The Royal Oak Inn, Winsford.

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The Royal Oak Inn, Winsford. Image courtesy of Julia Amies-Green Photography

Sat in the bay window of the charming Royal Oak in Winsford, near the log burner and of course the bar, it’s easy for a feeling of contentment to wash over you. Winsford is not a village on the main road, so you need to take a bit of a diversion to get there, but it’s well worth it.

There has been an inn on this site for possibly over 800 years, and present owners Mark and Sally Bradley, have been here for 4 of those years. David Sylvester, the talented and hard-working Head Chef, is a local guy and has lived and worked in and around Winsford for over 27 years. And for much of that time, David has worked at the Oak. Which is why, no doubt, it is a watering-hole of repute.

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Head Chef, David Sylvester. Image courtesy of Julia Amies-Green Photography

So onto the food, because that’s what we came here for. The Oak has an interesting and altogether inviting menu, including the intriguing homemade filled bread rolls, such as: Roast Beef & Horseradish and Prawns in Marie Rose Sauce. At £7 each, I would say they were definitely worth a pop.

Other delights on the menu to be found are: Steak & Exmoor Ale Pie – Homemade Proper Pie with Mash or Chips and Trio of Park Sausages, Grain Mustard Mash with Rich Onion Gravy. David also offers his discerning clientèle a range of 7 homemade desserts, truly refreshing when so much of what is offered these days comes straight out of the freezer.

However, it was to the offering chalked up on the specials board above the fireplace that I was irresistibly drawn. After no small amount of deliberation, I opted for Roast Lamb Rump with Rosemary Jus. And I have to say that this was an excellent choice.

The locally sourced Exmoor lamb from a butcher in South Molton was succulent, delicious and generous on the plate, and with the accompanying Ratte potatoes, rosemary jus and ring of cress encircling the meat, it was also perfectly presented too. The main dish was attended by a generous helping of buttered vegetables.

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Roast Lamb Rump with Rosemary Jus

The thing about this dish is simplicity. There was nothing pretentious about it; it was simple, beautiful, full of flavours and textures and most of all, filling. The cost of the meal was £17 which was good value for money I think in a hostelry such as the Royal Oak.

It soon became quite busy during the lunchtime, which is encouraging considering that this lovely old pub, as previously stated, is somewhat out-of-the-way and we are well outside of the holiday season for Exmoor, in the lull after Christmas. With David at the culinary helm, I think the Royal Oak is set for another busy and fruitful season.

 

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Woods Bar and Restaurant, Dulverton.

If you ever find yourself in Dulverton, no doubt you will have noticed signs that proudly proclaim that you have now arrived at the gateway to Exmoor. True enough I’m sure, but instead of driving through, you should take some time to stay awhile and explore this charming little Somerset village. And if you are looking for food and drink, and shelter from the cold, then look no further than Woods Bar and Restaurant tucked away up Bank Square. Sit yourself cosily by the bar and the open log fire, and you’ll find it hard to imagine a greater level of enjoyment on a chilly, December afternoon.

Ed Heard has been the Head Chef at Woods now for about 6 years, and has certainly made his mark here in this perennially busy bar and restaurant. Ed is certainly a prolific, local talent, and he is very ably assisted by both Lloyd and Louise in the kitchen. The waiting and bar staff are friendly and professional too. Woods has a delightful ambiance, and I recommend that you visit here when you’re next in Dulverton.

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I arrived just after midday, and the restaurant was pretty much empty. However, within a very short space of time, it soon filled up and was packed to the gunwales with hungry customers. Woods was then replete with that pleasing hubbub that you get when you have a room full of happy, relaxed people.

Having ordered a local ale, my attention turned to the menu. Filled with delights such as the Northcombe Lamb Burger, with Cheese and Barbecue Sauce, or the Slow Roast Somerset Pork with Black Pudding, I was irresistibly drawn to the very seasonal Roasted Pheasant Breast, Fondant Potato, Sprouts, Chestnuts, Wild Mushrooms and Wholegrain Mustard Veloute. And at £13.50, I would say it represents remarkable value for money.

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I think the first thing to say about this dish is delicious. I know that might sound stunningly obvious, but it just was. Oozing with flavour in fact; the kind of flavour that just makes you want more and more. I can’t say that I’ve eaten a lot of pheasant in my time, but think after this little culinary wonder, I think I might be eating it a lot more in the days to come. Whether or not future pheasant dishes served in other restaurants live up to this high standard, we shall just have to see.

Presentation? Loved it. Colourful, interesting, different and not overpowering. So, adding together delightful, cosy, rural Westcountry ambiance, friendly staff, great ales and a knockout, value for money seasonal dish, I would say that was a jolly big success. Well done to owners Paddy & Sally and Chef Ed Heard and his team. Keep on doing what you’re doing, and I’m sure we’ll all be happy for eons to come!

Barrington Court, Somerset.

On a hot sunny day, there is nothing better than messing around in an English country garden. And if you like gardens, then the National Trust property of Barrington Court is a rather super one – and that’s putting it mildly.

I’m no flower expert, but I was nonetheless dazzled by the sheer variety of colour generously splashed around this beautiful walled garden. Expert or not, I was loving the unparalleled diversity of all this botanical brilliance around me.

Heading towards the house itself, you have to run the gauntlet of the Strode Tearooms which are housed in a fairly impressive building themselves. Of course you don’t have to run the gauntlet at all; you could just give in which is what we did, and enjoy the excellent culinary fayre therof.

Admittedly, relaxing outside in the burning late-morning sun whilst sipping proper, full flavoured tea, with the gentle hub-bub of fellow visitors chatting in the background, was most relaxing. It’s what an English summer is all about isn’t it?

My friend mused that the only thing missing was a cricket match on the lawn, with the crack of the ball on willow and “…the gentle ripple of applause.” I think he might have got a point. Perhaps the National Trust should look into this? 

Clavelshay Barn Restaurant

DSC_1624Out in the sticks, a few miles north of Taunton, you will find Lower Clavelshay Farm.  Ok, nothing unusual there because after all we are in rural Somerset, aren’t we?

However, within this farm, you will find a gastronomic delight called Clavelshay Barn restaurant.  And yes, as the name would suggest, it is in a barn (converted).

Farmer’s wife Sue Milveton manages the restaurant, whilst husband William and his two sons take care of this busy and productive farm.  Interestingly, Sue told me that when started this rural eatery almost 11 years ago, the question was posed along the lines of: “How are you going to get people to come to a restaurant in the middle of nowhere?”DSC_1594

Of course any restaurant is only as good, principally, as it’s chef.  That’s where Mr Olivier Certain comes in.  With his undoubted flair for producing mouthwatering, contemporary tucker, drawing in the punters to ‘the middle of nowhere’ doesn’t appear to have been a problem (it was almost full when my daughter Becky & I visited).

Olivier hails from Marseille on the fabulous Cote d’Azur in the sunny, south of France.  His culinary pedigree is impressive, having worked in the Michelin starred La Bonne Etape Chateau Arnoux and also Les Roches in Le Lavandou.

DSC_1602And right here in the Westcountry, Olivier served time as Sous Chef to Andrew Dixon in Porlock Weir, before moving on to the popular and now well established Woods Bar and Restaurant in Dulverton.

Starters and mains ordered, we sat happily ensconced at our table, quaffing a lovely light 2013 Riesling and munching rather tasty Habas Fritas (roasted broad beans).  A neat little idea indeed – I mean, who would have thought you could do something so interesting with the good old broad bean?

Soon the waitress was making a beeline for our table with plates in hand. I opted for the Dorset Cured Meats, Rocket Salad, Blushed Tomatoes with Truffle Oil.  This little beauty on a dish was comprised of two types of salami, coppa, serrano ham, pickled garlic, artichokes and sun blushed tomatoes.DSC_1596

Across the table, Becky’s Smoked Salmon Terrine, Seared Lyme Bay Scallop, Herb Salad, Radish with a drizzle of Vanilla Curried Oil was akin to a piece of art and definitely earned her seal of approval!  This evening was most decidedly looking up…

Round two came in the form of the Clavelshay Farm Home-reared Rose Veal Stew with Root Vegetables, Bacon and some lovely ‘Joe’s’ Sourdough Bread. The deliciously tender chunks of veal were sat in meaty, flavoursome gravy that was simply outstanding. It was like being hit with a flavour tsunami actually.

DSC_1610If cooking is all about the flavours as celebrity chef Gary Rhodes would often tell us, then Olivier scored 10/10 in my book with this treat.  Sue tells me the veal comes from their own farm. I guess it doesn’t come any fresher or local than that.

Becky on the other hand tucked into the Oven Roasted Supreme of Free-range Chicken, Fondant Potato, Kale in a delightful Bourguignon Garnish. Olivier told me that he very proud of his take on this very French sauce, and rightfully so.DSC_1618

By now Clavelshay was full of lots of satisfied customers, succumbing to the chef’s culinary magic.  For us, we were approaching the final furlong: dessert!  This came in the form of a Rich Chocolate Delice and for Becky, the Tasting of Lemon which was comprised of: Posset, Iced Parfait, Curd, Raspberry Coulis and Meringue.

I have to say that I am a Chocolate Delice newbie, but having tasted this, I shall now be on the lookout for this sweet textured delight.  Beautifully chocolatey and accompanied by a zesty orange ice cream.  Becky’s dish was pretty much all scraped clean as was mine; , it was a great end to the night.

Next time you’re in that neck of the woods, why not book a table pay a visit? I guarantee, you won’t be disappointed.

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Contact details are:

Address: Lower Clavelshay Farm, North Petherton, Taunton TA6 6PJ

Tel:  01278 662 629

Email: query@clavelshaybarn.co.uk

http://www.clavelshaybarn.co.uk/