Devon: a toast to the roast

by Melissa Stewart

04 January 2019

There are heaps of pubs across Devon that knock out first-rate Sunday lunches week after week. to try and list them all would be madness, not to mention fill a whole mag, so we’ve picked just a few that we feel are doing things exceptionally well and, in many cases, a little bit differently…

The one for special occasions: The Salutation Inn (Topsham)

To stand outside The Salutation Inn you’d think it was just another old-school hotel. Step inside, however, and it’s a different story. The building has an unexpected grandeur and a contemporary feel. Nowhere more so than in GlassHouse, which floods with natural light and is ideal for a leisurely meal.

It’s known for its exceptional food too, and the Sunday lunch does not disappoint. This is the type of place you’d take your parents for a special birthday or your other half for an anniversary – it’s proper fine dining, albeit in a relaxed, airy setting.

Heading up the kitchen is Tom Williams- Hawkes, who comes with proper pedigree having worked for Michael Caines, Gordon Ramsey and Marcus Waring in his time. The menu changes weekly, but sample Sunday lunch dishes include: goats’ cheese mousse, pickled beetroot and candied walnuts, or confit Somerset trout, lentils and mushroom to start; followed by sea bream, fennel, samphire and lobster bisque, or the more traditional Greendale Farm beef top rump with all the trimmings for main. And if you didn’t think that was posh enough, you have the option of adding foie gras to your main course for an extra £6.50. See, told you it was special.

Starters average at £8, with mains at £17 (minus the fois gras!)

The one for veg lovers: Riverford Field Kitchen (Buckfastleigh)

With more and more people going meat-free, we reckon it’s about time more pubs and restaurants upped their veggie and vegan Sunday lunch game. Time and again, we see the same old leek and cheese gratin or nut roast almost apologetically tagged onto the end of the menu. Sad, really, given how many amazing creations can be made from the humblest of veg. All hail the Riverford Field Kitchen crew then, who very much put veg front and centre of their Sunday lunches. Everything is grown on-site at Riverford, so the menu is always seasonal. Winter Sunday lunch dishes might include roasted sprouts with pickled chillies and a soy, seaweed and garlic dressing, or roasted squash and chargrilled radicchio.

“We’ve had a bit of a romance with radicchio,” says Ali Anstee, marketing manager at Riverford’s restaurants. “Its strong, bitter flavour isn’t for everyone, but once you’ve acquired the taste, it’s perfect for when evenings are chilly and thoughts turn to cooking warming, nourishing dishes. It’s packed with nutrients, too.”

One thing that’s always a staple at Sunday lunchtimes is roast potatoes, and there is usually one meat or fish dish to keep omnivores happy, plus a handful of dreamy homemade desserts of which you can try a little of whatever takes your fancy.

Note: they don’t always offer a vegan option on the set menu as standard, but if you let them know you’re vegan when you book, they’ll happily rustle you up something separately for main and pudding.

Set lunch menu is £23.50 per person, excluding tea and coffee.

The thatched one: The Five Bells Inn (Clyst Hydon)

Devon’s got a lot of gorgeous old pubs with thatched roofs. We’ve frequented a fair few in our time, but our current fave for Sunday lunch is The Five Bells Inn in the teeny, tiny village of Clyst Hydon, near Exeter. In the summer we love to dine alfresco in their beautiful garden, but in winter you’ll find us cosily housed indoors, usually with a glass of red in hand.

Befitting a traditional country pub, the team here serve up a classic Sunday roast, using locally-sourced meat from Darts Farm or MC Kelly in Crediton. They also always do a veggie option and a vegan option, plus at least two fish dishes. Proper attention is paid to the trimmings, too.

“There’s attention to detail in every element of the plate, not just the protein,” explains co-owner James Garnham. “We use duck fat for the roasties, four types of cheese in the cauliflower cheese, and balsamic in the braised cabbage – all the ingredients combine to give a great meal.”

Two courses for £22, or three for £27.50.

The Mediterranean one: The Seahorse (Dartmouth)

If you’re looking for something a bit different and want to pretend you’re holidaying in the Med rather than in wintery Devon, then The Seahorse best be on your radar. Mitch Tonks and Mat Prowse’s award-winning Italian-inspired seafood restaurant has prime position on Dartmouth’s harbour, and, refreshingly, there’s not a soggy Yorkshire or overcooked roastie in sight.

The menu is very much focused on Devon’s bountiful catch, with dishes like Atlantic octopus with verdina beans and sobrasada, and hake with braised cavolo nero and tomatoes. Meat eaters, meanwhile, can enjoy beef rib roasted over charcoal. The emphasis in here is as much on atmosphere as it is on the food, and diners are encouraged to take their time and make an afternoon of it – much like our friends in Italy do.

“We like to think of our Sunday lunch as a long, lazy experience – enjoying food, taking time, chatting. Very Mediterranean style,” says Laura Cowan, head of comms here.

Set menu lunch is £35 per head.

The villagersʼ choice: The Swan (Bampton)

Ever since landlords Donna and Paul Berry took over this quaint village pub in the quiet village of Bampton back in 2011, it’s built up quite the foodie following. But, even though it attracts visitors from far and wide to try its award-winning fodder, it is at heart a proper village pub. Head there on a Sunday and you’re just as likely to see a group of locals propping up the bar with a pint and a newspaper as there are families tucking into a hearty lunch.

As you’d expect, they knock out a proper good Sunday roast, with most of the meat and veg sourced within 10 miles of the pub. Homemade Yorkies, crisp on the outside and fluffy in the middle, are topped with extra gravy. Plus, my favourite bit is the jug of extra cheese sauce you get to slather over your veggies. Amazeballs.

If a roast isn’t for you, they also knock out some lovely fish and seafood dishes, like Newlyn plaice served with crushed new greens, crab bisque and mussels. Plus, they have veggie and vegan options on the specials board. Gluten-free roasts are also available on request.

Roasts average at £12.

The wood-fired one: ODE&CO (Shaldon)

Situated within the grounds of Coast View Holiday Park in Shaldon, with stunning views out onto Lyme Bay, ODE&Co perhaps isn’t the most obvious place to rock up for Sunday lunch, but boy is it worth a visit. It’s owned by Tim and Clare Bouget, founders of ODE true food – a pioneering sustainable dining concept. They also own café-ODE down the road and ODE dining, which until this year was a restaurant but is now the banner under which they run regular pop-up events. ODE&Co operates mainly as a pizza restaurant catering for tourists during the busy summer months, but the food is so good that the locals are hooked. Open for limited hours during autumn/winter, they do Sunday lunches between 12pm and 3pm.

Their Firewall Roasts are legendary affairs. The meat is cooked in a wood-fired oven using the traditional technique of bricking up half the oven to block the naked flame from burning the meat, allowing the smoke to infuse it, giving it a wonderful oak-smoked aroma and taste. It’s served up on platters, sharing-style.

“We use Riverford organic veg and meat from Pipers Farm and Higher Hacknell Organic Farm,” explains Tim. “We also cater for vegetarians with an amazing nut roast and veggie gravy. We serve our roasts with a variety of veg, like red cabbage, roasted squash and cauliflower with smoked cheese.”

Meat roasts are £14.95 and nut roasts £12.95.

The Old Favourite: The Jack In The Green Inn (Rockbeare)

This gem of a place just outside Exeter has recently celebrated its 26th birthday and consistently delivers on food and service. It says a lot that head chef Matt Mason has been there for 22 of those years, ensuring the food is always first-rate and making the most of Devon’s seasonal larder.

“Creedy Carver’s superb duck breasts have been a menu staple since we opened,” says Matt. “Also boned and rolled local pork belly, delivered to us by Steve at Country Farm Butchers in Ottery. We’ve been cooking local, seasonal produce since day one.”

As befits Matt’s creative culinary style, the Sunday lunch menu is traditional with a twist, built on dishes like Pipers Farm chicken breast with savoury bread and butter pudding. If you’re going for a starter, we recommend the black pudding Scotch egg with English mustard – it doesn’t get more British, and is bloomin’ delish. There are also decent veggie options too, like the recent butternut squash tart thin with Quicke’s hard goats’ cheese, sage crisps and toasted nuts and seeds.

Two courses for £23.50, or three for £28.50.

The newbie: The Leaping Salmon (Horrabridge)

When we interviewed Oli and Tom from Exploding Bakery earlier this year about up and coming places to dine out in Devon, they earmarked The Leaping Salmon as one to watch. How right they were. This recently reopened pub in Horrabridge, near Tavistock, doubles up as a café and a pub, with a separate dining room upstairs and three guest bedrooms. It’s run by two 20-something schoolmates, Fred Andrews and Max Phillips, and the simple but tasty menu is drawing customers from across the county.

“The Sunday menu is different to our weekly offering, and we try to make it a bit more exciting than a run of the mill roast,” explains Fred. “That said, we’re a rural pub in Devon, so always cook two roast-style dishes, but there are fish and veggie options too.”

Sample mains include roast pork belly, apple sauce and trimmings; grilled mackerel, potato cakes, salad and horseradish; and braised fennel and potatoes with black olives, chard and goats curd.

Two courses cost £19, or three for £22.