Let the bells ring out…
...for The Five Bells at Clyst Hydon! Muddy cosies up to an award-winning 16th century thatched pub near Exeter. (Oh, I wish I could eat here every day-ay!)
I recently had a £10 bet with Mr Muddy about what the word ‘campanology‘ means. Turns out we were both wrong. It’s not handbell-ringing as I thought or church bell ringing, it’s the study of bell ringing. (It’s fascinating round ours of a night, come and join us!) Later that week, news of a far more interesting set of bells dropped in my inbox, requiring immediate and intensive study: The Five Bells at Clyst Hydon. Under new ownership and going great guns by all accounts, it’s just been voted in the Top 50 of the 2020 Estrella Damm Gastropub Awards. “Put down that Bellringers Bedside Companion”, I said to the hubby. “We’re hitting the bright lights of Clyst Hydon”.
The Five Bells is just where you’d hope to find a rustic Grade II thatched pub, down a warren of oak-tree lined lanes in a village so quiet it makes Snoozy look lively. Clyst Hydon is roughly equidistant from the old market town of Honiton and Cullompton, and a 9-mile whizz down the A30 past the airport to Exeter. There’s a church, a cricket club and now, an award-winning pub. All very cosy.
The only pub in the village, The Five Bells has had its share of ups and downs. Saved from closure and given a make-over by the owner of Rockbeare’s excellent Jack in the Green (a Muddy fave), The Five Bells was snapped up in December 2017 by James and Charlie Garnham. Their lady chef, Charlotte Vincent, joined them this July after a 20-year catering career, including a decade as pastry chef at two of Devon’s most respected eateries, Gidleigh Park and The Royal Clarence Hotel.
For James this is a home-coming. A Clyst Hydon lad, he remembers coming to the pub for birthdays from the tender age of 5, and has a mum living in the village. After leaving uni, he took on a pub job and never left, but he always wanted to come back to Devon *sensible guy*. With Charlie, whose background is in media and marketing, they make a dream team: hands-on, passionate about what they do and deservedly getting a lot of heat.
As well as the Estrella Damm award, last year they nabbed the award for ‘Best Sunday Lunch’ from Devon Life magazine. They have a Michelin Bib Gourmand, are in the Great British Pub Guide, and Tom Parker-Bowles gave it a thumbs up in The Daily Mail too. So, gong-tastic.
Relaxed, dog-friendly and rustic, it’s the best of old and new: the old village hub with locals coming and going – they’ve got their own reserved table marked Stammtisch by the bar – and James, super-warm and welcoming, pulling pints behind the bar. It’s an extended Devon longhouse, the type with old parts and even older parts – ancient sandstone walls, thatch and beams, made contemporary with slate floors, comfy chairs and a modern playlist.
Opposite the entrance is a bar bristling with local goodies – Sandford cider, Powderkeg beer, Luscombe and Frobisher drinks and Otter ale on tap. To your right is the oldest part of the pub (and the spot to book your table I reckon) where you can eat under 16th century wooden beams and wonky walls. Sensible advice on the wall in the ladies loo, too.
On the dark winter night we were there, it looked twinkly and welcoming from the outside but come summer, there are five flat acres of lavender-scented beer garden with parasol covered wooden tables and plenty of space for the little loonies to let off stream. A destination pub worth setting setting your sat-nav for, whatever the season.
SCOFF & QUAFF
The menu is tweaked weekly to reflect what’s available locally in Devon, as provenance is key. Our evening choice was between up-worked pub classics like Brixham fish and chips, burgers, venison sausage and mash; and a Specials menu with local venison, Fordmore Farm duck, and catch of the day. It’s fine dining but unpretentious and served in generous Muddy-sized portions. Something for everyone.
First to the table was home-made bread, warm from the oven – served on a small sharing tray, and cut into wedges to dip and softly sponge up the oil and balsamic.
We shared a starter, a nest of three braised cauliflower. No watery school-diner cauli here. It yielded to a fork like a dream and mopped up the sauce and pesto and ceps, all creamy and peppery from the rocket leaves. Nom.
We both chose from the Specials menu, me the Vegetable Wellington which was vegan and gluten-free, with a savoury risotto hiding its light under a bushel of crunchy greens. A mouth-watering textural treat of creamy sweet potato and butternut squash. Gratifyingly, it had an ‘H’ next to it on the menu which means it was a healthier option as approved by the pub’s nutritional therapist, Carola Becker from Life is Good. A Muddy first.
Toby went for local venison loin served with dauphinoise potatoes. He knew it would be good – which it was – but it was full of flavourful surprises, including the poached pear and redcurrant and port reduction. Faultless, a real wintry warmer.
Dessert for him was caramelised pineapple with pineapple sorbet, coconut cream and an almond crumb. Light and delicate and full of tangy flavour. All home-made.
Devon clotted cream and fudge cheesecake for me, well I’d been so healthy for my first course, hadn’t I? I was surprised to see it’s gluten-free, as is 80% of the menu. This was the richest ramekin I’ve ever had the pleasure of dipping my spoon into, topped with a pretty viola flower which I was far too impatient to photograph in my haste to taste it. If I was a cat I’d have been purring.
Kids would fit right in, but there’s nothing overtly aimed at kids, apart from the five-choice kids menu of mini-burger, meatballs, fish and chips and the like. Talking to Charlie though, and the gleam in her eye was very much ‘Watch this space’.
There are no rooms at The Five Bells but their website lists local stays they rate. We spent the night a few miles away at Larkbeare Grange. A family-run Georgian manor house, owned by Julia and Charlie Hutchings, this is total B&B nirvana. More boutique hotel than B&B, with four guest bedrooms, three Devon Tourism Awards and a Taste of the West award to their name, they think of everything.
Electric car charging, home-made apple juice and marmalade from their garden for breakfast, eco-friendly smellies in the bathroom (they’ve got a Green Tourism Award too), a printed weather report delivered with the best breakfast of salmon and eggs on toast EVER and a glowing visitor book. No wonder.
This is countryside Georgian chic with a grandfather clock chiming in the hall, so if modern is more your thing, check out their 2-bedroom self catering Granary (pictured above) in the garden. It’s family-friendly and ideal if accessibility is an issue.
OUT AND ABOUT
Missing the city lights? Head to Exeter 9 miles away and go for morning coffee at Chandos Deli followed by a mooch down Gandy Street and on to lunch at Harry’s. If you want to stay in the countryside, go to National Trust Killerton or Escot with its maze and cute otters. The green-fingered will like the excellent tree nursery in Talaton, Adam’s Apples, who can recommend a tree for your garden and postcode. Joshua’s Harvest Store (pictured above) is a hidden gem near Ottery St Mary, a shop-come-deli and cafe with home-made healthy food, all additive-free. They do a good line in gifts, organic beauty products and kids bits and bobs. Well worth a mosey.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: romantic gastro feasts by the fire; family gatherings: vegans/vegetarians and gluten-intolerant; the dawg. Celebrity chef-rated Sunday lunches. Townie guests, they’ll be impressed. Curated healthy options. Events: book in for A Spring Evening of Nutritious Food on April 23 2020.
Not for: late night boozing and lock-ins, it’s a bit more refined. Mondays – they’re closed.
The damage: Top value for the quality: Mains from £14.95; dessert from £6.75; kids menu from £6.75.
The Five Bells, Clyst Hydon, Cullompton, Nr Exeter, Devon EX15 2NT Tel: 01884 277288