AS we arrived via the sweeping gravel drive my first impressions of The Pig at Brockenhurst are of an idyllic period hunting lodge set in manicured mature grounds.

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But step inside and the beautifully warm and welcoming hotel is anything but formal – epitomising shabby chic with its distressed floorboards, mismatched antique furniture and crackling open fires.

Staff are dressed in a uniform of Converse trainers and jeans, and the laid-back vibe continues as we’re shown through to the vibrant conservatory dining room featuring an array of terracotta potted plants and herbs.

I’m immediately struck by just how busy the restaurant is; outside the rain is pouring but all around me conversations are animated as families, couples, businesses people and retirees fill virtually every available table.

The menu changes daily according to what is in season and available from the spectacular walled kitchen garden that has been a central feature of The Pig since its launch eight years ago.

Poole Bay black bream with garden chard and califlower

The very best of seasonal dishes are championed here with virtually everything on the menu sourced within a 25-mile radius, ranging from the Poole Bay fish and Beaulieu venison to wild salads and berries from the New Forest.

To celebrate the progression of autumn into winter The Pig has launched a ‘down tools’ set lunch menu featuring daily harvested fruits, leaves, and berries.

Available Monday to Friday lunchtime until the end of November, both the £22.50 two-course option and the £26.50 three-course choice are complimented by a couple of Piggy Bits – the restaurant’s pre-lunch signature nibbles of saddleback crackling served with apple sauce and crispy kale.

Delicious homemade bread, which is still warm, is next to arrive accompanied by rich butter, homemade garlic salt and olive oil.

Turning to the menu  it is clear that The Pig lives up to its name with plenty of piggy options on the menu. However, there are also some interesting choices for vegetarians – Cauliflower soup with nasturtium oil is a starter option and the garden parsley risotto served with oyster mushrooms and old Winchester Cheese also sounded delicious!

Side dishes includes tobacco onions and creamy savoy cabbage

I choose the ham hock terrine as a starter which was served with a light and fresh garden pickle salad. It was delicious with the freshly baked bread.

My husband chose the grilled Poole Bay mackerel served with an incredible orange beetroot and fennel salad which he described as one of the best he’d ever tasted.

Eager to try out the fresh local fish – I opted for the Poole Bay black bream for a main which was wonderfully fresh and light. It was accompanied by garden chard and cauliflower was delicious.

Having noticed the enormous tomahawk pork chops being served to a neighbouring table, my husband made up his mind fairly easily and certainly not disappointed by the moist and succulent dish.

Many ingredients are sourced from The Pig’s kitchen garden

Side dishes are £3.95 each, and on the recommendation of our server we choose deep fried tobacco onions (so called because their colour and appearance resembles dried tobacco), which were amazing and incredibly moreish, and creamy savoy cabbage.

Pudding options were again quintessentially English – with apple and blackberry crumble served with Birds Custard.

However, after two sizable courses I choose lightly poached conference pears with Dorset yogurt and ginger snaps, and my husband was bowled over by the sweet and tangy lemon posset with candied pumpkin seeds.

Dining at The Pig was a relaxed and utterly enjoyable experience – the dishes were fresh and delicious, the staff welcoming and knowledgeable and the whole vibe was very laid back.

For more information see www.thepighotel.com.

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