I really do hate to squeal, but I just can’t keep a secret like this to myself.
I went to the Isle of Wight Festival last weekend, and I did it the grown-up way (by ‘glamping’ — more to come on that soon). I was determined for the whole trip to be the relaxed break I really needed, and so before I took to the high seas, a civilised lunch was in order.
I’m a northerner through and through, but Hampshire is by far my favourite southern county and I spent several happy summers in the New Forest when I was younger. Beaulieu and Lymington are such romantic little places and I love riding horses through the countryside among the wild ponies. The Pig in the New Forest has a reputation for offering the particular brand of rustic luxury I had hoped would be the theme of the whole weekend. I trusted its petite piglet sibling in Southampton, The Pig in the Wall, wouldn’t let me down. Southampton, while not Hampshire’s crowning jewel, is a necessary stopping-off point for those setting sail on cruises, to the continent or to the Isle of Wight. The Pig in the Wall is tucked away in a rare pretty spot in old city walls, which also conveniently happens to be two minutes walk from the Red Funnel ferry port. If you’re heading out to sea (or returning) this boutique B&B is the ideal place to start or end your holiday without having to resort to one of the identikit chain hotels that line the harbour. The Pig in Brockenhurst has its own gardens and smoking house, where much of the food is grown and prepared. The hotel offers what it calls a 25-mile menu, meaning that everything on your plate is local, as far as is feasibly possible. You can almost guarantee that there will be at least one ingredient on your plate from the Pig’s gardens at any time. The same is the case with the lovely little deli at The Pig in the Wall. It’s open from midday every day and offers a menu of delightful bites, perfect for landlubbers hoping to pig out before whatever voyage may lie ahead of them. Deep, squishy leather armchairs are placed around the seriously comfortable dining room-cum-lounge, which runs along the front of the hotel. We started with the pork scratchings and apple sauce. The pork scratchings were superb, and I nearly had to porkchop my piggy friend’s arm off to get at them. The rind was crispy and crunchy, and yet you didn’t fear for your teeth as you bit through it. The undersides were tender and soft without being at all chewy or slimy, and the sweetness of the apple sauce was the perfect foil to the intense, but not overpowering saltiness. Up next was tomato, caramelised onion and goats cheese tart, along with bacon, tomato and rosemary quiche. The quiche was quite unlike any quiche I’ve had before. Imagine tucking into a thick, velvety hunk of multi-layered chocolate cake for the first time, after subsisting on Mr Kipling’s Victoria sponges for most of your life. It was like that, but more savoury. It’s hard to get quiche texture right without it developing a slight squelchiness as it cools. The Pig seem to have it down to an art, though. If the quiche was good, my tart was sublime. I suspect it was mainly down to the local cherry tomatoes from the Isle of Wight. Tomatoes, like most fruit, really differ in quality depending on where they originate from. When I go to Greece, I’ll sit on the beach eating the giant tomatoes as though they’re apples because they’re so fresh and firm and juicy — which is something that you’d never catch me doing in England. These were succulent and sweet and tongue-tinglingly tangy. They were the perfect accompaniment the goats cheese (which I’m always a sucker for) and caramelised onions. Our salads were buoyed up by Sicilian olive oil infused with Isle of Wight garlic and Cornish sea salt, which was smoked on-site over at the Pig in Brockenhurst. Being real porkers when it comes to lunch (breakfast and dinner too, to be honest) we rounded off our meal with homemade sausage rolls. Now, it’s not the first time this little piggy has had gourmet sausage rolls, believe it or not. In fact I had a smashing one a while back from the market in Greenwich, and an equally excellent one from the East Dulwich deli only the other weekend. I feel, therefore, I’m in an excellent position to judge. *SUSPENSE* I’m glad to say these pastry-encased morsels of meat were magnificent. The sausage meat was full of flavour and had managed to remain juicy and moist without soaking the crisp, flaky pastry. The lack of grease is really a testament to the quality of the meat used — no overly fatty cuts here — and The Pig (and the pig) should be applauded. We had one hot and one cold between us — the hot one was better. There are only twelve rooms at the Pig in the Wall, and only three different categories (ranging from £125-185). Rachael, the hotel manager, kindly agreed to show me around. The comfy rooms are really cute and incredibly cosy. The beds are draped in heavy Egyptian cotton, and the toiletries — like the food — are all locally sourced. All the bathrooms in the hotel, along with the bar area, were decked out with these beautiful tiles. I couldn’t persuade Rachael to tell me where they’re from, but she hinted that the 25-mile rule didn’t quite apply in this case! All of the rooms in the spacious category have stunning four poster beds and roll top baths. In the room I saw, the bath was actually in the bedroom itself, and oh, how I did dream of it on the return ferry from the festival.
My favourite room was the snug, which was tucked away in the eaves of the hotel. I imagine it would be lovely waking up in the morning under the exposed beams with a view of the sea from the window. There are two more hotels — one in Bath, one in Dorset — currently in the Pig’s pen, and their sty doors will swing open in the not too distant future. Until then, if you’re in Southampton I fully encourage you to trot down to the Pig, preferably to snuggle up under the eaves in the snug, but at the very least sink into an armchair, get your porks in order and sip local lager while your vessel is readied and made shipshape. Many thanks to the staff at The Pig in the Wall who provided lunch and kindly accommodated my nosiness.