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Discovering Devonshire Delights

Discovering Devonshire Delights
Image: Jan Fuscoe
Everyone knows about the cream teas, the impossibly pretty – not to mention narrow – winding lanes and beautiful sandy beaches, but one of the best reasons for visiting Devon now is the superb food and drink produced here. The county is like one great big kitchen full of foodies. Jan Fuscoe reports.
 
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall isn’t the only one to work out that fertile soil and more sunshine hours than most of the rest of the UK are excellent reasons for setting up business here; Victoria Cranfield, a one-time lawyer, antiques dealer and builder, is now creator of award-winning marmalades.  An Okehampton couple who were ‘something in finance’ have turned a loss-making dairy farm into a successful vineyard. Then there are the brothers who expanded a clutch of their mother’s blueberry bushes, turning them into a burgeoning fruit-based business… 
 
These and many others share an seemingly unstoppable drive to make quality products with an emphasis on flavour, as well showing a real commitment to safeguarding the environment: Victoria Cranfield seemed as thrilled about the proliferation of newts in her garden (and the fact that the Butterfly Trust has given it the thumbs up) as her Double Gold in the World Marmalade Awards 2012. And the irrepressible Jan Billington of Maddocks Farm Organics, once a consultant for arts fundraising, can tell you as much about the hedgehogs and bats in her garden as the flowers she grows for cocktails, cakes and canapés. And  every ‘back-to-the-land’ grower seems keen to promote other producers who share their vision, and this extends to hotels and restaurants too…
 
Happily for the visitor, it’s win-win, so here’s a heads-up on where to uncover the best that Devon has to
Discovering Devonshire Delights
Image: Jan Fuscoe
offer:
 
EAT
 
Yelverton’s Wildflower restaurant in the Moorland Garden Hotel is where South African-born Bruce Cole makes great use of local ingredients in his British menu with a modern twist. Expect fish fresh from Brixham Market, superb quality meat from Dartmoor Farmers and the finest English cheeses like Cornish Keltic Gold, with its rind washed with local cider, and Gloucestershire’s Stinking Bishop all served up with Cole’s own-made chutney.
 
Instow's Commodore is a comfortable mid-range hotel with a first-class restaurant that positively promotes Devon’s food and drink, with a typical menu starting with a glass of Tiverton’s Yearlstone Brut, followed by home oak-smoked salmon,  local Creedy Carver duck breast or line-caught North Devon sea bass and finally Clovelly clotted cream ices.
 
For popular ‘planks’ of local cheese or charcuterie, head for nearby John of Instow in Appledore, where everything is either made in the kitchen or sourced from local or regional producers.
 
Le Bistro Pierre in the Royal William Yard in Plymouth specialises in carefully sourced ingredients to produce provincial French cooking at ‘recession-friendly’ prices.
 
SHOP
 
John of Instow also has a deli where you’ll find great homemade dishes, pies and pastries to take straight onto the beach a few yards away.
 
Darts Farm in Exeter is a cooperative where dozens of local producers sell their goods, like Victoria Cranfield’s jellies, chutneys, jams and marmalades,  and Jan Billington’s edible flowers as well as the Blueberry Brothers’ products  – blueberry muffins, chocolates, even cheese.
 
Other food markets include the Totnes Good Food Sunday Market and Good Food at the Yard (Royal William Yard, Stonehouse, Plymouth).
 
Bruce Cole gets his meat from Dartmoor Farmers, a group of hill farmers who, supported by HRH, the Prince of Wales, joined forces to ensure the future success of upland farming on the moor.  A list of outlets and places to eat their prime meats can be found on the website.
 
VISIT
 
The Eastcott Vineyard in Okehampton holds tours and tutored tastings, as well as selling their award-winning sparkling and still white and rose wines. Visitors who get a taste for it could volunteer to work in the vineyards remembering ‘If you wouldn’t put it in your mouth, don’t put it in the crate’.
 
Pebblebed Vineyard in Topsham is a community project started in 1999 and today over 20 families care for the vines.  Visitors to its modern winery can taste their award-winning Devon wines as well as buying gift vouchers and even having vines named after themselves.
 
Brixham Fish Market, one of the biggest fishing ports in England, has buyers from some of the best restaurants in the country. An early morning tour of the market followed by a lovely breakfast in the restaurant above costs £10 (07410 617931).
 
Some like it hot, and the South Devon Chilli Farm in Kingsbridge, where 10,000 chilli plants are grown a year, is the place to find a range of chilli sauces, preserves and chilli chocolate.
 
Award-winning Plymouth Gin is the only gin mentioned by name in the Savoy Cocktail Book and it’s still produced at historic Black Friars Distillery on the Barbican. A 40-minute £7 tour includes a glass of gin and tonic, while the £20 Connoisseur tour incudes a 5-gin tasting, and the Master Distillers Tour (2.5 hours) includes a nose tasting and the chance to create your own 200ml bottle of gin.
 
SLEEP
 
Hotels have come a long way since the fictional Fawlty Towers, which was based on a real hotel in Torquay*. And that’s thanks in part to the likes of the Cary Arms in Babbacombe. The chic boutique bolthole with New England styling and sea-facing rooms also has separate cottage accommodation and a Yon-Ka spa room. The gastropub serves local line-caught fish, Lyme Bay lobster and Devon beef.
 
The Commodore Hotel has rooms overlooking the Torridge across to Appledore, and a huge sprung-floored ballroom, while the stylish Moorland Garden Hotel is set in acres of land on the edge of Dartmoor. The Best Western Gleneagles is a boutique hotel created from the one that originally inspired Fawlty Towers.
 
For more information see Visit Devon website www.visitdevon.co.uk
First Great Western run regular trains taking 2hr 30mins from Paddington to Exeter with www.firstgreatwestern.co.uk.
 
 
 
 
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29 November 2013
By: Jan Fuscoe
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