July 1st, 2013: Having just stayed for two nights in Chillington, Devon, England at a charming and wonderfully eclectic lodging called the White House, I simply have to share with you (as a prelude to an article covering a 2 week trip ‘wandering’ in England) a dinner we had just down the road at the Millbrook Inn, South Pool, Kingsbridge, Devon; one of the most pleasant pub meals I have ever had.
It is an incredibly pretty place, driving through the narrow, wildflower laden country roads from Frogmore, winding down to the South Pool Creek and Kingsbridge estuary. This is classically remote Devon countryside, in the tiniest of villages with even tinier cottages and well, a world away from London or another universe–if you have come as far as Singapore.
The South Pool Creek runs past the back of the Inn’s small patio, patrolled by a gaggle of very plump Aylesbury ducks that one can easily envisage being on the menu, that is once you are seated at your table and reading through the daily-printed, very local produce focused and concise offerings–5 entrees and 5 main courses–yet more than sufficient in depth and hunger-inspiring.
You soon work out this is not your average steak & ale pie pub menu and that there is a seriously talented chef in the kitchen, in fact a French chef, Jean-Philippe Bidart. Even more refreshing is the simple and genuinely wholesome country food he is cooking and not the overworked, overly ambitious and pretentious Michelin-driven food that I have encountered in the English countryside; this is the sort of rural food you crave for but is so hard to find.
Equally, the commitment to locally sourced and seasonal meat and fish from the South Hams rings true here when our front of house persons explains, “When you are as remote as we are, you are somewhat forced to go local”.
The fact is the daily menu here is driven by what line caught fish come in on the boats that day, or if there are lobsters or crabs in the catch. The local pork, lamb and beef is obviously more readily available, as are wild rabbits and deer however I would definitely like to be around in August when the game season starts with Red Grouse and the following months with Pheasants, Partridge, Duck, Goose, Woodcock and Moorhen. Looking at the Millbrook website, it is clear these folks are seriously in to their food… “We live, eat, breath and sleep food.”
I found it difficult to choose my meal–only because I wanted to eat every dish they had–opting for the lamb (what is it with New Zealanders and lamb) when I really should have had the Bouillabaisse, as I watched it arrive at the next table and the moans of gastronomic pleasure coming from their direction. But the lamb was excellent, beautifully cooked pink and served with Dauphinoise Potatoes.
The Rural West County and French Cheese platter was very good, yes amongst the Cornish Yarg and Exmoor Jersey Blue, the proprietors obviously don’t mind Chef Bidart indulging in some Pont l’Evêque and Tomme de Savoie. I would also recommend you leave room for pudding, which appears to be the kitchens pièce de résistance.
The beer here is top notch, rather strategic for an inn, and again very local – Red Rock and their own IPA made for them by Red Rock – which I had and thought was excellent. The wine list is small and largely from the Languedoc Rousillon region which they feel goes best with their food. I agree with them although with such good food I would suggest they could stretch out a bit more on the wine selection; perhaps they could keep it local in a sense by sourcing from the legendary wine merchant, Yapp Brothers, who are not that far away up in Mere and are specialists in Rhone Valley and Languedoc Rousillon wines.
The Millbrook Inn has a wonderful, cozy feel to it and tastefully decorated; not tired, cluttered and garish as many old inns can be, indeed its almost minimalist by comparison and tiny with little corners and alcoves that make it all the more intimate. The bar is crowded if you are more than five-abreast with a small table and bench-seat and just enough room for a large Labrador to hog the fireplace.
The service is very friendly and genuinely personable; they really do go out of the way to make you feel at home and the chap that served us was very attentive and incredibly enthusiastic and proud of their food and beer.
Interestingly, the Millbrook Inn was owned by the locals for some ten years, who had all chipped in to buy it so they could preserve the integrity of their very special rural pub. Having run the pub for six years, Ian and Diana Hunt recently purchased the freehold of the pub from the South Pool community, which clearly shows they are doing the right job.
Personally, it is one of the best pub experiences I have ever had and I’m already scheming how I can get back there for the game season and can imagine holding up the bar all day in winter.