Little PIG, little PIG, let me come in!
Twelve decadent bedrooms, a deeply inviting bar-stroke-deli and THE PIG’s unmatched country-house-meets-cool vibe make this dinkiest of PIGs (The PIGlet?) the perfect overnight hideout.
If heading to Southampton for a romantic midweek rendezvous isn’t on your bucket list then think again, because this bijou bolthole might just be the sweetest spot in town. Tucked into the mediaeval walls of Southampton’s ancient waterfront (who knew?), the gorgeous converted Georgian townhouse feels like a well-kept naughty secret.
With the 2011 launch of the very first PIG in Brockenhurst, group founder Robin Hutson and his wife Judy wrote the book on laidback country house cool (quite literally actually, you can buy it here) and this little piggy is no exception. The group now has an impressive six properties, with a further one slated for next year. Opened in 2012, THE PIG in the Wall is the second-oldest of the litter, but has easily stood the test of time (eight years can seem like fifty in hotel design terms), thanks to its gloriously laidback home-from-home vibe – seriously, it’s so relaxed you’ll never want to leave.
Expect a condensed version of everything we love about the bigger PIGs – vintage furniture, cosy corners, voluptuous indoor greenery – along with a cracking team of charismatic staff whose chatty, chirpy demeanour and up-to-the-minute local intel makes you feel like an immediate regular.
The twelve plush bedrooms are tip-top, with even the snug ones delivering over the odds on style and comfort. There’s no restaurant as such, but plenty for foodies to get stuck into at the deli counter (more of that later).
Bedrooms at the PIGs always hit the right note – plush, peaceful pads that are restfully gadget-free – and these are no exception. Soft grey wood panelling set the tone in our Spacious room, with a plump and generous four-poster taking centre-stage. Elsewhere you’ll find glorious king-size beds tucked into the eaves (Snug room) and perched beneath pretty fern prints (Comfy).
Classic PIG bathrooms are open-plan and impeccably slick – think metro tiles walls, Moroccan mosaic floors and vast walk-in showers. Our Spacious room had a free-standing roll-top bath, which I gleefully filled with post-supper bubbles. The group as a whole has high environmental standards and bath soaps are prettily wrapped in brown paper, although elsewhere (shower caps, disposable toothbrushes in cellophane wraps) there were still too many single-use plastics for my liking.
Minibars are full of treats – the handmade honeycomb is superlative – and are well stocked with all the boozy bits you might want. Accessories are thrillingly low-tech, with proper alarm clocks and a leather-clad Roberts radio that was switched to Classic FM at turndown. Heaven.
There’s only one communal space at the hotel but it’s brimming with character – expect roaring fireplaces, foot-worn floorboards, deep leather armchairs and a healthy smattering of upcycled chintz. There are stacks of books to leaf through and the walls are home to gilt-framed mirrors, a collection of vintage taxidermy and enough muted paint colours to keep Farrow and Ball in business for a decade. In short, this place screams ‘kick back and relax’, which is precisely what its eclectic selection of visitors do.
Given its city centre / waterfront location, the hotel attracts all sorts – cruise ship passengers (lots of enthusiastic Americans who wax lyrical over its ‘ancient’ vibes, apparently), visitors to the nearby Mayflower Theatre and those that want to enjoy the New Forest without full woodland immersion. There’s the odd business traveller (I honestly can’t think of a nicer way to spend company dosh) and then plenty of couples like us who just want to switch off and indulge for 24 hours.
The bar and deli are open to the public so there’s also a really friendly local vibe, with people dropping in for lunch, coffee or a pint. The hotel welcomes children, although I’m not sure there’d be much to amuse restless kids – it’s more the spot for off-duty grown-ups to loaf around with the papers or a cocktail.
SCOFF & QUAFF
The bar is glorious – a dreamy, overstocked cornucopia of English wines, quirky spirits and craft beers. There’s also a raft of homemade tipples – PIG bartenders use the herbs and plants from the bigger PIG’s kitchen garden to make botanical-infused spirits with rosemary, thyme, horseradish and cucumber – which look pretty and potion-like in their little glass bottles.
An overflowing deli counter is stocked with kitchen garden salads like roasted cauliflower with tahini and a cheerful rainbow slaw, along with homemade sausage rolls, olives, quiche and more. A short menu of classics – chorizo and chickpea stew, smoked haddock, sausage and mash – is served until 8pm, but for proper treat you’re better off booking the swishy Land Rover (free of charge) to whisk you twenty minutes through the New Forest to Brockenhurst, where dinner at the original PIG awaits. This is country house dining at its best – smart yet informal in an ultra-atmospheric palm-decked orangery, with pretty vintage china and a wine list to die for. We ate Piggy Bits and Garden Bits galore – Brock Eggs (cutesy local Scotch eggs with Colman’s dressing), tarragon-infused oyster mushroom vol-au-vents and house-smoked salmon – followed by slow-braised ox cheek with truffle mash (him) and grilled Solent mackerel with pickled celeriac (me).
All PIGs pride themselves on a fiercely locavore menu and it shows. The flavours and presentation are exemplary without being fussy or pretentious – just beautiful ingredients cooked to perfection. My husband ordered and loved an excellent bottle of chianti. I don’t drink (I know, I know – a Muddy girl who doesn’t like a tipple) but the non-alcoholic cocktail list is the best I’ve seen, with a green and grassy Aecorn spritz and the thrillingly-named Khaleesi, with ‘dragon’s blood’ and kombucha.
Back at base, breakfast was a piled-high, help-yourself affair, with homemade granola, stewed fruits, yoghurt and plenty of extras. We loved the super-retro boiled egg machine and excellent artisan coffees and I’m sure at the weekend there’d be a lot of Bloody Marys floating around.
OUT AND ABOUT
Southampton has maritime charm, with a smart harbour area and some good shopping. The newly minted Cultural Quarter centres on a £30m arts centre plus surrounding restaurants and bars. Its dramatic open-air square will see lots of diverse events this year. The real jewel in the crown down here is the New Forest, which is easily accessible by car from the hotel. Elsewhere you’ve got heaps for the kiddies – Peppa Pig World, anyone? – and of course this is the jumping-off point for the Isle of Wight. Choices, choices!
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: romantic escape, city mini-break, business travel or a simply a night away with a pal. Otherwise just pop in for a lazy lunch and let the delightful staff (we could have taken the lovely Tia home!) treat you like one of their own.
Not for: A full-on holiday – the hotel is dinky, so drifting from bed to bar might get a bit same-y after a few days.
The damage: All-in-all, good value. Mixed salad plates at THE PIG in the Wall cost £8.50. Starters and small plates at THE PIG in The Forest start at around £6, with enough variety that you might just stick to a selection of those. Expect to pay around £20 for a fish main course / £25 for meat, although this changes daily.
Rooms range from £140 for a midweek Snug to £195 for a weekend Spacious. Tea, coffee and water from the minibar are included. For a sweet £5,000, the whole hotel can be yours for 24 hours, with space for 24 guests and a whole host of extras thrown in.
The Pig in the Wall, 8 Western Esplanade, Southampton, SO14 2AZ.