West Country tour

We had a gorgeous gastronomic tour of western England, a four day long feast of fine produce and wine that won’t soon be forgotten.

With the car fuelled up in London, we set out for Bath. While the Sat Nav bypassed our requested cultural stopover at the Roman Baths (we estimated ‘bossy boots’ was right only about half the time), it did direct us in good time to The Pig near Bath (@The_Pig_Hotel).

The Pig

The gorgeous Georgian country house in Somerset has 29 rooms, with a walled kitchen garden and perhaps the happiest hens in England. The interiors have been decorated with a real sense of humour (somewhere between Toad Hall and Longbourn), featuring taxidermy, colour coded Penguin books, rough-hewn floorboards and bedroom-positioned claw foot bathtubs.

Gracious General Manager Tom Ross sent us a bowl each of perfect strawberries and a half bottle of Nyetimber (@Nyetimber) sparkling on arrival, in the room overlooking the neighbouring herd of very Bambi-ish deer. A wonderful way to start the western adventure.

After an afternoon stroll through the impressive kitchen garden (five varieties of onion is pretty exhaustive by anyone’s estimation) and a relaxing dip in the bath, it was time to get down to the serious business of dinner. What produce isn’t picked from the kitchen garden is sourced from a 25 mile radius, so this is properly local fare.

The ‘Piggy Bits’ (with black pudding to make even the most squeamish into an offal-adorer) were followed by a splendid kitchen garden salad, smoked duck, an amazing chicken breast and Barnsley pork chop. The clever sommelier gently encouraged us to try a 1998 White Rioja with this cornucopia (we did need some convincing!), but it really was a tremendous match.

The next day, we set a course for Port Isaac, Cornwall and Nathan Outlaw’s Fish Kitchen (@Fish_Kitchen). The picturesque Cornish fishing village was in the grip of a temporary bustling peak hour, with fans of Doc Martin avidly watching filming as we arrived.

Fishkitchen

The Fish Kitchen is a tiny 15th century fisherman’s cottage, with duck-your-head, gnarled roof beams, an almost naval use of space (cutlery hidden under table tops, wine suspended from the wall, till tapes concealed under bench seats) and lobster pots stacked by the door, in a mis en scene to make any art director blush. Its galley kitchen sends out such fishy goodness that has been deservedly-awarded a Michelin star.

Our already greedy ordering was augmented when Chef @NathanOutlaw joined us, so that we tasted nearly every menu item! Beautifully accompanied by Levin Sauvignon Blanc, our lunch included some perfectly-grilled Porthilly oysters, some transcendent pickled herring, a smoked haddock scotch egg with a paprika mayonnaise, red wine braised cuttlefish with samphire, dangerously-more-ish smoked cod’s roe dip and cod wrapped in pancetta. We even went so far as to try the espresso ice cream sandwich and Cornish blue cheese. (Suffice to say, dinner was skipped that night!)

After a brisk constitutional along the sea cliff path, we continued on our way to The Nare Hotel, at Veryan-in-Roseland. The wildflower hedgerows lining the semi-blind lanes on the approach were equal parts alarming and gorgeous, but as the view opened up to Carne Beach at Toby Ashworth’s ‘country house by the sea’, it was all well worth the challenging drive.

thenare

Every whim or desire was anticipated by the charming staff and the traditional comforts of the suites, impressive gardens and expansive sea views all had us half-expecting Hercule Poirot would join us in the drawing room for Devonshire tea.

After our indulgent gourmandizing, the following day we set off for The Lost Gardens of Heligan (@HeliganGardens). A really unforgettable experience, our three hours of bucolic wandering was nowhere near enough.

Heligans

The moving remembrance poppies on the West Lawn, the Mud Lady sculpture, the primordial tree ferns and giant rhubarb on the Jungle walk, the Victorian productive gardens (espaliered apricot trees, pineapple pits, melon yard and heritage vegetables of hundreds of species) in the Northern Gardens. Fuzzy bumblebees, fat turkeys, foraging chickens and even an incongruous emu. The farm shop was amazing and we couldn’t help but go a bit mad on the Cornish produce!

From the traditional to the contemporary, we next travelled to the Eden Project in Boldeva, Cornwall. The two imposing Biomes – featuring Rainforest and Mediterranean environments – made us think of life on Mars. They were a fascinating part-natural history museum and part-pleasure grounds, with summer concert goers taking in the exhibitions, music, food and drink in equal measure.

One more night at The Nare in our gorgeous sea view suite and the silver service dining room, where we were served a wonderful Dover Sole and a Cornish rack of lamb, both expertly and classically prepared. For our return trip, we took the A303 past Stonehenge, getting in touch with our pagan origins, which was a fitting conclusion to our incredibly bacchanalian feasting tour of the West Country.