Devon Restaurant Profile, The Harris Arms
Proprietors Andy and Rowena Whiteman describe the Devon location of The Harris Arms as 'within spitting distance of everywhere, but in the middle of nowhere'
Proprietors Andy and Rowena Whiteman describe the location of The Harris Arms as ‘within spitting distance of everywhere, but in the middle of nowhere’, which seems apt as we turn off the A30 west of Okehampton in Devon and climb to about 600ft. It is a glorious late spring evening, the sky blue and cloudless, as Andy leads us out onto the decked patio at the rear of the pub, whjere the view floods the eye, rolling hills falling away and rising to the highest point on the horizon – Brentor. It is spectacular.
Returning from abroad in the summer of 2003, Andy and his wife Rowena settled on ‘fell in love with view’ at the Harris Arms and because it is the region in which Bristol-born Andy enjoyed childhood holidays. The building – a 16th-century inn – was in need of a revamp, and it has evolved under the couple’s care into a fuss-free, comfortable space. For Andy and Rowena, though, it continues to be a work in progress, with planning permission granted to provide B&B rooms, and work advancing on the vegetable garden, which will provide all manner of ingredients for the kitchen, as well as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapevines.
Their knowledge of wine is impressive, and the list – more than 100-strong – is a vinophile’s dream, right down to the Riedel glassware. They personally choose all the wines, buying from a selection of wine merchants as well as direct from vineyards, but they’re not just good at choosing the best. Andy and Rowena made a Pinot Gris while in New Zealand, which won them silver in a national wine growers’ competition. And, working closely on the menu with Head Chef Ross Tregidgo, they are making the most of local growers and producers.
The couple’s travels have influenced the menu – the wonderful tapas starters, for instance, which we wolfed down in double-quick time – and they bring the best of their experiences to bear. “When we were travelling, we found lots of food on offer that we thought was poncey – all style over substance,” says Andy. “I like simple food, dishes that allow the ingredients to shine and the flavours to come into their own.”
Similarly, Ross is a fan of simple food that’s big on flavour. “I want people to relax, to enjoy themselves, and to let the quality of the food speak for itself,” he says. Still only 24, but with stints in France, at London’s Park Lane Hotel, and with Peter Gorton at the Horn of Plenty under his belt, Ross is keen to learn all he can about food and wine from Andy and Rowena, as well as flexing his culinary muscles.
My braised beef brisket is full of flavour, the tender meat and balsamic mushroom joined in perfect matrimony. My partner Stuart’s pan-fried bream is proof that Ross has the required delicate touch with fish, along with shellfish, because he ‘likes the challenge’ – as the flesh is perfectly pearlescent, exquisitely subtle.
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The desserts also impress. My dark chocolate truffle is a decadent heart-stopper, and a Belgian couple at an adjoining table are so taken with their sponge pudding that they request the recipe; much amusement ensues at my attempts to translate ‘treacle’.
Ross originally joined The Harris Arms as Sous Chef (but already a customer of long standing), and stepped up to the top job when the Head Chef moved on. Everyone, not least the diners, is delighted with the results. “I always wanted a younger team in the kitchen, people who aren’t set in their ways,” says Andy. “This is the best kitchen team I’ve ever worked with.”
Hear, hear to that.
The Harris Arms, Portgate, Lewdown, Okehampton, Devon EX20 4PZ Tel: 01566 783331
Proprietors: Andy and Rowena Whiteman
Head Chef: Ross Tregidgo
Sous Chef: Chris Bloye
Prices: Starters from �4.50; tapas dishes from �3.50; main courses from �9.25; desserts from �5.50. Wine from �12.50
Selection of tapas dishes: patatas bravas, manchego cheese with quince paste on bread, chicken in lemon and garlic, pimientos de padr�n
Crab cake with mango and chilli salsa
Slow-cooked pork belly with potato gratin, spring vegetable panache and cider sauce
Roast breast of Guinea fowl with sweet potato & mushroom hash, saut�ed spinach and Madeira sauce
Vanilla and rhubarb cr�me br�l�e
Lemon pannacotta with peach Schnapps jelly