The Pig at Bridge Place is not a pig in possession of a country house, but I would be for it. You cannot have enough pigs, or any edible fauna. It is, rather, a hotel inside a Jacobean mansion — or, rather, part of a Jacobean mansion, the rest burnt down, and is all the better for it — in a pleasingly unkempt part of Kent, just beyond Canterbury.
There are ten Pigs, dotted across the south coast as if in homage to Armada beacons. They are the successor to the Soho House brand, which is looking increasingly dusty, and in velvet. My main objection to Babington House is that it is for people with Peter Pan Syndrome: children who cannot grow up. They served fish-finger sandwiches and I think I saw a giant inflatable unicorn in the pool, but I have may have imagined it. And there were too many magazine journalists — the creature called Hackula — licking dated interior design while calling out to children called Jago. The Pig is more subtle and more adult, and the brickwork is finer.
Jacobean brick is rare and so, from a distance, driving across fields, you think the house is Victorian pastiche. Then you see, with wonder, that it is older. The brick is faded to a dusty pink and carved into pilasters; the house is five bays; the chimneys reach for the clouds. I will do a lot to stay in a hotel that is in Pevsner, and not over-renovated or inhabited by a madman who shoots at guests (the 7th Marquess of Bristol at Ickworth) because he is a cocaine addict and his father didn’t love him. The hotel guest in the once great house gets the best of aristocracy. Tatler hags may say otherwise but I know better.
The house smells of woodsmoke; woodsmoke breathed in by dead people. I find this intensely comforting. Before it was a Pig, Bridge Place was Britain’s largest rural nightclub — The Bridge Place Country Club — owned by another madman who was always in the papers for crimes against decadence. He hosted the Kinks and Led Zeppelin in a greasy subterranean cave. It reminds me that Aleister Crowley, the witch and ‘the wickedest man in Britain’, was always on the telephone to the News of the World. (Crowley did his own comms. Good man.) The Pig people tore it down to the bones, found the Jacobean parts behind the flocked wallpaper, and made this thrilling house that smells of woodsmoke.
The restaurant, capped up to Restaurant, is at the back. It is a large wooden room overlooking a small river and a vegetable garden. (The chickens are around the corner, near an actual pig, as in a child’s storybook.) Vast jars of pickled vegetables from the garden line the walls up to the ceilings; the room is bright with plants. The rain is excitable even for England — Kent was a garden — but we eat outside on a covered terrace watching the water fall.
The food is simple, divided into 25-mile menu; Garden, Greenhouse and Polytunnel; Starters (or bigger); and Garden of England, North Sea and Channel. We eat garden pea risotto with goats’ cheese, sticky chicken wings and great, garlic pizzas. It is fresh, unpretentious, but I yearn only for pub food because it is great pub food: sausage rolls with Colman’s mayo, and honey and mustard chipolatas, here called Piggy Bits.
This restaurant has the gift of all good restaurants: it is so complete in itself — so unique — you could be anywhere or anyone. Here I am Louis Mazzini in a garden: I love a weekend in the country with ghostly toffs — and pigs.
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The Pig at Bridge Place, Canterbury, CT4 5BH, tel: 01227 830 208.
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