You’ll probably have heard of The Pig hotel before (if not, read my review here), so I’ll skip the introduction. In a nutshell, with a fantastic conservatory restaurant offering fine dining, extensive gardens and grounds for exploring, cosy sitting and reading rooms with log fires for unwinding in, and gorgeously decorated bedrooms with four-poster beds and roll-top baths for romancing in, The Pig is an obvious choice for a indulgent wind-down country weekend getaway. But what about just for an afternoon? Say, lunch? When I was invited to return to The Pig in The New Forest for a long, leisurely lunch, my initial reaction was of course “Yes Please!“. But after committing, I did start to wonder “Isn’t that a bit far to travel, just for lunch?“. Fortunately for me, I was wrong.
We caught the direct train from Waterloo to Brockenhurst which took exactly 1 hour and 29 minutes, during which I had the pleasure of meeting a really lovely group of girls – Gin&Bone, Alexandra Dudley and Tori Boughey. Before we knew it we had arrived at Brockenhurst station, where we were greeted by The Pig’s taxi service – Land Rovers of course!
Approaching the dreamy 17th century country house any niggling to-do lists in my head and stresses of unanswered e-mails immediately dissolved. I could almost hear a “whoosh” sound of the weight dropping from my shoulders. I was back! Yippee!
Inside, log fires were lit, coats and bags were taken from us as we were offered tea, and we were swallowed alive by plump sofas by the fire.
I mean, would you get up?
There were three sitting rooms to sink away in, each one differently decorated to avoid that hotel vibe and feel more like a familiar home.
There was even a little cake area displaying beautiful homemade cakes.
When we were invited on a tour of the kitchen garden it was hard to peel ourselves off the sofas. But we managed – just.
Jack, the head gardener, showed us around the impressive herb and vegetable gardens – here, everything served in the restaurant is grown and hand-picked.
He explained how the gardens really dictate the menu, as the chefs have to work with what’s available and ripe from the garden. When the chefs run out of something, there’s no rushing to the nearest supermarket – they have to think on their feet to see what else they can whip together using what’s available from the gardens.
Sometimes the menu will change several times a day! Of course they’ll freeze produce too; they’ll harvest their summer berries and freeze some so that they can still serve homemade berry compotes and desserts during the winter.
During our tour we came across a gardener harvesting some ‘kalettes’ – a sort of cross between kale and sprouts – except when we got chatting it turned out he was actually a chef! All the chefs at The Pig apparently start out as gardeners. They’ll spend a week working with the produce and the animals to better understand the ingredients, and only then do they start work in the kitchen.
After walking past all the herbs and vegetables, we entered the greenhouse where we were introduced to the more unusual herbs and chillies, and a ‘Cola’ leaf plant, which when you rubbed them between your fingers they smelt just like those sickeningly sweet cola bottle sweets from your childhood!
Finally we met the resident piggies themselves, who were grunting happily and rolling around in muck.
Arriving back at the main house, it was time for the long-awaited lunch. We were shown to the stunning greenhouse restaurant (it’s often been compared to the Petersham Nurseries), which had live plants growing up the walls.
Our table was decorated with potted herbs (I love the idea of picking your own basil, parsley or coriander for your meal – such a refreshing change from the usual restaurant flowers), and purposefully mis-matched crockery and glassware to add to that homely feel.
Our menus had maps on the back which clearly illustrated and explained where every ingredient came from, from the milk and butter to the crab and salmon. We were offered a gin & tonic mocktail to start – I was introduced for the first time to Seedlip which is a non-alcoholic gin!
It had garden peas as a garnish – totally genius if you ask me, and totally delicious. I’ll be adding peas to my G&Ts from now on! We also ordered a pale blush rosé, the bottle still cloudy from the chill.
To start I had the infamous pork scratchings – but not how you know them.
Crispy, not fatty, and with tangy beetroot, fennel and apple to cut through the ‘porkness’ of it.
Next came the Dorset crab with a Mary Rose sauce – served in it’s shell but kindly mashed up a little to avoid the usual faff. We dove straight in.
Dessert was a sharing board of homemade fudge and homemade strawberry marshmallows, sickeningly sweet but also totally moreish and irresistable. I started with a tiny nibble – hmm, it’s okay – wait, just another nibble – oh alright then, I’ll have this one – are you not having yours? Really – Mind if I have yours? – Oh look there’s one left, we can’t leave it – Is it alright if.. Thanks – Nom nom nom. I’m still not quite sure what came over me.
Two bottles of wine later, it was only mid-afternoon, and we were back at Waterloo by late afternoon. A whirlwind visit, yet totally relaxing. Dare I say, therapeutic? All that fresh air, picking and sniffing herbs (not that kind of herb), stroking the piggies, and a long, leisurely two-and-a-half hour lunch. I even had the whole evening to myself to catch up on that to-do list and those unanswered e-mails, and all was right with the world. So, if anyone suggests lunch in The New Forest, there’s only one right answer: Yes Please!