Connoisseurs looking for the best English wine labels, in England, should head to THE PIG in the South Downs, newest family member in this growing stable, or rather ‘luxury farmyard’ of somewhat-crazy always-unique places to stay.
As always at a PIG hotel, the wine list is a densely-packed A3 sheet, back and front. At this PIG, there is an extensive really-local South Downs section of whites, with ten sparkling and six still wines, but pride of place goes to an Essex Chardonnay, from the Bunker family’s Danbury Ridge Octagon Block (2018 vintage, listed at £125, A$237). Wine enthusiasts preferring to stick to a Pinot Noir, by contrast, have a more select choice of three labels, including another Octagon Block, same year, same price.
Opened September 2021, THE PIG in the South Downs is already a hit with new-look luxury-addicts. It’s under an hour from London, south down the A29, before Brighton, then, clearly signposted, eight kilometres west through rolling rural countryside. The two-floor 1770s manor house, which has five bedrooms, is now more house+outhouses, which have become 25 other ‘rooms’. Some choose double-size shepherds’ huts in the double-size (= two acre) Walled Garden. I love Gracie’s Shed, the one-time one-pony stable for the family pet, now a luxury-lifestyle bedroom, completely – floor, walls and ceiling – lined, like the adjacent bathroom, with recycled wood. Look out, across the front lawn with centuries-old cedars, to the hotel’s own vineyard, a planting of over 4,500 vines, mostly Gamay. Apparently the first productive vintage will be 2023.
Drink, and eat, in the brand-signifier giant conservatory attached to the main house. Your well-scrubbed old-wood table bears a living strawberry plant, and yummy herb-infused olive oil, plus local butter. The chef, Kamil Oseka, one of few non-Brits making this PIG so memorable, is immediately keen to show off his pickling room, fruits of a passion learned from his grandmother back in Warsaw: he takes you through the kitchen and wants to talk for ages about how he started pickling here in early Summer 2021. We were later brought some pickled one-bites with the ‘Piggy Bits’ (crackling strips with tiny dollops of applesauce), ordered to go with cocktails. We sat in the Drawing Room, a lounge with William Morris-look wallpaper matching sofas’ upholstery.
Main meals here feature the brand’s standard ‘25-mile’ menu, and, only a few kilometres from the English Channel, the South Downs area is home to lots of four-legged animals. I started with a beetroot symphony from the garden here, and went on to an old-English faggot – just as my own grandmother made. The lamb and pork, according to the map on the menu, came from Madehurst, under eight kilometres away. The restaurant was full.
Londoners are packing out this PIG, its rooms and – boosted by locals who seem to regard the food here as their daily fare – its restaurant.
No stay at a PIG is complete without its signature breakfast. The all-you-can eat Table buffet, complemented by boil-your-own-eggs, has big ceramic bowls with at least a dozen in-season fruits, biotic yoghurts and vegan offerings, home-made breads and a variety of beverages. I was introduced to a therapeutic Live Apple Cider Vinegar flavoured with garlic, ginger, horseradish and turmeric, which must do wonders for the gut. From the pay-extra cooked offering, poached eggs with smashed peas – replacing standard avocado – showed I will try anything, once. I was, anyway, immersed in studying fascinating titles of a global collection of cookbooks, displayed, along with jars of pickles, in the restaurant. Yes, Mr Pickle is also a bibliophile.