Curl up in the casual English atmosphere of The Pig Country House Hotel, nestled in the heart of the New Forest. Martha Alexander discovers rustic perfection…
Given that The Pig Country House Hotel is only a step or two away from its original purpose as a private house, being told to treat this Georgian beauty set in the thick of the New Forest “as your own home” isn’t an empty suggestion.
Haven’t got your own Wellies? Head to the boot rack and pick out a pair of Hunters. Didn’t realize the potential of cycling through the New Forest for hours? Rent a Ridgeback for the day. Want to see where the food comes from? Potter around the grounds.
The nosy amongst you won’t have to sneak into the kitchen garden to admire the borders of rosemary, rows of onions and clusters of green salads. You are free to do so. You can also introduce yourself to the eponymous pigs, some of which are permanent fixtures; the others will end up on your plate.
Marketed as a restaurant with bedrooms, food at The Pig is top notch, with whatever isn’t sourced on site located within a 25-mile radius. The Pig is well named – there’s an abundance of pork on the menu, but judging by the packed dining room that’s no bad thing.
The kitchen isn’t mean with portions, presenting helpings that were presumably prepared with Henry VIII mind and this can almost be frustrating so you’ll need to manage your greed from the get-go.
Pre-dinner drinks are accompanied by Piggy Bits – crackling and apple sauce, scotch eggs, sausage rolls – which should be sampled not demolished if you want to attempt three courses afterwards.
Sausage found at The Pig, by the way, tastes nothing like sausage as we know it. Why? Because normal sausages are filled with rusk and not usually reared in our back gardens. This is all meat. And so much the better for it.
A giant crispy pork salad, a plate covered entirely by a buttery skate wing and a steak the size of a surfboard accompanied by James’s Famous Cosmic mash will more than fill you up. The peanut-butter ice cream is also a massive hit; you’ll be harassing waiters for the recipe.
The wine list is broad and the starting prices are reasonable – from £16.50 for cheap and cheerful bottles all the way up to really special treasures like the 1996 Chateau Leoville Cabernet Sauvignon at £195. For red drinkers, a good bet is the 2007 Montelpuciano, which slipped down all too quickly and worked well with both fish and red meat.
Breakfast was frankly, a banquet – you name it; it’s on offer. If the Whole Hog Full English is a porky push too far then you can pick from homemade granola bars, yoghurts, compotes, juices, breads and a variety of teas. But beware: this isn’t included as part of your room price, which has the potential to be disconcerting when you come to settle up.
The atmosphere is low key and understated. Gents are in open neck shirts while ladies should pack flats, jeans and your best jewellery: towering heels and lacy cocktail dresses made the wearers conspicuous simply because it’s so incongruous with the laid back and rustic surroundings.
The décor is so original that you might just find yourself questioning whether wooden crates with terracotta pots of garden herbs found in the conservatory dining room would work just as well in the kitchen of a city basement. They have got casual Englishness down-pat: tweedy fabrics, a healthy dose of florals (but steering well clear of chintz) and plenty of original chests and chairs that, again, give the place the personal touch of a private house. The mismatched art deco glasses and cutlery are a stroke of stylish genius that adds to the charm.
The bar serves exotic gins and champagnes as well as local beers with names like Piddle and Legwarmer which the bar staff are more than happy to talk you through, before you can retire to any one of three large lounges. Plenty of well-worn board games and packs of cards are available.
The bedrooms are not vast, but what they lack in space they make up for in charm: four-poster beds, claw-footed roll top baths and in some cases, a dressing room. There’s an entire stable block that has been converted into extra bedrooms, including bunk beds for children and a doggy chamber, for guests who cannot be parted from their canine companions.
The winter is a good time to enjoy The Pig; you can curl up next to warm fires, eat hearty stews and then retreat under a big wooly jumper, but the summer months are likely to be just as inviting thanks to a glorious outdoor courtyard, tennis court and the fact that the New Forest can be explored well into the early evening.The Pig Country House Hotel & Restaurant Beaulieu Road, Brockenhurst, The New Forest, Hampshire SO42 7QL 01590 622354 www.thepighotel.co.uk/contact