It’s always a joy to return to a relaxed-luxury hotel, and, if asked, the gal might well say The Pig on the Beach in Studland, Dorset, is exactly what is required. Year-round this place is packed but during summer it is a magnet for all ages. You can see the sea from the alluring but deliberately untended main garden, and to get to the beach is a mere ten minutes’ walk. Once there, on South Beach, there are free-to-borrow (from Joe’s Café, thank you Joe) folding deck chairs, and plastic buckets and spades. Make elaborate sandcastles while mum in her crocheted straw hat watches the tide come and go, looks out at the English Channel and thanks her lucky stars that she is not back home in Knightsbridge right now.
At their temporary home, namely the 23-room hotel, kids run like puppies around the lawns and gardens, a natural adventure playground. They play hide and seek amid the cover of dense foliage, they stare at the pigs in their fenced off fields, and they eat and drink magnificently. More and more of The Pigs, as a brand, are leading the way in sustainable eating. Much of the produce is grown right here, in the Walled Garden lovingly tended by a team led by corporate gardener Olly Hutson, son of the CEO of The Pigs, Robin Hutson – whose wife Judy is interior designer, with the knack of, say, creating maximum and flexible seating for groupings in what is essentially an intimate bar, and also making what could be called a compact bedroom perfectly agreeable for two adults (see a video below, which shows such quirky items as the satirical Enid Blyton’s Five Go Gluten Free, the Roberts Radio, and lavender goat’s milk soap from Cyril’s Soap Shed).
In summer, an outside bistro offers day-long casual eating. This is needed to cope with the 200-plus hungry people who are likely to turn up for lunch, at any hour. Long 20-seat wooden tables, equally long benches either side, accommodate many, but there are wood tables and chairs scattered all around. The main restaurant, however, is partly inside and partly in the adjacent conservatory. All restaurant tables are simple wood, some looking like former sleepers from rail tracks. China and cutlery are all one-offs, bought wherever at sales, and, whatever the tabletop, a finishing touch is the flowerpot filled with living herbs, carefully labelled, that adorns each table. And people come here, again and again, for the food. That night, I started with a coupe of Hambledon English sparkling, very agreeable and unsweet, and nibbles were The Pigs’ renowned Piggy Bits, including vodka-smoked BBQ pork belly.
The entire menu, a green A4 card, is ’25 miles’ – its reverse shows provenance, and how far items have travelled. I started with shaved garden courgette with crispy fava beans and polytunnel pepper dressing, went on to a truly magnificent Middle White tomahawk pork chop with garden greens and mustard cream sauce (this went superbly with The Pig Hut’s Michel Chapoutier red, a Grenache/Syrah – glasses are available in 3 sizes). It is not only lunches and dinners that are so memorable at this realistic-luxury hotel, by the way. At all The Pigs, the breakfast is essential. There are displays of add-ons for cereals, which include several granolas, all home-made: boil your own eggs, outstanding croissants of which Pierre Hermé would be proud, with full-cream butter that even Bordier could not better. Oh what food… SEE ROOM 12, AND THEN THE WALLED GARDEN