Review by Fiona Duncan, published 7th September 2011.
Robin Hutson, the man behind this porcine sensation, is this country's most inspired hotelier. His talent is simple, but rare: he knows what people want, and he delivers it. First he reinvented the town hotel with his Hotel du Vin chain, then the luxury country pad with Lime Wood. Now it's the turn of mid-price rural hotels.
This one (whose name is as peculiar as Hotel du Vin and probably as clever), came to Hutson on a plate. The owner of Lime Wood, millionaire industrialist Jim Ratcliffe, had also bought a quiet little New Forest hotel called Whitley Ridge and established an impressive but, at the time, entirely superfluous kitchen garden. Despite other improvements, it remained dull. I should know – I live down the road.
Cue Hutson, who with two other partners has joined Ratcliffe as half-share owner of The Pig and any other copycat Piglets that come along (they will). If his Vin concept hit the spot in towns, why couldn't he find an equally successful formula for the countryside? He studied Whitley, a handsome Georgian shooting lodge in a sylvan setting, and he studied its huge walled garden, and he knew he had found the key.
For the hotel's suitably rustic look, he turned to his wife, Judy, who had dreamed up du Vin's hop-festooned bistros back in the Nineties. Her Pig is sexy-and-shabby chic, with a palette of soft greens and chalky greys, a wonderful conservatory dining room with multi-patterned Retrouvius floor tiles, mismatched glassware and herbs galore in terracotta pots (for hops, read pots), a glamorous glass-backed bar, a billiard table and an outdoor courtyard with wood oven and stone fireplace.
Bedrooms are Snug, Cosy or Spacious. They are all lovely: calm, countrified and deeply comfortable. Big, refillable bottles of toiletries rather than mini ones would be my only plea. And I'd much prefer that breakfast was quoted in the room price because that's the norm and an extra £30 for two changes the bill not a little.
Still, for a hotel that feels exactly right the moment you step inside, for a tennis court and bicycles, for relaxed but polite service, fabulously fresh food and that glorious, abundant garden, The Pig represents superb value.
Many hotels boast kitchen gardens, but few are as truly central to the feel, as well as the food, as that of The Pig. Though none can provide more than about a quarter of the produce required, that 25 per cent genuinely dictates the menu here. Hutson's luck was to find gardener Mike Kleyn, who has created, along with Hutson's son Ollie, an imaginative edible paradise, open to all; and to find chef James Golding, who has enthusiastically embraced the approach.
In the morning Mike showed me his strawberry spinach and cavolo nero, his celery and rainbow chard, his beet leaves and berries; at lunchtime I ate them. The garden leads to a lovely lily pond and a rustic wooden shack. Inside the shack? You will be charmed. Oh, and there are pigs, too. Naturally.
- Beaulieu Road, Brockenhurst, S042 7QL (01590 622354;www.thepighotel.co.uk). Doubles from £125 per night; breakfast from £10. Access for guests with disabilities.
What to see
The New Forest on the doorstep, with walks from the door. See Beaulieu and its Motor Museum and Buckler's Hard on the Beaulieu River (there's a pleasant riverside walk between the two) but don't ignore the closest town to The Pig, Brockenhurst, which has its own charm and some interesting food and antique shops. Lymington with its Saturday market and Solent boat trips is also convenient.
Have a tour of The Pig's kitchen garden with Mike Kleyn, then go farther afield with the hotel's wild-food forager, Garry Eveleigh, a light-hearted experience in the New Forest. The guided walks might include a hedgerow harvest, such as wild salads and vegetables in spring or fruits, nuts and berries in autumn; or a trip to the coast to fill your lungs with sea air while gathering seaweed and shellfish; or exploring the forest, where Garry will guide you to the most secret areas in search of wild mushrooms.
Where to eat
The East End Arms is a fine pub at East End between Beaulieu and Lymington. The Master Builder's at Buckler's Hard has a lovely riverside setting and a choice of pub or restaurant, and Terravina is worth a look across the Forest at Ashhurst. For a seaside venue, head for The Jetty in Christchurch, with a fabulous position overlooking the water plus some superb food.