PUBLISHED: 16:30 21 July 2011 | UPDATED: 19:44 20 February 2013
South Milton Sands
South Milton Sands
The gigantic arched Thurlestone Rock, sweeping coastline, the NT nature reserve and chilled sunset-watching from the sand dunes are just a few of the factors that make South Milton Sands my favourite beach.
Appealing to my sluggish side, the kids can scavenge for hours in the rock pools, swim, paddleboard or kayak in gentle sea, and the dogs can walk themselves without me having to move far from my patch of soft sand. So, selfishly, I was slightly apprehensive when the long-standing, rather eccentric greasy spoon was to be replaced by the new beachhouse caf. A naff outlet would mark the road to South Milton Sands commercial ruination. On the other hand, if it was really good it could attract hungry hoards to a place that is already popular but not over-populated.
In truth, there wasnt much chance of getting it wrong as beachhouse is run by Tamara Costin, Matthew Hall and chef Ally Wray whose aesthetic and culinary good taste is already behind the Whitehouse in Chillington and the Stokely Barton farm shop.
The trio began to establish the plot as a daytime caf last year. There was no fanfare, just good quality basics. But it has recently been artfully refurbished and achieved its ambition to open in the evenings. From 6pm, its the same staff, but after an hour-long transformation theres a different menu and a cool but eclectic ambience (which even includes Nora, the front-of-house Hungarian, disappearing around the back to change into more glamorous nocturnal attire).
The food Ally produces from behind the wooden crate counter that separates us from the galley kitchen is largely simple but superb seafood. With the ethos that food is a great communicator, she devises her menus with immediacy depending on whatever haul wings its way over from Beesands
Its small, gregarious, happy and chatty, with trips by torchlight to the nearby loos
and Salcombe each day. She also advocates sharing in a big way. Each table was a sea of hands delving happily into huge elevated platters of fruits de mer. Ours housed a roughly dressed crab, and king prawns in chilli and garlic; those at the table next to us were picking apart lobster grilled with lime and coriander butter. The carnivorous offering was a double fillet of beef, seared brown with rare pink insides, served in chunky slices on a rustic bread board.
These sharing dishes are around 35, which may not suit all budgets or those eating deux with differing tastebuds. But there was single bass fillet in sauce virge on the blackboard, a choice of anti-pasti, and moules frites is a beachhouse staple.
Id already started on a bowl of clams that were so large they were almost meaty with pancetta in a delicious broth of Olorosso Sherry, and scallops pan-fried within seconds in capers and sage, both at around 7.
To finish off it was a friendly fight of two spoons and Noras beachhouse Sundae crushed shortbread, vanilla ice cream, summer berries and toffee sauce.
The venue is not for the claustrophobic or couples who eat out formally in silence. Its small, gregarious, happy and chatty, with trips by torchlight to the nearby loos. But if you do like the sound of the beachhouse so far, heres the bit where you must take note: they are yet to obtain an alcohol licence so you must BYO (bring your own) and pay the 4.50 corkage on each bottle.
Zoning out on the sunset, wine and seafood, I conceded that my favourite beach had got even better.
Open day and night in August. Autumn and winter daily, 10am-4pm, and Fri &"Sat evenings until 9pm-ish.
Make a night of it Crossparks campsite is nearby, 01548 561885.
Booking 01548 561144, beachhousedevon.com. Party bookings for a minimum of 24. Taxi service available.