Dining in or getting ready for post-Lockdown 2? Try our 4 top tips
PUBLISHED: 16:55 10 November 2020 | UPDATED: 09:51 11 November 2020
Our selection of the best Devon dining spots to sample
Okay, let’s look at some positives from the Covid pandemic. My lexicon has improved, thanks to endless games of Scrabble. The hall walls and skirting board won’t need painting again now until 2023 at the earliest. I know there is a hyphen in Jonathan Van-Tam’s surname. And those Zoom shares I bought in 2016 have proved a decent investment (joke).
Yes, that is a pretty pathetic list, isn’t it, I know. So, let me tell you a teeny-weeny but significant upside to the whole shebang...and that is, hospitality businesses are achieving great things they did not ever envisage doing before. Takeaways, pop-ups, venue changes, partnerships...you name it, in the effort to keep going a lot of our finest eateries are showing an innovative spirt which does them proud. And their ‘can do’ attitude is opening up opportunity for us punters too.
For example, renowned South West wedding and events venue Huntsham Court has launched a pop-up hotel and dining experience. The spectacular Mid Devon venue has not been available for individual room rental for the last 30 years. Now, in response to the Covid crisis, for just four months Huntsham Court can be booked on an individual room basis.
With large events currently not being allowed at Huntsham, the team there is planning something different, working with one of its regular event caterers, Milkshed Kitchen, to create a pop-up hotel.
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This venture was one to be investigated and so Lady F and I were lucky enough to mosey over to try things out – just before Boris banished us back to our sofas, although the team there are already plotting a re-opening after 2 December.
The approach to Huntsham Court alone is enough to whet your appetite – tucked away out of reach in the wilds of Mid Devon, you will definitely want to stay the night if you attend a pop-up.
Safely and courteously checked into our grand and atmospheric bedroom suite, we were soon shown to our table for dinner in the wonderfully historic setting of the library. Other couples dined at a safe distance and what the evening lost in the lack of conviviality among separated tables, it more than made up with the spectacular surroundings and the five-star set menu.
The team at Milkshed Kitchen certainly know their onions. And scallops. And partridge. And espresso martini tiramisu. Wow...the eight-course tasting menu produced as many wonders as Professor Van-Tam has metaphors: there was a specialness about the food which more than matched the surroundings.
Replete and relaxed, it was just a short walk for us up the grand old staircase and a night’s rest before breakfast in the morning and we were on our way. In ‘normal’ times the Huntsham experience is likely to only to come your way if someone sends you an invite to a wedding or a big event, so before things return to how they were, invite yourself along and experience it all when Lockdown 2 ends. It would be best way to treat yourself after a month of abstinence on the ‘getting out’ front.
HALL OF FAME FOR GREAT PUB FOOD
Ever had a bhaji burger? No, me neither until I made a long overdue to return to one of my old haunts – the Lifton Hall Hotel in West Devon.
I used to live 175 paces (count ’em) from the front door of this fabulous pub/hotel and I still miss those anticipatory walks there for a pint, some fab food and welcome hospitality from landlords Richard and Robert.
My return trip proved the chaps still have it when it comes to stylish pub food with a twist served in convivial surroundings. As well as the aforementioned burger (it’s the lime pickle mayo that makes it, don’t you know) the lunch menu featured curries, chillies, ham and eggs, or an aptly-named BIG soup – and none of them costing more than £7.
Dinner menus rock it up a little more and don’t forget the Lifton Hall’s legendary roasts, which make Sundays very special. The good news for locals is the pub is doing takeaway food during Lockdown 2....now, I wonder if they’d deliver to me 50 miles away?!
SLICE OF HOME COMFORT
Say the name ‘Wogan’ and you might be inclined to think of a certain avuncular TV host and DJ but can I offer an alternative word association, namely pizza?
Because Alan and Mark Wogan, sons of the legendary broadcaster, are the pair behind London’s much-loved pizza brand Homeslice, which I am pleased to reveal is now available for delivery in this part of the world as part of their Take & Bake service.
In fairness to the pair, they are steadfast in their refusal to capitalise on the family name and, indeed why should they? Especially when their pizzas are fingertip-smackingly delicious enough to have a great reputation all of their own? We decided on a mushroom, ricotta, pumpkin seeds, chilli flakes, chives, soy and truffle glaze option from the menu, coupled with a salami, rocket and parmesan. The signature sourdough 12” base is the core ingredient to all Homeslice’s pizzas, which arrive looking as fresh as the day they were made, no mean achievement for a UK-wide delivery service.
Delicious and hearty, they’d be a better-than-average pizza delivery option for a lockdown evening when you want something with a bit more of a specialty side to them than other big names’ more standard options.
INN KEEPING WITH THE MENU
Are all pubs called the Agricultural Inn subsequently nicknamed ‘The Aggy’ by locals? I’m not sure...the one in Braunton, North Devon, is I know. They even changed the sign outside to reflect this.
But what of the one at Brampford Speke, just outside Exeter. It spent a little time being called something connected with a toad in recent years, so maybe the re-badging to its former moniker is a welcome return to tradition.
What IS welcome is the whole experience when you land there. The food is rather special indeed, ranging from truffled turnip soup to an intriguing Full English breakfast terrine, with millionaire fries winking at you from the sides.
My pal and I opted for the beef chilli with Quicke’s cheddar crust, avocado and sour cream (amazing) and a cheeseburger which afforded us the opportunity to try those fries which did, indeed, make us feel like we had won the lottery of food.
We weren’t going to miss the desserts either when they flashed rum baba and blueberry pannacotta at us, bringing an appropriately triumphant ending to a first-class lunch. And, once again, locals in the vicinity can order takeaway during Lockdown 2.
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