Driving through the picture-postcard village of Gittisham and up the long driveway, it’s hard not to fall in love with The Pig before you’ve even stepped foot in it.
The Pig brand is no ordinary hotel or restaurant chain. If you like modern, slick-styled, generic hotels, then this won’t be the place for you.
All the furnishings are unique, which is one of the qualities I love so much about the Pig – it’s stylish without trying too hard, mixing antique with a bit of grandeur.
If I could describe the type of house I’d like to live in one day, this is probably it, understated but functional and oozing style from every corner.
Some might say the Pig is trying too hard – but for me this couldn’t be further from the truth. Think hunting lodge, without the stuffiness.
No pig is the same – from the gorgeous water-side inn located in Studland, Dorset to the divine city pad in Southampton, each Pig has its own unique design and characteristics.
This is the latest Pig to open in July 2016, and boy does it have the wow factor as your arrive.
This grade 1 Elizabethan manor was previously known as the Combe House Hotel. Since being taken over this grand dame has had a complete make-over (or make-under!) and it has 27 rooms, a garden restaurant (more about that shortly), a walled kitchen and herb garden, a mini-spa and a quaint café for more informal meals.
The striking manor house appears on the horizon as you slowly wind your way up the mile-long drive way, with beautiful rolling Devon hills in front of the main house as well as gorgeous Arab horses grazing in the fields.
I was visiting for Sunday lunch on route to the Devon coast but this isn’t the first time I’ve been to a Pig and already had high expectations for this latest piggy.
After parking up, I walked in through the main entrance to be greeted by a fabulous bar which on this rather warm day was buzzing with people either stopping for a drink or passing through to the restaurant or rooms.
The bar is definitely at the heart of the hotel, and makes a nice change from baron and silent reception areas you often find in rural country hotels.
I was here for lunch and the dining room certainly didn’t disappoint.
Adorned in wood paneling throughout as well as a gorgeous rustic wood floors and miss-matched tables and chairs, plants grow up walls, adorn window sills and take up any available space left in the room. It almost feels like nature is taking over.
It’s a gardener’s paradise, with the light flooding in from the multitude of old-fashioned windows and greenery everywhere, it’s a combination of greenhouse-come-conservatory-come-vintage dining room.
And it’s the small things that catch your eye – the chandelier in the ceiling, the small plants on the window sill, the homemade oils and salt on the table alongside the non-matching crockery and glasses. Calling it shabby chic would be doing it a total disservice. This is far more beautiful than that.
We were seated at a table close to a window and it was wonderful to feel the breeze come in and the sun rays bounce off the glasses and cutlery.
It’s not only the setting that’s unique – but the menu is pretty special too.
Headed up by chef Dan Gavriilidis, The Pig offers a 25-mile menu, which consists of produce that’s in season that has been sourced from local farms and businesses no further than 25 miles from the hotel.
If that’s not enough, each Pig has its own dedicated kitchen and herb garden, packed full of vegetables and herbs that will send your senses into over-drive, which you can visit and wander around pre-or-post lunch.
As this little Piggy is so close to the Devon coast, fish features really heavily (as you’d expect) and the great thing is that because it’s local you’re going to be eating freshly caught fish.
If you’re after a lighter meal there are lots of salads and bits to pick at rather than going for a big main course – and naturally everything is fresh and hand-picked in the morning!
First to arrive at the table was a small basket stuffed full of home-made bread. The friendly waiter gave me the top tip to mix the home-made oil and salt in a little bowl and dip the bread in – and it tasted like heaven! I could have got a bit carried away with the beautiful doughy bread and oil had it not been for the delicious starter which appeared before me.
I opted for crispy courgettes which came in a delightfully fluffy and light batter, served with a refreshing dip.
After devouring these, I could have eaten a whole sheds-worth if they’d been offered to me. They were so tasty, crispy and completely moreish I had forgotten I had even ordered a main course.
As it was a Sunday, it was only really acceptable for me to order the Sunday roast.
The Yorkshire pudding on my plate was perhaps one of the biggest I’ve ever seen, and the veggies looked – and tasted – amazing. You can definitely tell the difference between shipped and freshly picked!
The roast potatoes were lovely and fluffy with a crispy outing and the local beef was rich in flavour and easy to cut. My only criticism is that I do prefer my meat to be sliced slightly thicker as I find it helps it retain more of the flavour, but this is just a personal preference.
I requested my beef well done, but you can of course have it medium/rare if requested.
The service in the restaurant was very good. The hotel has only been open for 1 month when I visited, and the inexperience of some of the staff showed at times (not replacing used cutlery, forgetting a drinks order) but this is all very minor and everyone we spoke to was incredibly friendly and helpful and clearly were very passionate about the food and knew what they were talking about.
What I loved more than anything about the restaurant was the emphasis on relaxed dining. This is not a formal dining room and the décor and food reflects this.
After lunch I took a stroll around the gardens, one of the Pig’s biggest jewels in their already large crown.
The front garden was packed with people enjoying a lunchtime drink under ornate vintage umbrellas surrounded by birds singing and plants decorating tables.
I found myself a sun chair and enjoyed my surroundings – this really is the perfect place to get away from it all.
After I managed to peel myself away from the sun chair I discovered the three kitchen gardens, which are nothing short of impressive.
It wasn’t hard to find – the rows and rows of herbs could be sensed a mile away and the beautiful walled garden left you feeling like you’d walked into Victorian England.
Courgettes, tomatoes, apples and other fruit and veg grows here and it’s all used within the restaurant, served depending on the season.
Little benches adorn the garden so you can sit down and enjoy your surroundings at a more sedate pace. It’s also where the Potting Sheds are located – the two spa rooms.
Leaving the kitchen garden you stumble across The Folly, a beautifully restored outbuilding which now offers an even more casual approach to dining – a place to informally meet friends and share a flatbread pizza or a drink, without the hassle of having to book a table.
The tables are just as rustic as the Folly itself, with chairs and tables made of tree stumps and beautiful ornate umbrellas to protect you from the sun.
The gorgeous trees provide plenty of shade and shelter, and I couldn’t think of anything better than spending 10 minutes on the swing, soaking up the relaxed atmosphere and staring out over the breathtaking Devon scenery.
It was almost like I was at a garden party with people chatting, drinking and eating while others slowly meandered around the lawns and children played on the swings.
After a few hours of doing what felt like completely nothing, the time had come to leave the Pig behind and sadly return to the real world.
I’m looking forward to a return visit; even just to spend another hour watching the world go by with a cocktail in my hand sitting on a bench in the kitchen garden.
If you’re a fan of locally sourced, excellent quality produce, then this really is the place for you.
To visit The Pig at Combe for lunch a booking is recommended, especially on the weekend.