The Wheelwright, Colyford, Devon

Colyford is a village steeped in tradition – its Michaelmas Goose Fayre has been a draw since medieval days

The Wheelwright

Colyford is a village steeped in tradition – its Michaelmas Goose Fayre has been a draw since medieval days. As with all traditions, however, those that can adapt to changes in attitudes and circumstances get stronger: the Goose Fayre now holds a mock goose auction rather than a real one. The Wheelwright is another case in point. A 17th-century thatched inn, formerly the workplace of the town wheelwright, is now a celebrated dining destination that encompasses the best in modern British cooking.

The fine balance between tradition and innovation is exemplified by the wine list. Proprietor Gary Valentine provides 50-odd wines, embracing the old and new worlds, the familiar and the famous, and isn’t shy about pushing the boat out: The Wheelwright is possibly the only pub in the South West to stock a 1996 vintage Margaux. The mark of a good dining establishment is attention to detail: the wine list starts at �13.50 with a 2009 Cabernet Merlot that makes for a great house wine – both soft and juicy, it is totally approachable with only a minute’s breathing time.

With a sourcing policy that’s commonly bandied about, but rarely bettered, The Wheelwright puts the locus into local, combining a propinquity to the sea with a rural position ripe for engaging with great growers, makers and suppliers. The fish is a great case in point – landed in Beer, it literally jumps from the sea onto your plate. The kitchen staff are totally enthused by the quality and proximity of such wonderful seafood and show this by honouring it with the slightest of perfect interventions; no mean feat with 110+ covers on a regular Friday night.

Kristy Valentine, who manages The Wheelwright as well as providing (along with the rest of the front-of-house crew) top-notch table service, and offers excellent recommendations. My dining companion followed her advice and started with the Lyme Bay scallops, which were cooked to perfection. Indeed, it took some persuasion to get her to relinquish a taste of the quivering pearlescent delicacies, which were so light they almost floated from the plate. I had the smoked wild duck – as robust yet refined as a gentleman’s velvet jacket, and paired with a delightful prune and orange comp�te. A sprightly tangle of dressed bitter leaves gave the plate perfectly balanced elegance.

We were treated to a surprise taste of the ‘catch of the day’: line-caught sea bass on a bed of garlic borlotti beans with Parma ham. Head Chef Craig Sampson cites a Portuguese influence, but he’s clearly made this dish his own: crispy skin and delicate, moist flesh.

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For main I chose slow-roasted shank of Wimple lamb, which was so tender the meat fell from the bone with hardly a whisper. It came with perfectly pitched creamed haricots blancs suffused with rosemary and a gentle cloud of mash. My companion’s maple-glazed belly of pork was a similar act of fall-apart perfection – what remained of its fat was crisped and beautifully rendered.

Due to the generous portions and sheer depth of taste, pudding seemed an insurmountable challenge, but we couldn’t resist the ‘Autumn Selection’, perfect for sharing. I wished the dark chocolate and Amaretto torte would last forever, but didn’t get a look-in on the sticky toffee pudding...

From the chandelier of wine glasses in the ‘tin fish’ dining room to the fun photographs of the chefs on the menu, The Wheelwright presents as informed, charming and honest; a modern dining experience with traditional values. Having already garnered high praise – Best Dining Pub South West in the Great British Pub Awards 2009 – The Wheelwright will surely continue to inflate the expectations and enthuse the passion of all who pass under its thatch.  STUART CREWES

Sample Menu Starters

Smoked wild duck with spiced prune and orange comp�te

Lyme Bay scallops, lightly curried, with cauliflower pur�e

Goats’ cheese mousse with tomato chutney, pesto and Parmesan tuille

Main Courses

Braised and maple-glazed belly of pork with parsnip fondant

Slow roast shank of Wimple lamb with creamed haricot beans

Free range chicken breast with pumpkin risotto

Desserts

Dark chocolate and Amaretto torte

Plum and frangipane tart

Sticky toffee pudding

 The Wheelwright, Swan Hill Road, Colyford, EX24 6QQ.

01297 552585,

wheelwright-inn.co.uk

Proprietors: Gary and Toni Valentine

Head Chef: Craig Sampson

Food Served: 12 noon-9.30pm, every day

A la carte prices:

Starters from �4.95; Main Courses from �13.95; Desserts from �5.50

Wine: from �13.50

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