Patrick’s Pub Trawls
PUBLISHED: 09:00 07 December 2014
In his regular series of columns for Devon Life, PATRICK McCAIG of The Otter Brewery takes us on a trawl of some of his favourite pubs
The Lifton Hall Hotel, Lifton
The first signs of autumn weather appear as spots on the windscreen, a sure sign that I’m nearly in Cornwall. I have yet to reach the border as I drive that lovely road which saddles the north side of Dartmoor (A386) through Bridestowe and on to Lewdown. I chuckle with worrying volume as I pass the home of Jethro and his friend Denzill Penberthy. These kind of things remind me how lucky we are to live in Devon and feed my desire to find yet another gem of a hostelry in our county. The glint of an Ambrosia stainless steel silo reminds me of the old strapline “Devon knows how they make it so creamy” and I find myself repeating it over and over again testing my best Devon accent with various intonations. I chuckle more and realise that I’m happy in my work and looking forward to discovering a little more about one of the pubs that lie in the heart of Lifton, the last outpost before Cornwall.
Run by Richard and Robert, this is an establishment that turns out to be much more than the name might suggest. A clue to Lifton Hall’s charm could be found in the CVs of its proprietors. It is true to say that a ‘local’ establishment should cater for all sorts but the rub is that many landlords are unable to deal with such a challenge. These boys’ experience certainly flies the flag of hospitality. Their former lives have covered most quarters of the trade from large-scale contract catering to the running of a successful waterside establishment on Plymouth’s Barbican. Richard was, and still is, a qualified nurse and Robert drove a mobile library around Clapham and Wandsworth. What comes out of this experience is character and confidence, unique traits that run through the veins and around the bar and kitchens of Lifton Hall.
The entrance is as you’d expect from a “hall” but not ostentatious. Once inside, the bar is functional (be sure to duck in places) and suggests to me a place of fun stocked with a good choice of wines and local beers. Posters advertise their film nights with fish and chips rather than the more traditional ice creams. I’m imagining a different style of usherette here!
But what really caught my eye were their themed food nights. Typically these would have been Italian, French or Indian, but no, we’re at Lifton Hall, let’s go Icelandic, Fijian or Hungarian! Brilliant - original, confident and tasty. We hit the end of the Hungarian festival and were not disappointed. A smoothish Hungarian paté studded with pistachio nuts served with warm, doughy homemade bread and a sticky fig and date chutney on the side. For pudding we had Robert’s strudel with homemade chocolate and vanilla ice cream. The best bit was that all our food tasted genuinely Hungarian.
The everyday evening and lunchtime menus are more traditional but nonetheless, inventive and have clearly been put together with a great deal of imagination. I was positively surprised in every quarter at the Lifton Hall Hotel. In fact, we struggled to leave as we were so engaged with Richard and Robert’s anecdotes. If that was typical of chilled bar chat, I’d definitely sign up to be a local!