At one end of the spectrum it's not uncommon to be served a tin of beans alongside your enormous portion of sausage and mash (and no, I'm not joking). At the other end, we have several formal restaurants, usually based in hotels, and on the whole rather uninspiring, sterile spaces. There are of course a few exceptions, but I've all but given up eating out down here, and recommend very few places to chums.
Inevitably the conversation will turn to sister-hotels The Pig at Brockenhurst, and Lime Wood at Lyndhurst - both hotels feature in all those lovely magazines we Londoners seem to favour so much. The cognoscenti don their wellingtons and Barbours, and head for the woods, in an urbanite return to nature. I'm actually very fond of Lime Wood - I've even stayed there, though I live less than ten miles away (excellent beds, low lighting that activates when you pop to the bathroom at night, and excellent breakfast in the Scullery, since you ask).
But did I enjoy the restaurant enough to recommend it? To be honest - no. Though the food was good, it had a very incongruous Disney'esque wooden framing and was completely devoid of any personality. Everyone I've asked down here disliked it, as did a few of my London friends who'd visited. We were all abuzz then, with the news that not only was Angela Hartnett joining Luke Holder in an re-woking of the menu, but also the dining rooms were to be completely overhauled.
In place of the faux Disney, there are now stuffed leather chairs, and Missoni fabric. Much smarter than the dining room at The Pig, but much more relaxed and comfortable than it's previous incarnation. Playing to Luke's strengths, the menu has a very strong Italian influence, and reflects the year Luke spent working at the three Michelin starred Enoteca Pinchiorri in Florence (excellent wine list, good food, insane water menu - yes - you read that correctly - a 30 page plus water menu...). And of course we all know that Angela's an excellent pusher of Italian delights... Could this new incarnation live up to my expectations I wondered?
Well, hurrah for Holder and Hartnett! I'll say it again - hurrah! Excellent Italian food, properly executed favourites, with friendly and observant staff. Ristottos were properly al dente, creamy, and the 11yo's saffron risotto wasn't too metallic, a common problem. Alongside that, delicious artichokes, excellent salad which tasted as though it had just been plucked, perfect zucchini fritti (joy of joys), and my favourite - espresso affogato.
So, go on - ask me... Would I recommend Holder and Hartnett to my London chums?
Updated 26/2/14 : Small caveat, the last time I went to HH the food was great, but the service was decidedly poor - that was probably at the beginning of February. One of my chums went there today for his wedding anniversary, and also experienced very slow and at times inaccurate service. So. The food remains good, but there is now a question mark over the slipping service standards...
|Roasted artichokes, with grated duck egg, and bread crumbs|
|Local meats cured in the Smokehouse at Lime Wood|
|Pumpkin risotto, with chestnuts and Nanny blue cheese|
|Flat-iron steak, with black pepper butter|
Lime Wood Hotel,