The Hunter’s Inn, Parracombe

Food, Published Works

Originally posted to DevonLife.co.uk July 2014

Between the villages of Trentishoe and Martinhoe not far from the North Devon coast, you will find a quintessential English pub called The Hunter’s Inn.  Encompassed by the lush, wooded slopes of the Heddon Valley, this lovely characterful pub enjoys a beautiful & idyllic setting.

This time, my youngest daughter and I were invited by Landlord David Orton and Head Chef Justin Dunn to participate in the ‘Venison 5 days 5 ways’ week.  So on Friday 13th (not unlucky for us), we dutifully arrived for a wonderful, climactic Exmoor feast.

We were swiftly escorted to our table, situated next to impressive eight feet high bay windows that provide you with a commanding view of the neatly cut lawn and wooded garden beyond.  This lovely, picturesque view was a fantastic, added bonus to what was going to be a great night.

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After much consideration of the carefully, and thoughtfully constructed menu I chose the Marinated Crispy Chilli Beef served with a Mixed Salad to begin with.  Sophie on the other handed opted for the Venison Carpaccio served with Watercress, Parmesan and Balsamic oil.  Both of these dishes were really superb and tasted as good as they sounded.

Biting into the succulent strips of chilli beef, your mouth experiences an explosion of flavour accompanied by a pleasant sweet, heat.  The leafy salad underneath was also coated with a delightful combo of sweet chilli and the signature, mustard based French dressing.  Sophie and I couldn’t resist stealing some food from each other’s plates, and we were both in agreement about the quality and appeal of both of these dishes.

Sampling the Venison Carpaccio, I was similarly pleased.  7 lovely, tender slices of Venison gracefully sprinkled with Parmesan cheese, with watercress on the side and a ramekin of Balsamic oil.  It was hard to find fault with such a lovely, well presented dish that really did look the business.   Surely this is what great cooking is all about.

DSC_0108The main dishes soon arrived after that.  Being ‘Venison 5 days 5 ways’ week, I could hardly choose anything but the ‘Char Grilled Local Fillet of Venison served with Wild Mushrooms, Wilted Coz Lettuce, Minted New Potatoes and Creamy Peppercorn Sauce.’  Sophie on the other hand decided on the more uncomplicated, yet eminently inviting ‘Eight Ounce Hunters Inn Beef Burger with Bacon, Cheese, Chunky Chips & Mixed Salad.’

The Char Grilled Venison was succulent, juicy and simply bursting with flavour.  The Wild Mushrooms (nine different varieties) that lay underneath, must surely rank as some of the strangest food I have ever eaten, but were nonetheless a great addition to my delicious, chunk of Exmoor Venison.  The creamy, peppery sauce tastefully complimented the dish, as did the beautifully soft minted potatoes.

Sophie’s burger itself was homemade and satisfying.  It would be no exaggeration to say that this burger, lovingly made in the Kitchen at The Hunter’s Inn, was a simple monument to juicy, scrumptious beefiness.  Utterly delicious in every way, I could even go as far to say that it was the beefiest Beef burger I have ever tasted.  And I’ve eaten a lot of burgers in my life…  The chunky chips, light and fluffy on the inside and brown and crispy on the outside, were of course the perfect match for the dish.

My final destination on this leg of my gastronomic journey was the colourful and creamy Trio of Lovington’s Ice Cream,DSC_0114
sourced from across the border in neighbouring Somerset.  Sat on a brandy snap basket, it was a real sweet treat that is so evocative of all that is good and great about Westcountry produce.

Sophie elected for the Lemon Tart served with Strawberries and Clotted Cream.  Looking rather good on the plate, the taste and experience of the dish matched the appearance completely!  Having lived in Devon for most of my life, I’m somewhat a sucker for clotted cream and the accompanying Wild Berry Compote made with Blackcurrant Cassis was just heavenly.

Both desserts were a perfect end to a really fabulous night. Both David and Justin can be proud of the food, service and ambience found here at The Hunters Inn.  Why not pop in sometime soon and find out for yourself?

The Black Venus, Challacombe

Food, Published Works

Posted to DevonLife.co.uk on 17th June 2014

It is not often that you can walk into a restaurant, and then walk out later totally satisfied in every way.  Now I am fairly hard to please and it takes a lot to keep me really happy.  However The Black Venus Inn at Challacombe managed, miraculously in my view, to tick all of my many and varied boxes.

Marc & Liz Birch are at the helm of this family run business, with daughter Louise & her mum running front of house.  Darren their son is the culinary genius leading his small, but talented team in the kitchen behind the scenes.  This classic English character pub is cosy, busy and warm and is situated in a gentle dip amongst the rolling hills, a mere stone’s throw from the Somerset border.

First thing you need to realise when entering the Black Venus is that there are no menus.  Well there are, but they are just not on the table.  In fact, the entire range of dishes on offer are to be found on various blackboards dotted about the premises.  And it was to these that my eldest daughter & I went to choose our meals for the night.

I commenced my culinary journey with the Special Chefs Starter, ‘The Black Pudding Stack’, layered with leeks and bacon with a wholegrain mustard sauce. If that sounds rather delicious then you would be on the money.  It was without doubt a delightful and mouth-watering treat.

The lovely salty taste of the bacon woven in amongst the juicy, tender leeks made a fabulous addition to the star of this dish. Attended by a flavoursome lake of wholegrain mustard sauce and lovingly decorated with red mustard frills, this starter was a real treat.  Who would have thought that Black Pudding could have looked so beautiful?

My daughter Becky, on the other hand elected for the Seared Scallops, again served with black pudding and the delightful addition of a carrot puree.  Her verdict on that dish was that the Scallops were ‘very light and soft and cooked to perfection.’

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Part two for me came in the form of Chicken breast stuffed with brie, wrapped in bacon with a wholegrain mustard sauce (my choice, and worth repeating).  In my opinion, the chicken was tender, and perfectly cooked.  Again, the bacon wrap was a great accompaniment, cleverly complimenting the warm, soft brie core of this main offering.

The bed of buttery, slightly salted crushed new potatoes was seasoned with black pepper.  This combination of basic but important flavours was really tasty and delicious and completely hit the mark.  The neatly arranged broccoli also received the thumbs up from me, as it was neither under or over-cooked.

Across the table, Becky’s Duck Breast with a Port & Thyme Jus was akin to a work of art on a plate, describing it as ‘succulent and tender with a beautiful, crusty edge.’  Hmmm, sounds great to me!  It was attended by perfectly cooked green beans, and the dish was a simple masterpiece in terms of taste and appearance.

The finale came in the form of a homemade chocolate torte.  I was not in any way disappointed.  The torte was a luxuriant, chocolate sensation – and very moreish.  It was accompanied by locally sourced ice cream, sitting on a bed of broken wafers.  A smattering of icing sugar and a rich chocolate sauce completed this superb dessert.

Becky’s Lemon cheesecake was a lovely, tangy foil for all the preceding richness of the evening, guaranteed to cleanse the palette in the best way possible.  Created by Darren and his team, it made a refreshing change on the pub dessert landscape.

Marc, Liz, Darren & Louise really are running a tidy ship here and fully deserve recognition on the culinary scene.  In my opinion, and I don’t think this is overstating the case, but the food served that night was near perfect.  It was tasty, plentiful, hot, well presented, good value for money and came with great service.  And the simple English pub, homey atmosphere of The Black Venus is just great.

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