One of my absolute favourite things about Bristol is that one minute, you can be in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the city centre; the next (well, maybe the next after fifteen minutes) you can be staring over rolling hills and blue skies as far as the eye can see. And it’s exactly on that border between cityscape and countryside that I found myself a couple of weeks ago to explore the newly renovated Backwell House.
Summer has been a bit of a long time coming in Bristol this year, so we were all pleasantly surprised that it was a balmy Thursday evening when we walked up the gravel driveway to the house and were greeted with a refreshing glass of Pimms to enjoy as we took in the view from the front lawn. Set back and up from the road, the hotel couldn’t have a better location – it took me just twenty minutes from my work door to the bus stop right outside the hotel, yet as soon as you’re on the front lawn, you wouldn’t know that civilisation was anywhere within reach.
Before dinner we got to have a nosy around the hotel in in all its glory. Once an empty 19th century manor house, it has now been turned into a beautiful small yet perfectly-formed hotel, full of unique features. Guy Williams, general manager and man behind the incredible renovation work showed us around, pointing out his favourite parts of the process. Everything in the hotel has been individually created, often upcycled from original parts of the house – I was pretty obsessed with the bar, which had been made using warped boards from the old kitchen floor into an impressive piece of interior design.
The rooms were my favourite part of the tour. Each one has a different name and feel to it – whether you fancy a light and airy double room with a breathtaking view (Grace) or relaxing in a roll-top bath overlooking the walled garden (I absolutely fell in love with Toogood’s bathroom situation), there’s something for you.
Once we’d worked up a hunger exploring the grounds, we headed into the dining room to see what delights chef Ross Hutson had for us. With an impressive CV including names such as Josh Eggleton, I was excited to see how he would develop his own menu, and I certainly wasn’t disappointed. After some lovely bread and whipped butter (how have I never had whipped butter before? It’s my new favourite thing), we were ready to chow down on our starter.
We’d chosen our meals beforehand to allow for how many of us there were, and my first choice was the pressed Backwell pork, served with new season peas, pancetta & tarragon emulsion. As soon as I read it on the menu, I had my heart set on some beautifully crispy crackling, and I certainly wasn’t disappointed. The whole dish was full of flavour and texture – you could taste the freshness of the local produce in every mouthful.
Then it was onto the main. When I’d made my choices, I knew that it was going to be warm, so I plumped for the fish dish rather than my usual meat selection to keep things a bit more fresh. I had a lovely fillet of Cornish cod, which was matched perfectly with the salty crab bisque and a crispy crab bonbon. I was especially impressed with kohlrabi and pak choi accompanying greens – it was fab to have some more unusual vegetable options and they were cooked perfectly.
As our dessert was served we were lucky enough to get a visit from Ross, who talked to us about how he wants to create a menu that shows off seasonal and local foods without being too showy and in-your-face. Which was demonstrated perfectly by the plate of gorgeousness that was sat in front of me as he spoke. A take on Eton Mess, there were perfectly-formed strawberry cannelloni, shards and swirls of meringue, Cheddar Valley strawberries laid out on the plate, all drizzled in a strawberry sauce. If possible, it tasted even better than it looked – I’ll be dreaming about those cannelloni for weeks!
Backwell House is already nailing it – location, unique features and attention to detail in everything from the rooms to the food really puts it on Bristol’s hotel scene. But what was really exciting for me was hearing about their upcoming plans. From Guy to Ross to Felicity, everyone involved in this house’s new lease of life is full of enthusiasm and ideas for its future. I heard tell of cinema nights, spa days and even more delicious menus arriving soon to the venue, which makes me think that Backwell will be well and truly back on the map.