In case you hadn’t noticed, we went to delicious Devon recently with our pals for the latest camping adventure. Three days of mooching about Salcombe, chilling on the beach, walking the dogs and, of course, trying some yummy food. Salcombe is full of fab foodie haunts – you may recall the Crab Shed that appeared on this blog a few weeks ago and there were plenty of other places to try too.
We were actually camping slightly out of Salcombe, just a short walk up from South Sands Beach, a lovely little cove complete with cafe, kayaking, a ferry round to Salcombe itself and the wonderful South Sands Hotel. The first time we visited, we popped in for a drink and some wi-fi for me (perils of a self-employed person!) and fell in love with the terrace, the cocktails and the menu. With so much to bring us back, we decided to do it properly and return for dinner.
Since we had two dogs in tow, the dog-friendly calibre of a place is always close to the top of the shopping list of a dinner destination. I’m happy to say the South Sands reserves a few tables for dogs and you’re allowed to take them on the terrace too, making it a great place for a dog-friendly dinner. They also have some dog-friendly rooms so it’s on my list for a weekend stay as well.
The menu at South Sands is a food-lovers dream. It’s big on provenance, packed with enough detail, and descriptive enough without using overly-emotive language that can make some menus read like a Mills and Boon novel. Locally-sourced ingredients get a starring role, from Cornish asparagus right down to Hope Cove lobster and Sladesdown duck breast. With each course there’s a suggested wine pairing and at £37 for two courses and £45 for three I don’t think it’s crazy expensive. Not for the standard of food you get anyway.
While the venue exuded class, we were as far from it as we ever are and chose this night to get rather excited by the option of ordering a magnum of wine. Yes, that can sound a bit TOWIE and OTT, but it turns out it worked out cheaper than ordering two bottles separately, so was a no brainer. (And yeah, it looks pretty cool).
To start, the boys opted for pickled mackerel with purple potato salad, sea fennel, marsh samphire and soft herbs. I love a nicely-written menu, but it can sometimes be the undoing of a restaurant if the food itself fails to live up to the poetically-written description. I’m happy to say this wasn’t the case. The presentation was second to none – even with my photography skills potentially marring these artistic offerings, you must be able to see how pretty they are?
I’m told the mackerel itself was the perfect combination of sweet and salty with a slight tang – though a tiny try reminded me that the texture of pickled fish isn’t quite to my taste – while Mr M was in awe of the sight of his first purple potato and a crisp light tuile that added height to the dish alongside the samphire.
I had opted for the Sladesdown duck confit with heritage carrot textures and honey and chive yoghurt. Another feast for the eyes as well as the tastebuds, it showed that the chefs at South Sands have thought through every possible element of balance, mixing different colours, textures and even heights of various elements to create a dish that was rounded in ever way.
The duck confit was tender, slighty salty and fatty without being cloying and was counterbalanced by the slight sour notes of the yoghurt dressing. When menus describe ‘textures’ of something, it can often mean a half-hearted attempt at presenting a particular ingredient in a different way that turns out to be rather unconvincing in reality but this wasn’t the case here. The clever use of different techniques to produce different textures, from dehydrating to pickling, made for a variety of flavours as well as appearance and added yet another dimension to the dish.
While the rest of us had been impressed by our starters, they paled in comparison to an unexpected winner – goats cheese mousse with red wine pickled shallots, toasted ciabatta, soft herbs and beetroot puree. On the face of it quite simple and not particularly extraordinary, but in reality something really quite special. I don’t know whether it was the lightness of the goat’s cheese mousse combined with a distinctive, deep flavour, the sweetness of the beetroot puree, or the sour of the pickled shallots. Or maybe it was the precision of the presentation, the pattern in the toasted ciabatta or the delicately placed herbs. Or perhaps it was all of it, brought together in the perfect combination of flavour, texture and appearance like the moment all four voices of a choir join in perfect harmony. I’m not sure, I’m no expert, but I know this starter was a triumph.
Despite the wide selection of main courses on offer from locally-caught fish to meat sourced from neighbouring Cornwall or Dartmoor, three of us couldn’t resist the pan roasted pollock with steamed razor clam, Hope Cove lobster bisque, tempura sea fennel and herbed new potatoes.
Complex in description but in essence, rather simple. A well-cooked piece of fish, skin crisped as it should be and flesh just cooked through so it’s robust yet slightly yielding. Potatoes cooked simply in a salute to the age-old adage ‘less is more’, with a touch of the unusual brought to the dish by the finely chopped, lightly steamed razor clam and the lobster bisque that seemed to be both light and rich all at once. The sea fennel was a lovely addition and not too ‘fenelly’, if it’s not sacrilege to say that.
The fourth among us chose a contrast of a dish – Sladesdown duck breast with rosti potato, baby turnip, shallot puree, saffron braised leeks, leek flower and grilled courgettes. Less delicate, more of a brash dish but still refined in flavour. The duck was still pink (as if you’d expect anything else) with crisp, melting skin. The vegetables, though what you’d expect on a traditional roast dinner, somehow seemed less than traditional and perfect for a more summery dish. The only minor criticism was that the rosti may have been a tiny bit overdone for our taste, though we wondered if the crunch might have been deliberate to create more of a contrast in texture.
Feeling suitably excited and one magnum of rose down, there was no way we were going to skip dessert and decided on a different option each – each with their own paired port or dessert wine. For me, ‘Mango Cream’ – mango panna cotta, mango & peach salad, mango sorbet and meringue. The panna cotta itself was a tiny bit too gelatinous for me, but the overall dish was the right mix of citrus and sweet, soft and solid and somehow reminiscent of the sunset we watched over the terrace as we enjoyed dinner.
A White Chocolate Brulee with caramelised banana, raisin sponge and vanilla ice cream appeared slightly disjointed at first, but a mouthful of sponge, banana, brulee and ice cream proved a hit, sweet and heavy without being too much. And Mr M’s dark chocolate and cherry tort with cherry sorbet, chocolate soil and raspberry mousse was a classic combination – bittersweet, bright and dark all at once.
A meal like this wouldn’t be complete without cheese so thank goodness the fourth choice was the selection of five cheeses with pickled celery, grapes, chutney, crackers and of course the added option of the three-glass flight of port. What’s more to say – what a closing act it was. As the sun set across the Salcombe estuary, we finished the cheese, sipped the ports and agreed that of the meals the four of us had shared, it was one of the more special.
Maybe it was the quality of the courses – it was definitely up there with some of the finer food we’ve had. Maybe it was the magnum of wine – a special treat in and of itself. Or maybe it was the setting – the feeling that you’re somewhere exotic and foreign whilst only a few hours from home. Or maybe the combination – the feeling that somehow everything has aligned just right to make for one of those perfect evenings. Either way, it was great and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a one-off for the South Sands Hotel!
We paid in full for our meal at the South Sands Hotel. They didn’t know I was a blogger.