Hotel Review: The Pig, Bath

The Pig is redefining the idea of a rural country hotel

Let us collectively banish the tired cliché of British country hotels as institutions where whispering is obligatory and the level of starch is palpable. The last fifteen years have seen a remarkable resurgence in the quality and quantity of British hotels. Pioneers like millionaire industrialist Jim Ratcliffe and Robin Hutson have given the industry a much-needed boost with their natural talent for delivering exactly what today’s discerning consumer wants –  relaxed luxury.

Of course, it is easy to understand why visitors to the UK might think that British rural hotels are bound to be dire – old habits die hard. Forty years ago, it was the case that if you were an antisocial psychopath, hated kids and could not cook, then you opened a hotel. Fawlty Towers for visitors to Britain in the 1970s was not a spoof TV comedy, on the contrary, it was a realistic and useful depiction of what they could expect. Thankfully, things have come a long way since the dark days of Mrs. Jones’ guesthouse in Rhyl.

The Pig near Bath is a classic case in point. Over 5 years ago, hotelier Robin Hutson opened the first Pig hotel in Hampshire, a renovated country house hotel where the emphasis was on food, glorious food. Complete with an extensive vegetable garden, cosy accommodation and gracious, engaging staff, The Pig won pundits far and wide for successfully re-inventing what an English country hotel stay meant. Since then, Hutson has opened more Pig venues across the country, The Pig near Bath being the third addition and the latest residing in Devon. The question is how does it compare to its older sibling?

Well, suffice to say, the hotel is a fitting testament to the Pig’s ethos of relaxed luxury: superb food, surroundings and accommodation without a hint of pretension. Set in 20 acres of countryside in the Somerset region of England, The Pig makes full use of its renovated Georgian house setting and the guest rooms are totally spot on. Tastefully decorated, comfortable and spacious, they put box rooms in London to shame, especially considering the reasonable prices on offer.

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However, there are subtle differences between this Pig and the original incarnation. The building, Hunstrete House, is a Grade-II listed country house dating from 1820 – a regal heritage which lends the hotel a more grandiose air than its cousin in Brockenhurst. I have stayed here several times since its opening, in a variety of different rooms, but I always feel like an extra in Upstairs, Downstairs, albeit the starchy formality of the 19th century is happily absent.

“They put box rooms in London to shame”

Nonetheless, the hotel’s public rooms are very grandiose and would serve as an ideal backdrop to any self-respecting period costume drama. A cosy library is well stocked with both children’s classics and more grown-up literature; there is also a lovely courtyard terrace perfect for sipping pre-lunch English fizz (which we did) and a stylish, inviting lounge bar. Moreover, those who are in desperate need of relaxation can enjoy various pampering massages in the Pig’s Potting Shed treatment room; the sound of birds tweeting only adds to the tranquility.

But look, the real reason you came here is to eat, and by avarice you will eat well. The Pig makes full use of its extensive garden produce, head chef Kamil Oseka’s cooking is all heart and soul, proudly exploiting local produce and ingredients to spectacular use; the dishes are as informal as their surroundings but every bit as delicious as you would expect.

They were all so damn delicious, so lip-smackingly good that we had to order a second helping!

On this occasion though we opted for lunch over dinner, which takes place in the hotel’s delightful conservatory restaurant. This is where you can enjoy three meals a day and I have to say I’ve never eaten anywhere like it. The Pig’s ‘dining room’ is a monument to The Good Life: multi patterned floor tiles, not perfectly aligned cutlery, mismatched glasses and herb pots filling every possible windowsill space.

Starters were actually the undisputed highlight of our lunch – the restaurant’s signature ‘Piggy Bits.’ Sautéed kale, venison and pork sausage rolls, crackling served with a moreish apple sauce and vodka-smoked spare ribs were all so damn delicious, so lip-smackingly good that we had to order a second helping. Well, it was rude not to, particularly as they were washed down with Hambledon, England’s premier fizz.

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Main courses came in close second: 35-day aged Ribeye was a textbook steak and without fault, perfectly cooked and seasoned. Pan-fried halibut was no less impressive, the fillet’s flesh firm, succulent and rounded-off with a rocket, kale and goats cheese salad, made from freshly picked salad vegetables. Indeed, the Pig boasts an expansive herb and vegetable garden on site – the very epitome of carbon footprint friendly food.

But despite its considerable charms, the Pig is not going to win any Michelin stars. It is far too unfussy, satisfying and delightfully hedonistic for that. However, it wins ten stars for its commitment to sustainability and good service, from the clear happiness and good treatment of the staff to the unwillingness to use produce from further afield. In fact, if the UK’s hotel industry needs a poster-child for their cause, in an era when consumers favour relaxed luxury over stuffiness, then they need look no further than the Pig near Bath!

The Pig near Bath

Hunstrete House

Pensford, Somerset BS39 4NS

0845 077 9494

thepighotel.com

Snug rooms (doubles) from £155 per night (weekdays)

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Happiest in the snow, Carlton is an ex-police officer and prison governor who has migrated to the world of adventure travel via motoring journalism. Carlton drives boats and pickups with more enthusiasm than skill, and is currently working on his first novel in addition to his prison memoirs.