Being it was Hound #2’s birthday which coincided with a brief break in the otherwise dismal weather, with the sun shining & blue skies overhead and the snow beginning to melt, we toddled off to Hinton St. George to pay a visit to the Lord Poulett Arms Hotel & Pub. This came highly recommended by our Medbury mates Ruth & Simon so our anticipations were running high as we pulled into this picture perfect Somerset village.
It is always nice to see such a well preserved & authentic wee town that has a pub in the same vein. It is a bit disconcerting these days to come across so many cookie cutter pub chain imitations that when you stumble into the real deal it feels like home. The Lord Poulett Arms has character in spades with the desired modern amenities in fine form.
This is not the kind of pub where you should look for a £5 lunch or dinner meal – the exceptional quality of the food at the Lord Poulett Arms is well worth the prices asked. So good in fact, it has snared a number of accolades including National Dining Pub of the Year from the Good Pub Guide, Sunday Times rated it 9/10 for food & service and the Observer labeled it the “best Sunday lunch in the West Country”.
The lunch menu is kept simple (5 starters and 6 mains) which is what we like to see – rather they do a few things extremely well than many things mediocre (a prevalent curse of many eating places today). Started with the roasted butternut squash soup with sage butter and Wookey Hole Cheddar croutes (£5.50) – perfect for the winter’s day. For mains, Hound #2 opted for pheasant breast Kiev and mash with savoy cabbage and truffle sauce (£14.00) and Hound #3 (not as ravenous) selected the day’s special of a tender roast beef BAP with mustard, fries & a side salad (£8.50). Both were super, but wanted to pay special tribute to the roast beef BAP – the meat was very tender (have had a few grisly ones lately) on a house-made bun with some of the best fries in recent memory. All washed down with the help of some Otter Ale…we will be back with friends & family in tow.
The wee hamlet of Beer is an actual working fishing village where these rather tiny (in my humble opinion) fishing vessels head out in good and not so good conditions to ply the local Lyme Bay waters for fresh fish and crustaceans. And once caught, they are available for purchase at the Wet Fish Fish Shop which is just up from the beach and manned by one of the local fishermen who you will likely catch harvesting fresh crab meat or filleting fish.
Much of the catch stays local too as many of the Beer restaurants, cafes and pubs are well served by the Wet Fish shop. The blackboard offerings are updated daily as the day’s catch comes in and on the day we were there the counter held fresh Sea Bass, Lemon Sole, Flounder, Mackerel, Skate Wings and Scallops (brought in each Monday, Wednesday & Friday mornings). We enjoyed a fresh Lyme Bay crab sandwich at the Dolphin Hotel on our visit (it’s an easy & picture perfect 1/2 hour walk from our Seaton home). If you get motivated to make a trip to Beer the village has some worthwhile distractions that are quite a bit more interesting than usual tacky tourist shops you might often find in seaside towns. Woozies Deli is one of our favourite spots as it is in our top ranks so far for specialty food items. Was impressed to find J LeBlanc vinegar, Principato Di Lucedio Carnaroli risotto rice and the Jose Paez Lobato Sherry Vinegar, all of which (and more) we have struggled to find even in the Big Smoke of Exeter.
Our timing was perfect to coincide with Wednesday’s Scallop catch so a sizeable dozen sweet ones were procured and made into a tasty tea that night – pan seared the scallops & tossed with spaghetti noodles lightly coated in J LeBlanc toasted peanut oil & a sprinkling of fresh mint leaves & peas…this will be made again.
We happened upon the Bridge Inn in Topsham due to, and propelled by, the 2PM pub lunch rule and we were most pleasantly pleased. As the owners aptly describe it – “Not so much a pub, more a museum with beer”. It is the living definition of “higgledy piggledy” with narrow, twisting hallways leading to tiny, crooked doors that lead to rooms on a severe tilt (parts of the building date from the 16th century). The pub has been in the owner Caroline Cheffers-Heard’s family since 1897. Summertime will bode well too as there are plenty of outdoor seats with a view of the river Clyst.
The food is what you’d expect and want from a pub like this – simple, straightforward, fresh and tasty. We each had sandwiches – a home-cooked ham @ £4.70 and a smoked duck @ £5.65 (from local Mike’s Smokehouse) – that hit the exact right spot. Drinks, like the food, are ordered at the door to the back bar – casual as. Savoured a pint of Adnam’s Broadside which was aptly described as a “fusillade of mahogany colour and flavour”. The Bridge Inn was also given a tip of the hat by none other than the Guardian as one of the top 10 best budget eating places in Exeter and Topsham – we concur.
On our way to explore Exmouth we got sort of sidetracked into the town of Topsham and stumbled (you really cannot miss it!) upon Darts Farm.
Darts Farm started in the 1970’s as one of the small farm shops you would find dotted around East Devon, selling it’s local produce at the end of the farm gate. Well, it’s not small anymore. It is a giant retail complex of mostly food (though there is an Aga showroom, outdoors store, tile & paint shop, florist and a spa). Though big, it is still run by the 3 sons of founder Ronald Dart and claims to “continually endeavour to keep to the original values at the heart of the business…(Darts Farm) is the product of passion for farming and providing good quality, local produce to a community that cares about its cultural heritage.”
There is a cafe (which we might have gone to for lunch, but for the enormous queue) as well as what is regarded as or heralded as one of the best fish & chip joints in the country – the Fish Shed.
And you will find the Gerald David & Family Master Butchers in residence (Hound 2 is always drawn to the butchers… as would Hound 1 be if he had been allowed out of the car). These folks have won Devon Life’s Best Butcher Award 3 years running and it was not too hard to see why. We learned in a brief chat that the beef we were perusing was raised & slaughtered (they have their own abattoir) on the Dart farm.
Having gotten accustomed to the Seaton retail world, our one visit was kind of overwhelming – we will return.