Recently awarded a Michelin Green Star, sustainability lies at the heart of luxury Hampshire hotel Heckfield Place. Its culinary director and one of Britain’s most respected chefs, Skye Gyngell, talks seasonality, simplicity and sense of place.
Tucked away in leafy Hampshire lies Heckfield Place, a grand Georgian home and sprawling 400-acre estate that redefines the idea of a luxury hotel for the modern age. Here, nature is king, and every effort has been made to enable guests to slow down and feel a sense of connection to their surroundings. From the handcrafted natural materials used throughout the stylish, soothing interiors, to the ever-changing seasonal menus that use fresh produce from the hotel’s very own farm, dairy and orchards, Heckfield exudes a uniquely serene sense of place.
“It could be the 18th century, or it could be 2025 – time seems to stop at Heckfield,” muses Skye Gyngell; the hotel’s culinary director and one of Britain’s most acclaimed chefs. “And even though it’s so close to London, it feels a world away.” Skye has overseen all things edible at Heckfield Place since its conception and subsequent opening in 2018. Today, she divides her time between chic London restaurant Spring and the recuperative country escape, which has 39 beautiful bedrooms and six sumptuous suites. When it comes to the hotel’s food offering, Skye’s signature style of simplicity, seasonality and sustainability is evident throughout.
“From day one, we wanted to make everything at Heckfield. Every jam, every cordial, the breads and pastries, the liquors in the bar, the ice cream – everything. We also produce our own eggs and honey, and we have our own dairy, so we make things like yoghurt and milk. We even have a Heckfield cheese,” she explains. “It’s a huge undertaking, but we’ve really tried to capture that sense of place. Guests love that the cream in their coffee or the milk in their porridge has come from the estate, and that’s what we’re trying to do – it’s about making that connection to your surroundings and enjoying the immediacy of it,” she adds. “It definitely tastes better and has more nutritional value too. Blueberries from Peru are just not the same as a ripe plum that has been picked in the orchard that morning.”
Originally from Australia, Syke realised her love for cooking whilst working in a small deli in Sydney when she was a teenager. She promptly quit university, where she was studying law, trained as a chef and moved to London, where she landed the role of head chef at the now renowned Petersham Nurseries Café. Skye quickly became well known for her distinctively seasonal, elegant cooking and in 2011, it earned her a Michelin star.
“I wasn’t particularly confident as a teenager and I realised that as soon as I was in the kitchen, I felt comfortable and grounded. It became my happy place,” she explains. “I love it today as much as I did when I first started 40 years ago.”
Each day, all manner of fresh ingredients are harvested from Heckfield’s bio-dynamic garden and certified-organic farm, ready to be served in one of the hotel’s two beautiful restaurants. There’s the light-filled Marle, which earlier this year was awarded a Michelin Green Star, a prestigious accolade that recognises an outstanding commitment to sustainability as well as culinary excellence.
Here, guests can enjoy the likes of Heckfield lamb with broad beans, peas, turnips and horseradish cream, farm leaves with shallot vinaigrette, and hazelnut meringue cake with homemade rhubarb ice cream. At Hearth, once the estate stable, a smaller, curated selection of dishes is cooked over an open fire; the five-course tasting menu, exclusively for hotel guests, is not to be missed.
“When you work really seasonally, you get so excited about ingredients. My style of food is quite ‘magpie’, I take bits and pieces from everywhere, but the one thread that goes through it all is purity of ingredients. Provenance is really important,” explains Skye.
“All the menus at Heckfield are incredibly produce driven, with every ingredient speaking for itself. It’s very stripped back cooking.”
Further gastronomic delights to be unearthed at the hotel include cocktails made with ingredients from the gardens, served under a giant disco ball in the celestial-inspired Moon Bar. In the warmer months, a sumptuous, seasonal afternoon tea is served in the light-flooded Glasshouse tucked away in the garden and, whatever the weather, a freshly baked cake appears in the House each afternoon.
“We always leave one lovely cake out for people to help themselves to, like it was their own house. We make all our own jams for the cakes too,” smiles Skye.
After a slice (or two…), there is plenty of opportunity to enjoy the great British countryside, from wild swimming and boating on the estate’s beautiful lakes to guided garden walks and regular tours of the farm. Luxurious treatments at the hotel’s Little Bothy use ethically sourced, all-natural products from the hotel’s own Wildsmith Skin range, and a larger spa with an indoor infinity pool is due to open later this year. Back at the House, there’s a state-of-the-art cinema room and event space, an extensive library and an elegant Drawing Room, where board games and squishy sofas await.
“There’s plenty to do, but it’s a slow pace. We’re so busy and over stimulated in life; at Heckfield you can just curl up with the newspaper and listen to the crackle of the fire. It’s an incredibly restorative place,” says Skye.
And while guests soak up Heckfield’s soothing ambience, it is of course a different story in the kitchen for Skye and her busy team, but as the old adage goes; ‘if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life’…
“I’m definitely not as quick as everybody else in the kitchen, it’s very much a young person’s game. It’s long hours, you need a lot of physical and mental energy, but “I love it,” Skye explains. “I would have been a terrible lawyer, anyway.”
Words | Sophie Farrah