A taste of the new Salcombe Food & Drink Trail, Devon
Houston, we have lift off. Despite an almighty gale blowing across pretty Hope Cove, the Lobster Pod Bistro’s quirky space-age glass domes remained firmly rooted to the cliffside.
Once out of the wind and rain, we snuggled into the cosy, heated pod (six people maximum owing to Covid-19 restrictions) with bluetooth connection to play our own music and a phone to order more food and drinks.
We admired the 180 degree views across Harbour Beach out to Bigbury Bay and watched waiters skilfully negotiating steep, slippery steps to the pods while balancing enormous platters of seafood and bowls of steaming chowder. Our seafood platter overflowed with lobster, crab claws, prawns, crevettes, squid rings, fish pate and a mountain of salad. Guests can also choose their own lobster from the tank.
The Lobster Pod, opened by the Cottage Hotel a few years ago, is one of many foodie experiences you can enjoy on the new self-guided Salcombe Food & Drink trail around the Salcombe Estuary and South Hams. Although Covid-19 has delayed the official launch to 2021, I was lucky to enjoy a taster – several tasters, in fact.
At Salcombe Gin, bar manager, Chris Percy, took us through a tasting of its Start Point, Rose Sainte Marie and Restless gins, prompting us to notice the subtle changes that occur when they are paired with different fruits and tonics. The contrasts were staggering.
Restless, the world’s first gin distilled with a liquid botanical, is the fifth limited-edition gin in the Voyager series. It has been inspired by two Michelin-starred chef Niall Keating of Whatley Manor, and uses his own blood orange kombucha. Each gin in the series is a collaboration with a top chef.
Chris took us into the distillery which produce 600 bottles a day, and explained the process. Afterwards, we popped over to the gin school where pupils were blending a huge array of botanicals in their individual miniature stills.
For desert, we walked to nearby Salcombe Dairy Ice Cream, where the ice-cream is made from Devonshire milk and double cream from local farms and alginate, a seaweed compound, used to emulsify the dairy fats. All the flavours on offer were tempting but I eventually settled on chocolate honeycomb (and mint another day) which was absolutely divine. Vegan varieties such as chocolate and rainforest fruit were on offer too.
If you want to watch it being made, there’s a window where you can see artisans at work on ice-cream and bar to bean chocolate, a relatively new venture for the company.
Our next stop, the family-owned Winking Prawn on beautiful North Sands has been a Salcombe institution for many years. Offering a laid-back shabby-chic beach vibe, visitors flock there for pints of shell-on prawns, fruits de mer, fish, BBQs and al fresco dining – there’s even a dressing up box. The crab comes from nearby Brixham, the prawns, mussels and mackerel are local and the lobster is “from out there,” said restaurant manager, Andy, pointing out to sea. We settled on king prawns in garlic butter and chargrilled scallops, ordered via a QR code, which were meaty and sea-water fresh.
Retro 1960s pop songs kept us entertained. It was fun trying to guess long-forgotten artists such The Bachelors, Herman’s Hermits and Perry Como – remember them? – and the years their songs became hits.
Fine dining features on the trail too. At two-AA Rosette Soar Mill Cove Hotel, which has stunning views over the sea and South West coast path, chef Ian McDonald has been dishing up imaginative dishes for 20 years.
“Whatever we get through the door, we cook,” says manager Matt Barton. The hotel also distils its own gin, Jenny’s, named after one of the owners, initially from a vintage mobile distillery but now from a place in Dartmoor.
My Salcombe crab and celeriac starter was delicate and fresh, the bacon and potato roll absolutely delicious. Mackerel wrapped in bacon with scallops, heritage red and orange beetroot and beetroot gel was a work of art and a shame to eat. Lemon posset with macerated strawberries was creamy yet zingy and a buttery frangipani tart with a rubble we couldn’t identify was heavenly. It turned out to be white chocolate baked at a low temperature and crumbled in a liquidiser – yum.
It’s hot stuff at the South Devon Chilli Farm, Loddiswell, where visitors are invited to sample the chilli preserves, sauces and chocolates made on site and visit the plant nursery, show tunnel, cafe and shop. It’s closed for winter but plans to open next Easter.
With so many wonderful eateries to visit, a return visit is definitely on the cards.
A fold-out map of the trail can be picked up from Salcombe Tourist Information Centre, Market Street (01548 843927) or visit www.salcombeinformation.co.uk/food-and-drink/food-drink-trail.