October 2, 2012

The Pig: New Forest’s New Wonder

the pig new forest
The Pig (in the Forest) was the highlight of my yesterweek. Known also for its rave-reviewed and shabby chic hotel, the real magic lies in its cuisine; The Pig is a self-identified ‘restaurant with rooms‘.

What first appears to be a contemporary country escape hidden in Victorian clothing is, in fact, much more. At the helm you will find Head Chef James Golding (Soho House New York, Mark Hix, et al) setting the tone and calling the uncomplicated shots of a restaurant that boasts an incredible British menu based on the micro seasons of the forest. In the truest sense of the phrase ‘home-grown’, everything on the menu comes from The Pig’s walled gardens, surrounding grounds, or suppliers within a 15 mile radius.

Starting our day with a tour of the gardens, it was impossible to be unaffected by Golding’s infectious love for his work. While my house in London would be lucky to sprout a mushroom, James’ extensive fruit and vegetable beds feature unusual and impressive ingredients – from sea beet to lemon chilli – which we were encouraged to touch, smell, and build a Pig-sized appetite for. With the culinary experience being so dependent on the gardens, in fact, the menu can often be changed by the hour.

Obviously, our menu was saturated with fresh, fine food. Settling into the gorgeously vine-clad conservatory dining area, we were welcomed with a selection of ‘Piggy Bits‘ (£3.50 each); Saddleback crackling & apple sauce (the lightest I have ever eaten), crispy lardo & smoked chilli sauce, and Brock eggs & Colman’s dressing.

Insider tip: When you feel you could eat a lunch of £3.50 dishes alone, you are guaranteed a phenomenal dining experience.

The menu did not disappoint one foodie at the table. As a starter I opted for home-made black pudding & a poached hen egg with garden apple, red watercress, and Perry dressing (£7). The texture, flavour and simple warmth of the dish was exactly what a starter should be; the foreplay. The exciting build-up – with a handful of twists and turns – that you would happily enjoy on its own.

By the time the mains arrived, our table of seven was titillated. One brave companion ordered the Whole Roasted Bath Chap (on a board) with Nasturtium mash and homemade apple sauce (£14.50) – a dish so fresh the teeth were left in. Others opted for plates erring on traditional; a 24oz Double Romsey Pork Chop (£20) which arrived with onion rings, sprout tops, and a creamy mustard sauce and ‘The Pie @ The Pig‘ (£15.50) with Hampshire lamb, minted potatoes and garden chard. Plates stacked with love and technical genius.

My own main, hand-dived Lyme Bay scallops & crispy bacon with creamy mashed potato and monk’s beard (£19.50), has become an all-time hero dish. My tongue is rather judgemental when it comes to the individual ingredients in this dish, so I was eager to see how everything would tie together (and, critically, what would let the dish down). Nothing let the dish down. Savoury and fresh, the scallops came out at a perfect consistency and – alongside the creamy potatoes – offered a delicious taste between strong flavours.

After our meal, we took an ever-so-slightly merry trip to the new baby of The Pig Family, Southampton’s ‘The Pig in The Wall‘ – a boutique hotel with the same kitschy luxury of The Pig In The Forest. Quite literally a stone’s throw from your next ferry to the Isle of Wight, the bed and breakfast has everything you would need for a short stay, including a complimentary shuttle to ‘The Pig in The Forest’ for your dietary delights.

Who knew I could ever feel such affection for a Pig? (Barring micro pigs. Hello.)

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