Organic, radical and ethical are the three words that The Bull Inn, in the South Devon town of Totnes, uses to describe its ethos. A food-focused establishment that is, this month, celebrating two years since it reopened after a year of hefty and ecologically driven renovations, visitors will find a place that is utterly dedicated to providing supplier led, organic food alongside comfortable rooms to retire to after indulging in a great meal.
Having been a previous patron of the restaurant, I knew what to expect, and this only served to make me more excited for my visit. I popped along to the Totnes-based pub one rainy Thursday in late October and, from the moment I entered, I was ensconced in The Bull Inn’s welcoming ways as the aromas of the afternoon’s meals drifted through the downstairs.
After checking into my room for the night and spending a few hours exploring the town and relaxing in the room, I headed downstairs for dinner in the buzzing restaurant space.
I made myself comfortable at our corner table with a drink while I perused the chalkboard menu (perfect for this ever-changing menu and one less way to reduce waste). My guest and I started with a serving of the sourdough focaccia served with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, which was so springy and delightful, before swiftly moving on to our starters of beetroot, curd, honey, hazelnuts and figs, which is a favourite of mine.
I wasn’t disappointed with the gently warmed beetroot chunks, creamy curd, sweet figs and crunchy hazelnuts. The first thing that struck me, as the plate was set in front of me, was the smell of the warmed hazelnuts wafting at me, and from that moment I was enraptured. I love beetroot and the combinations of the varieties of the root veg on this plate made for a perfect pairing with the curd, and, honestly, put warmed hazelnuts on any dish and I think I’d be happy! Very well balanced in terms of texture and flavour, this was a perfect autumnal plate of food.
With this we enjoyed a bottle of red wine – best served chilled I was told – which was light and fruity and went down easily. I’m not sure if I would have preferred it not so cool though, but I think that’s down to personal preference.
Next up was my main course of confit duck leg, lentils, cider, braised January king cabbage and underneath the crispiest, most buttery, melt-in-the-mouth skin was some moisture-full duck meat. I opted for a side of carrots, onions and za’atar and along with these fragrantly spiced vegetables and the lentils and cabbage, this was a delightful plate of food, yet again. Just enough food for a main meal to fill you up and yet leave a little room for dessert.
Other main courses on the menu included lamb leg, braised courgette, roasted swede and onions; crispy cauliflower, artichoke pesto and celeriac carpaccio; and roasted fennel, turnips, tomatoes, butterbeans, goats’ curd and salsa verde.
Dessert options included Basque style cheesecake with bitter orange; lemon parfait with olive oil and sea salt; and chocolate cremeux with salted caramel sauce. I opted for the chocolate, and it was a small but mighty dish, and one that I could barely finish for it was so rich and sweet. The decadent dessert had me struggling halfway through, and though the salted caramel was a lot for me, it’s certainly needed to balance out the sweetness. With a delicate biscuit base and nuts on top, this made for a well-balanced, textureful and decadent end to what was a top-quality meal.
The place is buzzing, it has a good reputation locally and I imagine repeat business is big here. It is certainly lovely enough to visit again, and with the ever-changing menu, you can be sure that there will always be something new and seasonal to try. Service was swift, staff members friendly, and the comfortable wood and plant focused décor and the simple, quality-led, hearty and rustic vibe makes for a welcoming place to visit.
When you’ve indulged as much as you can, the only place to turn to are the comfortable rooms upstairs.
Admittedly, when I first walked into the room and glanced around I thought there were mouldy patches. There aren’t! After a read of the room’s guide, I learned that it’s the lime plaster that gives the walls and ceiling the rustic look. Coupled with antique furniture, traditional patterns and classic paintings, I soon realised there was something special going on here.
Foregoing the need to create a luxe looking, modern-traditional look, The Bull Inn has instead opted for traditional to marry up with its setting. Big effort has been put into sourcing eco-friendly materials and the more I look around, read about it and take it in, the more I appreciate the effort that it has taken to source local materials that are also kind to the environment.
You’ll find touches that aid a contemporary life such as a kettle, Bluetooth radio and fan that plugs into the USB socket, but these are small and fairly unnoticeable. There’s no television, and though strong Wi-Fi is promised throughout, my room (no. 3) struggles to connect. Am I sad about the forced break from the outside world? No.
The shower room is luxe with a traditional look, with a spacious walk-in shower with gorgeous square gold fittings. Organic toiletries, waffle towels – lighter to transport and quicker to dry, I read – and tiny bars of soap are just enough, leaving far less waste than typical wrapped bars. The comfy waffle bathrobes aren’t in every room to save over-washing, but can be found in the landing cupboard, which is full of supplies for guests should they require them (as well as spare individually wrapped pukka teabags, spare towels and sanitary towels, a diffuser attachment for the hairdryer and more).
I appreciated these eco-friendly touches – as someone who is a regular visitor of hotels, I like to see what individual establishments are doing to promote less waste.
Despite a tapping from within the walls (which stopped after a while) and a truck outside very loudly pumping a blocked drain in the early hours of the morning (there had been heavy rain all day), I had a very comfortable stay and would happily return to explore more of the unique town of Totnes and the gorgeous surrounding area, and also devour more delicious food from The Bull Inn’s creative menu.
In a nutshell
Don’t be fooled into thinking that The Bull Inn is your typical local pub, though one glance at the exterior could have you believing as such. This is an inn with a difference. An organic food-focused establishment that serves up simple yet oh-so delicious and rustic meals with comfortable, carefully constructed rooms to retire to.
Address: Rotherfold Square, Little Totnes, Totnes, TQ9 5SN
Tel: 01803 640040
See snippets of my travels on Instagram @tashheard_food_travel
All photography courtesy of Rachel Hoile Photography.