The people of South Hams don’t know how good they’ve got it, reckons LAURA ROWE, as she stumbles across this beaut of a village pub
Thirty years in any business could leave you feeling a bit stale. Where does the inspiration come from, where does the excitement come from, and how do you possibly keep your customers interested for that extended period of time? Well, it seems like the old timers at The Ship Inn at Ugborough, who’ve been doing what they do for some three decades, have got it just right. They’ve been concentrating on the food. Mmm, my favourite.
The decor inside the 16th-century freehouse is contemporary but understated – in the designated restaurant area and side bar there are muted shades of cream and sage, clothless dark wooden tables, slate table mats and leather-backed chairs. No frills, nothing fancy. The service is relaxed, too – this is a pub, after all.
The food, though. The food speaks volumes. Let’s start with the menu, shall we? Or should I say ‘menus’? There’re four to choose from if you visit at lunch, like we did. A ‘lunchtime light bites’ offering includes baguettes and sandwiches around the £6-10 mark, and posh pub snacks like a pulled ham Scotch egg with carrot purée, pea shoots and pickles (£5.50). There’s a ‘casual dining’ list featuring the likes of chicken, mushroom and smoked bacon pie (£9.95), pressed ham with herb-crusted fried egg and chips (£9.95), and a homemade steak burger (£12.95). There’s also a specials board, with five different fish dishes, three vegetarian meals and a few meaty ones thrown in for good measure. It was the a la carte that caught my eye, though.
Skipping the nibbles (whitebait and lemon mayo, and olives, homemade bread and oil, for £3.95 each), we dove straight into the starters. On the other side of the table, OJ called dibs on the exceptionally good-value scallops (£7.95). Just as they should be, charred and caramelised from the pan, and still with the creamy corals intact (good call, chef!), they were paired with a sweet, smoky and spicy red pepper and chorizo purée, a thousand times more elegant than the hunks of Spanish sausage that normally share plate space with these bivalve beauts. The shards of Parmesan crisps could have been a touch crispier if we’re being pedantic (and we’ve been known to be in these pages; it’s kind of the deal here, actually), but the salty umami hit worked, as did the freshness from the baby coriander leaves that dotted the plate.
I was equally tempted by the shellfish, having a near obsession with crab – handy, then, that the menu had a Cornish, hand-picked crab, apple and avocado salad (£7.95) to choose. Saline-fresh, creamy, delicate and well-seasoned, with sharp little matchsticks of Granny Smith, cubes of avocado, apple and avo purées, edible flowers, microherbs and crisp slices of poppy seed toast, it was a clean and accomplished start. Simple ingredients, served with skill and precision.
Getting a taste for the fishy stuff, I continued apace with the main course, ordering the turbot from the specials board (£16.95). The hefty fillet, well cooked, and once again well seasoned, sat proud on a bed of samphire, sun-blushed and fresh tomatoes, and a creamy, light white wine beurre blanc sauce. More top marks for the kitchen.
OJ, though, thought he’d revert to cave man mode and order the most meaty, hefty dish on the menu. So manly was it, that it even came with a bone approximately the same size as my fibula. The glazed short rib of beef (£15.95) was so obscenely good that video evidence of its succulence was taken, and has since disappeared into the ether. Its pairing of a sweet white onion purée, fondant potato, a rich (ironically rib-sticking) sauce, and shavings of burnt garlic and horseradish, made for one of the best beef dishes I’ve ever had the pleasure of trying.
My pud of homemade junket (curdled, sweetened milk) dusted with nutmeg (£5.95) wasn’t as to my taste, but was a good example of its ilk – and certainly seemed popular with the other diners in the restaurant, who ordered it with gusto. And, to be fair, the lovely manager did warn me it was a Marmite (you’ll either love it or hate it) kinda deal.
OJ, meanwhile, smugly ordered the ‘egg and soldiers’ (£5.95) – he’s been here before, and knows just how good this is. I won’t ruin the surprise – but if you go here (and you should), and you fancy pud (you really ought to), you must order this dish. I implore you. He implores you. You’re welcome, in advance.
An unassuming little pub with cracking food – what nicer a treat is there to stumble upon?
THE SHIP INN, Ugborough, near Ivybridge, Devon PL21 0NS; 01752 892565