Not quite the end of summer, and I needed one more holiday fling – a one-night stand to sate my desire for novelty and wine. Later, spreadeagled and facedown in my snowy-white feather-down pillow at The Pig near Bath, I knew I’d had exactly what I’d wished for.
Rather like the time you spent all night eyeing up the Italian barman only to end up being beautifully ravished by the waiter you’d dismissed as too wholesome, I didn’t at first think The Pig would be the scene of my concupiscence. There’s nothing naughty about The Pig at first sight – it is tasteful, hushed and carefully produced. The staff are all young, good looking and utterly well behaved: it’s like being in a house run by Kate Middleton’s cousins.
The country-house elements are all there, ticked off as if by a set designer for a period drama: gravel drive, Bath stone, oil paintings, countless lit fires, flagstone floors. There is a filmic quality, in that the ‘faux’ touches occasionally surprise: the panels of the billiard room turn out to be trompe-l’œil wallpaper; the walls of the private dining room stained by PG Tips not dramatically thrown goblets of mediaeval wine; the ‘distressed’ mantelpiece has had its corners worn down by sandpaper rather than years of being leaned on by distinguished sirs. At four o’clock in the afternoon the bar had the aroma of gin cocktails, with vintage coloured glasses jostling in the window, refracting the last of the sunshine. If only The Pig could stretch to hiring an actor to sit by the fire as Rowley Birkin QC, its work would be done.
In contrast to the light that floods the ground floor, the bedrooms are as seductively gloomy as you would hope – dark greys and browns in wood, felt and tweed cover the floor, bed and windows. Light switches and telephones are made of bakelite but the Nespresso machine is reassuringly modern, tucked away by the minibar (I speak as someone who recently packed and carried her Nespresso machine, plus frother, on holiday to Ireland). It’s the thoughtful details I like – the sliver of soap instead of a huge bar, the waffle dressing gowns instead of towelling.
But stylish and lovely though this all is, I’ve not yet shown you The Pigs raisons d’être. To see these, you have to step into the kitchen garden. As with every breed of this hotel chainette, the pride and joy is that the head chefs source every bit of the menu (apart, thankfully, from the wine) from within a 25-mile radius, and as much of it as possible comes from their own garden. It is cheering to see the gardeners at work, up ladders, driving quad bikes, skillfully pruning – sometimes all at once. There are paths that lead to nowhere, secluded benches beneath trees and a sunken pool now overgrown with pondweed. And even if you are a hard-bitten townie with carbon monoxide in your veins, you can’t help but enjoy watching the baby deer skip about the park next door. We stole blackberries off a nearby bush and fed the piglets, counted the black hens (46) and marvelled at the baby partridges. And as we admired their prances and snortling, we took no less joy from the fact that we immediately thought about supper. Which, in the country, is just as it should be. For all their special effects in the interior design, the kitchen at The Pig keeps it real.
Parked in front of a blazing fire, we summoned the sommelier, who was from further than 25 miles away, being one of the Middleton’s little-known French relations. He guided us carefully and thoughtfully through the many and varied options of their enormous wine list with vivid descriptions of vineyards, tannins and blackcurrant fruits; he was of course completely incomprehensible and when we asked him to point at something costing roughly £50, we chose that. It was delicious. Despite being a Tuesday night, the hotel was full – hip 30-somethings mainly, but a low beard count, which is a plus in my notepad – and the restaurant filled up even more, which meant that we weren’t able to sit down until 9pm. By this point we had read the menu approximately 48 times and changed our minds about what to eat 47 times. We sat in the ‘authentically reproduced Victorian greenhouse’, and tucked into at least one more course than is strictly recommended.
Consider the trimmings: foraged in the lake, cajoled in the experimental poly-tunnels, smoked to burnished amber in the smokehouse. And, finally, consider the pigs: the very finest local specimens star on the menu in the guise of sausages, crackling and formidable joints. There’s plenty of pig, naturally, but also tender lamb, perfectly pink sirloin, flakey plaice. We ordered sides until the waitress begged us to stop: crispy tobacco onion, fresh steamed greens, even whole salads with heritage tomatoes, nettle pesto and the creamiest goat cheese this side of Heidi’s alpine bothy. I was finished off by a glass of Uruguayan pudding wine (no, me neither, but it's dead good – this being a term of technical appreciation the sommelier taught me) with mint mousse and chocolate ice-cream.
As I said, later, face down on the mattress, I realised I’d had everything I’d asked for.