South West is Best!

imageI’ve been back from our South Westerly excursion for two days and I think I’m still full. That’s what happens when two food loving guys go down to the South West with eyes bigger than their stomachs.

We don’t get to go on many long weekends so this was a rare chance to travel to one of my favourite destinations: The beautiful town of Dartmouth. Nestling in South Devon, there are so many culinary treasures within such a short distance.

imageOur first stop was the beautiful Bayard’s Cove Inn, hidden within the tiny twisting streets that give Dartmouth’s centuries old waterfront it’s character. I first came across the place when I was filming wine for Saturday Kitchen with Susy Atkins last summer and I fell in love with it. It’s a beautiful place if you want tea and cake, tapas and live music or a comfy and stylish room for the night. Alan and I opted for some lunch washed down by some local Devon cider: Scampi, with a little pulled pork on the side! We fully intended to have tea and cake but it was a cold Friday after all! The friendly service made the whole occasion taste even better.

imageBut we left room for a little dinner later on, so after a stroll around the town and pit stop next to a log burning stove it was off to Brown’s Hotel for their tapas sharer board and a bottle of rich South African Sauvignon Blanc. Amongst all the beautiful flavours on the board was the most velvety and tangy taramasalata. Honestly – If you are anywhere near this place, you must pop in to try it! As we were making our second wine choice, we bumped into the owner, James Brown who picked up on the fact that we are always keen to chat about all things wine. What he doesn’t know about Borolo isn’t worth knowing! And it was great to taste some of his wine list faves right there and then.

imageSaturday saw us take a little drive under the bright blue sky to Torquay, a town of two halves. The amount of money on display in the marina and the grand houses with sea views is in stark contrast to the rougher edges of the town, but isn’t that what seaside charm is all about?
On the way I sent a quick message to Simon Hulstone, chef proprietor at The Elephant, Torquay’s first and only Michelin Starred restaurant. Since the age of 16 Simon (One of the nicest men in the business) has represented the UK more than 20 times, twice in the world’s most prestigious culinary contest, the Bocuse d’Or. He even won the Roux Scholarship in 2003. Luckily Simon was in town and behind the hobs in the kitchens. So we thought we’d pop in for a light lunch. After knowing Simon for many years I felt a visit to The Elephant was imagewell overdue. I was not disappointed. Alan and I shared a Scotch egg and a a beautiful plate of crab which is without doubt the finest crab dish either of us have ever tasted. I urge you to go down and try it! The balance of white and brown crab meat with the accompaniments of capers and fresh herbs was magnificent. The mussels that followed and the cheeky sticky toffee pud were not a disappointment either! I just wish we were staying nearby so we could do it all again for dinner. Oh well, next time.

imageSo, once back at our Dartmouth base, after leaving very little room for dinner, we forced ourselves out of our fireside seats to go to The Seahorse, Mitch Tonks and Mat Prowse’s highly successful and stylish restaurant on the waterfront. Many places in imageDartmouth felt like they would be much busier in peak season but as soon as you entered The Seahorse, it’s charm and atmosphere warmed the cockles and any other seafood you happenned to have to hand. White port and lemonade was a great suggestion of a pre dinner drink with crumbled parmesan and balsamic – A combination that I will remember for one of my own dinner parties! The cured monkfish and fried sprats we had for starters were a delight followed by a whole charcoal grilled brill which was filleted at the table at our request. Apart from the fact my starter was put on the table when I was visiting the bathroom, the service and quality of food was excellent. Not to mention the subtly oaked white St Aubin Premier Cru 2010 which you must try if you get a chance.

imageNot that we needed to eat any more but Sunday did not disappoint our tummies! A shout out has to go to Sally and her team that The Deli at Dartmouth. A contemporary feeling deli serving traditional sweet and savoury treats from scotch eggs and cheese to brownies and tiffin – Well, the best tiffin I’ve had in years to be correct! We went once on Friday and returned for seconds on Sunday. It really is the perfect place for a sit down and a gossip surrounded by shelves of foodie presents perfect for your food obsessed friends at Christmas.

imageAnd a final nod has to go to the talented team at Riverford Field Kitchen near Totnes. The kitchen offers an organic, natural dining experience in the rural Devon countryside, or as I like to call it – In the middle of nowhere! The gorgeous Susy Atkins is a local and sings the praises of the place so when she suggested we try it with her and her family, we enjoyed the prospect before heading back up Bristol way. When she said we had to be there before 12:30 as it is one large sitting where we will be at table with complete strangers, I  wondered if I was going to enjoy the experience. You don’t choose what you eat either, it’s whatever has been harvested on the farm, prepared and served to all!

imageThe sharing starters of grilled aubergine with tahini dressing (a little salty for my taste) and roasted Romanesco broccoli with sweet and sour peppers and toasted almonds (a beautiful dish) were vibrant in colour and flavour and a great way to whet our appetites for the main course: Roasted leg of lamb with a herby green sauce. The lamb was little too pink for those of us who love pink meat! But it was delicious. The sprouts with balsamic red onions and walnuts were a tasty, roast accompaniment with great textures (must remember that one for Christmas Day!) and the garlic roast potatoes were absolutely gorgeous. How I left time for the dessert buffet (where the chefs take you through a huge range of puds) I don’t know. My tip is to all order something different and try a bit of each. But there really isn’t a need to order one extra for the table!

I’d love to have spent longer in Devon but weekends just aren’t long enough are they?! The only question in my head is: When can we go back?