October 17 2011
When is an exterior really an interior? When it’s a walled garden, that’s when – a playpen for gardeners to keep the predations of wind and frost from their delicate charges.
Fashionable in Victorian times, most have since been neglected, but the new-found fad for all things local and seasonal has prompted a welcome renaissance. The Pig, a new restaurant-with-rooms in the New Forest, is a case in point: almost everything on its menu has travelled fewer than 15 miles, and much of it has travelled a mere 100 yards.
The idea behind the food at The Pig captures the culinary zeitgeist perfectly: a collaboration between chef (James Golding, a protégé of Mark Hix); forager (Garry Eveleigh, with a profound knowledge of the wild food with which the New Forest abounds); and kitchen gardener (Mike Kleyn, formerly in charge of the garden at Babington House).
The dining room is an airy conservatory with a beautiful tiled floor, potted herbs on bare-wood tables and mismatched old dining chairs – it’s a shabby-chic aesthetic that’s continued in the hotel’s public rooms. On a sunny day in July, I loved it.
The kitchen clearly relishes preparing the produce it is given. Nothing lifts the heart of a cook like tip-top ingredients. Gamey local wood pigeon, for example, with pickled quail eggs, tossed in a red-wine-spiked sauce and salad, sprinkled with pretty, edible flowers – a pretty edible dish, actually. Or poached trout with mussels and a light, fragrant fennel purée, with cleverly made “seaweed crisps” adding a little crunch; chips, playfully, are served in flowerpots. Puddings are very good, especially a cool, mint mousse with chocolate ice cream: After Eight on a plate. There is a good wine list, and local ciders and beers that are perfect with the (also local) cheeses.
A post-prandial stroll around the grounds – more like a waddle, actually – revealed a smokery, a piggery, a fruit cage and the famous kitchen garden. A thing of beauty, it is bursting with lavender, cavolo nero, courgette flowers, red onions, rainbow chard and rampant fennel. Beyond is a lily pond, and beyond that the world’s smallest spa: a potting shed transformed into a serene little treatment room.
The rooms are small but beautifully formed, and terrific value. The Pig is the brainchild of Robin Hutson, founder of Hotel du Vin, which revitalised the townhouse hotel in the mid-1990s, and his new venture, the prototype for a small group, is a sort of “urbs in rure” version of his Winchester original.
The next morning, I was reminded of a vicar at a wedding who defined the difference between involvement and commitment by way of a fried breakfast: the hen is involved but the pig is committed. The pleasure of its guests, I am happy to report, is something to which The Pig is thoroughly committed.