This proper 17th century inn contains almost as much charm as it does whisky, reckons JESSICA CARTER
Dating back to the 1600s, this charming, kooky old gaff is plonked right in the middle of nowhere – at least that’s how it seemed, until I was informed it’s actually not far at all from Exeter. Things are kept old-school here: it’s got a proper whisk(e)y selection, which dominates the back bar; there’s a refreshing disregard for technology (the staff referred to an actual piece of paper when I checked in); and to get to my room (furnished with a four-poster bed, no less) I had to walk through the bar.
Low ceilings, wonky walls, snug corners, stained glass and lots of dark wood came together to create a cosy, atmospheric space enjoyed by all sorts – residents, diners and drinkers – when I rocked up on a busy Wednesday.
The menu didn’t do anything to change our first impressions, either. This is inviting, comforting pub grub, detailed on a single sheet of A4 with no room for any pretentiousness or faff. Starters like leek and potato soup with crusty bread, and smoked salmon with horseradish mayo, gave way to mains of steak and Nobody Ale pie, honey and mustard glazed ham with chips and free-range egg, and fish pie.
When I asked to see the wine list, the battered old folder which the waiter lugged out made me smile. I flicked through its many (many) pages, then – as someone who suffers from debilitating indecisiveness – ended up asking the staff to choose. (They did well, in case you were wondering.)
Food, I had less trouble picking. Salt and pepper squid (£7.50) came first, with chilli mayo. The coating was golden and crisp without being oily, while the squid inside was soft and fresh – no chewy, rubbery textures here, thanks. Meanwhile, Orlando (yep, Mr. Murrin was gracing me with his company) got going on his mushroom, shallot, celery and Devon blue cheese in a cream sauce on toasted ciabatta (£6.95).
“It was hard to choose a first course, as I love both smoked salmon and squid,” he told me later, referring to some of the other options, “but in the end I went for a dish that would allow the chef full creativity. It was an adventure in textures: the mushrooms were fresh and juicy, and the creamy sauce melted into the bread, giving a lush Welsh rarebit effect. It was nice to see Devon Blue on the menu – this is one of the county’s great cheeses, from the South Hams.”
It was the Gressingham duck breast (£16.95) that got placed in front of me next. The soft, just-peachy flesh came with sweet braised red cabbage and cheesy, creamy, carby Dauphinoise potatoes, nice and browned and crisp on the top. A subtle orange sauce tied all the components together, lifting the rich flavours with its delicate zing.
While I went straight in for the duck, Orlando had had a right time of it trying to choose a main. “While we were waiting to order,” he says, “I noticed several orders pass by of gastropub favourites. These looked absolutely gorgeous, but I thought it only fair to sample one of the more restaurant-y choices. I went for pan-fried salmon with herb butter and green beans, new potatoes and cherry tomatoes (£16.95). The salmon arrived elegantly presented, and I enjoyed a palpable hit of herby aromas when the plate was put down in front of me. The fish was expertly fried, with crackling-style skin that was impossible to resist. I also loved the melt-in-the-mouth new potatoes and cherry tomatoes, which were roasted to the point they were sweet and squidgy.”
When we were asked if we wanted to see a dessert list, I replied without skipping a beat. I’d spied a sticky ginger pudding (£5.95), you see, and had been waiting to make it mine. The sponge was warm with delicate spice, and saturated in a gooey toffee sauce. Orlando, with more willpower, settled for coffee.
The Nobody Inn, then: lovely staff, an inviting atmosphere, and it’ll keep you happy with its well-done classics.