Any drive leading to the Pig hotel is going to be a gorgeous one, nestled as it is in the midst of a National Park in England’s New Forest, on the country’s southern coast.
Wind-swept moors with herds of semi-wild horses, or roadways surrounded by lush forest trees – their centuries-old boughs hanging heavy overhead - and chocolate-box villages dotted throughout, all are par for the course on a road trip through this idyllic corner of Hampshire.
New Forest is a region not short on good eateries, and amongst these one of the stand-out options is the restaurant at the Pig hotel in Brockenhurst.
The Pig hotels are a collection of a half-dozen hotels spread over England’s South, of which the Pig in Brockenhurst is the original incarnation. Self-styled ‘restaurants with rooms’, the ethos at the Pig hotels is all about the food. So while the hotels themselves are plush, slightly rustic somewhat quirky affairs, and deservedly popular in their own right, it is without a doubt the restaurants that really steal the show.
Having just arrived at The Pig Brockenhurst after a visit to New Forest's stunning Bolderwood Deer Sanctuary, we take a moment to have a quick browse around the manor house before sitting down for our lunch reservation. The feel in the common areas of the hotel is tasteful – heavy wood paneling, comfy rugs underfoot and leather-and-velvet furnishings, the odd wild boar adorning the walls – the atmosphere positively exudes country swish.
Next we’re shown to our table in the Pig restaurant, and here the vibe is a bit different. Floor-to-ceiling windows look out over the hotel’s terraced lawns, and together with a glass-paneled ceiling overhead the restaurant is a bright light-filled place. The overall feeling is a bit like being seated in a glasshouse.
A very stylish glasshouse, to be fair… Trendy mismatched wooden tables and chairs fill the conservatory space, and plants are everywhere – in clay pots of varying sizes on the floor, covering the windowsills, and on every table. Creepers climb determinedly up the walls and sweet-smelling jasmine spirals around columns. The terracotta theme continues in the colourful array of tiles livening up the floor.
Once we’ve taken our seats and ordered up some wine, and as we turn our attention to the food menu, we slip into the companionable atmosphere of the Pig restaurant.
Spread around the other tables are couples in heads-together conversation – perhaps other down-from-Londoners like us, likewise making the most of the relaxation in covid-lockdown restrictions to explore the fresh-air pleasures of Hampshire’s countryside. Elsewhere is the eager chatter of young families discussing their New Forest adventures. And out on the lawn terrace are stylish groups of friends catching up over drinks from the Pig restaurant’s outdoor cocktail bar.
Our lovely waitress arrives, friendly, attentive and dressed in jeans that match the laid-back shabby-chic atmosphere of the Pig restaurant itself. She delivers a homemade bread which is crusty, warm and delicious, with butter and a local rosemary-infused olive oil that is to die for.
Back to the menu… The food at The Pig is varied, including everything from greens through surf and turf, but one thing is a constant: just about everything served here is home-grown. This restaurant is one of a growing movement of restaurateurs with a commendable commitment to hyper-local food produce. On the back of the Pig Brockenhurst’s menu is a map showing the provenance of much of the ingredients, sourced according to the restaurant’s 25-mile radius philosophy.
The most interesting part of the Pig’s menu is the pre-starter nibblies, or ‘piggy bits’, including the restaurant’s well-known saddleback crackling & apple sauce, or other enticing options like mustard chipolatas and mushroom vol-au-vents. We opt for the crackling (naturally!) and a salmon pate between us. The former is as moreish as it sounds, the latter is light and fresh and not at all over-seasoned. Just right.
Up next are the starters, slightly more filling fare that includes fish, kidney or coppa. There is also plenty here for the vegetarian palate - in the ‘Garden & Greenhouse’ section are ingredients ‘mostly picked this morning’ in the Pig restaurant’s renowned kitchen garden - dishes with flavours that are as in-season as they are appetising.
Our plates arrive, and the presentation of the food is just as beautiful as the rest of the restaurant. The grilled mackerel is perhaps slightly light on flavour, but nevertheless flaky and fresh, and the pickled kohlrabi is a good choice for the accompaniment. The ham hock starter is delicious, served with some preserved shallots, edible flowers and toasty bread.
On to the main courses we go… My choice is a tomato risotto with feta cheese - the latter a bit mild maybe - but the risotto itself together with the fine freshly-picked basil leaves is a knock-out success. Julien opts for the steak and bearnaise sauce, and even by the high standards of a Frenchman this one is a success too.
The desserts at The Pig restaurant also sound tasty, and continue the home-grown theme with local cheeses or New Forest strawberries, but we’re already too stuffed from what has been a delicious lunch.
On our way out from the restaurant, we stop by the outdoor terrace for a look around. Visitors to The Pig’s terrace need no reservation, and in addition to the casual cocktail bar, here the restaurant serves informal wood-fired flat breads for the peckish.
The restaurant at The Pig hotel in Brockenhurst is a gem of a restaurant, serving simple super-fresh food in a modern country house orangery, and is definitely worth a stop for a meal during any road trip through England’s lovely New Forest.
Address: Beaulieu Road, Brockenhurst, SO42 7QL