Anyone planning a Eurostar trip to UK from Paris, or Amsterdam, or Brussels, may want to consider a visit to a truly memorable country-house hotel as soon as possible. Get off the train at Ashford International, shortly after emerging in England, and your pre-ordered cab will, in 33 minutes, take you to a luxury hotel with a unique difference.
The Pig at Bridge Place, in the gorgeous buildings-free countryside near Canterbury, Kent, may be a new conversion of a classic 1635-vintage three-floor brick house, but now it is shabby-chic luxury, 28 rooms and ideal for the 2020’s.
The PIG brand now has seven hotels, all in southern England, and word-of-mouth and repeat business ensures almost 100% occupancy year-round, so do book ahead – ideally for one of the seven ‘hop-pickers huts’. I arrived, I was walked past its original door, now flanked by a pair of lifesize pig sculptures, and along a 50m boardwalk, raised about 30cm above newly-seeded grass, to a terrace, deep enough for Adirondack chairs, looking out over a stream and fields.
Number four, at the terrace end, has windows on three sides. Inside, I am in, frankly, a giant box, main space 6.5×6.5m, which in former times would have housed an entire hop-picking family. The interior, including the ceiling that rises to a slight point, is entirely formed of recycled wood planks. Wall protrusions hold a bathroom and a wood-burning stove, which later turns out, fortunately, to be easy-work. Thoughtfully, the logs here, in a Famille Perrin wine box, can be supplemented by logs stored under the terrace bench between huts three and four.
The double-king bed, with wood-posted head and foot panels, turns out to be incredibly comfy. During my stay I make full use of the Samsung-topped entertainment cupboard, which holds an espresso machine and tea kettle, plus a glass-fronted Tefcold fridge with, all free, English Sparkling Wine, The PIG oak-aged Old Fashioned and ceramic-stoppered water bottles (‘the water is free, but £10 will be added to your account if the bottles are missing’). Light switches, like the landline phone, are black Bakelite, and sockets are UK sockets. Frankly only having a total of two easy-see sockets is not good enough, and UK-only, plus USB ports. Oh yes, the room also has a free-standing old-look bathtub with golden faucets, and, over the fire alcove, a deer skull with gigantic antlers.
What is essential here? An organic treatment in the Potting Shed spa, local walks, admiring the hotel’s own mini farm – bees, hens, pigs and sheep – and its immaculately-planted produce garden, where the conservatory serves flatbread-type casual meals. And, as with all PIG hotels, the main restaurant, which ’25-mile radius’, is scrumptiously flavourful.
Eat inside, under lights once hanging in Battersea Power Station, or on the terrace, as I did, next to a galvanised iron tub of fledgling broad bean plants looking across the stream at another field. Up-cycled wood tables are set with car-boot china and bone-handled cutlery, and addictive rosemary-infused olive oil to go with slices of wholemeal bread brought as you check the menu.
Come to any Pigs for the wine list. I see PIG chairman, Robin Hutson, has been spending time blending, with his celeb-chef buddy Mark Hix. The result is Devon Minnow, matured in French oak for six months, available 75cl only. New since my last PIG, too, is a partnership with the Tuscany winery Tenuta Fortuna, here offering wines in 125ml or 250ml glasses, carafes, bottles or magnums.
Food arrives. I start with a small order of chargrilled purple-sprouting broccoli, confit fingerling potatoes and roasted-coconut salsa.
My main course is the juiciest and freshest pork chop imaginable, from Brogdale Farm, on a shallow puddle of wholegrain mustard sauce. It comes with a Tramcatino steak knife from Brazil. I have chosen a side of sweetest lengths of thyme-roasted parsnip.
There is no room for ‘pudding’, even spiced apple crumble with Bird’s custard, or a plate of three great Kentish cheeses. I need to keep space for the PIG table tomorrow morning, also known as a well-spaced buffet of the best-possible local ingredients. And then manager Jamie was there to carry my bag, and I was away.