Often we foodie travellers miss the pubs, tearooms and restaurants that locals love as we whizz past. In this series of dispatches from around the globe we’ll be putting that right, celebrating culinary heroes worth making a detour to. Next on our global food trip is Exmoor. Below you’ll find 10 great places to eat and drink in this beautiful region – plus five of its best pubs.
Porlock Bay Oysters
This new community initiative came to fruition at the beginning of this month; the company’s locally cultivated rock oysters are now on the menu at many of the region’s restaurants and pubs (including many of those listed below). If you’re self-catering and want to go the DIY-route, you’ll also find them at Costcutters in Porlock and Budgens in Wheddon Cross. While you’re at the latter, look out for Styles Ice Cream: made on a local farm you’ll find it being sold from a van at events around the region, and in the freezers at Budgens.
Cross Lane House
One of our finds of last year, this restaurant with rooms, beside a little packhorse bridge in the postcard-cute village of Allerford, is home to four well-dressed bedrooms and a restaurant as busy with locals as overnighters. Making the most of local suppliers – and an expanding kitchen garden – dishes such as juniper-cured salmon, and lamb cannon with spring vegetables are an elegant match for artful table settings; jewel-coloured water glasses glow under candlelight. For a more detailed review, click here.
West Country Farm & Food Tours
If the name of this company sounds like a bit of a mouthful that’s entirely as it should be since it’s focus is firmly on food. Or, rather, taking people out to visit local farms and learn about where their food comes from. Based within Exmoor, the company puts together bespoke tours for groups but also runs regular group tours that anyone can sign up to; the next one is an afternoon tour on 28 May to a farm near Dulverton that rears rare breed pigs, dairy goats, Dexter cattle and alpacas.
Minehead Farmers’ Market
If, like many visitors to the region, you’re planning a hike across its spectacular moorland or clifftops, time your trip for a Friday and stock up first at Minehead Farmers’ Market. The perfect picnic-hunting ground, stalls range from local pork, beef, poultry and venison to fresh fish, local cheeses, strawberries and organic breads. Plus everything from homemade cannoli to home-cooked Italian meatballs and aubergine parmigiana courtesy of Stefano’s.
The Old Rectory Hotel
Stunning views of the North Devon coastline come for free on the scenic drive to The Old Rectory Hotel at Martinhoe. This small but very civilised country hotel boasts a three-acre garden, where delightful owners Huw and Sam grow their own produce. Bedrooms are classic and luxurious, with soft lighting and expensive, neutral furnishings. Enjoy afternoon tea, pre-dinner drinks and canapés in the stylish Orangery, or take your drinks out onto the decking and enjoy the gardens, disturbed by nothing but birdsong. Evening menus draw heavily on local produce, including Exmoor pork, duck and venison, Ilfracombe crab, Arlington Court beef and Lundy fish. You’ll be wowed by the hotel’s painstakingly chosen wine list, too. Walk off any excess the following day on the South West Coastal Path, which passes just 500m from the hotel. oldrectoryhotel.co.uk
Part of the attraction of this isolated country pub is the approach. Drive up a spectacularly steep hill from Porlock and you’re rewarded with stunning sea and moorland views. Carry on a little further and you come to this dog-friendly inn, with its modern dining room and a clutch of outside tables looking down over the Oare Valley. Sunday lunches are the thing to go for here: beef comes from local supplier, Heal Farm, and fish from a specialist supplier in Dulverton that raises its own trout and sources fish and scallops fresh from Brixham each day.
Luttrell Arms Hotel
A stately hotel and restaurant in picturesque Dunster, the menu here makes much of local produce, in dishes such as grilled fillet of brill with a lemongrass reduction, saffron potatoes and marinated fennel or Salcombe crab on toast with citrus crème fraiche. Our money’s on the bar though. A characterful spot serving Exmoor Ale beers, white wines from the nearby Sharpham Estate and posh Scotch eggs, it’s just the place after a day out hiking or sightseeing.
The Coach House
Right on the border of the National Park, Michael Caines’ restaurant at the Kentisbury Grange Hotel holds two AA rosettes for its precise, contemporary cooking. Typical dishes include roast squab pigeon with wild garlic, potato salad, tarragon mayonnaise and pigeon jus or slow-cooked Exmoor lamb loin with boulangère potato, haricot blanc, fennel, tapenade and lamb jus. Commendably, the kitchen offers a separate vegetarian menu put together with as much care as its carnivorous cousin. The restaurant’s decor is equally forward-looking, its glass staircase, granite bar counter and crushed velvet banquettes a surprise in this country house setting. Don’t want to go the whole hog? Tapping into its ‘special occasions’ reputation the restaurant has recently started serving afternoon teas.
This Dulverton stalwart may be a pub by name but it’s more of a restaurant by nature. The French-influenced menu is a definite step up from your traditional pub grub: think bresaola with confit garlic, globe artichokes, rocket, parmesan and red wine dressing or roast loin of Northcombe lamb and slow-roast shoulder with fondant potato, artichoke pureé, spinach, roasted chantenay carrots and thyme sauce. It also has a stellar wine list, winning it Wine Pub of the Year numerous times.
A well-groomed country house hotel, this Wootton Courteney retreat is a cossetting place to wind up in after a walk. Its Coleridge restaurant is open Wednesday to Saturday evenings serving dishes like carpaccio of Holnicote venison and honey-roast breast of Devon duck. Or go for Sunday brunch and fill up on French toast or a “Lumberjack Stack” – pancakes with crisp bacon, a fried egg and a drizzle of maple syrup. Co-owner Jane used to work for Berry Bros & Rudd so the wine list is especially good.
Plus five Exmoor pubs worth a detour:
Tarr Farm Inn
Sup a riverside pint or local cider before demolishing pan-seared scallops or a Devon Ruby steak.
Royal Oak Inn
Set in a former, 12th-century, farmhouse this thatched pub with rooms serves ales from just down the road, ciders from Taunton and the likes of soused mackerel fillets, ham, egg and chips and homemade apple tart.
Millers at the Anchor
Not, technically, a pub this eccentric waterside hotel serves Sunday lunches, evening meals and movie and supper nights. It was founded by antiquarian-turned-distiller Martin Miller, however, and still serves a mean G&T.
Location is (almost) everything at this popular pub in the spectacular coastal village of Lynmouth. Fish and seafood take prime position on the menu: order the mussels or those fresh Porlock Bay oysters.
The Staghunters Inn
Tucked away in the Doone Valley (of Lorna Doone fame), this old-school, pup-friendly pub, decked out with hunting trophies, is one of the region’s best-loved. Partly for its setting, partly for its no-fuss home cooking and partly for the simple promise of a decent pint.
For more info on other places to eat & drink in and around Exmoor see visit-exmoor.co.uk
Written by Rhiannon Batten, May 2016
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