REVIEW: The Farmer’s Arms in Woolsery
PUBLISHED: 12:29 06 September 2019 | UPDATED: 12:29 06 September 2019
ANDY COOPER heads deep into the North Devon countryside…and finds a gastronomic gem awaiting him
There must be plenty of people who have cause to curse the effects of the dotcom bubble but I am imagining the majority of the villagers in Woolsery are not among them.
Why so, you ask? Well, as an indirect consequence of that fabled period when new tech seemed to be racing just a little too fast for its own good, with fortunes made and lost - one particular success story stands out.
And that success story was the development and subsequent sale of Bebo, the social networking site, by co-founders Michael and Xochi Birch.
This is a column intent on reviewing food, not history, and so I won't linger too long on the Birchs' story but suffice to say, thanks to Michael's family ties with Woolsery when he saw the village facilities on their uppers in 2015 he stepped in.
The Farmer's Arms, a Grade II listed, thatched roof local pub dating back to the mid 17th century, was derelict and closed when Michael bought it. Now, it is about as far from closed as it's possible to be…busy, distinct and a properly special place at which to dine.
As well as the investment of course, there has been the spectacularly sensible decision to install a chef of some renown in the kitchen. Ian Webber, formerly of Gidleigh Park and the Five Bells at Clyst Hydon, is executive chef at the Farmer's Arms and his elegant and compelling menu is the perfect accompaniment to the surroundings.
Options abound for dining at the Farmer's Arms, from bar stool to private room, but we took our seats in the fabulous dining room, having enjoyed a pre-dinner snifter in front of a compelling 3D picture of David Bowie on the wall which has to be seen to be believed.
For starter I opted for the mackerel, radish, turnip and Cornish pepper, which was a spectacular blend of flavours and textures…simple yet refined. Lady F across the table went for hand-dived scallops, raw peas, cured pork and seaweed, which kind of suggests it won't work when listed but boy, oh boy, did and then some.
For mains my John Dory, white asparagus, St George mushrooms and marigold had me reeling at the taste sensations, while across the table similar compliments were being garlanded on the Birch Farm black pork, gooseberry, pine and fermented cabbage.
Dessert often ends as a sharing experience for us both but we couldn't choose between bitter caramel and cider brandy tart or the intriguing sea buckthorn, pink peppercorn, tarragon and hibiscus and so we went for both and swapped plates…half of each made up a wonderful whole.
The story of the Farmer's Arms and its rejuvenation - indeed the Birchs' wider efforts in other areas of village life - is no ordinary story and this is an extraordinary pub to showcase their input. How lucky Woolsery is to have them.