This Somerset restaurant with rooms is a rambler’s paradise and your next UK holiday, says Ash Hiden
THE WEEKEND: Dating back to 1690 and grade II listed, The Holcombe has had many guises throughout its colourful past. At one point known as the Ring o’ Roses, it started life as a dairy farm before becoming an Inn around the mid-19th century and has housed everything from a smithy to coroner’s inquests within its aged stone walls. A plaque adorning one of these commemorates the opening of an extension by Sir Bobby Charlton in 1980. Legend has it that the owners of the time had to give out many a free drink to placate the huge crowd after the World Cup hero ran late to an engagement.
The parish surrounding The Holcombe is a rambler’s paradise of trails, with 40 acres of woodland clothing the steep valley sides to the north and the slopes to Nettlebridge Valley in the south. The local attractions of Wookey Hole and Cheddar Gorge are within aa half hour’s drive.
THE STAY? The Holcombe’s current custodians, Alan & Caroline, describe their tenure of the building as “a restaurant with rooms” and the stay at The Holcombe is one of classic English countryside style. After being warmly welcomed by the genial and lively John, resplendent in head-to-toe red (who could get away with this dress in London?) I made my way up to the very spacious Super King sized room. Overlooking The Holcombe’s own kitchen garden and a dovecote that bustled with feathered friends each morning, it’s one of eleven spread between the main house and three lodges in the grounds – two of which are dog friendly.
THE KITCHEN GARDEN: The dining experience is where The Holcombe really comes into its own. Alan gave me a tour of the kitchen garden. He still has a bit of the London geezer about him; as he spoke I could imagine him flogging fruit and veg down an east end market back in the day. Everything is done the natural way; with the crops, plants, herbs and flowers maintained by the Royal Horticultural Society’s trained gardener Kirsty. “Everyone that stays is really interested in the garden”, said Alan. “I still get excited every time a tray of veg comes into the kitchen. It’s completely changed the way I cook.”
THE FOOD: Dishes are presented immaculately, with petals from edible flowers from the garden tastefully floated on a wonderfully intricate pheasant, duck, & cornichon terrine with apricot puree. All meats are locally sourced and fresh fish is off the boat that day. Lovely stuff.
After becoming friends, we all piled into the hunt leader’s Land Rover and were given a whistlestop tour of the area’s watering holes
The day’s catch was a perfectly pan fried grey mullet served with Cornish mussels in a crab shell bisque. Made with Pernod and garden fennel, the bisque’s subtle anise character combined well with the freshness of a bed of garden spinach. The sous vide then pan fried Wiltshire pheasant accompanied by burned pear lent a deep richness to when the red cabbage and a pan juice & Madeira reduction. Paired with this was a gorgeous Cairanne, known as the single nearest wine to Chateauneuf-du-Pape, made with the same grape blend and similar in its full-bodied palate.
AFTER THAT? Heading back to London, I stopped by the Oxford of the south-west: Bath. Spending the morning soaking up the glorious architecture, I stopped by the city’s smallest pub, The Coeur De Lion, before heading to The Architect for the best non home cooked Sunday Roast I think I’ve ever had. With so many gems in the South West that rarely get the attention they deserve outside the region, it’s understandable why some are choosing to leave our fair city for a more serene way of life.
TOP TIP: Make friends with the locals. After a walk through the country was cut short by the pelting rain and lack of appropriate attire, I took shelter at the bar of the Holcombe Farm Shop & Kitchen. I struck up conversation with a group at the bar. The warmth and friendliness of this eclectic bunch, with a local magazine editor and a hunt leader in the pack, made for a wonderful afternoon sampling local ales and ciders. It turned out that The Holcombe used to be the local haunt for some of them but the remodelling left them feeling disenfranchised. I guess you can’t please everyone. After becoming friends, we all piled into the hunt leader’s Land Rover and were given a whistlestop tour of the area’s other watering holes. An experience not to be forgotten.
NEED TO KNOW: Rooms at The Holcombe start from £180 per night; theholcombe.com
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