The Pig hotel chain has reinvented the quintessential English country house hotel. The brainchild of Robin Hutson – who launched and sold the Hotel du Vin chain – and his wife Judy, an interior designer, they ooze charm and character. They have all the trappings of trad country house hotels – stately buildings, sonnet-inspiring grounds to stroll in and plush bedrooms with fluffy pillows – but all are delivered with an eclectic, modern edge. The term ‘shabby chic’ is bandied about all too often but this is the real deal. Needless to say, they attract a varied and well-heeled crowd.
We’re invited to The Pig at Combe – a sprawling Grade I-listed Elizabethan manor house near Honiton – to try their new Plot to Plate menu. This is a new, lunchtime set menu, making the most of the fresh produce grown in the kitchen gardens. Two courses are £22.50 and for three its £26.
As we peruse the menu, we’re served a piggy trio of warm sausage rolls with walnut mayo, crispy saddleback crackling with apple sauce and kale crisps. So far, so good.
The dining room is bright and airy with lots of lovely natural light streaming in through the windows. Lush leafy green plants are scattered around the misty green wood-panelled room, and there’s an assortment of different wooden tables and chairs.
For starter, I continue the piggy theme with a ‘pinch of salt’ coppa served with garden lettuce and sourdough croutons. The meat is cut into delectable slivers which are quickly gobbled, leaving a plate of spritely leaves and slightly over-salted croutons. I eat what I can but, in the end, the salad defeats me and I long for just a few more shavings of the salted cold cut. Across the table, my dining buddy opts for seared mackerel with purple sprouting broccoli and ‘Willy’s’ cider dressing – a yummy cider-mustard concoction. The fish is fabulously fresh – you can taste the saline on your lips – and pairs well with the sharpness of the dressing and the crunchy broccoli.
Hake with caper sauce and garden chard for my main course doesn’t disappoint. The buttery sauce envelopes the delicately flaky fillet and a smattering of pickled red onion offers a zingy counterpoint.
Teamed with a crisp glass of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc from South Devon master of wine Liam Steevenson’s Fincher & Co, it makes for a winning lunch. Across the table, a pork rib steak with red wine dressing and jersey royal potato salad is ordered. The meat is cooked beautifully but the dressing proves a little too subtle to add any real impact.
Dessert brings a Lyle’s syrup tart, which is homely and nicely stodgy, even in mid-summer, while I opt for an iced lemon balm terrine with toasted pumpkin seeds, which is pleasingly refreshing.
The ambience of The Pig at Combe is faultless and the staff friendly and attentive without being overbearing. It’s the ideal venue for a lazy lunch or a leisurely stay. If I’m honest, the food didn’t quite reach my high expectations, but that’s okay, the venue more than made up for it. Well worth a visit.
The Pig at Combe, Gittisham, Honiton, EX14 3AD