We were lucky to be part of a group of eight that had the chef’s table at Lime Wood the weekend before last. Lime Wood is a Regency-era country house hotel set in parkland in the New Forest, at Lyndhurst. The team behind Lime Wood’s restaurants is Angela Hartnett and Luke Holder, with an Italian influence to the cooking from Luke. It’s smart but relaxed, and actually a great location for a comfortable break. I wrote about a trip there for lunch in the summer, part of my New Forest Gastronomy series.
The restaurant itself is a reasonably formal affair, as befits the surroundings. The chef’s table, set in the large kitchen itself, not only gave us a taste of the excitement during a busy service, but allowed us to be a little louder than the restaurant would have permitted. If the wooden benches were slightly less comfortable, the atmosphere made up for it. Needless to say, the food was good. Service was also perfect. It was as if the waiters and sommelier were able to relax in the kitchen and didn’t feel the need to treat us with quite the degree of detached deference you would get out in the restaurant.
The meal began with the Smokehouse Board, with culatello, leg soaked in red wine, cured loin and chorizo smoked on site. Fennel and black pepper salami, effectively a finocchiona, was delicate and fine. The salmon is cured ten days before smoking. I should say at this point, with all that dead pig on the table, that Lime Wood caters for vegetarians and vegans, and served up imaginative vegan dishes for the non-meat eaters.
The wines began spectacularly with a magnum of Stéphane and Bénédicte Tissot‘s Chardonnay Gravières 2015. I’d assumed this might be a touch young, but 2015 was a richer vintage in Arbois. Les Gravières is a blend of six sites where the underlying rock and soils are limestone. Whilst Arbois is perhaps famous for its various marnes (marls, which are calcium/lime-rich mudstones with varying amounts of clay and silt), there are outcrops of pure limestone which produce excellent Chardonnays. The most famous must be Stéphane’s own Clos surrounding the Tour de Curon, a steep and stony limestone vineyard rapidly achieving a “Grand Cru” reputation.
The Gravières begins with peachy ripe fruit, more rounded and voluptuous than you expect, but it takes only a little time before other qualities become apparent, and I mean citrus acidity, salinity, and a very long, almost chalky, finish. I can’t say how this wine will age (even in mag), but I found it astonishingly beautiful, especially because I’ve erred more towards Tissot’s single vineyard “La Mailloche” as my favourite, the one off “Les Amants” aside. If I could drive to Arbois tomorrow I’d try to grab a few magnums of this to enjoy over the next two years or so.
Someone called for a rosé, and so we grabbed a bottle from the Lime Wood list, Ca dei Frati Rosato “Rosa dei Frati” 2015. This is a sound wine from the famous Lugana producer. Pale salmon colour, quite muted to begin with (but cold), opening into a nice fruity wine, dry and fresh, not spectacular but enjoyable. At some point a ewe’s cheese salad with young vegetables appeared and it didn’t clash.
Ewe’s milk cheese with young baby vegetables
We soon polished that off and another magnum appeared, San Lorenzo Ciliegiolo 2009, Sassotondo. This is a Maremma wine and is 100% Ciliegiolo, all from vines over 50 years of age in Sassotondo’s home vineyard near Pitigliano. This is always a superb wine, but I’ve never tried a magnum before. This 2009 starts with dark blackcurrant fruit on the nose, and then some rich cherry comes through. The bouquet has great depth. So does the palate. There’s fruit, but also a slight bitterness which seems to resemble black pepper (some also say cloves). There are still tannins present but they just add the sort of structure you want for food matching. There is just a slight note of alcohol (14% abv) on the finish, but it is smooth and long.
The dish we paired this with was a ravioli of rainbow trout and ricotta with walnuts and lemon zest. Like Lime Wood’s famous “double agnolotti”, this is the kind of pasta dish they do to perfection. It doesn’t look much on the plate but its richness suffices to satisfy the stomach until the next plate arrives.
More than just ravioli
The main course was braised duck breast, and offal in a roasted artichoke shell (or a very inventive raw vegan pizza). The pairing was Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pâpe 1999. This was drinking superbly, though not yet at its peak I think. Still dark in colour but with a lovely brick red-orange rim, it is rich and fruity with a pleasant bitter touch. The 13.5% alcohol feels restrained and I’d say this is the most elegant Châteauneuf I’ve had for a while. Of course there’s plump Grenache with rich complexity building in the glass, but there was no “leaking at the edges”. Counter-intuitively it was served in Riedel Bordeaux glasses, but they worked for me.
Another red was called for and someone ordered Leah Pinot Noir 2014, Seresin. This Marlborough Pinot is a blend of the three Seresin vineyards (and named after Michael’s daughter), a wine which drinks well quite soon after release. It nevertheless also has the ability to age. The 2014, the result of a long ripening season, has lightish red fruits but also a herby note on the finish, a touch of early complexity. I think there’s about 15% oak used. Still a fresh young wine, its biodynamic origins showing, perhaps, though I’d say this is good to go now. If you want greater complexity, move up the range.
At this point a pause in the proceedings was called for, and the wilder members of the party decided it was negroni time. It wasn’t the occasion for an interrogation as to the exact contents of this version (most of us had gone past that stage), but it was very good indeed. Always the sign of a good hotel. In my world there are many ways to make a negroni, no single right way, but there is a wrong way. This was not the wrong way.
Dessert came out soon after, a chocolate mousse with chantilly, ale soaked cherries, a white chocolate snowflake or two and mixed red berry sorbet. With this we were treated to Château Fayau Cadillac 2011. Cadillac is one of the old sweet wine regions of Bordeaux. It’s about 30 km upriver from the city, on the right bank of the Garonne, ie the opposite bank to Sauternes and Barsac.
The wine is not as complex as a top Sauternes, and there is little if any sign of the noble rot which adds complexity to the left bank sweet wines. Yet this is very pleasant with honey and stone fruits (peach and apricot). It doesn’t have exceptional concentration, nor length, but as an accompaniment to this type of dessert it works well, neither too rich and cloying, nor adding any jarring acidity. A nice complementary touch.
Mousse and sorbet with the Fayau
This chef’s table experience is to be recommended. I enjoyed the very relaxed atmosphere in the kitchen. I’m sure the fact that there were eight of us helped, and I think we were able to be far more noisy (in a good way) than in the formal restaurant. Eating outside in the summer was also very enjoyable for the lack of formality. The food at Lime Wood is good as well, the influence purportedly being Italian but not to the extent that this inhibits creativity. That creativity was especially evident in the vegan dishes.
In some restaurants, having vegan dietary requirements is sometimes a real nuisance for them, and any vegan dishes are grudgingly prepared. Here we got the opposite response, creativity being given its head. That was rather nice as one of our number was also a chef who goes an extra mile when asked to prepare vegan dishes.
Vegan treats, raw pizza and dessert platter
If there is a down side to Lime Wood dining it is only in the pocket. The meal came to £130-a-head, more than expected (which seems to be my theme for late 2017), but that was possibly in large part down to the wines we took (Tissot, Sassotondo and Beaucastel) at a guess. Corkage is £35/bottle and I’m not sure how they worked the magnums. But the evening, food, wine, service and entertainment, was very enjoyable. If you want to crawl up to bed rather than our taxi back to Lymington, expect relative luxury in (at this time of year) a warm and hospitable hotel.
Lime Wood is at Beaulieu Road, Lyndhurst, in the New Forest (nearest rail link is Brockenhurst, then 15 minutes in a taxi). See link here for restaurant and rooms.