The Pig - New Forest
Robin Hutson’s new venture sees vintage furnishings, reclaimed antiques and a kitchen garden aesthetic combine to create a new breed of country house hotel.
Robin Hutson seems to be able to sense the direction in which the public’s tastes are heading with the same intuition as a pig hunting for truffles. His career has been well documented in these pages but is worth repeating. The Hotel du Vin group, which he inaugurated in 1994, grew from a single property in Winchester to a six strong group of hotels across the UK, enjoying critical and commercial success with its combination of provincial French bistro cuisine and unfussy yet stylish interiors. During this period he also helped Soho House founder Nick Jones to redefine the country house hotel experience as Non Executive Chairman of Babington House, a role which evolved into full time executive chairmanship of Soho House Group after Hotel du Vin was sold to Malmaison’s owners MWB. Having steered Soho House through a period of rapid expansion prior to its acquisition by Richard Caring, he stepped down in 2008, re-emerging as Chairman of a new hotel group Lime Wood, whose eponymous New Forest property aimed to redefine the luxury country house hotel experience. But it is his latest project, The Pig, a conversion of the former Whitley Ridge hotel located just down the road from Lime Wood, that may have the greatest impact on the UK’s rural hotel scene. Where Lime Wood has quickly established itself amongst the A-list of British five-star hotels, Hutson’s aim with The Pig is to reinvent the mass market, three-to-four-star tier of country house hotels. In other words, those swathes of mediocre, swagged-and-tailed fusty manor house hotels that dot the English landscape.
Described as “the antithesis of the traditional, tweedy country house hotel,” the heart and soul of The Pig’s offer is its walled kitchen garden, overseen by kitchen gardener Mike Kleyn, whose CV includes stints at Babington House and the River Café, and a PHD in pharmacology. “The Pig is really a restaurant with rooms,” says Hutson. “The focus is very much on the cuisine – fabulous, uncomplicated and simple British garden food, true to the micro seasons and influenced by the forest, with the emphasis squarely on fresh, clean flavours.” The menu has been inspired by the seasonal, organic cuisine of chefs such as Skye Gyngell at Petersham Nurseries and Alice Waters at Chez Panisse. Head chef James Golding (formerly of Le Caprice, J Sheekey, and Soho House New York), has based his ever-changing menus on the finest and freshest seasonal ingredients, brought straight from garden, farm, sea or forest to the plate. Vegetables and fruits are grown in the hotel grounds. Mushrooms and herbs are sourced by forager Garry Everleigh in the New Forest and surrounding countryside. Seafood and meat come from local suppliers, located wherever possible within 25 miles of the hotel.
The design of the hotel reflects this home-grown ethos. The main dining room is a vine-clad Victorian greenhouse designed by the award-winning Marston & Langinger. Inside, bare wood table tops, mismatched bone-handled cutlery, indoor plantpots, seed trays and watering cans, combine to create an authentic environment. The colourful mosaic of mismatched Belgian floor tiles was inspired by Soho House’s High Road House & Brasserie in Chiswick. A hotch potch of different dining chairs for the restaurant was collected from a variety of antique and bric-a-brac shops.
The design team has been headed by Robin Hutson’s wife Judy, who created interiors for the first seven Hotel du Vin venues, as well as the couple’s French hotel, Hotel Crillon le Brave in Provence. The building itself dates back to the 17th century and while the façade is that of a traditional hunting lodge, the interior offers an eclectic mix of furnishings and styles. Judy Hutson has been inspired by the kitchen garden, livestock and forest to create an interior that she calls ‘rustic chic.’ “I didn’t want it to appear over-designed, but rather somewhere that developed organically over time,” she explains.
Existing comfy sofas and armchairs from the Whitley Ridge hotel were reupholstered for the drawing room, library, and bar, where they sit alongside apothecary style glassware, recycled or distressed antiques and painted pine pieces. Fabrics are predominantly in natural, faded colours, with calming shades of green defining the palette. Reclaimed wooden flooring, much of it from old railway carriages, and vintage lighting was sourced via Belgian company Atmosphere et Bois. Emily Bond fabrics are adorned with farmyard animals in reference to the pigs and chickens outside, whilst traditional florals have been supplied by established British fabric houses such as Osborne & Little and Colefax and Fowler. Furnishings include great beds, Aston Matthews bathrooms fittings, oversized showers, and, with every room having a forest or garden outlook, naturally beautifully views.
There are 16 bedrooms in the main house, and ten newly created rooms in the former stableyards, all boasting timber framing, original features, stable partitions and troughs. Individually named, these range from The Piggery, a hideaway suite on two levels offering fantastic views over the surrounding countryside, to the family friendly Pig Sty, comprising a double bedroom, lounge and bunk room.
The relaxed style carries on in the communal areas where stuffed boars’ heads overlook the dark green bar and an enormous pike is mounted above the fireplace. The sitting room is characterised by raw brickwork and trompe l’oeil aged plaster walls, with the library enhanced by quirky wallpaper and a book selection that includes everything from tomes on New Forest wildlife through to practical accounting.
The hotel grounds encompass gravel paths leading to the walled kitchen garden, a wild flower meadow orchard, chicken coops and a paddock with its own pigs. Beyond the garden pond is ‘The Potting Shed’ – a garden shed, transformed into a single spa treatment room where guests can enjoy massage treatments by therapists dispatched from Lime Wood’s award winning Herb House Spa.
But it’s the food that really sets The Pig apart. At breakfast, the rough hewn wooden surfaces of the restaurant groan under the weight of home-made preserves, cereals and breads. The honeycomb is from a local beehive and pressed juices are served from 1930’s style metals jugs. At night time, the lights dim and candles flicker as diners settle down for an evening of what the hotel enticingly describes as “quaffing and troughing”.
The ‘piggy bits’ that top the bill on the menu offer such porcine delights as Saddleback scratchings, baby sausage rolls, and charcuterie cured in the hotel’s own smokehouse. For the remaining courses, local produce takes centre stage – brill from the Solent, Lyme bay scallops, New Forest venison and game, and meats from award winning butchers T Bartlett & Sons. Desserts include fruits harvested from nearby hedgerows, home made ice creams and hearty baked puddings – swine dining, indeed.
Words: Matt Turner Photography: Courtesy of Home Grown Hotels