oil.
It is, as Holder and Hartnett would say, all about the simple things.
This article originally appeared in Billionaire's Healing Issue. To subscribe contact