Breton Tops On: Fab French Food at the Millbrook Inn, South Pool
There’s nothing quite like a village drama to rock up in the midst of – and bonus points go to the Millbrook Inn, at South Pool for being a nativity-themed one.
Just before Christmas we took a family excursion to the South Hams, in search of a bit of peace and quiet before the inevitable chaos that would soon ensue with visiting family. (Just as a Muddy aside by the way, I thoroughly recommend a day or two somewhere ‘off-grid’ if you can, to psych yourself up for those mulled wine spillages, roast dinner dramas and the living room always being ‘too damn hot’.)
We took a bracing and soggy morning walk along the beach at East Prawle, then got back in the car in search of an open fire and ten minutes later found ourselves in the village square at South Pool, below. A bit of a find even though I do say so myself.
If you live outside the west country then your vision of the South Devon coast may include little higgledy-piggledy pastel-coloured cottages, village pubs, twisty lanes leading to windswept dunes and great big beachy vistas. That’ll be South Pool, then. This is a lovely little village with a babbling stream and a Postman Pat-style bridge over it, a handsome church and then there’s the Millbrook Inn at its heart.
This is a pub for the villagers (spot the little ‘honesty shop’ outside below) and one for the walkers, like us, who stumble upon it; it’s also one for those who choose to sail their boat over from Salcombe and moor up in the summer months, as you do. Apparently, when the tide is right it’s utter bedlam on the water for a few hours, as people scramble to get to the pub for a pint. Then the half-drunk pints are left on the bar as the sailors try to avoid an expensive taxi journey back.
But back to winter and we arrived through the hobbit-like front door, Mr Muddy having to duck to avoid concussion, into a warmly lit bar with low beams, stone floors, roaring fire and a hushed buzz of excitement fizzing through the place. It turns out that last night the villagers had been on the local news for their nativity performance, which only happened to star the landlady as an actual real-life nine months pregnant ‘Mary’. Due any day now, the villagers had been hoping that Mary would put her best foot forward and deliver more than a star turn on the day. (Sadly, she got stage-fright but baby did make an appearance in a layby on the A379 on New Year’s Eve, I later learned. I told you there was drama).
We were early arrivals for lunch and boy were we ready for some food. On the face of it, this looks like a pretty traditional old village pub, but the Millbrook Inn has a young and ambitious team behind it, blowing air into its bellows. So the food is something a bit different and has been recognised by the foodie scene for being so over the past year. The chef, Jean- Phillippe (JP) is French and has brought his sense of Gallic adventure with him. You won’t find scampi and chips in a basket on his menu; on the day we visited which, remember, was a quiet mid-week in the lead-up to Christmas, dishes like Pot-au-feu (a Devon take on a French stew), belly pork and boullabaisse were all on offer. It’s the kind of menu where you’ll likely need to ask a few questions before you commit to your choices, always nice to learn something along the way.
Sensing that I wasn’t going to have enough ham in my diet over Yuletide, I opted for the slow-braised ham hock glazed in honey, soy sauce and sesame seed, which came served with pickled red cabbage, salad and toast. It was really, really good.
Across the table there was agreement on the duck dish – a salad which included duck gizzard to be precise. ‘Don’t be put off by the gizzards’, the menu tells you, ‘they add to the drama and are incredibly tasty’. I’m afraid I would have wussed out, but Mr Muddy took one for the team and was mightily glad he did. He’s still talking about that dish now.
Kids are very welcome in this pub and lots of the dishes can be reduced to mini-sized portions, but for fussy-phases like the one the Mudlet is going through, favourites for simpler palettes like Spaghetti Carbonara and Sausage and French Fries are available. Thank GOD. I don’t think I could have coped with a meltdown.
Again, in a bid to bulk up before lean times over Chrimbo, we boldly went for dessert; an intriguingly named iced white chocolate meringue cake. And here it is, being happily dismantled by the Mudlet’s piggy paws:
The food really is a bit of a surprise of the nice kind, with a menu that encourages, no, forces, you to be brave, but rewards you when you are. Apparently, JP is a big fan of the field-to-plate movement, championing as much local fare as he possibly can.
The drinks menu is quite fun, too. Along with a very respectable selection of ales, craft beers and lagers, there are a few interesting extras, like Black Cow, the world’s first pure milk vodka distilled over the border in Dorset; and Winston Churchill’s favourite tipple, here’s a bit of trivia for you:
Once you’ve refuelled and are ready to tear yourself away from the fire you’re spoilt for choice if you have the rest of the day to wander. From South Pool, you’re minutes away in the car from the likes of Hope Cove and East Portlemouth, where you can take a decent coastal walk. The estuary town of Kingsbridge, with its little boutiques and delis is close too. Then there’s Salcombe, across the estuary, which is particularly great to bimble around out of season.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: walkers, families, sailing types, foodies up for something a bit different.
Not for: anyone expecting British classics cooked the British way, or those hoping for ham, egg and chips.
£: Expect to pay restaurant prices, rather than pub prices. Lunch mains run from £12 to £20, but the food is worth it. Produce like this doesn’t come cheap.
Millbrook Inn, South Pool, Kingsbridge, TQ7 2RW. Tel 01548 531581. www.millbrookinnsouthpool.co.uk