Food & Drink,  Photography

Like pigs in muck

When I was young a walled garden had a magical appeal to me: I can’t put my finger on whether it was childhood stories which romanticised them, the fact that they were normally within the grounds of a castle or stately home, or simply the mystery of what was beyond the wall and the fantastic hide and seek opportunities they presented. 30 years on and the walled garden still has an enormous appeal to me, albeit for a different reason now. Nowadays I associate a walled garden with food, and not just any food, but the very freshest hand picked ingredients you can get.

The Ethicurean (just outside of Bristol) is one of my favourite places. Also known as ‘The Walled Garden’, this charming restaurant produces wonderful dishes inspired by the daily produce from their own magnificent garden. When a colleague recently mentioned The Pig in the same breath as the Ethicurean my ears pricked, and a quick visit to their website sealed the deal.

Situated between Pensford and Marksbury (about a 20 minute drive south of Bristol) this stunning country hotel and restaurant is down a secluded lane and would be very easy to miss if it weren’t for the wonders of Google Maps. There’s a grand entrance with a tantalising view of the house, well manicured lawn and flower beds, and as you drive to the car park you pass a variety of chickens happily pecking away in their generous pens.

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We entered the restaurant through the main lobby of the hotel, which gave us the opportunity to sneak a peak at the homely lounge and bar; no doubt this would be a wonderful stay for a special occasion.

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Going through to the restaurant we were greeted by a selection of areas; a homely feeling inside space, a light and airy conservatory, and the beautiful garden terrace. We were early for our table reservation and the sun was shining, so it seemed silly not to venture outside to explore. A discrete archway entices you into the walled section of the garden where you’re greeted by row upon row of tidy raised beds, all neatly labelled with their contents (I suspect this is more for the benefit of visitors than the gardening and chef teams, who are no doubt au fait with everything there).

As well as an array of poly tunnels, nets and greenhouses, we were delighted to find a two pig pens; home to two breeds of magnificent, inquisitive and amusingly vocal trootered beasts who loved a good scratch against a whatever tree or fence post was to hand.

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Having seen the larder from which our dinner was picked we headed back to the terrace to have a bit of liquid refreshment before the main event. There was an intriguing selection of house cocktails, but one really stood out; bacon-infused bourbon mixed with maple syrup, lemon, bitters and beer. What a combination! Long, chilled and full of flavour; it was the perfect summer drink. Steph had an equally refreshing ‘Peaches and Herb’ concoction, containing basil infused gin with peach, raspberry, lemon and soda. These exciting combinations really got our hopes up for dinner.

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Wanting to experience the full range of different atmospheres The Pig had to offer we opted to move inside to eat. The menu had a great selection of different sized dishes, from ‘Piggy bit’ nibbles, through starters and small plates to main courses. We started with a with some smoked ham & pickles, and croquets with beetroot. Everything was delicious, but particularly noteworthy was the croquet which were golden and crisp on the outside, and so smooth, creamy and cheesy on the inside.

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With a 35 day aged sirloin of beef as a main option, Steph had no problem in making her selection. My choice was a little trickier: There were all sorts of tempting options including pork lion and BBQ chicken (the donors of which we met only an hour beforehand). But I was keen to enjoy as much as I could fresh from the garden so I opted for two small plates; a spinach salad with strawberries, hazelnuts & feta cheese, and confit duck with a new potato salad.

Our food looked stunning and we were delighted to find it tasted as good as it looked. A perfectly cooked medium steak with triple-cooked chips and a rich Bearnaise sauce, and a fresh garden salad; a classic – what’s not to like?! My salads were every bit as good as I’d hoped; strawberry and hazelnut is a new combination on me and a real winner. Confit duck with new potatoes is a far more familiar pairing, but no less special or delicious when cooked well, which this certainly was. We couldn’t resist an intriguing side of tobacco-smoked crispy onions, which were packed with flavour and went really well with all our dishes. Having a salad’s normally the light option; I knew I was pushing my luck a bit having two but I lucked in and managed to achieve that delicate balance of feeling satisfied without being uncomfortably full. Just enough room for pudding then!

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Steph went for the egg custard tart served with poached rhubarb. I couldn’t resist the grown up twist on jelly and ice cream; Pimms jelly with cucumber and mint sorbet. Steph’s tart was rich and creamy and complemented perfectly by the rhubarb. My Pimms jelly tasted of summer and the sorbet was beautifully light and refreshing.

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So; a stunning venue tucked away in beautiful countryside only a 20 minute drive from both Bristol and Bath. Wonderful grounds home to a selection of idyllic dining areas whatever the weather. And food and service to rival most of the local Michelin star offerings. This really is a little gem and we’ll be going back soon!

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