It’s a rare weekend that Mr Smith and I are both at home in London. I tell him to drop everything, we’re heading to The Pig. It is understandable that Mr Smith looks confused: to say that we travel extensively, is an understatement. ‘Don’t you mean The Cow?’ he asks, referring to the Notting Hill pub and our local shellfish-showcasing kitchen-away-from-kitchen. ‘No. We’re spending Monday and Tuesday at a new country-house hotel in the New Forest,’ I tell him. ‘We’re going to Hampshire on a quest of newness,’ I declare. ‘Pack an overnight bag. Be hungry. And get Brockenhurst up on a map.’ Mr Smith, a director by trade, loves direction and being directed. Or at least that’s what I tell myself when I blindly bark out orders prepping him for our lastminute escape.
Approaching Lime Wood hotel’s little sister late at night feels a lot like arriving at a friend’s home for dinner and a sleepover. That said, it is a friend who is significantly financially better off than us, with a wisteria-clad country pile complete with an old oak tree in the front drive, a walled garden out back, some pigs, a tennis court, and a spa shed.
Oriental carpets, vintage wooden croquet mallets and oil paintings from yesteryear, backdropped by Farrow & Ball-toned walls, provide our first taste of the decor. Shelves in the sitting room are piled with books on animal husbandry and general DIY piggery (I make a note to pick up a copy of Highways & Byways of Hampshire to cure that niggling insomnia I’ve been experiencing). After a quick butcher’s of the look of the lounges, and a hello to reception, we make haste to the dining room. It’s the restaurant in particular that this blogging Cochonette is interested in.
Plotted up at a wooden table in the celebrated country-kitchen restaurant, we’re presented with the ‘25-mile menu’, which we savour excitedly, but having read on the website that the menu can change by the minute, we are also in a mild panic. The real-time system goes something like this: Garry the forager forages, Mike the gardener gardens, and James the chef chefs. And they work in cahoots so that we, the eaters, can eat. Like pigs. Local-and-seasonal creations could not come more inspired. Mr Smith kicks off our Dining Olympics with roast loin of New Forest venison served with roasted parsnips, curly kale and sloe sauce; I opt for the roast Beaulieu pheasant and late-season cepes with sprouts, chestnuts and wild mushroom sauce. Whizzing by in a whirlwind of homegrown flavours, soon enough our evening has us deliriously happy, fed and tucked up in bed.
Saddleback, in the former stable yard, is our cosy second-floor room where we wake the next morning overlooking the walled garden and a fledgling orchard planted with varieties such as apple winter gem, golden delicious, Worcester pearmain and spartan. Which inspires me to have a nifty label for the interior’s look: ‘scrumptiously spartan’. Walls are adorned with mirrors and antique horticultural pressings from Société Botanique de France. Riffing on the rustic and retro theme is the natural sisal carpeting, a Roberts radio, an old-fashioned rotary phone and a collection of National Trust guides and other pastel-covered theme-appropriate books on topics such as pig and hen keeping (‘More insomnia suppressants,’ suggests Mr Smith). A claw-footed bath sits on a warm wooden floor next to a wonderful sage-green shower.
Rain throws a spanner at attempts to race around exploring the New Forest and spitting grey skies puts paid to trekking out to Hurst Castle or a bounce around bucolic Beaulieu. So we return to The Pig rejected by the inclement weather, but not defeated; spirits are soon revived as we bounce between bar and fireplaced velvet-sofa’d sitting rooms. Cocktails are elegant concoctions of homebrewed this and herb-infused that, and whipped up in a most glamorous apothecary that doubles as a library.
Drinking at 4pm on a Monday conjures carefree memories of the night before. As we step out of what was built in the 17th century as a groomkeeper’s lodge, and crunch our gravelly way to our room around the corner from the pizza-oven-flaunting courtyard, we are hit with an incongruous samba soundblast. On the speakers is a Central American cover of U2 it would seem: ‘I steeeeeel have nothing found what I is lurking forrrrrr…’ croons the singer. As Mr Smith swings me to the Latin/Irish beats I wonder what Garry the forager might have been looking for that afternoon. After a quick snuffle around the kitchen garden, and a hello to the resident porkers in the field below, we gravitate back to The Pig’s graceful glasshouse dining room for more grub.
Supernaturally delicious garlic and garden-herb-butter-slathered wild ’shrooms on toast get the party started. Then it’s surf to share (Lyme Bay diver scallops with jerusalem artichoke purée, crones and golden beets) and turf to fight over (38-day matured, 16 oz T-bone steak from local Pennington Farm). A toffee russet-apple tartlet defeats us and we slope off to slumber as greedily as we pounced on dinner.
Sunshine blasts through the bad-weather bleakness for the morning of our departure. In the glass-roofed restaurant, the rays bring out the cheeriness of the colourful encaustic floor tiles in the plant-filled dining room. Local jams, honeys, cheeses, bread, and DIY boiled eggs make the farmhouse breakfast pretty enough to paint and leaves us with the best possible taste in our mouths. We collect our bags, and are nearly off, when Mr Smith spots an enormous wooden tree swing in the garden. A massive rainbow is visible above. As we take turns swooping back and forth and staring at the red-orange-yellow-green-blue-indigo-violet bow, I realise I have not felt quite so giddy-in-a-good-way in some time. Mr Smith looks at me and then at the sky and smirks, ‘Can you see what I can see,’ he asks, ‘or was it those wild mushrooms?’