The White Hart at Dartington
Hey, culture vultures, its time to eat! Muddy feasts more than just her eyes on The White Hart's new Devon o'clock menu
The White Hart is Dartington Hall’s pub, just left of the medieval Great Hall, a high-heel hobble across the cobbled paving of the historic courtyard. Inside it’s a pub of two halves: a snug bar with a flickering wood-burner cuddling up to a cavernous Games of Thrones hall with sky-high rafters and arrow-slits for windows.
As I’m sure you know, Dartington just outside Totnes is an internationally renowned haunt of culture vultures and music lovers, a free-to-all hidden gem loved by those in the know, famed for its Henry Moore sculpture and The Tiltyard, a tiered grass amphitheatre at the centre of the garden.
‘Old place with a new story’, that’s the Dartington mantra, inspired by Dorothy and Leonard Elmhirst, a pioneering pair who bought the estate in the 1920’s and used it to promote the arts, social justice and sustainability. It’s Dartington’s influence that’s made nearby Totnes, ‘a bit Totnes’ as they say, with its own anti-capitalist currency, indie shops and hippy vibe. The estate is now run by a charitable trust who still walk the talk, hosting famous arts events, including the International Summer School, the 15th century Barn Theatre cinema and the lit-fest Ways with Words in July.
So, plenty of food for thought but woman cannot live on ‘progressive international thinking’ alone! So when I heard goss about a fab new chef, Eamon Fullalove, from Jamie’s Fifteen I trotted over with Mr Muddy for dinner and a nosey.
Rustic and natural, a bespoke crafted feel with mismatched crockery and vases of pussy willow picked from the gardens pepping up the pale elm tables. Behind the tall sweeping bar in the medieval hall, a jazzy pink neon sign tells you it’s ‘Good Vibes Only’. The clientele on the Wednesday night we rock up are as eclectic as ever: retired couples, a woman sipping coffee with a paper by the fire, guys in suits having a drink by the bar and a gaggle of tree surgeons (if you like a man in Kevlar this is the place for you).
The medieval hall used to be the kitchen to the Great Hall next door and underneath a giant blackboard were once open fires and pigs roasting on spits. It’s no stretch to believe two of Henry VIII’s wives ate here.
Check out the yellow arcs daubed on the wall to the right of the bar. They join up only when you view it from a certain spot – it must one of the few restaurants to have the headroom for such a huge artwork.
SCOFF & QUAFF
Head chef Eamon popped out from the kitchen out to say hello when we arrive, an inspiring guy with barrow-loads of ideas how to feed Dartington’s ideals into his dishes. He has impressive chef-cred, having owned an award-winning pub in Bristol, The Star & Dove, and headed up Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen in London.
He’s created two new evening menus – the Devon o’clock – White Hart lingo for pre-fixe – served between 5.30 and 6.30 for the Barn Cinema and Great Hall crowd and the Main Event Feasting served till late. It’s out with fine dining and in with a seasonal farm-to-fork menu, laden with local wine. ales and Devon gin. Much of the produce is supplied by Dartington’s tenant farmers, a homely harnessing of gluts into pickles, sauces and preserves. He’s reduced the range of mains to six dishes and added lots of veggie sides to encourage you to feast on the plenty together, a nod to the banqueting vibe.
For starters I picked a spicy roasted squash strip salad, with a cinnamon coloured rose petal harissa and creme fraiche. Mr M had moreish pumpkin and miso croquettes and White Hart slaw, washed down with a chilled glass of local Dart Valley Reserve for me – it was worth the £8.50, try it – and scumpy cider which ‘tasted of orchards’ for him.
For mains, there’s a choice of local River Exe moules, sirloin steak and a pea and broad bean risotto; I went for a pan-fried pollock with moist white flakes on a bed of colcannon and Mr M chose chicken breast sitting on a mash of Jerusalem artichoke. For sides we shared a ‘chop-chop’ salad (Jamie and Eammon’s name for anything you chop into a salad including raw carrot and courgette and sauce-mopping leaves), tender stem broccoli, and cauliflower cheese.
I say ‘share’ but it was all so incredibly savoury and flavourful it was hard not to hunch over the plate with my arms round it and there was an unseemly scramble for the last caramelised bits on the cheesy cauliflower. There was more than enough for the two of us, though I couldn’t help crunching on that fresh zingy salad even after I should have finished.
After a brief debate over the merits of local ice-creams and sticky toffee pudding I went, or should I say plumped, for a lime-scented honey and goats’ yogurt panacotta (courtesy of the goats at Dartington Dairy) with home-made shortbread. Mr M scoffed a chocolate affogato (Italian for ‘drowned’ in coffee) behind a makeshift barricade of cruet and water jug.
Absolutely, though no Muddies were around in the evening we were there. Book a table in that big, forgiving hall or in summer let them run around on the lawn next to the picnic tables with pizza alfresco. There’s no kids’ menu, just half portions of the adult’s menu – I think even fussy kids would be more than happy, though they also do Bento boxes, with compartments full of fruit and healthy child-friendly pickings.
OUT & ABOUT
There’s loads to do even without leaving the estate: make a night of it the hotel overlooking the courtyard, catch up on some culture, wander the gardens and deer park trail, stomp downhill to The Shops at Dartington for food, art and the biggest collection of Dartington Glass in the south-west. Fancy trying your hand at gin distilling? Book in for a short course at The Devon Gin School. Totnes is less than a ten-minute drive away, with its indie boutiques, including Busby & Fox and Fifty5a, or hoof it up the hill to Totnes Castle for a bird’s eye view of the town.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Culture vultures; foodies; veggies; the hall is spot-on for big occasions, family gatherings and Sunday lunches; day-trippers; got friends staying for the weekend? Take them here for a cream tea, a show and some garden-bothering.
Not for: modernists; people who prefer pub classics; pooches (assistance dogs only).
The damage: Very reasonable for the quality. Starters from £5.50; mains from £11 plus sides from £3; dessert from £2.50; wine by the glass from £4.80.
The White Hart at Dartington Hall, Totnes TQ9 6EL Tel:01803 847111 Open 10am – 11pm
MUDDY READER OFFER
Dartington Hall’s White Hart is offering Muddy readers 10% off Main Event Feasting to the end of May! To redeem your discount, make an advance reservation quoting ‘muddy’ on 01803 847111 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Applies Sunday 7 April – Friday 31 May (Main Event Feasting only).
Hungry for more? Take a look at our other pub reviews here.