We’re all early (keenos) and start comparing notes on why we’re here, in the drawing room of one of Hampshire’s most famous foodie hotels, Lime Wood. There’s a food buyer for a major supermarket with a well-thumbed copy of Sabrina Ghayour’s debut and award-winning book celebrating all foods Middle Eastern, Persiana. There are two pairs of sisters, one attempting to teach the other how to cook after a mumbled amount of years, and the other enjoying some quality family time. A nurse has been spoilt by her husband for her birthday, and I’m here for my love of Iranian cuisine. Sabrina’s the first guest chef here at Limewood’s new culinary school, HH&Co Backstage, in the basement of the hotel.
The cookery course
Run by chefs Angela Hartnett and Luke Holder (hence the HH), the new school is housed in the former billiards room of Limewood and feels more like a family kitchen (albeit a rich and spotlessly clean family) than a classroom. There’s a long wooden banquet table stacked with crates of ruby pomegranates, floral quinces, and bunches of aromatic mint; marble worktops, glossy induction hobs, and top kitchen kit including candy apple red KitchenAids and weighty Le Creuset casseroles to match.
After class it’s up to the main restaurant kitchen, which has its own chef’s table, for a digestive pot of fresh mint tea while watching the team prep for the evening service, and a swift book signing before Sabrina’s put back to work for her pop-up restaurant in the evening.
The food and drink
Self taught British-Iranian chef Sabrina has become renowned for her contemporary and homely take on Persian cuisine and flavours and this course is no exception. Aubergines are blistered on an indoor Big Green Egg and roasted until silky and tender for a smoky Afghani-style dip with cayenne, cumin, garlic, lemon juice and fresh coriander. Lamb neck (Sabrina’s favourite cut of meat) is stewed with saffron and quince. Thick, salty slices of feta are sprinkled with Turkish Aleppo pepper, lemon zest and thyme before being wrapped in vine leaves and baked until hot and oozy. Meatballs are flecked with onion, fennel and dill, fried and skewered into chunky lollipops and doused in tamarind, yogurt, Nigella seeds and more herbs. Pomegranate seeds join crunchy braeburn apples, red onion, mint and sumac in a refreshing salad, while rice is baked into a mound of crunchy, fluffy polow perfection.
It’s all food you could easily cook at home without too many hard-to-find ingredients, and there’s mountains of food left at the end of the course so goody bags weigh heavy with takeaway containers as well as a recipe pack.
What are the rooms like?
If you have the opportunity to stay you really should. The staff are laidback but professional, making you feel instantly comfortable, and with luxurious rooms, sink-into-beds and baths that come with raindrop showers, fluffy towels and Bamford toiletries, that soporific feasting will feel all the more special. The spa here is also one of the best in the country. With the New Forest as its backdrop you can bob about in the outdoor steaming hot pool, pull up a pew at Raw & Cured, the healthy food and juice bar, enjoy rooftop yoga or meditation amongst the herbs, or simply mooch between the caldarium, hydropool, mud house, steam room and more.
A packed day peppered with tips from home-cook-turned-pro Sabrina, from everything on how to minimise mess (cracking a pomegranate into water to release the seeds) to how to get turmeric out of your cuticles, this is a perfect course, and a school, for the keen cook. There are few ‘skills’ to pick up, as such, but some great family recipes, practical advice and a cracking lunch (with wine!) at the end of it. A word of warning, though: for those who like structure and order this isn’t the course to go on – be prepared to go with the flow and jump from dish to dish, with various pots bubbling away in the background. That’s what family cooking is all about, after all.
How to do it
A full-day course at HH&Co Backstage, with a guest chef like Sabrina, costs £260 per person, including lunch, with space for up to 10. You can stay on for an evening pop-up in the hotel’s The Scullery dining room for an extra £405, including three-course dinner, fizz and wine. Courses with the HH&Co team are taking place across January and February and cost from £120 for half a day, covering everything from Feel-Good Food to Seasonal Entertaining, Vegetarian or Get The Most From Your Meat (limewoodhotel.co.uk).
Written by Laura Rowe
Published December 2015
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