During my short time on this planet, England has changed dramatically. And much of it for the better.
But while walking through the village of Brockenhurst this morning with Grainne, it was a pleasure to see that many aspects of village life remain in place.
A real butcher’s shop featuring local meats including rabbit and venison. A bakery with freshly made Bakewell Tarts, English apple pies and donuts. The tea shop, the realtor, the funeral director and the apothecary packed in on the tiny high street.
Sure, the giant grocery chain Tesco had its mini-store there as well, but independent mom and pop shops still appeared to dominate the small town. I can see why so many of the people we chatted to had moved to the New Forest in the last 10 years. They were searching for some of those lost echoes of England.
It certainly reminded me of the country I lived in during the 1980s and 90s.
However, things do change - and as I was saying - often for the better. English food, for example.
Believe me, I have no issue with a lot of traditional English foods. Meat pies, fish and chips, Sunday roasts. Bring them on with platefuls of roasted potatoes, Yorkshire pudding and lashings of brown gravy. Stuff my face with Eaton Mess, gooseberry fool with Birds custard.
But let’s face it. There were a lot of bad English foods and sad restaurants serving bland meals. Today - inspired by the internationalization of foods, vibrant immigrant communities, the explosion of social media and and even by certain celebrity chefs - English restaurants are among the best in the world.
And we happened along one here in the New Forest - Hartnett Holder & Co at the Lime Wood Hotel. OK, so we didn’t exactly “happen” on to it. Grainne found it after doing extensive research for our trip.
The restaurant is the brainchild of Michelin star winner and Gordon Ramsay apostle Angela Hartnett and chef extraordinaire Luke Holder. It’s set inside the stunning Lime Wood Hotel, which itself sits in a manor house hotel that can be found at the end of a narrow country road in the middle of the New Forest.
Lunch started with focaccia made in-house and served with sliced ham. The bread had a good dose of salt and olive oil. The ham - which I’m sure the server said was salami - melted on your tongue.
My first course was a butter lettuce salad with grape slices, avocado and chopped pecans in a lime dressing. I was feeling generous, and even shared with Grainne.
We both then ordered the venison and beef polpette (meatball), served on top of polenta and a tomato sauce. Mind blowingly good.
Since we’re on vacation, sure we’ll have dessert! Grainne ordered a fruit pavolva. I had peaches, sprinkled with pistachios and served on a bed of semifreddo (frozen Italian custard cream).
Dang, dang, dang - lunch was amazing. And, quite honestly, a bargain. Three courses for 35 British Pounds. Two courses for 30. Any chance I can take up residence?
As is our tradition, we decided to walk off a few of the calories, so we headed off to a deer viewing platform in the New Forest. However, the deer must not have received their invitations because they were nowhere to be found. Still, the forest was magnificent with sunlight filtering through the tall trees, and families - many with dogs - hiking through the woods.
After a quick rest back at the hotel, it was again time to eat. It is amazing how much of life is taken up with meals. Not that that’s a bad thing.
Hey - remember earlier when I said I really enjoyed a lot of traditional British food? Well, the Filly Inn pub ticked all the boxes. They served up fish and chips, a delicious meat pie, mashed potatoes and greens. And a sticky toffee pudding for dessert.
And that’s what’s great about Britain. These days, you get the best of both worlds - the traditional and the modern.