As you’ll spot elsewhere on our pages, our writer Lorna Oakley spent a rather lovely couple of days at the Cary Arms. Well, lovely once the car had been parked and THAT access road had been negotiated and we’d agree. It’s really quite the gradient.
It’s not often we double up on reviewing a place, and certainly not so soon, with barely a year between visits. It’s not that they’ve changed ownership or become a vegan cleansing retreat or something, far from it. My experience was every bit as faultless as Lorna’s. Hell, we even got the same room, a charming beach hut with sea views, a lovely terrace and a bed where it’s alarmingly easy to sleep like the dead. Service is still friendly and efficient, the views are still wonderful, the beer is still well kept, the gin selection is still varied and breakfast is still about as good as hotel breakfasts get: the breakfast bap, a roll that’s soft and absorbent within and brilliantly crusty without, is the perfect vehicle for a slab of locally sourced bacon, peppery sausage and runny fried egg.
The reason we were back was, basically, greed as The Cary Arms now offer all the above and, until early September, a lobster barbecue lunch option on Saturdays. Some might question the logic of driving four hours just for lunch but then they haven’t sat on a sun-trap terrace, looking over the waters where the lobster was fished, while wrestling beautifully buttery bits of pink flesh from the half shell, claws and legs. I have and, trust me, it’s worth every minute on the M4.
As well as celebrating the culinary arts (in the cooking) and the geography (with the sea views), there’s a little history behind the menu. The Cary Arms have recently discovered three letters from 1942 and 1943, detailing the delivery of – and ensuing thanks for – Babbacombe Bay lobsters to Winston Churchill and members of his team. One of these is printed on the reverse of the menu (inside a wax-sealed replica of the original envelope).
It’s a charming idea, and the Churchill / war-time theme is echoed through the lunch. The suggested drink is – but of course – Pol Roger, Churchill’s favourite champagne, and one of the starters – potted Devon lobster and crab – comes in a beautifully retro tin. Happily there’s no fumbling with a key, it’s already open, so the most you have to do is spread it generously onto freshly baked bread.
It is, inevitably, the lobster that’s the star of the show. As the sun beats down on the terrace, and the water laps gently at the rocks somewhere below, chef Steve Poyner mans the grill, watching intently as the lobsters change colour. And, served with new potatoes and a simple salad, it’s a reminder of the quality of our seafood and whatever the watery equivalent of “terroir” may be.
It’s the sort of thing we should be doing more of – hell, seafood overlooking the waters it was fished from is commonplace all along the East Coast of the US – and here’s hoping this limited run (until September 25th) is a sign of more things to come. It would be great if it happened all around our coastline but, if it’s only at The nigh-perfect Cary Arms for the time being, that’s not a bad thing either. Quite frankly, visit once and you’ll be looking for any excuse to return…
The Lobster BBQ at Cary Arms