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Restaurant Review: The Pig on the Beach

By

Gail Lacey

April 1, 2019

Cuisine

Uncomplicated local, seasonal

Location

Dorset, at the tip of the Isle of Purbeck

Ambience

5

out of 5

Service

5

out of 5

Taste

4

out of 5

We didn't so much arrive as we were hurled through the front door by Storm Freya as she rampaged her way across the foot of England. And as we landed windswept and chilled on the doormat, it was as if we had stepped through the doors of the Narnia wardrobe and arrived in another world. All was cosiness and comfort.

A wood burner glowed cheerily in the hearth. Family groups were enjoying tea and cake, mature couples were deep into newspapers and crossword puzzles, and young professionals down from the big smoke for the weekend chatted happily and snuggled up on squashy sofas. Truly a haven from the storm.

The decor at this, the only seaside hotel in the Pig group, is not quite Country House, more Granny's house. Fringed lampshades, vintage china, cast iron radiators, roll top baths and melamine light switches are all designed to take you back to the holidays of your childhood, just with buckets more comfort and spades more style.

The staff couldn't be more helpful or more charming. Low key, unfussy yet efficient they are earnestly eager to help you have a good time. No formal uniforms here, they are dressed mostly in jeans, setting the bar for the dress code which is entirely at your discretion.

Meals, like the hotel itself, are simple and uncomplicated. They are served in an orangery-style extension to the main house with scrubbed tables and a relaxed, bistro style atmosphere which makes this a popular haunt not only for those staying but for locals too. On a wet and blustery Sunday evening in March, the dining room was full to bursting.

The pride of The Pig on the Beach is the 25-mile menu. It's a cornucopia of Dorset goodness served up with foraged finds and home-grown vegetables of every shape and hue. At least 80% of the fresh ingredients are sourced locally or indeed from the hotel's own impressive kitchen garden.

Hand drawn menu showing the locality of the pub's ingredients.
The sea at dusk on a calm evening.

A map on the back of the menu details all the local delicacies served and where they come from. We enjoyed starters of sea-fresh Potted Jurassic Coast Mackerel with Forced Rhubarb and a board of soft and delicate morsels of smoked and cured 'Homegrown' meats made by a curing company just 14 miles away.

You would expect pork on the menu, and the Middle White Tomahawk Pork Chop is surely the king of pork chops. It is cut to include a strip of pork belly, so that the whole weapon-shaped hunk is almost the length of wrist to elbow. It's cooked gently and remains soft and yielding, served with Savoy Cabbage and a Mustard Cream Sauce. The salad we ordered as a side was entirely unnecessary.

This is just the place to bring a vegetarian or vegan friend. There are many such dishes to choose from, each in two sizes, so you can pick them as a starter or as a main course. Bromham Cauliflower Gnocchi caught my eye, but I was seduced by the Piddle Valley Chicken Breast with red wine, smoked bacon and mushrooms. It was unctuous and soft with a sweet, savoury and smoky jus that managed to be neither too rich nor too heavy.

Chicken in a rich red wine sauce with triple cooked chips.
A juicy looking tomahawk pork chop and triple cooked chips.

We both ordered Thrice Cooked Chips which were perhaps the only disappointment of the night - ok, but not as crisp on the outside and soft on the inside as they might have been. Puddings were big on flavour but not on size, which is just how I like them. Rhubarb and Ginger ice cream with a snappy pig-shaped gingernut was refreshing and delicious, and a Drowned Ice Cream with Mascarpone, Conker Cold Brew Coffee and Hazelnut Cake combined all these classic flavours in a dark and creamy bowl of contrasting temperatures and textures.

It was the next morning, after Freya had packed her bags and set off for distant shores, that we discovered the most spectacular part of this hotel's charm. Pulling back the curtains to our spacious room, the view took my breath away. Old Harry Rocks on the far right, the majestic sweep of Studland Bay, the twinkle of Bournemouth across the water, the beach huts stretching away to the left along the National Trust shoreline and as far as you can see - the sea. The sea.

You can sit in big wooden armchairs on the lawns and admire the beauty from a distance or you can walk or cycle for miles. Bicycles and wellies can be borrowed and maps are provided. For those who would like a little pampering, treatments are offered in two Shepherds Huts which have to-die-for views of the coast.

We were only there for one night, but the Pig on the Beach has a way of making you feel you've escaped the real world for much longer. We'll be back.

The Pig on The Beach, Manor House, Manor Road, Studland, Swanage, BH19 3AU

Phone: 01929 450288, visit: thepighotel.com

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