Restaurant Review: The Treby Arms, Sparkwell, Plympton in Devon
Having visited The Treby Arms a number of times, both for “work” (I chuckle even calling this work, I mean, gorging on out-of-this-world food and being handed Champagne, the finest of wines and gins and then getting to share these experiences in writing is the best kind of work, in my greedy opinion, but for this purpose, “work” it is!) and for other, I was eager to see what had changed since the departure of former head chef, Anton Piotrowski. His name has gone hand in hand with the place, gaining a Michelin Star, but with his somewhat sudden departure, I wanted to find out if new head, Luke Fearon had what it takes to keep The Treby Arms at the level it had been accustomed to. Would the dry ice and popping candy be shelved in favour of something altogether more traditional? I was about to find out!
A pre drink in the bar is a must – the 19th century pub is based in the Devon village of Sparkwell and is worth travelling for (hello, Michelin Star..) so a quick visit to the cosy bar for a Prosecco or local beer comes highly recommended. Full of thirsty locals enjoying a post work drink, the bar area holds all the charm you would expect from a country pub. My lucky companion, Nick, and I didn’t wait long before we were shown to our table upstairs where low wood tables greeted us along with a window to the kitchen so we could keep check on all that was happening!
There aren’t drastic changes to the décor (not that I was expecting this) but, according to our waiter, lots has changed otherwise! The dishes on the menu have a la carte options – about 5 starters, mains and desserts each – a £70 tasting menu with wine pairing options, and a weekday set menu, and are prepared in a more classic style using modern techniques. Luke has maintained a good relationship with existing quality suppliers and offers less gimmicks with his food (not that I mind a gimmick or two though!)
The tasting menu had some of my favourite elements (turbot and chocolate) so Nick and I opted for this, along with the restaurant wine selection (£60, or £100 for the prestige selection). Seven courses are listed on the menu with an extra cheese course for an additional £8 but ‘Snacks – Earth/Sea’ and ‘Owen’s Sourdough, Our Way’ really don’t count for me as they are canapés and breads. First up were the ‘snacks’ served with a light and refreshing sparkling rose. ‘Earth’ was goat’s cheese and diced rocket, while ‘sea’ was brown shrimp, curry, caviar and coriander. Both were served on lovely crispy crackers, looked fantastic, and tasted as good too!
Course two of ‘Chicken or Egg’ – hen’s yolk, confit chicken, hazelnut and summer truffle, was served in small, deep white bowl. Underneath the abundance of truffle sat some smoked hazelnuts (love), a rich and creamy yolk and chicken and nut terrine. Flavour wise, the yolk was the predominant one and I liked the texture of the terrine. Nick claimed this dish to be a bland one but I disagreed, I thought it had gentle nuances with a rich yolk and it contained some delightful elements.
Course three was the bread – Owen is a former employee, who now produces speciality breads and supplies such goodies to The Treby Arms. It was supplemented with Marmite (big fans on our table!) and Penny Bun butter, and Pamplie AOP buerre and, as far as bread with Marmite goes, this was pretty good indeed! We then had a surprise course of line caught mackerel with pickled cucumber and horseradish cream. Served with a glass of Lyme Bay Sauvignon, this dish was a winner for us both. If I see mackerel on a menu, I don’t usually get too excited, but now I will! Combined with the little balls of cucumber, rolled up carrot ribbons, caviar and the flavoursome cream, the fish won me over.
My favoured turbot was up next and I wasn’t disappointed with its pairing of pine nut butter sauce alongside seaweed, seashore herbs and a sampling of Chardonnay. The sea veg had been foraged from nearby Wembury Bay but I’m not keen, I don’t like the sometimes bitter, herby flavours and I know it’s fashionable but sea veg can stay in the sea in my opinion (and it can take coriander with it too!). Anyway, the turbot was wonderful and I adored the sauce, with its buttery nuttiness complementing the chunky, yet, delicate fish so well (my mouth is watering as I write). A salty, crunchy top on the fish just sent me to heaven!
Course five was black faced lamb with sweet gem, roast garlic, ewe’s cheese and anchovies. The anchovies went straight to Nick’s plate (I just can’t – they can go back to the sea too), and we were intrigued by the unusual pairing of a chicken-less Caesar salad and a warm, rich lamb dinner. The saddle of lamb pieces were very lean and were drizzled with a lamb jus and accompanied with warm seasonal potatoes. The lettuce was crunchy, the Parmesan flavoursome, and the glass of red from Lebanon was spot on but the dish as a whole felt a little confused. It was summery, we did clear our plates and I appreciate the innovation so it wasn’t bad, it just didn’t convince the pair of us fully!
We opted for the cheese course (Gratte-Paille, summer truffle and white balsamic) as we both love the stuff. Five cheeses from the West Country and France came out along with a tomato chutney, honey and poppadom-type crackers, and we weren’t disappointed. Next our first of two (yes!) sweet courses arrived in a little dark, deep pot with a lid. Inside sat “Strawberry not strawberry” with ewe’s curd, barley, tonka and ju de fraise. Madagascan vanilla ice cream, granola, little pieces of strawberry, puffed rice and what looked like a strawberry but was actually jelly with a creamy inner, were delicately placed in the dish alongside some small petals. There was a great balance of creamy and crispy textures and sweet, sour and savoury flavours, and my sweet tooth was satisfied.
“Signature chocolate – three of our favourite single origin chocolates” was the final course of the night. A light white chocolate mousse rested on dark chocolate layered cake with a milk chocolate ice cream and decorative crisp tuille on the side. Just the right amount of sweetness to please the chocoholics but not too much that is was sickly and a nice combination of smooth, crispy, spongy and creamy to delight us both.
Overall the menu was nicely balanced and the food that is being produced may be less fun but is more classic and refined than before with an equal amount of creativity coming out of the kitchen. Seasonal and local ingredients are being prepared in differing ways to showcase what Luke can do and I think he is doing a fine job. To find out more about the man himself and what he brings to the table read on here.
In a nutshell
The Treby Arms is a pub at heart with a clever head and the hands to make the wishes of the Michelin Star seeker come true. The décor is relaxed, as is the service (in the best possible way) and the wine pairings are spot on. It’s rustic and modern, classic and comfortable, and you might just catch some locals in an arm-wrestling match in the bar at the end of the night! As we say in Devon, Geddon!
Address: Sparkwell, Plympton PL7 5DD / 01752 837363