A review of The New Inn at Roborough, North Devon
The New Inn at Roborough in North Devon isn’t the easiest place to find. It’s hidden away in a rural backwater, so be sure not to rely on your Sat-Nav to get you to this traditional Devonshire pub. If you do, you’ll be taken on a wild goose chase up hill and down dale but when you eventually arrive you’ll find a warm welcome and a menu that’s a little out of the ordinary.
British pubs are closing at a rate of some 18 per week as beer sales plummet and footfall declines. With fears of the implications of drink-driving and supermarkets promoting ever cheaper offers on alcohol, customers, especially in rural areas, have quit the boozer in favour of drinking at home. The public house, for so long a hub of any community, is in jeopardy and many are being converted to private residences and adapted for other uses.
To survive, the publican needs to become more innovative and throughout the 2000s the way forward was the “gastropub”. Combining better quality alcohol offerings and restaurant standard food, individuals such as Marco Pierre White, Antony Worrall Thompson and Alexander “Langy” Langlands Pearse led the way. In time, though, gastropubs were everywhere and anyone and everyone was describing their venue as such. The gastropub, in fact, ended up becoming as meaningless and bland as the burgers that they all served and continue to serve.
John and Sandie Cull, a furniture restorer and hairdresser duo from Perthshire, are a couple who are bucking this trend. Having seen an advertisement for the 16th century The New Inn online, they thought: “Let’s go for it” and took a free of tie lease on what was essentially yet another example of a struggling country pub.
The pair haven’t changed the basics of this thatched premises but they have added their own touches. The beams, tiled flooring, traditional bar and skittle alley remain but John Cull has begun to replace dated furnishings with items he crafts himself. His skills and enthusiasm for this shone through when I met him in the winter of 2012. Meanwhile, in the kitchen, his wife has seized the mantle and serves traditional home-cooked pub food alongside a selection of Scottish dishes.
Now, at The New Inn, you are just as likely to find haggis lasagne and cranachan made with granola instead of oats as you are roast beef and rump steak. The menu, which varies daily, is increasingly focused on local produce and Mrs Cull purchases meat, vegetables and cheeses from the nearby towns of Barnstaple and Tiverton. Commendably, she is proud to support her neighbours and they, in turn, support her.
Equally, many of the beers and ciders served are also local. Amongst those available are draught cider from the Winkleigh Cider Company, ales from Day’s Brewery and guest beers from Skinner’s Brewery in Cornwall and offerings from the Cotswolds. The wine list, however, is somewhat basic and could be expanded.
We visited on a damp Sunday afternoon and found The New Inn to be a lively community hub. Bucking the national trend, the pub attracts a trade that includes local farmers, walkers, families and retired couples. The atmosphere, we found, was lively and the hosts welcoming and hospitable.
To begin, I tried what Sandie Cull calls “Think of things Scottish”. The dish of haggis and neeps and tatties with a whisky sauce (£4.75) was wholesome and enjoyable. My guest opted for a simple paté of chicken livers served with toast and a cranberry sauce (£4.50). With food of this quality at prices like these, diners should be flocking.
Being a Sunday, we tried the roasts on offer. The price of £7.95 just astounded me given that in London, such is generally priced between £15 and £45. Both the pork that I tried and the beef that my guest opted for were extremely generous in portion and the meat was cooked perfectly to each of our tastes. I must especially commend the crackling as it was exceptional.
The slight letdown came in the form of the accompanying dishes. A common trend, it seems, in rural pubs is to over offer and never quite have I seen it done to such excess. Plainly in the fear that people may complain if their plates are not full, we were given both roast and mashed potatoes as well as six types of vegetables. Less indeed is more and the Culls would do well to adhere to this. It would not detract from the meal and it would save on wastage.
To conclude, we had to try the aforementioned cranachan (£5). It did not disappoint and represented a clever twist on this traditional Scottish pudding.
The British boozer should not be culled and indeed the Culls themselves are proving exactly why they deserve to thrive. Their enthusiasm is infectious and it was plain that many customers have become regulars and friends. If you happen to be in this part of rural England, be sure to pay a visit to The New Inn. You won’t be disappointed and you’ll most definitely be back (as long as the ever helpful voice of Kathy Clugston on your TomTom ensures you find it in the first place).
The New Inn, Roborough, Near Winkleigh, Devon, EX19 8SY. Telephone: +44 (0) 1805 603247. Website: http://www.thenewinnroborough.com