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Dining heaven in Devon: it’s not all about cream teas...

Posted by Jonathan Broom on 2 August 2018
Related property: Lower Knapp Farm
Dining heaven in Devon: it’s not all about cream teas...

Cream first, then jam? Or jam topped with cream? A debate that will run and run. For the record, most Devonians favour the former. But even the most ardent lover of clotted dairy products, conserved strawberries and wheat-based baked goods served in combination would concede that man (or woman) cannot live by cream teas alone.

Unsurprisingly, other sustenance is available. The county punches well above its weight in terms of eateries, with dining options to suit all tastes and budgets. Here are just five, all easily reachable from Lower Knapp Farm.

Part of a growing herd (there are Pigs proliferating across the south-west), the Pig at Combe is nestled in the Otter Valley near Honiton – a secluded,  mellow, honey-coloured Elizabethan gem set in 3,500 acres of lush Devonshire countryside.

The Pig at Combe's restaurant

In the restaurant, informality is the order of the day. There is no polished panelling, pelmets and fitted carpets; instead it’s stripped back to bare wood floors and restored shutters. A restored principal double-height bricked up window brings light and glorious Devon views into the heart of the room.

A pleasant, relaxing place to be. But as with the others in the litter, the Pig at Combe is commendably unrelaxed when it comes to its food. The care and attention to detail are exemplary; and the dishes, though on the pricey side, are exquisite. Most of what’s on offer, vegetable-wise, is grown in one or other of the Pig at Combe’s three onsite kitchen gardens, while fish, meat and cheese are all sourced locally: it is company policy that what cannot be grown on site will be sourced from within a 25-mile radius.

Pickled mackerel and fresh vegetables: two exquisite Pig at Combe offerings

The Pig at Combe is about four miles north of Lower Knapp Farm, taking the Seaton Road. Lunch and dinner are served daily, from 12 noon till 2:30pm and 6:30pm till 9:30pm. A typical meal for two will be in the region of £100, including drinks. Tables are bookable in advance, either online or by telephoning 01404 540400. To visit the Pig at Combe website, click here.

A little further afield in the delightfully named village of Rockbeare, to the west of Lower Knapp, you’ll find the Jack in the Green. The term ‘gastropub’ has acquired a slightly negative connotation of late: unfair in general terms, because surely pubs will do what they have to do to stay viable; and specifically unfair to the Jack of the Green, which has left this unlooked-for classification far behind. In addition, owner Paul Parnell and his staff tend to bridle at the term. So it’s not... one of those. What it is, is a pub in the old-fashioned, accepted sense – you’re always welcome to call in for a pint or two – which just happens to serve food that’s little short of breathtaking.

Like the sardines with lemon yoghurt and pickled vegetables, above, or the lemon and pine nut millefeuille with white chocolate sorbet, below.

The picture gracing the top of this article is also a Jack in the Green dish: a Greek yoghurt parfait, brandy snap, honeycomb and strawberries. (All Jack in the Green photos courtesy of Well Seasoned PR.) The place holds two AA rosettes, is recommended by Michelin and regularly features in the Good Food Guide. In 2017 the Jack in the Green was named both ‘Best Foodie Pub’ and ‘Gastropub of the Year’ (one assumes they put their pride aside for that one). As with the Pig at Combe, the emphasis is on local produce and seasonality. Also as with the Pig, it isn’t cheap – but for a fun night out, celebrating something special? Hard to beat.

The Jack in the Green is about 15 miles west of Lower Knapp, along the A30 towards Exeter. Restaurant service is from 12 noon till 2pm and 6pm till 9pm Monday to Friday, 12 noon till 2pm and 6pm till 10pm on Saturday, and 12 noon until 8:30pm on Sunday. A typical meal for two will be between £50 and £80, including drinks, though cheaper bar meals are also available. Tables are bookable in advance, either online or by telephoning 01404 822240. To visit the Jack in the Green website, click here.

Heading via Honiton and about 13 miles further north on the A30, look for signs to the village of Marsh. In truth there’s not much to the place – more of a hamlet than a village, just a few houses and a pub.

But what a pub.

The Flintlock Inn is a real Devonshire country hostelry, from the warm welcome as you arrive to the great pub food that awaits you. Situated just off the A303 – the main route to the south west of England – you may well have passed the place on your way to Lower Knapp Farm. Hey, you’ll know for next time.

A hearty plateful of Flintlock Inn deliciousness

That there will be a next time is not in question. A free house with an interesting selection of local and national ales, the Flintlock Inn is everything a pub should be: ancient, warm and comforting (though if that makes it sound like an exclusively winter venue, it isn’t; the garden is lovely too), a place to step back in time and let the world carry on without you, just for a while. And the food reflects this: there’s nothing revolutionary here, just delicious dishes, well prepared by the Flintlock’s owners Paulo and Meryl, using the freshest local ingredients, brought to you with a friendly smile at affordable prices. Food of real quality. All of it is great – but it’s on puddings that they really go to town: those sweet of tooth can indulge in everything from ‘death-by-chocolate’ to possets to brulées to strawberry cheesecake to sticky-toffee pudding to... well, you get the idea.

One of the Flintlock Inn's famous desserts

The Flintlock Inn is just over 18 miles north of Lower Knapp, along the A30 (which becomes the A303) towards Buckland St Mary. Restaurant service is from 12 noon till 2:15pm and 6:30pm till 9pm Tuesday to Sunday. For a typical meal for two you will struggle to spend more than £50, including drinks, and the bill will more likely be in the £30s. Tables can be booked in advance, by telephoning 01460 234403 or by clicking here and contacting them via Facebook.

South-west of Lower Knapp Farm and across the River Exe, the village of Kennford has a claim to fame, of a kind, as the place where Danny la Rue grew up. A star of yesteryear. But stars are very much in evidence at the local gastropub. Seven of them, to be exact.

Kennford is bang in the middle of a host of tourist attractions and within easy striking distance of Exeter, Exmouth and Torquay, but the village itself is neither especially interesting nor picturesque. The Seven Stars more than makes up for it, however – a vibrant pub with lots going on and a loyal local clientele and staff, always delighted to give a warm welcome to visitors. With pub quizzes, open-mic nights, pool, darts and sports on the big screen, this is a pub with a beating heart, at the heart of the community; and the food is outstanding. Under head chef Laszlo Hegyi, the menu has been revamped to provide a range of pub classics, interlaced with more esoteric offerings. Yes, there are standards like burgers, and haddock and chips; but you can also enjoy a fillet of silver mullet with Moroccan-style cous cous, or duck breast with celeriac and spiced cherry jus.

Not your average pub grub: a Seven Stars treat for the eyes as well as the tastebuds

Oh – and they do a range of very well-regarded pizzas, too; to eat in or take away.

The Seven Stars is about 22 miles west-south-west of Lower Knapp – west along the A30 towards Exeter, crossing the Exe, and then dropping south. Lunch service is from 12 noon till 2:30pm Tuesday to Sunday. Dinner is from 6pm to 9pm Tuesday to Saturday, and 6pm till 8:30pm on Sunday. A typical meal for two, including drinks, will cost from £30, rising to £60 at the top end. Pizzas are available any time the pub is open. You can contact the Seven Stars by telephone on 01392 834887, or click here to visit the website.

But a holiday isn’t a holiday without one truly fine-dining experience, and for that look no further than beautiful Exmouth, one on the oldest and most picturesque seaside towns in Devon. Lying at the western end of the world-famous Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site (which you can read more about by clicking here and here), Exmouth is home to Saveur, an exquisite gem of a restaurant.

The dining room at Saveur

The menu is short, but perfectly judged: as you would expect from Saveur's location fish is to the fore – salmon or mackerel to start, hake or the ever-changing catch of the day as a main – but there are other, equally delicious, alternatives. And besides the food, there are the other elements that put the ‘fine’ in ‘fine-dining’: a well-balanced wine list; proper napery; cutlery and glassware polished to a high sheen; quiet, courteous service; and being made to feel a little bit special. Just put yourselves in the safe hands of chef-proprietor Nigel Wright and his front-of-house staff, and let them work their magic.

Smoked salmon with pickled cucumber and horseradish cream

Saveur is about 17 miles south-west of Lower Knapp Farm, along the A3052 and B3180. Opening hours are 6pm till 9pm on Tuesday, 12 noon till 2pm and 6pm till 9pm on Wednesday and Thursday, and 12 noon till 2pm and 6pm till 9:30pm on Friday and Saturday. A typical meal for two will be £100 upwards, including drinks. To make a reservation telephone 01395 269459, or click here to visit the website.

Jonathan Broom

Jonathan Broom

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