Review: Lobster BBQ, The Cary Arms
We will eat them on the beaches! Muddy dives in to the extravagant Winston Churchill lobster barbecue, back for summer at The Cary Arms.
A Johansens award-winning hotel owned by Peter de Savary in the stunning coastal haven of Babbacombe Bay on the English Riviera is not a bad spot for lunch. I’m here for some quality-time with my son – less a Mudlet, more a Mud-lennial – to dig deep into some lobster (and maybe his love life).
Inside are stone walls, fireplaces and low beams fronted by a bright conservatory but we’re here to road-test the new Lobster BBQ and Winston Churchill Menu. So, it’s back out into the sunshine and down the steps to the new Terrace Champagne & Cocktail Bar. You have to admit, even the name sounds exciting.
Check out that gorgeous view. And the sea’s not bad either! It’s easy to forget you’re just a pebble’s throw from the main coast road to Torquay. It’s a steep wind down the hill at Babbacombe with great potential for clutch-burning hand-break starts on the way back up – but that yacht-filled bay (and the food) are worth it.
If you’re staying for the night, a valet service whisks your car away for you. If you’re just here for lunch, park at the nearby pay and display.
If somebody told me it’s always sunny in Babbacombe, I’d believe them. You’re sitting among exotic palms and wispy tamarisk, sipping from a cool flute of Pol Roger champagne. Think Series 2 of The Trip when Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan do Italy.
Dinghies are delivering yachty types to the stone pier from the inn’s own moorings out in the bay which you can hire for £25 per day. Torbaydos it is not. It’s well to do, but in that typically laid-back way the West Country does so well. Ditto the dress code: a mixture of dressed-up, dressed-down and life-jackets.
The Terrace Bar is a slim, intimate space with a new hand-built wooden counter to the front where you can perch for watery views of where your lunch came from, or take a pew in a shadier spot hugging the stone wall tumbling with Provencal plants and lobster pots.
SCOFF AND QUAFF
Lunch has a Churchill theme so it kicks off in theatrical style, with an intriguing manila envelope delivered to your table. It’s sealed with blue wax which opens to reveals the lobster menu. The front is printed with a replica of a wartime letter from the office of Sir Winston Churchill thanking the inn’s then owners for a gift of Babbacombe Bay lobster.
After a bit of wikipedia-ing, we discover Winston and his war office came here for a meeting and that Churchill was very fond of the fizz we’re drinking: in 1936 his wine merchant bill would have been £59k in today’s money. Not surprising when the bottle on the menu – Sir Winston Churchill Pol Roger, 2008 – is £395, making our glass of Pol Roger NV Champagne a snip at £15. Or you could have a white unoaked Chardonnay, Allan Scott Estate sauvignon or a rose for under a tenner.
There is just one starter on the menu which we opt to share – potted Devon lobster and crab served with freshly baked bread drizzled with olive oil and a pile of fresh pea shoots.
Your BBQ chef pots the meat into a tin you have to pop open yourself to reveal the lemony, dill-dressed flakes. A fun, quirky touch.
Next the tools of the trade arrive: a red lobster cracker and a thin pronged fork. For a moment I think, ‘err, what the hell do I with these?’ as I’ve only eaten lobster once years ago, watching the sun go down on Martha’s Vineyard (everyone claps their hands as the sun sets for some reason).
Anyway, it all becomes blindingly obvious. The cracker is for getting into the claw, and the fork for pushing all the tasty morsels from inside the legs.
With lobster, size matters apparently. It shouldn’t be too big as the older they are, the less tasty, but according to chef Steve, 900g is about right and of course, anything smaller has to go back in the sea.
Ours was frozen the day before, and I was relieved to hear it wasn’t boiled alive (it toughens the meat apparently). Then he barbecued it in front of us with curious seagulls whirling overhead, slathered simply in garlic butter.
Mains is a choice of three dishes: scallops with lobster gratin grilled in the shell with chilli and herb oil; lobster roll, freshly cooked in a gourmet bun and a choice of a whole or half a lobster grilled in the shell with garlic butter. The Mud-lennial had the lobster roll, then because he’s 6ft 2 and always hungry, helped me tuck into my half-lobster which came with salad, two dips topped with a huge lobster claw.
Never mind breaking bread, if you want to bond with someone, break some lobster. Eating it outdoors by the ocean with the salty wind in your hair is a wonderfully immersive thing. You can’t do it with decorum, diving into the bright white meat hand-picked from the ocean and hauled up on Brixham docks only a matter of hours ago. The net result was delicious, leaving us oily-pawed and laughing at all the mess we’d made of ourselves and the table.
It’s a visual feast and the spuds were delicious too – boiled new potatoes, then barbecued to give them a roast potato crunch.
For dessert, just one choice on the menu – lobster, lemon and thyme ice cream, served in a pretty copper urn with a champagne jelly. And yes, that’s a piece of lobster you can see in the top. It was surprisingly good and truly novel: a zingy mix of lemon, thyme and shellfish. Who knew lobster ice-cream was a thing?
THE MUDDY VERDICT
An exhilarating eat! A celebratory, quirkily-curated experience for curious types who enjoy some wartime history (and fabulous fizz) with their food.
Good for: bonding; boat-trippers; celebrations; a passport-free top-up; you could make it one stop of a red-letter style day with a boat trip, coast walk or zip down the funicular railway at nearby Oddicombe Beach.
Not for: kids, book the babysitter (the excuse is those steps are definitely not buggy-friendly); crustacean-phobes (obvs) though you can have the lobster in a roll if you don’t want to deal with the shell.
The damage: starters from £15; mains from £29.95 for the lobster roll, up to £95 for a whole lobster; dessert from £7.50. It’s not cheap, but then that’s lobster for you.
The Cary Arms Lobster BBQ is available (reservation only) Saturday lunch times through the summer until 28 August 2021.
The Cary Arms, Babbacombe Beach, South Devon, England, TQ1 3LX Tel: 01803 327110
Updated from June 2019.