Revamped restaurants: The White Hart

After a troubled few years, could The White Hart at Dartington finally be heading in the right direction?

Chef Eamon Fullalove [wicked surname, BTW] is on a mission to make The White Hart a foodie destination again. After a sketchy five or so years, with varying customer reviews and a lack of identity (was it a tapas restaurant, a pub, or a two AA rosette restaurant?), Eamon, who came onboard as head chef just under a year ago, is simplifying things – and, in doing so, going back to the roots of what Dartington is all about. Rather than go in with a chef’s ego and dictating what the menu should be, he’s reversing the process so that the menus are dictated by what’s grown on the estate and the 21 land-based enterprises that operate on it.

Like at Riverford Field Kitchen, Wild Artichokes, The Old Dairy Kitchen and others, the menu here is built around the concept of collaborative dining; people coming together to share food and make conversation. The tables in the main dining room are big and built for mixing things up. They’re also made of solid oak, as befits the restaurant’s grand location next to the main Dartington Hall. That’s not to say you have to share your dining experience with others if you don’t want to, as there’s also a snug room if you’re after a more intimate vibe.

The snug room is where we sit for our lunchtime visit to try the new midday feasting menu. This set menu is priced £10 for one course, £13 for two and £16 for all three, extremely reasonable given the quality of the food on offer. The menu changes regularly, depending on what’s in season and what’s available on the estate, but there’s a good range of options, including vegan, dairy free and gluten free. 

I start with butternut and miso croquettes with garlic mayo. These crispy morsels are deliciously gooey inside, with the earthy squash complemented by the salty umami of the miso. Across the table, my friend opts for a roasted squash strip salad with rose petal harissa. This is one of those dishes that’s exquisite in its simplicity. The squash is perfectly roasted, and the sticky sweetness offset by the fiery punch of the harissa and then balanced by a dollop of cooling crème fraiche.

We opt to go veggie for our mains too, with a bubble and squeak and a mushroom burger with beetroot relish and slaw. Both are brimming with flavour, so much so that this self-confessed omnivore didn’t miss the meat at all. The mushroom burger is tender, juicy and firm, sitting inside a bouncy brioche bun; it’s a million times better than your typical veggie burger that disintegrates as soon as you pick it up. Special mention to the fiery beetroot relish too, which brought the bap startlingly to life. Meanwhile, the bubble and squeak, made with leftover veggies from the week’s Sunday roast, is wonderful in its no-frills execution. Carrots, leek and parsnip are thrown together with a fried egg on top and mustard mayo to give it a hearty kick. Ideal lunchtime fodder. For dessert we share a panna cotta made with Dartington goats’ yoghurt. It’s creamy, light and a satisfying end to a satisfying meal.

Like with a lot of Devon restaurants and pubs, the challenge is now going to be getting people through the door. Thankfully, Dartington has a busy programme of events which should provide a steady footfall over the coming months. Eamon has also recently launched a Devon O’Clock feasting menu to attract pre-cinema diners for an early supper. In contrast to The Green Table  café across the road, The White Hart offers a slightly more formal dining experience and a grander setting, but don’t let that put you off. This isn’t fine dining, just really fresh ingredients executed very, very well – and at an accessible price point to boot.

The White Hart Bar and Restaurant, Dartington Hall, Totnes TQ9 6EL; 01803 847111