I’ve written about New Forest restaurants before, but it is clear that this rather beautiful part of Southern England is currently developing a gastronomic reputation to rival any in the country. It is certainly now possible to spend a week there dining at an excellent restaurant every night, and should you wish to go the whole hog and double up with lunch as well, then you could do that too.
Last week I did exactly that, though just on one day. I’ll provide some links to past pieces on other New Forest dining at the end of this article, but here I will concentrate on Lime Wood, outside Lyndhurst in the heart of the New Forest, and Elderflower, in the attractive Georgian town of Lymington, on the coast. I’ve written about Elderflower before, but we hadn’t been for quite a while before last week.
One of the joys of the New Forest is the chance to cycle, mainly off road on gravel tracks, through woodland whose quiet is only disturbed by bird song and the occasional swish of rubber on stones. I rode out from Brockenhurst with a couple of friends for what turned out to be a leisurely 45 minute cycle to the back entrance to Lime Wood. Plus point – no worries about driving after lunch, minus point – having to cycle after lunch.
Lime Wood is a luxury hotel set in many acres of grounds (if you are driving, it’s off Beaulieu Road on the eastern edge of Lyndhurst), but its restaurants are run by Hartnett Holder & Co (that’s Angela Hartnett of infinite fame, and Luke Holder). Luke worked in London, but also at the 3-Star Enoteca Pinchiorri in Tuscany. The main restaurant at Lime Wood is billed as “Italian”, although the fine dining experience takes it away, a little, from what we might expect from Italian cuisine.
I will say straight away that the cooking here is very good indeed. We got off to a very good start with aperitifs on the terrace, whilst we awaited a fourth dining companion who preferred to arrive by car. Prices are fairly steep, but we were given complimentary olives and spiced nuts. Then we moved to the restaurant terrace for lunch. The carte is very good, but there is an extremely good value set lunch menu (£25 for three courses with a two-course option at £19.50). I chose a herb-crusted rabbit anti-pasti (with crispy trotter and romesco sauce) followed by “double agnolotti” (guinea fowl, burratta and parmesan cream with a very generous shaving of Wiltshire truffle). For dessert I needed a sugar shot of Eton Mess, one of the best I’ve had.
The wine list consists around 800 bins. To most people reading this Blog it might appear a little dull, mostly made up of classic wines from classic varieties at prices which will doubtless give comfort to the hotel’s wealthy clientele. You need to dig a bit. We needed a lighter (but not too light) red with medium weight plus a bit of fresh acidity to match what we were eating. Instead of going with Sangiovese, I found a Schiefer Blaufränkisch 2015 from Austria’s Burgenland. I’m pleased to say it went down very well, and came in at £41. We were not tempted by the DRCs (up to £10,000 for the 1997 RC), nor even some SQN Grenache at a slightly more affordable £465. It was, after all, only a light lunch.
Overall impressions? The location is lovely, and we really enjoyed dining outside by the ornamental ponds. The food is very good indeed. The three dishes I chose were all exceptional. The food is described as more like home cooking than restaurant food, a claim I’d normally be suspicious of, but here I can see what they mean. If I have two criticisms, it is that my espresso was cold and that one of our waitresses over lunch was as miserable as sin (I have no idea why, though one uncommunicative waitress didn’t remotely spoil the delicious food). So no Ledbury levels of service to match the highly accomplished cooking, but I’m very keen to go again. I’d love to see a bit more invention in the wine list, but I can see that I’m not a typical Lime Wood customer.
Did I crack on the way home? No, but two-and-a-half glasses, including apero, was not excessive…and there were only a couple of gentle hills to negotiate, neither of them an imaginary Mont Ventoux. The food was elegant and, despite what it might look like, not at all heavy.
Our dinner venue was Elderflower, on Quay Street, Lymington. Elderflower and The Shipyard both serve delicious food made from scrupulously fresh ingredients and it is very difficulty, as an unbiased outsider, to say which I prefer to dine at when we are in Lymington. The cooking of Andrew Du Bourg (formerly Head Chef at Chewton Glen and Club Gascon), at Elderflower, is very inventive, and is more accomplished than a glance into his relatively small restaurant might suggest. Andrew is gaining a reputation beyond the region, and one of the very best ways to experience the sheer inventiveness of his art is to try the dessert called “Close but no cigar”. A smoked chocolate cigar is served on an ashtray, with chocolate and whiskey mousse, and coffee ice cream.
I ate “Essence of the sea”, a scallop starter, followed by a BBQ Rose Veal rack, then a selection of cheeses and “The grape vine” (all the dishes have names, a theme and a story), a grape vine parfait, with burnt meringue and ice made from Hattingley sparkling wine.
We started our evening with friends and a bottle of Stéphane and Bénédicte Tissot’s Crémant du Jura “BBF” (Blanc de Blancs en fût). This is a marvelous wine which is as exciting and complex (with age) as any Champagne. We were able to take our own wines (pre-arranged, and with corkage, although Elderflower has a decent wine list), and we drank a wine with each course.
We were lucky, considering climatic events in and around Chablis over the past few vintages, to drink a bottle of Bourgogne Chitry 2014 from De Moor. It was one of a very few bottles Alice was able to sell to our friends on a very recent visit. It’s on a level with all their other wines (a high level indeed), though as you might expect, it has more acidity and a bit less weight than their Chablis cuvées.
With my veal we opened Williams Selyem Sonoma County Pinot Noir 2000. This was sensational. I knew it had impeccable provenance when I bought it, but you never know. This was fully mature with a haunting Pinot Noir nose (cherries and detritus), but with structure and freshness too. Very long on the finish and everything I’d hoped for.
With the cheeses (including some nice Munster) and desserts we drank Ostertag’s Fronholz Gewurztraminer Vendanges Tardives 2007, from near Epfig in the Bas-Rhin. I picked this up some years ago at Berry Bros’ factory outlet near Basingstoke. It’s the source of some real bargains. It isn’t always easy to find the right occasion to drink a really nice VT Gewurz. This was beautiful. At only 12% alcohol, it was neither too sweet, nor did it lack for acidity, albeit gentle acidity. It was the perfect time to open it.
Below are a few photos of the food. My wife is vegan, and Andrew is not only happy to cook for her, but comes up with the most amazing creations every time we dine there. The tall object in the starter in the first photo is not a large mushroom, but is in fact a pickled sunflower. This illustrates the sheer inventiveness of Andrew Du Bourg’s culinary art.
Another thing Elderflower has going for it is the level of friendly service. Front of House is Julien Bailly, a Frenchman who is both warm and welcoming. Approach him for wine recommendations, and he always has an opinion on which dishes he currently likes best. He will explain all the dishes and their complexities to you, you really wouldn’t want for a warmer welcome, and from the rest of the team as well.
Elderflower is on the left as you walk down Lymington’s cobbled Quay Street (at the bottom of the High Street/St Thomas’ Street hill) towards the quay.
There are plenty of places to stay in and around the New Forest, from the very luxurious (Lime Wood, Chewton Glen etc) down to Airbnb and the many camp sites among the trees. But it is worth mentioning that Elderflower has three en-suite rooms, which might come in handy after the Tasting Menu and a few digestifs.
Another option is the Thatched Cottage Hotel in Brockenhurst. This is worth a look because it’s just three minutes walk from Brockenhurst Station (from London Waterloo). You have to change at Brockenhurst for Lymington, although it’s also just fifteen minutes in a taxi. You can check out the Thatched Cottage Hotel via the link here, and note that it has a very special gin bar (300 gins, flights available and open to non-residents), of interest, certainly, to many of my friends. You might be aware that there are several locally produced fine gins from Hampshire and Dorset, Conker being a personal favourite.
It’s also just one minute from one of Brockenhurst’s cycle hire shops, though a warning: the main road down from the M27, the A337 via Lyndhurst and Brockenhurst, to Lymington is busy, so unless you are a pro it’s worth getting a forest map and sticking to the tracks and minor routes.
The folks behind the Thatched Cottage Hotel also run Escape Yachting. If you want to explore various ways of getting out onto The Solent, or for a sail to the Isle of Wight and back, or even one of their special themed wine/gin tasting trips, follow the link in their web site (above).
For those whose sea legs are less developed, Lymington has its own ferry services to the Isle of Wight. It’s a nice day trip over to Yarmouth, but better to travel on foot or bicycle. If you are used to Dover to Calais prices, you may be a little surprised at what Wightlink need to charge to keep the route going, especially if you don’t pre-book your crossings.
Previous article on Verveine fish restaurant at nearby Milford-on-Sea
A previous visit to Elderflower (with the cigar dessert)
A previous article on a meal at The Shipyard
*Remember, click on any of the photos, especially of the food, to enlarge them
The cycle route between Brockenhurst and Lyndhurst, mainly on gravel tracks though the trees, and below that, yachts by Lymington Quay.