The Lamb Inn, Sandford
Sandford has a little Lamb, About it you should know, After the night that Muddy spent, You'll surely want to go!
Now I’ve impressed you with my poetry skills, let me impress you with an award-winning 16th century former coaching house with rooms. The Lamb Inn at Sandford is an exceptional village pub: every village should have one. I’m considering a crowd-funding campaign to move it stone-by-stone to my town, or perhaps I’ll just rustle it one night when the locals aren’t looking.
The Lamb Inn has collected a gong every year since 2015, from The Times, Alastair Sawday, The Daily Mail and Food & Drink Devon and new owner Nick Silk is clearly running with the ball if my stay was anything to go by. He’s an ex-marketing whizz for a well-known pub chain, and knows all about meeting customer expectations, delivered with good-humour and lots of community-focussed initiatives to keep the good folk of Sandford happy (and well-fed).
Mr Muddy and I have popped in for drinks a couple of times, and there’s always a buzz about the place, but this was our first time for a sleepover. Painted in red-earth with low wooden beams and pillars, it was pretty much a full house for our midweek trip; a mainly local crowd of families, couples, book clubs and mums-with-wine having a night off.
If The Lamb Inn was a season it would be forever autumn, warm and glowing with candles, fairy lights, a bountiful harvest, and lots of scrumpy.
Even in the hubbub it has an intimate feel, with cushioned corner pews and two friendly leather sofas straddling the open fire. For summer, there’s a sun-trap courtyard garden with a new stage and squishy sofas to loll on, when it’s not a band night.
Rural, but only 9 miles outside of Exeter, perched on old cobbles above the square, the inn is at home among thatched rose-covered cottages and bucolic fields. It’s been part of the village life for centuries. You can see it in the stone underneath the bar, polished to a gleam by the knees of countless drinkers.
SCOFF AND QUAFF
Let’s start with a tipple, shall we? There are four wines by the glass, including Nick’s fave Mistico, an interesting Portugese take on Pinot (it’s good, try it) but we started our night leaning over the welcoming bar with a Wrecking Coast snifter. It’s one of 13 Devon gins – Black Dog and Salcombe are the best-sellers apparently. Any excuse to tick a new one off the list. They also stock beer from award-winning Exeter microbrewery Powderkeg, including their new vegan one. Did you know beer has fish in it? It’s a new one on me.
Food is sourced within a 20-mile radius of the Inn, with meat from Crediton butchers, veg and salad from local grocers and two octogenarian small-holders in Sandford, all adding up to a choice of 6 mains, including two veggie and a nod to intolerances.
It was a chilly spring evening so I fancied the parsnip soup; fluffy and more’ish and made from roasted parnsips, mixed with stock having been passed a few times through a chinois (a posh sieve apparently).
Mr Muddy tucked into a seasonal starter of asparagus topped with parmesan and a peppery poached egg.
For mains, I was reeled in by the buttery hake and harissa, served on a bed of wholesome inky greens and a pat of rosemary-flavoured potato.
Mr M’s duck was from Creedy Carver which has quite a Devon following. He described it – quite poetically for someone with their mouth full – as “a tender confit of comfort”. They call it home-cooking, but it’s much better than anything I’ll ever cook. I mean I can cook, I just prefer not to, like Darcy Bussell – she can dance but it’s more fun judging other people’s.
I finished off with a lemon posset – recommended by Nick as one of the chef’s own recipes – with the texture of melty caramel and Mr M broke his latest fad no-sugar diet (having lasted all of 24 hours) for the sticky toffee pudding.
It was all incredibly flavourful and seemingly not too mucked about with. But then, as Dolly Parton might have said, it takes a lot of effort to make something taste effortless. The next morning, the daily delivery from the fishmonger hadn’t arrived in time for our early brekkie so Mr M squared up to a full English breakfast, with smokey bacon and I a proper boulangerie-style croissant, baked at a Crediton bakery.
When we finally get a dog, he’ll definitely be getting his paws on these – very popular with the local pooches they are too.
There are 8 en-suite rooms, including a Garden Suite with a living room attached. We stayed in Room 1, a large creaky-floored double painted in mustard and cream. It overlooks the interesting comings and goings of the village square, with a log-burner (thoughtfully ready-stocked), a kingsize bed and a tempting slate-tiled bath in the room, with views of the flat-screen.
With toasty underfloor heating and modern bathroom fittings, The Lamb does old where it should be, and new where it should be, with female-friendly dressing tables and powerpoint for hair-drying.
They call Room 4 the ‘Kate Moss Room’ as she stayed there a few years back when she rocked up for a wedding. Next time I’m kipping here, in the hope some of her slinky-gorgeousness might rub off on me. You never know.
We came without kids sadly *cough* but they’d be happy enough, with lots of distracting quirky bits and pieces on the walls, a light bite menu, a wild (plastic-free) garden to explore.
Upstairs Nick’s revamping the old skittles room as a wedding venue, and hosts regular, proper-Devon events from skittles to ferret-racing, with 3 sets of Morris dancers booked for 2019 – they choose you apparently – and regular cinema nights which the locals have embraced with open arms. There’s always something on and it’s all inclusive, a bit irreverent and fun.
OUT AND ABOUT
There’s not much to do in the village itself though the community-run shop is stocked with local goodies, including home-grown cider from Sandford Orchards. It’s a 20-minute walk to Crediton and both Escot and Belstone Tor are just twenty minutes away by car, or if you’re with the kids, Crealy Adventure Park is half an hour away, as is Exeter and the village of Topsham. Head to Tiverton’s Grand Western Canal for a horse-drawn barge ride or the ruins of Okehampton Castle, the largest castle in Devon with its jagged keep mentioned in the Domesday Book.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: home-cooking when you can’t be bothered to cook; families; chillers; walkers; love-birds: kids of all ages; community groups and business meetings; dogs (with owners) looking for new places to sniff-out; parties for up to 18 (in the Tap Room); small appetites (they do half portions for adults/kids).
Not for: people who like anonymous stays and long menus; modernistas; professional basketball players.
The damage: Rooms start at £75 B&B; our midweek one night stay in Room 1 costs £140.
Open for lunch 12-2.15, evening meals 6-9pm.