Sunday, 7 October 2012

[Out of Oxford] The Pig, Brockenhurst

The Pig's website has a whole page devoted to the coverage it has received from publications like the Times, GQ and Vogue. This Hampshire hotel and restaurant is clearly becoming a very popular and fashionable spot (with prices to match) and certainly doesn't need me to alert more people to its existence. But the meal I had there was so impressive that I feel bound to commemorate it.
The New Forest has its fair share of country house or would-be country house hotels. However, although The Pig broadly fits this description, the owners are clearly aiming for a low-key, shabby chic atmosphere. In the restaurant the cutlery and chairs are carefully mismatched, and the sloping glass roof and potted herbs make it feel like an elegant greenhouse (the hard surfaces and high concentration of tables mean it gets noisy at busy times; side plates would also be handy). 
The plants aren't just there for show: the restaurant's '25 Mile Menu' proclaims its almost exclusive use of local produce, from Dorset oysters and New Forest honey to vegetables from the attached kitchen garden (if you're staying here you can book a walk with the hotel's resident forager...). I'm aware that at this kind of establishment such an approach, for all its worthiness, is a luxury rather than a frugal necessity. Still, at The Pig they seem seriously committed to it, and it certainly makes for some detailed menu descriptions, including a 'literally picked this morning section'. I was going to note disapprovingly that there's very little for vegetarians when I saw they get a whole menu to themselves.
In any case the kitchen does such an excellent job with these ingredients that it's impossible to feel cynical. This was probably the best meal I've had in a long time: each dish a lovely, perfectly-judged union of flavours. Food this good can be quite hard to describe in an interesting and unpretentious way, but I'll do my best. Starters ranged from pressed wild rabbit (£7.50), of which the sweet, oily meatiness was complemented by subtly acid rhubarb chutney and a lightly pickled duck egg, to pigeon and garden beet salad (£7) garnished with tasty things like quails' eggs and nasturtium petals. Pork belly, served in a salad with shaved fennel and watercress (£7), was unbelievably tender and perfectly mingled sweetness and heat.
I nearly ordered a Bath Chap as a main course but lost my nerve when told exactly what it was, although the next table seemed to enjoy theirs. Instead, I went for the safer roast loin of venison with crab apple mash (£25), which was generous and succulent. The crab apple element wasn't especially prominent (I couldn't help admiring next door's nasturtium mash, which was an alarming green colour) but the unadvertised parsnip crisps on top made for a satisfying contrast of textures. Roasted partridge (£17.50) was similarly accomplished, although it didn't have a very strong gamey flavour. Is this because we're still early in the season? The accompanying sloe sauce had a nice depth, though.
The sheer delight evoked by the first course returned when the desserts (all £7) arrived. 'New Forest Gateaux' (sic) was a lovely, rich but light, combination of chocolate mousse and raspberries crowned with some bizarre but tasty ribbons of jelly, while 'The Pig's Hedgerow Jelly' was fruity and smooth, with intense-tasting blackberry sorbet. I thought my 'Garden Blueberry Tartlet' would prove an upmarket version of the fruit tarts you get in bakeries (custard inside, then fruit with that strange sticky glaze on top) but it was actually crumbly, flakey pastry filled with lightly-cooked berries and the decadent substance that is honey clotted cream. Whoever put it together clearly has an artistic bent:
It was an ample as well as rich meal but we felt pleasantly satiated rather than unpleasantly stuffed afterwards, a further sign of good judgement in the kitchen. The Pig has its pretensions but I can think of few places I'd rather go for a special treat.

Beaulieu Road
Hampshire SO42 7QL

01590 622354


Pig on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

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