The Arundell Arms at Lifton in Devonshire Update:
We revisted last year and ate very well in the bar. We have had some excellent reports from readers since we reviewed this restaurant in July 1996. We have updated the fixed menu prices and the room tarrifs. Some of the wine prices may have changed a little.
The culinary style
remains much the same, but since the award of a third AA rosette even greater
efforts to keep up the very high standard can be expected. In spite of having visited some really fine country house hotels and other restaurants in the intervening year, the Arundell Arms remains one of our firm favourites.
The Hotel consists of a collection of ancient buildings that were originally the public rooms of the village. There is the courthouse bar, the old cockpit, and the assembly room, whose fine baroque proportions and elegant decor combine to make a rather grand dining room.
We arrived before lunch on Sunday, and after being shown the bedrooms, we went to the Hotel bar and studied the menu over a really delicious glass of Aldridge Estate Chardonnay (SE Australia). There is an excellent bar menu where you can sample some of the dishes from the dining room: One could have had a salad of avocado, french beans and asparagus with a basil relish for stg4.00, or fritters of sea fishes with courgettes, salad and horseradish mayonnaise, stg8.00 as well as a choice of sandwiches from stg2.50. Two ladies at a nearby table had beef sandwiches to die for! Everything in the Hotel is home made, from the bread to the truffles and the ice creams.
There is a set lunch menu: two courses for stg13.50 or three courses for stg17.00, and a choice of two dinner menus. There is a shorter menu at stg24.50 and a more extensive menu: two courses stg24.50, three courses stg28.50.
The less expensive set menu looked every bit as enticing as its more expensive companion. Indeed it seemed to me the main difference between the two is the greater choice available for the extra ten or eleven pounds. Guess which dishes came from each menu: Shallot Soup with thyme cream or Stilton soup with parmesan croutons - Smooth chicken liver paté or a warm salad of smoked duck breasts - Grilled Fillet of Trelough Duck with beetroot, celeriac and a chive sauce, or Roasted rack of English lamb with a compote of slightly sweetened rhubarb and a piquant saffran sauce. Incidentally all beef served at the Arundell Arms comes from naurally raised suckler Devon and Angus herds from carefully selected local farms.
We invited the chef Philip Burgess to choose a meal for us from each of the two menus. Trained at l'Ecu de France, he has been twelve years at the Arundell Arms, and is now a director. For my partner, Philip chose from the a la carte menu one of his specialities, a salad of sweet peppers with anchovies and parmesan, followed by the Casserole of Sole, Scallops, Sea Bass and local Tamar Salmon in a tomato butter sauce. The combination of caramelised roasted peppers perfectly sets off the stronger flavours of anchovy and the fine slivers of fresh parmesan. With the Casserole there was a deft touch with the sauce which did not overpower the subtly contrasting fishy flavours.
From the set lunch menu I began with a simply delicious warm sole tart, the pastry was perfection, the fish moist and tasty under its delicate cheesy topping. I was delighted when my main course appeared in the form of a traditional English Sunday roast joint. Wonderful beef from a local Devon farm, as tender and pink as a mousse, marbled with sufficient fat to keep it juicy but without spoiling its texture.
An equally traditional English summer pudding was served with a sumptuous accompaniment of home made blackcurrant icecream. I had prune fritters done in the lightest of batters, but I couldn't resist trying a tiny version of the platter of West Country cheeses, which included a not too ripe Somerset "camembert", a nutty Cornish Yarg and a creamy goat's cheese as good as any I've eaten on recent visits to Normandy.
In fact our lunch at the Arundell Arms was better than most meals I have eaten in France lately. In England now, there is a growing enthusiam and attention to detail, particularly in restaurants outside the metropolitan areas, where complacency and over sophistication can all too easily creep in. Much of Philip Burgess's success is due to his careful choice of excellent local produce, seasonal fish and game in particular; his deft touch encourages and brings out the best from his ingredients.
On discovering that the wines are supplied by Christopher Piper Wines of Ottery St Mary, Devon, I was not surprised to find that the list was interesting and well priced. Clarets started at stg9.50 and there was a respectable selection of decently aged crus bourgeoises at around the stg20 mark. For the same sort of price, Burgundy lovers could enjoy a premier cru St Aubin 1990, or for stg14.15 (who gets the fifteen pee?) you could quaff a medal winning Brouilly 1993 from Christopher Piper's own property in Beaujolais, the Chateau des Tours.
Bed & Breakfast from stg39.00 to stg61.00 Demi-pension including dinner from stg53.50 to stg75.00
In the winter, there is plenty of shooting, from walked up and informal small drives to fully driven pheasant, duck and snipe. For beginners and the bloodless, there is clay pigeon shooting with a fully qualified instructor.
Other opportunities exist to burn off the excess calories, including riding on Bodmin Moor, and plenty of good golf. In fact Devon and Cornwall now offer an enormous range of attractions, there is more than enough to entertain the gourmet between appointments at the table!
The Arundell Arms, Lifton, Devon PL16 0AA
Tel: 01566 784666 Fax: 01566 784494
Directions from the A30 Okehampton by-pass: Just before Launceston, take the exit signposted Tavistock and Lifton. The Hotel is less than a mile down the road, on the left as you enter Lifton.
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