Patrick's Pub Trawls: Patrick McCaig visits The Passage House Inn, Topsham
PUBLISHED: 14:43 22 April 2015 | UPDATED: 14:43 22 April 2015
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 Passage House Inn ranks highly in Topsham’s “Ten”. The Topsham Ten used to be a challenge amongst the fun-loving drinking community to see their way around this beautiful village via its ten hostelries. Things are a little different these days but I’d still be open to the challenge if pushed!
On a slightly more historical tack, Topsham was once the second busiest port in England and The Passage House (once The Ferry Inn) is understood to date back to 1721. The famous small Dutch bricks that were used as paying ballast on the ships that returned to Holland with cargoes of wool and cloth are evident throughout.
The building (the name had changed to The Passage House by 1822) also owned ferry rights across the River Exe. These rights remained with the pub when Heavitree Brewery took ownership in 1928. Mike Stevens (the current ferryman) makes the “passage” when the tide is right and facilitates the perfect crossover point for keen cyclists needing a pit stop between Dawlish and Exeter.
It’s good to see a young crew at the helm of The Passage House. Carly Parsons heads up this team with her 21-year old-head chef Luke Moor (formerly from another one of Topsham’s Ten). There is a vibrancy in this recently refitted pub and it casts its net wide to attract a good local crowd in addition to the many visitors to Topsham. Next to us was a 40th birthday party and the laughter from the children was lovely to hear. This is a real country pub with a beautiful view of the River Exe. The tide laps the sea wall at the end of the garden.
Carly and Luke are serious about their call to support local. Nearby Lympstone Fish provide the catch of the day and there are plans afoot to deliver fish directly by boat. Good Game, based in Topsham, supply their meat. These boys are the definition of true artisans, using only salt and the natural Exe estuary air to cure their charcuterie. Having scanned the specials, which appear across a long line of slates on the wall, we opted for fish (as you must) and discovered that age is no barrier to the genius in the kitchen.
The fast flowing River Exe sits in the middle of a Special Site of Scientific Interest (just like our brewery does) so this is a landscape the local fisherman want to look after. The fresh Lympstone mussels are served in three different ways: as traditional moules marinière, in a Thai style or with a tomato and herb sauce. I had a fabulous bouillabaisse and washed it down with a dry draft cider from Lyme Bay. We also enjoyed a well kept pint of Otter Amber, a great seasonal beer from St Austell and finished with a classic sticky sticky toffee pudding and fresh coffee.
Carly’s enthusiasm struck me as special. She’s very proud and deservedly so of the new décor in The Passage House. In my view it was and still is the “pubbiest” pub in Topsham. I remember though it being too dark, compact. Not now. The refreshing alternative is a clever cross between modern and weathered. It picks up the colours of the River Exe and feels gently nautical. The whole pub seems to have opened its revitalised arms to locals and visitors alike. Long may it continue.