Restaurant Review: The Treby Arms in Devon: The best gastropub in the South West?
A de-constructed pasty, a filled flowerpot with soil, blow torched lettuce and dry ice – don’t visit The Treby Arms without expecting some extraordinary twists to your food.
To the unwitting eye The Treby Arms looks like any other smart Devon village pub; patrons enjoy a drink in the beer garden and the bar person greets you as you walk in and clocks your dinner reservation, but take a seat and browse the creative menu and you get an inkling that something quite special is going on here.
Among the recently refurbished walls sits a Michelin star restaurant with a menu that will, quite frankly, blow your socks – and your taste buds – off!
My dining partner and I headed over one summery Wednesday evening to the village of Sparkwell, which sits on the edge of Dartmoor, eager to see what one of the few Michelin star holders in Devon had to offer.
We were greeted by friendly staff and enjoyed a drink in the cosy bar before being shown to our table upstairs in the dining room. Exposed beams, cream walls and spotlight lighting greeted us, which made for a relaxed and intimate setting for the evening.
We were then introduced to Ian, who led us through the evening with enthusiasm, knowledge and a very friendly manner. Ian suggested we sample the taster menu of the day, which showcases the talent and creativity of head chef, Anton Piotrowski, and who were we to argue!
Our first tasting of the evening was the amuse bouche of blow torched pineapple (yes, blow torched), quails egg, which was coated in a burnt leek powder, smoked ham terrine and burnt apple purée. Now, aside from the egg, these elements are usually my least favourite to be found on a plate but I needn’t have worried, this was a delight! I loved the pineapple, which had a light, fruity flavour and the rest of the elements made for a fantastic combination of flavours and textures rolled into one. A winning start!
I had opted for the matching drink flight so a nice glass of Escale Pinot Noir was brought to me closely followed by our first course of pork crackling coated turbot, which was dusted with lobster powder, braised shin of beef, blackened celeriac purée and locally picked samphire. The angels were looking down on me with this dish; my favourite foods (and a glass of red) in one place. The salty, crispy crackling on top of the tender, yet meaty turbot was genius and it crackled as you cut through it. The braised beef was mouthwateringly tender and rich and wonderfully accompanied with the wine and purée, which was deep in colour and flavour, all in all, a delightful dish.
I then received a glass of two year old Treixadura from Ribiero, Spain to accompany my next course of roast scallop with chorizo jam, herb crusted smoked eel and confit egg yolk. The plate was a feast for the eyes as well as our bellies! We both loved this dish, which was also served with a pea purée, and malt vinegar crumble. Every texture, colour type of flavour sat on this plate and each component alone is delicious but try all in one mouthful and, wow! From the smoky, sweet and slightly spicy jam to the smooth, warm slow cooked egg to the crust coated eel and chunky scallop, each part was well thought out and excellently executed. The wine tasted like melon and went down very well with the food.
After these two dishes we were well and truly wowed – our favourite types of food had been served like we had never seen before. This sort of thought process and technical ability is what gets you a Michelin star!
Our next course as we were explained to by Ian was Anton’s take on a cheese and onion pasty. We were excited to see what on earth this dish was going to look like and if a cheese and onion pasty really could be a gourmet dish. A bowl arrived containing confit potato, caramelised onion,swede purée, parmesan tuille, smoked cheese foam and puff pastry, topped off with some edible flowers. Aromas of cheese and onion pleased us greatly and we tucked into this course with great gusto – not the pasty you would expect, but the flavours were certainly pasty-esque. A fruity glass of wine was enjoyed (Fiano Lunate, Sicily) and the cheese was a dominant flavour but not overpowering. I could have easily eaten more puff pastry and the food would have been easier to access with the knife and fork had it been served on a plate rather than a bowl, but certainly not a deal breaker.
The technical ability shown on this menu really is outstanding and I feel that Anton, a MasterChef winner, is bringing out all the stops to show off what he can do.
Our next course was Cajun kid loin, samosa, black eyed beans and blow torched lettuce. The kid and samosa were quite spicy, it was a nice heat though, not too overpowering and elevated the whole menu. The beans were crunchy but there were a lot of them and there was a welcome addition of sweet orange pear on the plate, which was a soothing element. The kid was delicate so a glass of red wine was the perfect suitor (Cotes du Rhone, Auguste Bessac, France). After this we were kindly offered a break before the next course and welcomed it.
I admired how the menu offers a wide range of options, food and cost wise, there is more than one vegetarian options and the language is fuss free. Everything that comes our way is beautifully presented, the colours, textures, cooking techniques and tastes on the plate offer a meal like no other. Every tiny aspect has been carefully thought through and exquisitely put together.
After our break we returned to the food and our next course was truly packed with the wow factor. New on the menu that day we were told and we felt rather privileged. Lemon lovers will be in heaven here with the lemon ice cream served on a stick, meringue, lemon curd, lemon balm candy floss and a sprinkling of popping candy. The meringue was perfect – crunchy pieces sat on mallowy mounds and the curd had the perfect level of tang. The candy floss was a winner (after I worked out the best way of eating it) and the dessert wine, with its apricot flavours, complimented the citrus in the dish perfectly. My only uncertainty was the outer layer of the ice cream, it was slightly chewy and perhaps would have worked better if it was made of white chocolate. Overall though, a fantastic dish with the perfect amount of theatrical flair.
Our final dish was one that we had a slight inkling of due to seeing pictures that previous customers had posted to social media, and it was one that I was looking forward to. The title of the dish is ‘Treby’s Gone Carrots’ and it is Anton’s take on carrot cake. The dish is served in a flowerpot with a little carrot poking out of the top of the ‘mud.’ Ian brought the food over and told a little story of how the dish relates to the home grown vegetables being picked on the allotment on the edge of the moors and the morning mist, all the while he poured dry ice into a dish of leaves to create quite the show. We tucked into our pots of crunchy chocolate, which resembled soil, which rested on layers of warm carrot cake, citrus cream and sprinklings of popping candy. This was accompanied by a glass of Pedro Ximenez, which smelled like Christmas pudding in a glass. On the side sat a serving of orange sorbet on a bed of chocolate soil. Treby’s Gone Carrots is a dish that electrifies the senses from the taste of the sweet, tangy sorbet tot he sound of the popping candy to the sight of the dry ice filling the table, it nicely rounds of a delicious evening of food.
The Treby Arms, in my opinion, is fully deserving of its Michelin star, it showcases the various ways in which food can be cooked, combined and enjoyed. Anton pushes the boundaries to give you a memorable experience so that you leave with a smile on your face – it certainly did the trick with us!
In a nutshell
Theatrical food that leaves you smiling and talking but, more importantly, with a belly full of deliciously cooked food.
Address: Sparkwell, Plympton, PL7 5DD