Review: An Afternoon at The Pig, New Forest

The Pig hotel New Forest

There aren’t many of my friends that haven’t heard about The Pig Hotel in Hampshire’s beautiful New Forest. It’s one of those rare hotels that combines pure gorgeousness with feeling like a home from home, so when I was invited along for lunch and a nosy around their new sister hotel, The Pig in the Wall in Southampton, I jumped at the chance.

The Pig itself is a wonderful venture in home grown quality set in the glorious countryside of the New Forest. Their Kitchen Garden is a marvel to behold:

The Pig Kitchen Garden

They have their own smoking room for meats and fish, which they either serve up in the restaurant or swap with the local butcher for other cuts of meat.

They grow their own herbs, vegetables, and salads – everything from the everyday tomatoes, kale, artichokes and lemon thyme, to foraging ingredients like sorrel, brilliantly named greens like monk’s beard, white alpine strawberries, and edible flowers. Their lovely team of foragers and gardeners take good care of everything.

The Pig animals

Obviously, given the name, they rear their own pigs too. They also have quails and chickens for eggs.

Over the course of the year they range in self-sufficiency, but at its best they’re about 70%. You really feel like they’ve put their heart and soul into creating a beautiful, living menu.

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They also offer massages in the beautifully remote potting shed.

The Pig hotel rooms

Their interiors are shabby chic, with comfy chairs everywhere you look and lots of nice, homely smells and crumbly bricks. The Greenhouse dining room is gorgeous – airy, bright, with an atmosphere that’s the right balance between part of a group of diners and having your own little space.

The Pig hotel cocktails

We started with a selection of their cocktails. Many of their list are their own recipes, and nearly all include at least one ingredient from the Kitchen Garden, so the whole selection was fresh, zesty, fruity and deceivingly healthy-tasting, despite the generous portions of sauce they contain. They change with the seasons, but we particularly liked The Farmer’s Chase, a refreshing blend of vodka, elderflower, apple juice, fresh lemon and bitter lemon.

Their menu (which unsurprisingly changes daily to incorporate their seasonal, available produce) is surprisingly long. There’s lots on offer (and yes, a lot of it is pork-based – well, you’d hope so, wouldn’t you?!) We started with some little “Piggy Bits” (£3.50 each) including crackling and apple sauce, delicious chipolatas with spicy onions, and mini scotch eggs that were so tasty and wholesome they converted me after a lifelong hatred of them.

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Starters begin from just a fiver and – unsurprisingly, given how tempting they are – all can be converted into a main course too (in fact, a pleasingly flexible number of their mains can also be ordered in starter-form). Highlights in our group included New Forest Asparagus with poached duck egg, garden fritters and smoked chilli mayo, and home smoked Glenarm salmon with pickled cucumber, watercress and cider dressing.

I, however, was tempted by their Weekly Specials section, in particular the Portland Crab with mustard, tarragon, herb breadcrumbs and chopped egg. It was like all of my favourite things, so I asked if I could have it in starter form. “Of course” was the reply, and they proceeded to bring me an entire bloody crab:

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How lucky was I? Clearly, eating at The Pig turns you into one, because I unashamedly scoffed the lot. It was an absolutely irresistible treat – meaty, fresh, with a perfect balance between the strong flavour of the crab and the hearty, flavoursome herb crumbs and egg.

The Pig main courses

Their mains list is equally tempting (particularly good choices include scallops with streaky bacon, rump of lamb with artichoke crisps, and the “extraordinary” bath chap on a board) but I simply had to sample some of their homegrown livestock, so I went for the fennel roasted fillet of pork.

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It was absolutely stunning – the fillet was as tender as I’ve had it, and beautifully flavoured with the fennel and a gorgeous medium-heat mustard sauce. The accompanying apple mash and garden greens were exquisitely fresh and balanced well with the indulgent cut of meat.

We enjoyed some of their house white and red wine with dinner (a lovely Vin de Pays and an Italian blend respectively), both of which were affordable without being too cheap, but their wine list is not for the faint-hearted! It’s a double-sided A3 sheet each for red and white, listing approximately 200 wines from all the recognisable names as well as from normally underrepresented countries as diverse as Armenia, Turkey, Sicily, Hungary, and even England! Not only is it a wine-lover’s wet dream, it’s split into helpful sections for people who might be more nervous about wine choices (plus the staff were so friendly and knowledgeable, I’m sure they’d be happy to give helpful advice.)

Their rooms start at around £129 a night, and follow the cosy, tasteful, I-never-want-to-leave theme. If you’re looking for something less remote and more central to Southampton, The Pig in the Wall is equally charming, and the rooms start from slightly less although just as comfy.

The Pig in the Wall rooms

I loved the attention to detail: from colourful mosaic tiled floors in the bathing areas, to adorable vintage radios and tasteful selections of reading materials like the art of keeping chickens or foraging for wild food.

I thought I’d never be tempted out of my room until I saw the plate of cake in the warm lounge area:

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I especially loved the lemon and poppyseed slice, and would gladly have eaten all six slices had I not been in polite company.

This place really does have everything I could possibly want. Whether you’re a country queen or city sweetheart, I highly recommend a trip to one of The Pig’s hotels for an unforgettable, effortless stay. And don’t worry if you prefer a bit of seaside: The Pig on the Beach is opening in Dorset this year…

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Food for Sleepless Nights

Corinne Bailey Rae – Trouble Sleeping

“Sophie couldn’t sleep.”

This is the first sentence in The BFG, one of my favourite childhood books, and I’ve always loved that opening line.

As an on-and-off insomniac, I know that when you can’t sleep it can be pretty rubbish, but I like this line because it reminds me that sometimes, not being able to sleep can bring adventures.

Tart-shaped adventures may not sound as exciting as giants, but adventures they remain. And star-shaped biscuit adventures are just awesomesauce.

At half past eleven a few weeks ago, I realised that yet again my body had decided to forego sleep in favour of making my brain go something like this. Instead of watching endless stupid Youtube videos (which is how I came across that last one, as it happens), I decided to do something productive. At 2am I finally finished, and I slept better than I had done in weeks.

Here are the recipes, both of which are from Good Food Magazine, aka The Bible in convenient monthly packages, as it has become to my household:

Cherry Shortbread.

They used hearts as you can see on the online recipe, but I used stars because they’re a bit less vommy. And lead to far less “Oh, I’ve broken your heart!” or “GO ON – TAKE ANOTHER LITTLE PIECE OF MY HEART!” jokes. I know my colleagues too well.

Also, if you’re not a fan of cherry then feel free to use raspberry or apricot. They work equally scrumptiously.

The other point I will make is not only will you probably need more flour than that stated (I probably used another 30-50g), but you really should put the dough in the fridge for a while before you roll it. Much less sticky.

Ingredients:

  • 100g icing sugar , plus extra for dusting
  • 200g plain flour , plus extra for dusting
  • 50g cornflour
  • 50g ground almonds
  • 250g pack cold butter , cut into cubes
  • 50g glacé cherries , finely chopped
  • ½ tsp almond extract
  • 8 tbsp cherry jam , sieved
Method:
  1. Heat oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4. Sift the icing sugar, flour and cornflour together into a bowl. Stir in the ground almonds and butter, then rub in the butter until smooth. Stir in the chopped glacé cherries and almond extract, and bring together to form a dough.
  2. Roll out on a lightly floured surface, then stamp out biscuits using a heartshaped cutter. Keep re-rolling the trimmings until all the dough is used. Carefully transfer the biscuits to baking trays lined with parchment and bake for just 8-10 mins until just pale golden.
  3. Using an upturned bottle top or similar, press gently into the centre of each biscuit to make a round indent. Spoon in a little jam and return to the oven for 2 mins. Remove and cool on a wire rack, before dusting with icing sugar to serve.

Cavolo Nero and Pancetta Tart

(Yes, the picture does show that my pastry sort of collapsed and it was a tad overdone. But in my defence, I think the entire thing disappeared within three minutes of me serving it, so it can’t have been a total disaster…)

I really only picked this one because it meant I got to announce it at work in an Italian accent and sound all foreign. But Cavolo Nero is essentially Kale. A bit less romantic but delicious nonetheless.
Oh, and whatever you do don’t ask anyone at ASDA if they sell ‘baking beans’. It leads to scenes you wouldn’t even expect in a badly-written sitcom that make you do a bit of a cry.

The recipe for this really is as easy as it sounds (hooray for Good Food Magazine!). Which is good as, by 1am, I was beginning to get a bit trippy. The only tip I can think of is to actually have a rolling pin, rather than a bottle of strawberry wine, like me. It did a good job, but it was a bit doughy afterwards, and therefore less of a hit when you bring it along to parties. Which for some reason I did, and puzzlingly no one else wanted to drink any of it…

Ingredients:

  • 500g pack all-butter shortcrust pastry
  • 1 small head of cavolo nero , about 200g
  • 70g pack sliced pancetta
  • 200ml whole milk
  • 150ml double cream
  • 2 eggs , plus 1 yolk
  • 85g Parmesan , grated
Method:
  1. Heat oven to 200C/180C fan/gas 6. Roll out the pastry and use to line a deep 20 x 30cm loose-bottomed tart tin or 23cm round tin. Prick the base and line with greaseproof paper and baking beans. Sit the tin on a baking sheet and bake for 15 mins, then remove beans and parchment and return to the oven for a further 5-10 mins until pale golden. Lower the oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4.
  2. Meanwhile, trim the cabbage and separate the leaves. Cook in a pan of lightly salted boiling water for 4-5 mins, until tender. Cool and drain well then squeeze out any excess water. Pat dry with kitchen paper.
  3. Arrange the cabbage leaves and pancetta slices in the tart case. Beat together the milk, cream and eggs until well blended. Stir in the Parmesan and some freshly ground black pepper then pour into the tart case. Bake for 25 mins until just set.
  4. Leave to sit in the tin for 10 mins then carefully lift out, cut into slices and serve while still warm.