Chefs Angela Hartnett and Luke Holder have transformed the menu at the five-star Lime Wood hotel in the New Forest to match the new informal atmosphere in the dining room. Janet Harmer reports
Now known as Hartnett Holder & Co, the restaurant has been given a new lease of life having thrown off the shackles of fine dining. With all rules thrown out of the window, the focus is firmly on enjoying a wide variety of delicious dishes - whether it is just one dish or a banquet - in a chilled-out environment.
Tablecloths have been eschewed in favour of bare wood tables, with small colourful plates replacing large formal white bone china. Fun, not fine, dining - helped along by a cosy and inviting decor by Martin Brudnizki - is the order of the day.
The informality of the space has certainly been a key factor in the restaurant's success, which has seen covers jump to as high as 300 on a busy weekend day. With the opportunity to just come in and order one course and a glass of wine, the expectation was that the average food spend would fall, but currently, at £58, it is £1 ahead of what it was before the transformation.
Bringing in Angela Hartnett to head the food operation was a bold and inspired move by Robin Hutson, chairman of the Lime Wood Group. When not at her one-Michelin-starred London restaurant, Murano, she is now to be found alongside Luke Holder, the hotel's head chef, for up to seven days per month.
Together, Hartnett and Holder have devised a menu that combines British produce with the Italian approach to sharing dishes and informal service. The result is chefs' home-cooked food rather than chefs' restaurant food.
A big hit is the selection of pasta, gnocchi and risotto dishes, all of which can be ordered as a starter or main-course portion. Linguine is combined with chunks of lobster, a sprinkling of parsley and chilli for a kick of heat (£14/£24), and gnocchi is served with a veal version of bolognese (£9/£19). Meanwhile, risotto comes in various guises - currently there is a choice of Milanese or onion and flaked cod (£9/£15).
The new spring menu has seen the introduction of lighter dishes, with the likes of red mullet, avocado purée and a vinaigrette of Devon crab spiked with ginger and spring onions (£17.50) alongside lamb chops from the grill served with a salsa of nettles - picked from the grounds - and broad beans (£15).
Hartnett says that guests particularly love the conviviality that has been created by the new restaurant concept, with the selection of sharing dishes adding to the sense of joie de vivre. Dishes such as monkfish with marinated peppers, basil and aged balsamic (£45 for two) and Cumbrian native rib-eye with smoked bone marrow and charred red onion (£55 for two) add to the heightened chatter and enthusiasm throughout the room.
Sample dishes from the menu
Wild black bream, blood oranges, toasted almonds £8
Minestrone, peas, gammon, broad beans, asparagus £6.50
Young vegetable salad, â¨ewes' cheese, honey, â¨pumpkin seeds £7.50
Hand-speared plaice, scallop and peas £18.50
Veal cheek, polenta, tomato, girolles £16
Pork cutlet, summer slaw, mustard £19.50
Chocolate mousse, roasted hazelnuts £6.50
Apricot torta £6.50
Ricotta cheesecake, marinated strawberries £6.50
Lime Wood, Beaulieu Road, Lyndhurst, Hampshire SO43 7FZ
023 8028 7177www.limewoodhotel.co.uk