FOOD REVIEW: A trip down memory lane at The Sidmouth Arms, Upottery
- Credit: Archant
It serves what its owner modestly calls ‘pub grub’.
But anyone with a good set of tastebuds would know that at The Sidmouth Arms in Upottery, there is a gulf in quality in the food it serves to the bog-standard pub grub you expect to be slapped on a plate at chain brands.
Farm-fresh food always sings on the palate - the fare served up at this village pub is a whole symphony of taste and colour.
A brilliant orange egg yolk, crispy fish skin which snaps and sizzles on the tongue and a delicate bread-and-butter pudding straight from granny's Dixie oven are all treasures being served from the Arms' kitchen.
Owners Linda and Nigel snapped up the pub ten years ago, and have set about making it at one with the community again.
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From sponsoring Upottery's sports teams to hosting more than two-dozen skittle teams, the Arms has community at its core - and this is reflected in the home cooking its head chef Jonothan plates up.
Linda said: "Most things on the menu are homemade because I think you get best value for money.
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"We have a small kitchen, with main chefs. Jonothan is probably the most laid-back person you could come across.
"We champion local produce. Our eggs are from two miles down the road, we have two local butchers and we get our fish from Brixham."
So how was the food?
Unlike previous tastings in East Devon, we are presented with a pre-set menu.
While for me this could prove risky, as anything containing blue cheese or Marmite would be soundly ignored, it put more emphasis on the kitchen to impress.
And boy, did it impress.
To start, we try a tasting plate of creamy garlic mushrooms topped on bread, black pudding sat on bubble and squeak and a fried egg hat, and a smoked mackerel fish cake with lemon lime mayo.
Each bite is delightful - the mushrooms are earthy and the sauce is garlicky and fragrant, a classic combination which still pleases when done right.
The bread adds some much-needed crunch, and isn't heavy at all.
The black pudding is salty and crumbles on the tongue. The egg yolk is the perfect 'dippy egg' consistency and the bubble-and-squeak smacks of Boxing Day nostalgia, when your mum cobbles all the veggie leftovers together in a Pyrex dish.
The mackerel fishcake is light and not oily at all.
Despite being a strongly-flavoured fish usually, this 'bon-bon' is delicate and doesn't assault the tastebuds with a fishy punch.
Mellow potato chunks add texture and the lime zest running through the mayo adds a nip of citrus to round off the dish.
If we weren't hungry before, we were ravenous after the starters and equally excited to see what chef Jonothan would plate up next.
After a quick photo of the pub's exterior, I would find out what one dish is - a faggot on a bed of creamy mash, served with garden peas and an onion gravy.
The other dish is hake, served with crispy skin, fried potatoes, cubed chorizo and green beans.
Both dishes are jostling to be the star of the show, and both probably deserved a share of the gold medal.
The faggot is lip-smackingly meaty, seasoned well with generous lashings of salt and pepper.
The mash is smooth and buttery, and the green beans are cooked well, still retaining their crunch.
I was rather reluctant to the split the dish with my colleague, as I wasn't a massive fan of fish, but the hake course may have changed my mind.
The skin is beautifully crisp and melted away on the tongue like an briny sherbet, but the star of the dish is the hake itself.
Tender chunks of white meat which didn't even need chewing - yes please. Combine that with crispy fried potatoes and strong, heady chorizo and you have a classic combination of flavours playing Twister on the tongue.
It is a delightful dish, and very light for such generous portioning of the hake.
Onto desserts, and we are presented with a trio - banoffee pie, brownie and bread and butter pudding, with a quenelle of clotted cream.
The brownie is homemade, and that shines through. Gooey chocolate innards protected by a crunchy outer shell - any chocoholic would say 'yes please' more than once.
The banoffee pie is rich and loaded with sticky caramel, a real pudding. Sweet banana and a biscuit base finished off the incredibly tasty slice.
I could have eaten at least six slices and still wanted more.
The bread and butter pudding is also homemade, with once-stale bread reimagined as cream-soaked slices of sweetness, enhanced by sultanas.
As previously noted in this review, it's straight out of granny's oven - the kind of dish you'd eat on a rainy Wednesday after a hard day at school and, magically, all the stress of the day would melt away.
Looking back at our visit to the Arms, I realised we didn't even sit and saviour the dishes - because they were so tasty.
But I guess that's the point. At home, you are expected to tuck in and take a breath between every third of fourth forkful because you are at home, surrounded by loved ones.
And that's when it clicked.
The ethos of The Arms is to make you feel at home, and part of the community.
If it doesn't do it through its warm hospitality, the food will take you down a memory lane you didn't even know existed.