THE weather outside was frightful. No, not snow but heavy rain, wind, hail and then sunshine.
But our visit to the Arundell Arms Hotel in Lifton proved the perfect escape – a lovely break and a real culinary treat.
Its close proximity makes it even more inviting for North Devon residents – far enough to feel like you’ve been away but close enough not to be too demanding.
We were especially glad of this when our drive took place on a stormy Saturday.
Country pursuits are well catered for here. The hotel boasts a fly fishing school with two instructors and 20 miles of private fly fishing on the Tamar and tributaries.
And, when you return beaming with your prized catch, there’s a deep freeze on site for it to be put on ice until your departure, plus a convenient drying room for your waders.
The hotel also offers driven and walked up pheasant, woodcock and snipe shooting.
But we weren’t planning anything quite so energetic this time around, although Robert Redford and Brad Pitt did make fishing look rather wonderful in the beautifully filmed A River Runs Through It, so perhaps another time...
There are also some tempting National Trust properties in the area, although the storm aftermath meant this wasn’t an option for us on this trip – the paths at Lydford Gorge were closed due to fallen trees and the closure of a bridge on the road to Cotehele made this difficult to get to.
We plan to return to visit these since they, and Lanhydrock, came highly recommended from friendly hotel staff.
On this trip we enjoyed a stroll around Lifton (Reception has copies of Lifton Village Trail), which has a very pleasing church, before relaxing in our room before dinner.
The Arundell Arms is a 21-bedroom, 18th Century former coaching inn and, after checking in, we were led to a lovely, spacious and bright double room.
The newsletter reveals that while a 300-year-old building offers a great deal of charm, refurbishment is ongoing and this year has been the turn of some main house rooms – including room three (a suite) and rooms 12 and 17 with their direct views to Dartmoor.
Before dinner, there was the chance to enjoy a glass of Champagne in the bar along with some canapés – a Parmesan straw, smoked salmon on cucumber and venison carpaccio with horseradish cream. Delicious.
We left the cosy bar for the beautifully appointed restaurant – high ceilings and subtle decor offering a stylish backdrop to the evening of very special dining.
We were treated to a Valentine’s set menu paired with a thoughtfully selected series of wines, including those aimed at challenging our prejudice against dessert wines.
Dinner began with a flavoursome appetiser of double chicken consommé, braised chicken thigh and sweetcorn and a rose wine from Portugal.
One of the clear favourites was the pan-fried fillet of turbot, tender and crispy in all the right places and served with samphire, lemon purée and chorizo. Perfectly partnered with a sauvignon blanc, it was zesty and spicy and surely hard to beat.
After a wonderfully palate cleansing passion fruit sorbet, the next course came very close to challenging the turbot. This was a roasted contrefillet of South Devon beef. Pink and plentiful, it was served with beetroot mash, spring greens, carrot crisps and a red wine glaze.
The wine was a beautifully smooth Portuguese red (Pe Tinto, 2012). Well matched indeed.
As if that wasn’t more than enough, a sharing plate of desserts followed featuring a decadent dark chocolate fondant, tropical fruit salad, vanilla and rhubarb creme brûlée (my favourite) and pear parfait. We enjoyed this with a late picked Muscat 2011 from Victoria, Australia, before finishing with Devon Curworthy cheese, oatcakes, celery, grapes and apple chutney.
This was a veritable feast and we gratefully sank into the sofas of the cheerful lounge and enjoyed our coffee and petit fours next to a crackling fire. Bliss.
And, after, such culinary treats, along with the accompanying wine, it was a very good night’s sleep we had indeed.
Not to go on about food but I can’t not mention breakfast. Along with the usual selection of fruit, cereals and full English breakfast, there is smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, kippers with herb butter (I can recommend this) and boiled eggs with soldiers. How can you resist?
A hotel brochure quotes managing director Adam Fox-Edwards as saying the aim is to provide good food, wine, comfort and warmth. Mission accomplished.