I wasn’t only looking forward to my visit to The Pig on The Beach because of the beautiful views, the quirky comfort, the cosseting massages… and of course the food and the famed cocktails.
All of those of course, but also I was particularly looking forward to it because I’d organised an interview with Lora Strizic, the director of that eccentric establishment which styles itself as one of ‘rooms and kitchen garden’.
Strizic is a bubbling blonde from Croatia, just back from holiday, brimming with energy and enthusiasm, excited by new ideas. The Pig DNA has a bit more edge than the Hotel du Vin she tells me. The Hotel du Vin chain was co-founded by Robin Hutson, it was then sold to Malmaison and Hutson founded his own brand, The Pig.
The importance of the kitchen garden
Part of what gives The Pig its sense of real identity, what makes it eccentrically individual, is the way it centres itself around the concept of the kitchen garden – a concept which extends out to a menu largely sourced within a 25 mile radius, the pots of herbs and vegetables billowing over the restaurant, the plant-infused gin (see The Pig’s dirty martini for what they do with this), the wandering sheep… it links to the rural settings of the Pigs, and the lines of wellingtons by the doors.
The challenges of a 25 mile radius of suppliers
I ask about the difficulties of supplying a menu which The Pig is proud to source from a twenty-five mile radius. Initially, Strizic explains, it was very difficult. “Most of the best suppliers were too small and weren’t interested in our business. They didn’t want the hassle and they were worried about complicated invoicing systems and delivery demands. Some were a bit put off by James’ dreadlocks” she laughs (referring to food director, James Golding, originally head chef at the first Pig) “and the name, ‘The Pig’, which wasn’t well known then, didn’t help either”.
That was five years ago. All that’s changed now and The Pig on the Beach is well-established as Pig number four. Strizic says that suppliers know them now, and are more courageous and sophisticated about managing their fledgling businesses these days. They’re impressed by the kitchen garden which has been designed and established by our head gardener, Jo Faulks, it proves The Pig’s commitment to locally grown food. “Now they come to us” comments Strizic, with pride.
“From about a year before we opened I’d head off on a weekly basis with James, source what we needed, and do a cook-off to try it out”. In the early stages she got a lot of help from Kat Bestie who introduced her into the local food movement and encouraged other suppliers to support The Pig. “She came down from London about fifteen years ago to set up her lambing business, and now she’s one of the UK’s top shepherdesses”. Another supplier is pioneering British charcutier, Lee Morton.
The brand works the rural, natural values of The Pig in all kinds of ways. There are the suppliers, but also the buildings and locations are carefully chosen, and the interiors designed with flawless attention to detail. Having done the same (scouring auction rooms for original Victorian watercolours for a hotel we owned in Switzerland) I know just how long all that takes to get right. “We look for properties of about 30 rooms, less gives insufficient buzz and more is too busy, too corporate” Lora tells me, the idea is to create a kind of cool home from home, and yes, there’s another in the planning stage in Devon.
“But I’ll be staying here – this keeps me very busy and it’s a truly beautiful place”.
For the Saucy Dressings’ post on The Pig’s incredible dirty martini, follow this link.
For other interviews with experts on Saucy Dressings, follow this link.