GUESTS are invited to swine, dine and relax at Sedgefield’s newest – not to mention quirkiest – venue, The Impeccable Pig. Sarah Millington does just that

The Northern Echo:

I HAVE a burning question that, thankfully, Marc Hardy is able to answer: who exactly is The Impeccable Pig? The interior designer behind the Sedgefield bar/restaurant with ten bespoke bedrooms informs me that while he doesn’t have a name, he’s a local gentleman from around the time of Queen Victoria’s coronation. So that settles it, then – a toff with trotters.

You may be wondering why such a venue needs an identity at all, let alone that of a pig, but, according to Marc, it’s part of a growing trend. He formerly worked with owners Ramside Estates on the Newcastle bar Colonel Porter’s (named after the creator of Newcastle Brown Ale) and used a similar conceit. As well as providing a talking point, he says, it helps reinforce the brand.

“The name The Impeccable Pig came from John (Adamson, the managing director of Ramside Estates),” says Marc, who works for Sunderland-based Space I.D. “Our branding and marketing girl, Michelle Pegg, created a narrative around it, including the different names of the rooms. Rather than just have numbers, we thought we’d be a bit more playful. It’s making the venue memorable and social media is very much at the forefront. Brand awareness and identity are quite important, so we’ve done this a few times for clients.”

You can just imagine the fun the team – including John White, from architects Padgett White – had coming up with the names. Rooms at the former Hope Inn include the timber-panelled The Whole Hog; Oinkers, which comes complete with trumpet wall lights and floor-to-ceiling maps; and Globe Trotter, whose bed is adorned with Moroccan brick walls and deep blue tiles. Three Little Pigs pays homage to the classic fairytale with hints of bricks, sticks and straw and for those who want to go the whole hog (puns are hard to resist), there’s The Pigsty, with its seven-foot bed, freestanding copper and tin bath, and ornate panelled headboard. If you’re feeling antisocial – and with a room like that, who’d want to leave? – you can even hire your own private chef to rustle up a barbecue in the garden.

I stayed in the French-themed room, Le Cochon D’or (which, as I know from A-level French, means ‘The Gold Pig’) and my first reaction was – genuinely – “wow”. This is excess taken to the extreme, with a giant gold bath, shiny gold tiles, artfully-draped animal skins and foliage (magnolia, to be precise – elsewhere, there’s wisteria) hanging from the ceiling. It might sound like overkill, but it works – and that’s because Marc, who says it’s one of his favourite rooms, has fully committed to it.

“I’ve never done a canopy like that over the bed before,” he admits. “An assault on the senses is pretty much what we were doing. If you’re going to be spending that kind of money to escape into a little village out of nowhere, go for it. Make it a fantasy weekend. Make it something memorable.”

Having to create an individual scheme for each of the ten bedrooms – as opposed to the “one design fits all” model he normally works to – was something of a challenge. “John was wanting to make it a magical experience, to create this escapist theme,” says Marc. “What we wanted to do was have every room looking different, but to tie in with the name of the room. The subtleties with things like the texture relate to the theme, but we didn’t want to make it too much like Disney. We had hand-carved doors made in Bali and we trawled the internet and went to antiques fairs across the country to try and find antiques which suited each one of the themes.”

Marc likens the design process to making a car – he starts with the chassis and ends with the bodywork. “At the very beginning of the project, you never really know what the final colour scheme or the finishes will be – that comes at the very end,” he says. “We started with the chassis. One of the key things John wanted to do was create a village pub feel to the front part of the pub, so people could stop in for a craft ale, and a bit more of a bistro/restaurant feel to the rear. The next thing we work on is the engine – making sure the kitchen is in the right place and that the menu is correct. Then, as you’re discovering parts of the building, the design develops from there. That’s the bodywork aspect.”

With chef Chris Finnigan – whose CV includes Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir – at the helm, the food should be outstanding, and it is. The bistro-style menu features hors d’oeuvres like duck liver parfait and seared beef carpaccio, main courses like slow roast belly pork and chicken forestiere and desserts like apple tart tatin and crème brulee. I could’ve eaten everything but went for smoked salmon followed by pan roasted fillet of cod, then, after declining dessert, ate most of my husband’s chocolate delice – an impossibly rich confection of hazelnut praline, chocolate and salted caramel, served with hazelnut ice cream.

The only fly in the ointment (or perhaps the soup) was the service, which was – well, a bit chaotic. Suffice to say, we dined with friends who’d booked a taxi for 10.40pm and, having sat down at eight, were only just settling the bill as it pulled up outside. I’m not sure why this was the case – there have been reports of teething problems – but it seemed a shame when everything else really was Impeccable.

Marc says the design challenge was one of the hardest he’s faced, but also one of the most enjoyable. “From concept through to completion, it probably took two to three years and onsite it was all consuming for everybody,” he says. “It was practically a full-time project trying to keep on top of all the various finishes, but also making it practical. There was a lot to deliver in a short period of time and a lot of creativity was required. It was a fun job – even if it was stressful, it was fun.”