Review: The Pig at Combe
PUBLISHED: 17:29 22 August 2016 | UPDATED: 09:50 23 August 2016
all rights reserved
An amazing kitchen garden lies at the heart of the newly-opened PIG at Combe restaurant with rooms, writes Owen Jones
In the garden of the Elizabethan mansion that is now home to THE PIG at Combe stands a pair of ornate antique stone urns - from which are proudly growing the crinkly dark green leaves of cavolo nero.
The sight of this tasty cabbage, planted where a flowering shrub might be expected, raises a smile – and is entirely in keeping with the philosophy of this newly-opened restaurant-with-rooms where menus are driven by produce from the kitchen garden and convention is turned on its head. Formerly the renowned and much-loved Combe House Hotel, the new PIG at Combe opened after an extravagant launch party in July. It’s the latest addition to a small and select litter of PIGs around the Westcountry.
Approaching the impressive manor house along the mile-long drive from the picture postcard East Devon village of Gittisham, through fields where Arab horses graze, little seems to have changed since Ruth and Ken Hunt closed their hotel and left for a new life in Australia last year. But step inside and returning guests will immediately see how PIG founder Robin Hutson and his wife Judy have transformed the interiors - and the vibe - with extraordinary care and perfectly chosen pieces of art, furniture and tableware.
The atmosphere is relaxed yet vibrant - and there’s a sense of fun that runs through the entire project. Take the cocktail menu. It features creations that cleverly nod to the history of the manor - like Odo’s Tapestry, a vodka cocktail inspired by Bishop Odo, who lived at Combe from 1086 and was William the Conqueror’s half-brother. Enjoy one on an oversized sofa by the open fire in the stylish bar that fills the main hall.
In the dining room, with long views across the East Devon countryside, there’s a fun and informal feel. Instead of cut flowers on the bare wooden tables there are terracotta plant pots in which mint, thyme, rosemary or even a beetroot are growing. None of the cutlery, crockery or wine glasses seems to match, creating a glorious mash-up of styles.
It all works beautifully and it’s clear this is no happy accident but a precisely curated collection. The hotel director Fiona Moores – known to many from her previous role running the Magdalen Chapter in Exeter – tells me Robin and Judy chose every piece personally and can remember where all of it was found.
The happy feel of the PIG is reflected in the staff – there are about 100 including some who used to work at Combe House and others who have come from other PIG establishments. They all seem delighted to be there and dedicated to making sure guests are being looked after.
Of course calling the PIG a restaurant with rooms puts the emphasis firmly on the food and right at the heart of this business is the impressive kitchen garden where guests are free to wander and admire (with envy) the dozen varieties of mint, immaculate rows of lettuce, cages of summer fruits and terraces of fresh herbs.
The day’s menu is driven by what kitchen gardener Alex Coutts harvests that morning, in consultation with head chef Daniel Gavriilidis.
Under the ‘Literally picked this morning’ section on the menu when we stayed was chilled garden pea soup, a perpetual spinach tart, cylindra beetroot and broad beans. Gooseberries and borage flowers featured in the delicious desserts. THE PIG is also committed to sourcing some 80% of fresh ingredients within a 25 mile radius, which is good news for local suppliers including Pipers Farm and Exmouth Mussels.
And be in no doubt, the luxury rooms that come with this restaurant are also delightful. There are 17 in the main house and another 10 which have been created around a courtyard near the kitchen garden. We stayed in one of these – the rustic wood-panelled Hayloft – which boasted a big comfy bed, a gigantic copper bath and huge shower. Reclaimed industrial-style lights and Bakelite switches all added to the unique designer feel. Beneath us was a room converted from a stable, with the horse box partitions cleverly retained to create separate areas for bath, bed and seating.
So if you like the idea of sleeping in a luxury hayloft, sipping cocktails on a swing seat at sunset and eating at a restaurant where vegetables are treated like royalty, follow your snout to THE PIG at Combe. thepighotel.com/at-combe
THE PIG at Combe is a member of the Devon Hotels & Restaurants Association devonhotels.com
From the menu
The Brexit - details to come
Perpetual spinach tert with Devon Blue cheese and rocket
Seared hake with sweet peppers, confit tomatoes and nasturtiums
Chase gin jelly with cucumber sorbet and borage