Sarah Merson; quaffing and scoffing at THE PIG-near Bath

September 4, 2014

Sarah Merson, The Bristol Magazine reviews the THE PIG-near Bath

"We arrived at The Pig, near Bath as diners were finishing off Sunday lunch; both the Victorian greenhouse restaurant and the terrace were hubbub with families,
old and young, while others relaxed over coffee in one of the super-comfy lounges with plush furnishings, ornate mirrors and quirky artwork. The vibe was casual and welcoming. We felt at home instantly.

A charming Georgian house (formally the Hunstrete House Hotel), The Pig, near Bath is surrounded by the rolling hills of the Mendips, and just like the rest of the litter – The Pig in the Forest, The Pig in the Wall and the very latest of them all, The Pig on the Beach – is fundamentally a restaurant with rooms. It doesn’t take long though to realise it’s a whole lot more than that.

Strolling down the garden path, you come to the impressive walled kitchen garden with neatly laid rows of abundant veg and herbs of every kind peppered with edible flowers such as marigolds, and then there are the greenhouses brimming with strawberries and a huge variety of chillies. The fruit cages meanwhile house a glut of raspberries, blackcurrants and gooseberries. Beyond the bounty of the English country garden are further surprises; a smoke house, wild flower meadow, orchard, chickens, and of course the resident pigs, complete with piglets. Guests are free to wander around as they please and there are several informal seating areas in the grounds where you can kick back, have a cup of coffee and read the papers.

And just on the other side of the garden was our room, a fabulous two-storey hideaway, aptly named The Hide (more on that later) complete with oh-so-comfy bed, wood-burning stove, and larder containing a range of locally sourced, artisan snacks and drinks as well as a Nespresso machine. Up the oak staircase was the chic bathroom with an elegant freestanding tub and huge monsoon shower.

Combined with a homely charm, The Hide felt luxurious and altogether indulgent. Without much time to sit back and enjoy the mellow sounds of Classic FM playing on the Roberts radio, I was off to The Potting Shed for my pre-booked full body massage. In one of two of the purpose built rustic huts, my therapist delivered just the deep tissue pummelling I was after. Using geranium massage oil from the Bamford product range, the unwinding effect went so far as sending me into that REM-like sleep state, a blissed out place I haven’t been to in the middle of the day for a very long time.

Perhaps the most memorable treat came a bit later though; when sinking into a deep-filled bubble bath, I glanced out of the window to see a herd of about 80-strong deer just feet away from me. Suddenly, the naming of The Hide became clear and I lay soaking and gazing at the beautiful, somewhat enigmatic creatures (a unique sight by any hotel standards) as they munched their way through the grasses, all the while presumably unaware of me in the tub.

That evening at dinner, the small home-grown wonders didn’t cease. Starting with the renowned Piggy Bits, we tucked into hock eggs, melba toast with bacon jam and garden radishes with mint creme fraiche. The hock eggs especially were altogether divine. Next we took our pick from the mouthwatering array of starters and small plates, among which we opted for home-smoked salmon with garden fennel and Somerset cider dressing, followed by a choice from the Literally Picked This Morning section; grilled courgettes with English feta salad both of which were utterly fresh and clean, and delicious. Our main courses of sirloin of beef and chicken breast were both sourced from the Mendips and the chicken came with romanesco cauliflower, fennel puree and a nasturtium dressing. After a brief pause, my husband’s sweet tooth was swooning over a very large portion of caramelised rice pudding with blackcurrant jam from Heavenly Hedgerows while I savoured the refreshing taste of the garden mint mouse, albeit with chocolate ice cream.

So fresh are the ingredients that we even spotted head chef, Kamil Oseka’s version of a sous chef, otherwise known by The Pig standards as the chief kitchen gardener, Ollie, picking and hand-delivering to the kitchen garden table – a chef’s room with a working table right by the garden door. Unsurprisingly, what’s on the menu changes, according to what he unearths, not so much daily as hourly. Of course they make it all seem like the perfect, effortless good life but the team behind The Pig clearly go to great lengths to keep on top of what’s planted, tended, picked (only when it’s at it’s very best) and crafted into a delicious plate. Not only this but everything on the menu comes from within 25-miles which means you know you’re always eating local.

And, it’s not only the food that’s handpicked but reputedly the staff are as well. They did all seem naturally personable, professional yet relaxed, and well… nice. We were served dinner by Caitlin who seemed to have impeccable timing and just the right amount of friendly banter. She later told us, that fresh from a hospitality course, this was her first job. I’ve no doubt that The Pig will like her just as much as she seemed to like working for them. 

And, when we got home, we were asked by my parents (the babysitters) what The Pig was like, and by the children, why exactly it was called The Pig? Both valid questions, I’d say. In reply we explained how perfectly relaxing it was, quintessentially English yet super-chic in style with ultra-fresh, clean although imaginative food from that wonderful kitchen garden. A real getaway, we both agreed. It’s called The Pig, of course, because of the round snouted animals that were inherited with the New Forest property that was to become the first restaurant with rooms in the litter. “It’s one of those names that just stuck,” Caitlin had explained to us. And, every bit typical of the beast, it’s namesake in the hospitality sector is certainly a great place to quaff and scoff before passing out into a deep, restorative sleep."