Cool country houses: Homewood

A short drive through the mizzle brought Matt Bielby to one of Bath’s more bijoux country house hotels, where fantasy design mingles with good honest cooking to winning effect

Homewood Park used to be quite a dark, dreary place – albeit in a great location at the top of Freshford (surely one of Bath’s prettiest satellite villages) with great views across the valley – but no longer. Now part of Ian and Christa Taylor’s Kaleidoscope Collection, best known for central Bath hotels like No.15 Great Pulteney and The Bird, it’s been transformed. Out have gone some of the internal walls and half the name – now it’s just ‘Homewood’ – and in has come… well, just about everything.

Part Georgian, part Victorian and with roots going back to the 13th century, Homewood’s of manageable size – an intimate, homely maze of corridors
and stairways – but comes packed with almost intimidating levels of intriguing detail. There are 21 rooms, about 10 acres of grounds, and interior design quirks around every corner to make you smile.

If you’ve ever been to No.15 or The Bird, you’ll recognise the style: you get giant topiary animals in the grounds – a giraffe, a dachshund, a teddy bear – while outdoor hot-tubs shelter under cone-shaped roofs covered in greenery, like magical wells from a fairy tale. Inside, you stumble across unexpected collections everywhere. There are endless clocks in the reception area, dozens of pottery dogs in the lounge, a forest of flower paintings in the bar. Some bedrooms feature spectacular 1920s Art Deco bureaus, and lighting seemingly stolen from the best suites on the SS Normandie, steaming from Le Havre to New York so its occupants could catch a train to the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair.

Basically, you’ll be entertained by this place. It’s fun.

The large, airy dining room – with folding doors allowing you to shut sections off for a more intimate space – has its fair share of oddities too. There’s a wall covered in mismatched blue-and-white Willow pattern plates, for instance, and the pot plants are more like potted trees. Above us, nine or ten closely clustered chandeliers float like a vast shoal of crystallised jellyfish.

And food-wise, things are intriguing too. Executive head chef Jamie Forman, with a background at Michelin-starred country house hotels including Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, has been here six months or so and offers seasonal, no-nonsense British fare that’s big on flavour but has a few little quirks of its own.

The main menu’s short enough to fit on one side of paper, but only just: there are six starters, six puds, eight mains and a handful of sides, with enough vegan and vegetarian options to keep everyone happy. If you were wanting to keep it plant-based, you might start with the Jerusalem artichoke soup with spiced crisps or twice-baked cheese soufflé, but feeling rather more carnivorous, we ended up with the beef bresaola with crispy mozzarella and salsa verde (£9) and oven-baked scallops with old Winchester cheese and garlic butter (£12).

The air-dried beef came in almost translucent muddy red strips, arranged in frilly piles alongside golden balls of deep-fried mozzarella with crisp, breadcrumbed outers and mild, milky tasting insides, nice and stringy where the cheese had melted. Dollops of punchy, coarsely textured salsa verde punctuated the mouthfuls of meat and cheese nicely, although still I caught the dish’s owner jealously eyeing up my juicy, unctuous-looking scallops.

And well she might. These fellas – three of them, sitting in a scallop shell resting on a plate covered in flakey salt – were as good as they looked, beautifully cooked and supported by a bed of greens and cheese. Eating it was a bit of challenge, mind: cutting the shellfish tipped the shell so much that the delicious juice inevitably flowed onto the plate below, where – mixed with all that salt – it became a tad challenging. Not impossible to eat, then, but to get the most out of it was a bit like a Crystal Maze puzzle.

Onto the mains: at £29.50 the rib-eye steak is a bit of a price outlier, with most dishes coming in at £20 or under in the forms of pan-roast cod, Parma ham- wrapped chicken, grilled aubergine, roast sea bass, Creedy Carver duck, and our pair of highly autumnal choices. Opposite, the pumpkin gnocchi with roasted veg and goat’s cheese sauce (£17) – one of two veggie mains – was a pleasing pile of reds, yellows and oranges, rimmed with a base of green. For me, lamb rump arrived with fondant potato, hispi cabbage, beer onions and bacon (£19). We paired these – perhaps unnecessarily, as the regular portions are generous enough – with sides of rainbow carrots (£4.50) cooked with fennel seeds and honey, all rich reds and blacks, and seasonal mixed greens (£4) with garlic butter.

The tender lamb itself came in small, thick slices lined up above a rectangle of potato and pile of the cabbage and bacon, everything sitting in a green- brown lake of gravy and flanked by the onions; all very more-ish.

The golden fried gnocchi had browned crusts, and amongst the yellow pillows were tiny, sweet tomatoes. Underneath hid cubes of roasted root veggies, all coated in a light and creamy goat’s cheese sauce. Vibrant green herb oil pooled around the lot, adding more moisture but also a zip of extra colour to what was an already exciting-looking plate.

Puds weren’t necessary, but needs must: we swerved the local artisan cheese, lemon posset (something of a miracle, as I’m a slave to a lemon-based dessert), and such hardy perennials as chocolate fondant and sticky toffee pudding, in favour of warm homemade treacle tart with clotted cream (£8.50) and baked apple shortbread with Somerset cider brandy
caramel (a quid less). The tart didn’t make much of an impression – it could have afforded to have been, well, more treacly – but the shortbread affair, while looking nothing like we’d expected, proved to be a pleasantly light finish to the meal, with smooth green sorbet, crunchy shortbread and cubes of jelly alongside the caramel-coloured baked fruit.

All in all, then, this lunch was quite the success. Homewood is a fun location that’s not too far out of town, with views that work whether sunny or rainy. The front of house operation is solid and food imaginative and satisfying.

Homewood, Abbey Lane, Freshford, Bath BA2 7TB; 01225 956285