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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TV Review: The Royal Bodyguard – Now in 2D

My third New Year’s Resolution is to be more confident in my own opinions, so: this. Basically.

Now, let me qualify first of all that I think David Jason is the God of television heaven. If British Comedy were a country, he’d be on their stamps.

In Del Boy I find essentially an amalgamation of my entire family in one small, humourously-bad-at-French man, and I have David Jason to thank for the one comforting programme I have to watch if I’m ever too far away from said crazy brood. Every episode is a masterpiece, and he also steals two of my other favourite things ever to appear on the tellybox in the form of Open All Hours and The Darling Buds of May. They’re cleverly written, even more cleverly performed, and joyfully feelgood. He can do no wrong.

That is: until now. David Jason is currently starring in The Royal Bodyguard, written by Justin Sbresni and Mark Bussell, appearing on BBC1 on Mondays at 9pm. In it, he plays the recently appointed Royal Bodyguard (er, clue’s in the name) and general all-round buffoon who falls into things a lot.

So far – out of a hopeless loyalty to the man whose work has so far set the benchmark for what I expect of British comedy – I have persisted in watching all four episodes. And so far, the only thing I’ve learnt is that when he signed up to this series, David Jason was surely on intensely potent narcotics, being held at gunpoint, or just mischeviously picturing the stupid looks on all of our faces. Oh, and also: boy, does he love spilling stuff on people. WHAT WERE YOU THINKING, DEL BOY?

David Jason is not the main character because there are no characters: just a number of people wearing costumes that say things to one another that sometimes, very rarely, remind me of something vaguely amusing. The whole show is so two-dimensional it makes Carry on Camping look  like an arthouse film.

It’s not big and it’s not clever, in fact it’s not anything much at all. It’s so frustratingly predictable it made my eyes bleed until I was longing for an episode of Chucklevision or something, and it is to original plotting what Pat Butcher is to earrings (God rest her soul). It’s like a CBeebies reject, and I found myself cringeing so much I swear at one point my eyebrows actually folded into my face. I honestly can’t understand how it got a primetime slot on arguably the most prestigious channel there is without the use of some kind of hostage situation.

I’m not angry, I’m just really disappointed. Because now – much like how we tend to remember the hangover more fiercely than the shenanigans and tomfoolery had the night before – I’m scared all I’m going to remember of David Jason is this intensely bad decision. The Royal Bodyguard did the same thing for me and David Jason as that one, last Long Island Iced Tea did for me and my night out last week: made me shout at inanimate objects, caused me to lose valuable hours of my life, and left me hesitant to risk them again. Not cool, DJ. Not cool.

40. REVIEW: The King’s Speech

It seems like a no-brainer. Colin Firth + Royal family secrets + cute children + soppy soundtrack = box office smasher. Only in the obvious cos-it’ll-make-gran-cry kind of way. And probably do that annoying British film thing that Eddie Izzard talks about where it’s just a load of people walking into rooms and staring out of windows and then saying they have to go. As he says, “you can’t eat popcorn to that.” Still, I suppose that’s better than the American version where the King would probably throw a grenade at someone, get kicked in the face and fuck someone’s wife. Instead, we are presented with a very British film, detailing George VI’s crippling speech impediment and how it affects him throughout his father’s death, his brother’s abdication, his eventual coronation and the lead-up to the Second World War.

I suppose the truth is there is a lot of staring and “things unsaid” in this film. And the soundtrack is unbelievably soppy. And some of the dialogue – particularly in Westminster Abbey when Logue gets the King so angry he ends up bellowing “I HAVE A VOICE!” – is just a little bit sick-in-my-mouth cheesy. But these small, somewhat cynical things aside, this is surely one of the finest, most delicate films I’ve seen in the past few years.

It’s the kind of film that draws you in and makes you tingle a bit all the way through because you know you are viewing something rather special, with performances that are so all-encompassing that I did utterly forget where I was for long periods of time. Colin Firth is sublime as Bertie: obviously a lot of people will be going to this film purely because it’s his face on the poster, and yet it didn’t for one moment feel like the film was about Colin Firth doing a film – he was every bit the reluctant King and parts of his dialogue were incredibly moving. Helena Bonham Carter as Queen Elizabeth was prickly but still sympathetic, but the surprising star of the picture was Geoffrey Rush as the inspirational Lionel Logue: his warmth was infectious, and he controls his character was the utmost precision, getting it spot on every time.

The film is also unexpectedly funny, and not at the expense of the poignant story being told. The writing is in places deliciously ticklish in a pleasingly understated way (helped no end by the leading cast members’ performances, of course); it doesn’t make you explode into fits, but even better than that is the warm, soft laughter that bubbles up gently from your middle and lingers for long moments. For the more immature among us, the King’s technique of swearing in between words in order to get his speech moving is some of the least subtle but most amusing comedy in the film – as my housemate said “there wasn’t a fuck, shit or bugger I didn’t enjoy.”

In fact, every moment of this film is enjoyable, with not a second wasted. As clever in it’s use of silence as it is in it’s dialogue, there is a fantastic balance between humour, tenderness, frustration and tension. I felt like I held my breath throughout the entirety of the King’s final speech, and I hope the next speech we hear Colin Firth recite is one of acceptance at this year’s Oscars.

Michael Jackson’s This Is It

Sorry it’s been three days since I last blogged – my life took a somewhat hectic turn and I’ve barely surface for breath from a quagmire of dissertation reading. I had my third dissertation meeting today – and true to form I enacted the usual routine of walking through the door to my tutor’s office and losing the ability to articulate any form of coherent thought. Good times.

I cheered myself up this afternoon by writing my review of Michael Jackson’s This Is It. This review is copyright Student Savvy and I’m only posting it for those of you who wanted to see it sooner rather than later.

My Jackson-crazy friend Chris and I went to see the film last night, and both came away gibbering about how marvellous it was, so I’ve found it hard to write a review that gives an appropriate level of praise without being an inane rant on how amazing the film was for me. There was also so much to discuss that I had trouble keeping the word-count down, but it’s around 700 now so you won’t fall asleep. Hopefully. I wouldn’t mind some feedback…

Here it is:

abiskippReview: Michael Jackson’s This Is It.

I must confess I was somewhat hesitant about seeing Michael Jackson’s This Is It – it seemed the kind of film that would leave an imprint on your mind as to who Michael Jackson was and what he was capable of, and I didn’t want that final imprint to be one of disappointment or anticlimax.

And I was beginning to regret caving in and agreeing to see it when for the first two minutes a string of prospective backing dancers appeared on screen weeping about the auditions like a melodramatic cross between an Eastenders monologue and an X Factor contestant whose Granny just croaked it.

But get past that, and what you have is a 100-minute explanation of why the world loves Michael Jackson. Admittedly, it takes a good ten minutes to adjust to the format of the film – a mish-mash of footage which isn’t particularly structured – but it is undeniably worth it to be watching what feels like a multi-dimensional production: you become both an audience member for the concert that would have been sure to catapult Michael Jackson up, up and away from the controversy of the past few years, and a fly on the wall discovering how he would create that very outcome.

And no one can accuse Michael Jackson of not ‘creating’ the production – he is shown to have been implicitly behind the decisions for all aspects of the show – from directing the several impressive on-screen accompaniments to some of his biggest songs (including ingeniously inserting himself into some iconic 1940s movies and being pursued by Bogart and Cagney for Smooth Criminal) to coaching the backing singers and casting the principal dancers for the show. He is focussed and capable to articulate his requirements – at one point telling the Musical Director the tempo should be ‘like you’re dragging yourself out of bed’ – whilst remaining endearingly charming.

The footage is often surprising, and certainly suggests the rumours of him only performing a handful of songs were – like most tabloid reports on the phantom ‘Jacko’ – utterly unfounded. While he makes several references to conserving his voice and only goes through the motions of parts of his routines, he does not by any means appear frail and still has an infectious energy that he shares with cast and crew through surprisingly humble encouragements like ‘This is your time to shine’ and ‘This is an adventure – there’s nothing to feel nervous about.’

The crew in turn are filmed singing Michael’s praises: ‘He draws from a deeper emotion than anyone I’ve ever worked with’ says one of the musicians, while a costume designer explains that brand new technology has ‘just been developed for Michael. That’s what Michael’s about – pushing boundaries.’

Kenny Ortega himself is frequently pictured shamelessly flattering Michael, but as director of the film he manages to avoid too many moments of bittersweet nostalgia that would overshadow what is a fascinating production. That said, it was certainly poignant watching Michael dedicate I’ll Be There to his family, and singing the a cappella ending to ‘Speechless’, which finishes with an emotional spoken ‘I love you’.

Despite the Razzmatazz you would expect from a Jackson production (and we are certainly talking serious razzmatazz with impressive aerial shows and an amazing fire screen), Michael is insistent throughout that there is an important message that goes deeper than his performance. Addressing the cast and crew, he insists the show should remind people that love is important, and an urge to change for the better is interwoven throughout his performances, including impressive voiceovers such as: “People say the government’ll sort it, they’ll sort it – they who? It starts with us. It’s us! Or it’ll never be done.”

Perhaps his most enduring quotation of the film is when he explains the audience ‘want escapism; they want to go places they’ve never been and see talent they’ve never seen.’ We certainly see a show that would have oozed talent, and for a few minutes we do indeed escape reality and the King of Pop lives again, albeit on the screen, giving his fans a chance to say their goodbyes.

The film ends sooner than you would expect – Michael Jackson, as ever, leaves us wanting more. The lasting imprint I mentioned at the start of this review turns out to be one of having seen a genius at work – a man who has still ‘got it’ – whatever ‘it’ is. That’s the thing – Michael Jackson was probably not the greatest singer, dancer or lyricist of all time: he was more than that. A man above and beyond the music, Michael Jackson was something else.

Image taken from Abi Skipp‘s photostream.