The Pig in the Wall


What good things spring to mind when you think of Southampton? The Titanic, up to a point. Some fine medieval buildings. And, perhaps, the Spitfire, which was first designed here. What doesn’t normally occur to most people is that a city synonymous with a certain post-war greyness and grimness could be home to one of the country’s most delightfully stylish and cosy pied-à-terres. But it is. All oink to The Pig – in the Wall, sister establishment to the much-loved The Pig hotel outside Brockenhurst that, between the two of them, have shaken up the dusty old clichés of what a country house hotel, and now B&B, should be.

The Empress of Blandings and I headed down one wet, miserable afternoon to a city that looked as if the sea was going to rise up and engulf it at any moment (some might argue that this was an improvement). Asking to go to The Pig – in the Wall led our taxi driver to tell us a long, and I suspect fraudulent, anecdote about how this was a technical term for a piece of jerry-building; perhaps it is in Southampton. Certainly, what hasn’t been jerry-built is the quite stunning place we found ourselves deposited at. Walking in, you find yourself in the perfect simulacrum of an English country house shabby-chic drawing room, with a substantial wooden dresser in pride of place, a roaring fire (albeit one more gently murmuring when we visited) and stylishly mismatched furniture and crockery. It has the feel of your eccentric great-aunt’s retreat, where visits are always a pleasure. It is sumptuous, but not in an overpowering way; instead, the temptation is to leave one’s shoes and cares behind, and relax.

This, though, might be a tad too informal even for somewhere as laid-back as The Pig – in the Wall, so you might be gently urged to head up and explore your room. The one we were staying in – in the ‘spacious’ category – was a wonderfully comfy and welcoming set of digs, with the kind of touches one would normally expect in a five-star hotel (roll top bath in the room, four-poster bed, fully stocked minibar at sensible rather than bank-breaking prices). But there’s quirky individuality here too: a patchwork of tiles on the floor offers aesthetic splendour, while the decision not to have a door on the loo (albeit hidden round the corner) allows, according to taste, either enhanced intimacy with one’s beloved or a few sharp intakes of breath and raised eyebrows.

There’s no restaurant on site, although the charming and more-than-capable staff can rustle you up a glass of wine and some ‘piggy bites’ on request, consisting of quite the best crackling and apple sauce we’ve ever had and delectable ‘Karma ham’, so called because it’s like Parma ham, but…oh, you get the picture. Instead, a popular option is to get a shuttle Land Rover for the 30-minute or so journey to the grown-up The Pig in the New Forest and have dinner there.

This is a popular option for sensible reasons, not the least being that the grown-up Pig offers porcine splendour to an extent that’s almost overwhelming in its sty-lishness. Offering the same levels of comfort and care as its sibling, albeit on a far grander scale, you’re ushered into a cosy lounge complete with fire – properly roaring this time – and allowed to peruse a well-chosen cocktail menu while indulging in more piggy bites, this time including miniature Scotch eggs (quite what our Muslim brethren would make of these establishments can only be imagined). A blue concoction, complete with popping candy, sent the Empress into paroxysms of giddy joy, and so I took careful notes on its contents, so as to surprise her into mirth when her subjects have been less forthcoming than usual.

After some light indulgence, we headed through to the main restaurant in a grand conservatory. If The Pig – in the Wall is your charmingly dotty great-aunt’s house, then The Pig itself feels more like your eccentric but absurdly wealthy uncle’s retreat from the tedium and cares of the world. (The actual owner, Robin Hutson, co-founded Hotel du Vin, and has been open about his desire to create a group of rural equivalents of his previous baby). He likes pig, as well; about half the menu, at a conservative estimate, has some sort of porcine association. This varies from the relatively normal (the Empress delighted in a lightly spicy squid and chorizo starter) to the absolutely barking. I ordered the intriguing-sounding ‘chap’ for a main course; it was a very good chap indeed, being a sort of enormous mega-pig’s cheek, and defeated me before I could finish it; unusually. A copious wine list offers plenty for the white and red-lover alike by the glass and bottle, and a delectable Portuguese number made us both delighted.

After our return to The Pig – in the Wall and a well-deserved snooze, the next day we came downstairs to find a proper smorgasbord of goodies in the breakfast buffet. Whether your tastes run to boiled eggs and toast or all manner of sweeter treats, there’s probably going to be something for you, while the dulcet sounds of Radio 2 wash over your happy troughing. (“We had ‘Girls Just Want To Have Fun’ playing the other day,” commented the manager. “Something not quite right about that at nine in the morning.”) Eventually, replete and surfeited, the Empress and I took a rather sad farewell and prepared, dolefully, to return to London.

“Did you enjoy yourselves?”

We looked at one another. Sometimes, questions that loaded need to be considered and answered carefully. The honest answer would be “We’ve come home. We’re never going to leave. Call in the bailiffs, the swineherds, whoever you want, but we’re not going anywhere.” However, professional duty interfered. A smile, tinged with just a touch of reluctance.

“Yes, we’ve had the loveliest time.” And then, with just a smidgen of regret, the repetition of those words: “The loveliest time.”

Chances are you will too.

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