Relaxed tradition

Angela Hartnett has joined forces with head chef Luke Holder to create something special at the new Lime Wood Hotel in England’s New Forest. Sunita Passi reports on Hartnett Holder & Co’s new restaurant


Lime Wood Hotel in the New Forest is one of the most spectacular country escapes to launch in recent times, welcoming the wealthy London set and local community alike through its grand doors. Hartnett Holder & Co, the hotels’ new restaurant named after Michelin-starred chef Angela Hartnett and its own head chef Luke Holder, opened in February 2013 after being redesigned entirely by Martin Brudnizki at a cost of £800,000.

Brudnizki began with an aim to “look to the heritage of the building to create an eclectic finish full of character; a room to complement both the restaurant’s surroundings and the inspired cooking of Hartnett and Holder”. He chose a sympathetic décor to show off the simple, deftly-created dishes in the kind of comfortable and unpretentious environment for which he is known.

The restaurant has a central bar, which allows the drama of the kitchen to spill out, allowing guests to absorb the theatre involved in food preparation. Meats 
hang from a wine gantry, while a meat slicer and coffee machine sit in pride of place on the bar. Dark oak distressed tables are clad with unfussy brushed silver cutlery and silver ‘wee willie winkie’ candle sticks. Small plates and bowls 
are the crockery of choice which guests are encouraged to share and taste come gli italiani.

The idea has attracted high levels of interest. Robin Hutson, chairman and CEO of the Lime Wood Group, explains how the concept was born. “We wanted to change direction because Lime Wood has two restaurants, which frankly is too many for a 29-bedroom hotel,” he says. “We wanted to de-formalise the offer, to move away from the traditional country house fine dining room, which I feel is an outdated concept and a bit stiff for the atmosphere we are trying to create here.”

In terms of the type of customer who will be attracted to the restaurant, Hutson believes that “our existing local clientele will love it as well as the hotel’s residential guests who travel from London for weekends in the sticks”. But in general, says Hutson, “you cannot be too specific in targeting sectors. You need to appeal to 
a broad range of clients and age groups. 
It is not like opening a restaurant in central London”.

The joy of Hartnett Holder & Co is further enhanced by its chefs. Their philosophy of a relaxed, approachable and fun yet quality-driven dining atmosphere can be found in all aspects of the operation. “Guests can enjoy food that we love to eat and indulge in products hard to find outside of London,” says Holder.

“This is the type of food that was shared during dining experiences before big plates and nouvelle cuisine took over the world in the late 1980s. You will see dishes such as whole baked turbot, Mr Zebedee’s rib eye for two with smoked bone marrow, spaghetti and lobster, and lots of home-cured charcuterie that we have been working hard on for the last three years.”

Just as important to the overall experience are the chefs’ suppliers, including local farmers and producers. “You are only as good as the produce you use,” says Holder. “We have worked hard with our suppliers. We have demanded a lot from them in terms of the detail, ageing and finishing. Some of the meat suppliers we have chosen to work with have a fabulous track record in producing great fare, for example, Lake District Meat Supplies and the New Forest Pig and Poultry Company, our local rare breed pork supplier.” He adds: “We have also improved on the programme that we currently have with local growers and farmers such as Sunnyfields.”

The work has taken nearly a year, with Holder and Hartnett spending time talking to family and friends about the kind of restaurant they were looking to create. “Our inspiration comes from wanting to create a restaurant experience that is as much about atmosphere as it is great food,” says Holder.

Sunita Passi


Luke and Angela in the kitchen
Luke and Angela in the kitchen

How does the location of Hartnett Holder & Co and Lime Wood influence your dishes?
The forest really is gorgeous and the proximity to the sea means we naturally get lovely fish. Moreover, there seem to be plenty of local suppliers, many of whom I have not worked with before, so it will be good getting to know them.


What does it mean to have a Michelin star?
It’s had a good effect, being one of the few female chefs to hold one. You stand out, but I think people expect too much sometimes and don’t understand how the guide works. Consistent cooking earns one star – it’s that simple; it’s not about glass plates, a huge wine list and white tablecloths any more.

Are you confident about achieving a Michelin Star, in time, at Lime Wood? If so, how do you think you will achieve it?
It has never been discussed. The aim is to have a fab restaurant with top food and a great atmosphere that appeals to locals and hotel guests. What is your advice for aspiring chefs? Decide which area or cuisine you want to work in and try to be the best at it. From burgers to fine-dining, contract catering to cooking on a plane – just maintain top standards and put some time into training. Lots of young chefs jump from one place to another rather than see a restaurant through a calendar year, so they can stick it on a CV. That tells me nothing.


LUKE HOLDER on the new venture

Luke Holder, 35, trained in London, starting at the Orrery with Chris Galvin before peaking at the three-star Michelin restaurant Enoteca Pincciori in Italy. He tells us about his inspiration, his vision for Lime Wood and his working relationship with Angela Hartnett and his suppliers

How would you sum up the concept for Hartnett Holder & Co?
Fun not fine dining, quality-driven, atmospheric. How long have you spent thinking about how to develop the ideas? Nine to 10 months on and off, with lots of time spent conversing with family and friends about the kind of restaurant they would love to go to.

Where does your inspiration come from?
From not having a restaurant quite like this to visit on my days off. Wanting to create a restaurant experience that is as much about atmosphere as it is great food. From eating out at restaurants that seem to follow the same done-to-death dining format.

How would you say it differs from other restaurants in its class?
Relaxed and approachable, confident in its product and delivery, with the style of food that chefs cook at home as opposed to the kind of food chefs cook for restaurants.

What experience would you like your customers to take away?
The realisation that the socialising aspect of dining is just as important as the food.

What challenges, if any, do you think you will face to bring about the Hartnett Holder
& Co vision?
Delivering confident service and food within a stunning building that doesn’t come across as try-hard or contrived.

How does the refurb and design by Martin Brudnizki support the vision?
It will inject a lot of life and atmosphere, moving away from a boxed-off, behind-closed-walls feeling to a much more open and vibrant space.

How would you best describe your working relationship with Angela Hartnett?
Angela and I have a similar sense of humour, which helps, as well as being driven professionals with a shared a vision of the type of restaurant we wanted to create. In a lot of ways it has been easy to divide the work up between us as there seemed to be a understanding of who is best to pick up what.

How did you plan the menu?
It became obvious that we have similar tastes, as everything we were suggesting to each other, the other also loved. The main points of contention were keeping the menu to a sensible size. It is so nice to work with like-minded people and Angela brings a lot of experience with her. Angela quickly integrated with the team and I think she is happy that she is joining a team full of confidence for what we have achieved and with an appreciation of what she will be bringing to the table.