THE New Forest is having something of a moment. Thanks to one of Britain’s most insightful hoteliers, in late 2009 it gained the glamorous five-star country house hotel and spa Lime Wood, which was bang on the money for today’s metropolitan weekenders; and now its sister hotel The Pig has opened this summer to much fanfare.
This boutique two-storey Georgian former royal hunting lodge and grounds from Hotel du Vin founder Robin Hutson is much more than just another place to lay your head. Estates back in the day came with a sizable walled kitchen garden that would have contributed a great deal of seasonal produce to the squire’s table. Now, out of a forlorn patch of mud and weeds, the new organic kitchen garden has regained its rightful place as the hotel’s larder – an abundance of fruit and veg, herbs and edible flowers fill its beds, contributing about a quarter of the restaurant’s offering. It is the centrepiece and the inspiration for The Pig’s overarching concept: “rooms and kitchen garden food”.
To achieve this, head chef James Golding (ex Le Caprice, J Sheekey, Soho House New York) has brought his passion for the land and his skills in the kitchen to oversee what is a difficult ask: producing an ever-changing uber-seasonal menu from ingredients within a 15-mile radius. Luckily for him and neighbouring eateries, he can also turn to the New Forest Marque, an organisation that promotes and certifies products that have been grown, reared, caught and brewed in the New Forest area.
On a tour of the garden with Golding, during which we paused to pick softly sweet white alpine strawberries and nibble on purple borage flowers, he explained that using New Forest Marque suppliers makes this concept workable, but that he wants to go further than simply placing orders and taking delivery. “I want to encourage suppliers just to drop by, “ he says. “Yesterday, for example, one company had a load of honeycombs. He stopped and I bought three crates of honey.”
The restaurant itself can’t fail to charm. But first check out the bar’s battered leather club chairs and newly upholstered sofas. The French barman had expert knowledge of cocktails, which arrived in vintage glasses quickly and went down just as fast. Candlelight illuminated a good-looking display of liquor and the decor is simple but amusing – sage-painted panelling, wall-mounted boars’ heads, and a 20lb stuffed pike that breathed its last in 1906.
The restaurant, a cross between a conservatory and a “potting shed”, is the hotel’s raison d’etre (I was told by a Brockenhurst friend that the word locally is that it’s been pretty hard to get a table). Big enough for 70 covers, it doubles perfectly as the breakfast room, when, in daylight, you look out over the extensive gardens while eating farm fresh fare – all the breakfast eggs are from the hotel’s 25 chickens and the salmon was smoked in the homemade smokery in the garden. Maybe it was a run on eggs that meant the rather meagre “pig out @ The Pig” full English breakfast didn’t quite live up to its name.
For dinner, the “15 Mile Menu” won’t empty your wallet (starters £5-£9), mains (£14-£25), and the wine list has a wide choice, with the majority of bottles in the £40-plus bracket. However, with the head chef and the hotel’s forager hard at work to create a menu based on “literally picked this morning” don’t be surprised to find curiosities on the list, such as starter and main sizes of “wild foraged mushrooms on toast” and “garden pickles & curley bean salad”... for dinner.
The three categories of room, 16 in the main house, are all competitively priced, exceptionally well-decorated and comfortable, with huge beds, crisp white linen, TV, DVD, free wifi and a walk-in shower that drenches you in water (the top category has a roll-top bath, and 10 additional rooms in the grounds are being finished). The mini-bar is “boutique” and has some delicious English beer and cider and champagne – all of which I will track down again.
Once you’ve settled into The Pig it is obvious that the owners’ nouse in employing the right talent within the perfect house and grounds has combined to achieve what may well be the first of this new breed of casual-luxe country “rooms and kitchen garden food”.
And that is no porky-pie.
The Pig, Beaulieu Road, Brockenhurst, Hampshire. Rooms from £125 midweek excluding breakfast; minimum two-night stay at weekends (01590 622354, thepighotel.co.uk)