Last June before boarding the ferry to the Isle of Wight Festival, I stopped by the Pig the Wall in Southampton for some lunch. I enjoyed the experience so much that ever since I’ve been pining to visit The Pig mothership in Brockenhurst.
Someone cleverly clocked onto this and when my birthday came around this year, I was whisked away to the New Forest with promises of eating my bodyweight in meat and curling up in front of log fire and riding bikes amid the conifers in search of wild ponies. And that’s exactly what I did.
We pulled up at The Pig — a short drive from Brockenhurst station mid-morning on Thursday. Immediately we dumped our stuff and set about picking out bikes from the selection the hotel has for hire. I used to come to the New Forest as a teenager, so I decided we should aim for Beaulieu, and we pelted off down the country lanes.
We couldn’t have been more lucky with the weather, and because it was a Thursday in April, we had the roads and trails pretty much exclusively to ourselves. We went off road and got splattered head to toe with mud, huffed and puffed our way up hills and stopped frequently to admire pretty hamlets, ponies rolling in the grass and sun-dappled carpets of bluebells.
Eventually we made it to Beaulieu, which has to be one of the most charming villages in England. Traffic problems caused by a one-way temporary lights system in the centre of the village were further compounded by the fact that the ponies grazing on the village green would frequently wander into the lane to nibble on the leaves from the roadside bushes. We pulled our bikes up at the tearooms and wolfed our way through crumpets and scones slathered with sweet, smooth jam and clotted cream. Resting for a while in the sunshine, we fed our crumbs to the birds and debated our route back.
Pulling up at The Pig, we were sore and in need of a sit-down and a change of clothes from all the mud, so were relieved to find our bags had already been relocated to our room.
But with exploring to do, we couldn’t rest for long — there was exploring to do! We headed through the kitchen gardens to find the pigs, quails and chickens, before working our way back around the front of the lavender-bespeckled house to play on the giant swing hanging from the bough of one of the many tall and ancient trees. Kicking back with a beer on the terrace, we felt very lucky to have escaped the city and enjoyed a sun-soaked day of soft adventure and extreme comfort.
For The Pig is nothing if not built for maximum comfort. At every turn there is something soft and squishy to throw yourself onto in order to luxuriate satisfyingly in the quaint, but perfectly assembled environment. So content was I sipping my pre-dinner cocktail in my sunken armchair in the fanciful little bar that I could barely drag myself away for dinner. Somehow though, I managed. After all, The Pig has oft been described as more of a restaurant with rooms.
The Pig’s dining room is half countryhouse kitchen, half greenhouse and has the same gorgeous tiles on the floor that I’d first spied in the bathrooms at The Pig in the Wall. Prepped for gluttony, we started with piggy bits — porky arancini and the world’s most impressive crackling — before moving on to our actual starters. I had cod pate followed by the bath chap, which is basically juicy, juicy pig’s cheek served on the bone with teeth still intact — not one for the faint hearted!
A layer of yet more crackling is served up over the top of the most tender pork you could imagine. It’s highly flavoursome, but most of that flavour is contained within the fat of the cheek, so you can’t be squeamish about fatty meat (I’m not!) to enjoy this. What with all the sides we ordered — triple-cooked chips, crispy tobacco onions and wild garlic mash — I’m sad to report that we actually had to share dessert for the first time ever. We had chocolate and butterscotch terrine before collapsing in front of the fire, feeling debilitatingly full, to slurp on coffees.
This little piglet slept very well in the big, soft bed that night, and woke up a little older and a little podgier.
By the following morning I’d recovered, so I went all out on my birthday breakfast, choosing the largest option on the menu — eggs royal with the option to also scoff from the big breakfast table that gets laden with all the cold breakfast options under the sun. Obviously alongside my eggs and custard pastries, I had the naughty, rather than healthy granola with my Dorset yoghurt and homemade apple compote.
It was a good job we’d got all of our cycling done on the Thursday, because on Friday the heavens opened. We read the papers in the lounge, before returning to our favourite spot in front of the library fire to play scrabble and drink our way through pots of coffee.
I could quite happily have stayed all day, but as the afternoon ticked around, we reluctantly dragged ourselves away and boarded our train back to London. The Pig was everything I’d hoped: a luxurious hideaway warmly wrapped up in a cloak of informality; whimsically romantic and yet deeply wholesome and earthy; the ideal place to sit back and contentedly contemplate another year ahead.