Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Piggy, piggy, piggy

My self given brief for the Boy's birthday was less than three hours from London, not a city, luxurious, relaxing, countryside, outstanding food and a bar that we could lounge in if it rained.  After a bit of research and the promise of borrowing car (although actually we could have super easily got the train!) The Pig was what I settled on after spotting it on Mr and Mrs Smith.  I booked us in for Easter Monday night in the best room they had, the Hen House and also for dinner at eight in the restaurant.  It should be noted that I booked rather a long time in advance - this is prudent, they are getting booked up super quickly for weekends especially.

We arrived after my superb navigating skills, outside a beautiful but not ostentatious country house.  It was (naturally being a Bank Holiday) tipping it down.  A wisteria-clad country pile complete with an old oak tree in the front drive, a walled garden out back, some pigs, a tennis court, a spa shed and a swing that you can sit and look romantic on.  Perfection.

Oriental carpets, vintage wooden croquet mallets and oil paintings from yesteryear, backdropped by Farrow & Ball-toned walls, provide our first taste of the decor. We grabbed our keys and were shown out through the hotel to our room which is part of a courtyard near the vegetable garden. The Hen House is stunning.  Its crowning glory being the mammoth bathroom with claw-footed bath, tv at the end of the bath (LOVE) and a walk in double headed shower where we could have comfortably thrown a party. Walls are adorned with mirrors and antique horticultural pressings from Société Botanique de France. Riffing on the rustic and retro theme is the natural sisal carpeting, a Roberts radio, an old-fashioned rotary phone and a collection of National Trust guides and other pastel-covered theme-appropriate books on topics such as pig and hen keeping.  We are truly happy and I make a mental note to have at least three baths over the next 18 hours due to being bath deprived at home.

As the weather is so hideous, we return to the main house and  bounce between bar and fireplaced velvet-sofa’d sitting rooms. Cocktails are elegant concoctions of homebrewed this and herb-infused that, and whipped up in a most glamorous apothecary that doubles as a library.  We also couldn't resist ordering some 'piggy bits' which included miniature cheddar and shredded pork pancakes and saddleback crackling with apple sauce. I could have quite happily gone on ordering these until dinner but was reminded that we had a splendid menu to tackle in a couple of hours and also we had to squeeze in bath number 1.

After bathing and watching a fascinating Who Do You Think You Are With JK Rowling, we arrive at our table in the celebrated country-kitchen restaurant.  Earlier in the day we were presented with the ‘25-mile menu’, which we savoured excitedly, but having read on the website that the menu can change by the minute, we were also in a mild panic by the time we actually got to dinner.

The real-time system goes something like this: Garry the forager forages, Mike the gardener gardens, and James the chef chefs. And they work in cahoots so that we, the eaters, can eat. Like pigs. Local-and-seasonal creations could not come more inspired. I kicked off with an incredible smoked trout and gravadlax concoction with beetroot cream followed by seared wood pigeon with wild mushrooms, bacon and other bits of yummy-ness I cant even remember.  Here is the menu so you can get an idea for yourselves.  We finished off with a chocolate and salted caramel tart and an assorted of local cheeses then waddled back to our room for a lie down then bath number two and some dvds borrowed from the library.

We had arranged for a late check in and after fitting in bath number 3 (is there anything better than starting the day with a bath? It feels so decadent!), decided to have a quick snuffle around the kitchen garden and the beautiful greenhouses.  We met Olly the gardener who chatted to us happily about different plants and herbs, which we even got to taste and then wandered down to say hello to the resident porkers in the field below.  The Boy was fired up enough to say that we start buying our own seeds etc and investing giant pots so we can grow our own herbs when we return to the old smoke. (It hasn't happened yet but we'll see.)

It was then our plan to drive back to London OR explore the local area.  We didn't.  Instead we gravitated back to The Pig’s graceful glasshouse dining room for more grub. Sunshine broke out through the bad-weather bleakness and in the glass-roofed restaurant, the rays brought out the cheeriness of the colourful floor tiles in the plant-filled dining room.  It is also worth pointing out that the dining room was FULL on a Tuesday at twenty past twelve.

More piggy bits got the party started. For me, a Fluffett’s Farm duck egg & homemade black pudding hash with crispy bacon, & H.P jus whilst the Boy had The Pig’s honey & mustard crispy pork salad with
homemade pickles & garden leaves.  Pudding would have sent us into a coma so we had some very delicious non alcoholic cocktails served in jam jars instead.

As we collect our bags to leave, we can't resist having one more swing on the swing.  As we sat there, we realised that we were feeling more relaxed and happy than we'd done in a long while.  "Thanks for a wonderful birthday" The Boy said, "Let's book in again for no reason very soon".  We certainly will be.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

A Girl Needs a Gown

Perhaps it is all the talk of the Diamond Jubilee, or maybe it's because I've always longed for a proper gown. Not just a grown-up dress you understand but a gown worthy of Cinderella, Scarlet O'Hara etc.  I seem to be noticing 'proper' dresses all over the place at the moment.  In this month's Vogue there is a whole feature on the gown, including a telling quote from Julia Restoin Roitfield,

"When I attended the Bal des Debutante at the Hotel de Crillon last year, I had the opportunity to wear a ballgown but instead I went for the controversial option, a leopard-print Versace dress with a huge slit up the side.  I regret that now.  It was very glamorous and sexy, but I passed up the chance to wear a stunning ballgown in the real, old-fashioned sense.  For my generation, that opportunity doesn't come around very often."

Clearly my longing is in tune with the zeitgeist as shortly the V&A celebrates the opening of the newly renovated Fashion Galleries (which I have been PINING for) with an exhibition of beautiful ballgowns, red carpet evening dresses and catwalk showstoppers.  Displayed over two floors, Ballgowns: British Glamour Since 1950 will feature more than sixty designs for social events such as private parties, royal balls, state occasions and opening nights.

State evening ensemble 'Elvis Dress' for Princess Diana by Catherine Walker, 1989

The exhibition will cover over sixty years of a strong British design tradition that continues to flourish. Evening wear from the V&A’s vast collection, by designers including Zandra Rhodes, Jonathan Saunders and Hussein Chalayan, will be on show alongside dresses fresh from the catwalk shows of Alexander McQueen, Giles Deacon, Erdem and Jenny Packham.
Beaded silk satin gown by Norman Hartnell, 1953

A selection of royal ballgowns will be on display, including a Norman Hartnell gown designed for Elizabeth the Queen Mother, Princess Diana’s ‘Elvis Dress’ designed by Catherine Walker and gowns worn by today’s young royals. Ballgowns: British Glamour Since 1950 will also include dresses worn by actresses and celebrities including Elizabeth Hurley, Bianca Jagger and Sandra Bullock, and a stunning metallic leather dress created especially for the exhibition by innovative designer Gareth Pugh.
Gown by Victor Edelstein, 1986. Worn and given by Lady Heseltine

Come on, if that isn't enough to entice you to get all dressed up, I don't know what is....I'm off to parade around my flat in an imaginary gown and leave you with a suitable gown/ princess clip from one of my all time favourite Disney films...