Cary Arms – Torquay – Devon – Restaurant Review


The Cary Arms has been a firm establishment set in the history of Torquay for many years, it is set right on the beautiful beach of Babbacombe.  Years ago it was more known for a Summer drinking location which serves your standard pub grub, and would be a place to go for your sunday afternoon drink and then attempt to stumble up the HUGE! hill, which it has also become known for.  The restaurant was re-launched 18months-2 years ago, since then it has been becoming more and more known as a Gastro-Pub style restaurant serving fine dining in a calm and relaxed environment.  This has been shown only recently when at the start of November (2010) it was awarded “Gastro-Pub Newcomer of the Year” from the “Top 50 Gastro Pubs” association.

Having seen this award was given and hearing from a few people different reports, I had it set in my head that I must get down as soon as possible.  My chosen evening however they had a special event on, with the famous saxophonist “Greg Abate”  playing and a special set menu was to be served.  Considering that this would be a special event I thought this would be a great chance to get down and try out some of there offerings.

Unfortunately the Saturday evening turned out to be wet and absolutely freezing, and leaving the house to walk to the pub I was really questioning should I go……. However being brave I wrapped up and managed to get to the start of the long and STEEP hill down to the pub, at this time both myself and dining partner was questioning the worthiness of such a trek.

After much complaining and “sighs” we both started down the hill avoiding the extremely slippery drain covers, by the time we made it down we were both absolutely freezing.  Upon walking in to the pub we both have never been so delighted with the pub absolutely glowing with heat, the internal wood surfaces just giving that feeling of warmth.  Upon entering the pub it is very inviting with a good sized bar stretching right the way through the main restaurant,with seating located both around the bar and in the restaurant area.  The area is very relaxed and not pretentious at all, it puts you completely at ease with small sea-side nik-naks dotted around, the atmosphere it creates is very relaxed.

The waitresses are all young and dressed in relaxed clothing, with jeans and hoodies/sweaters with “The Inn On The Beach” printed on the back, again adding to that relaxed feeling.  Due to the dress and their mannerisms they are incredibly approachable, polite and create a chilled out atmosphere the pub is aiming for.

Having now being seated at the back of the restaurant, near a great wood burning fire crackling away, we were very happy to warm up from the walk down the hill earlier.  The tables were very solid wood, with wooden benches/chairs used.  I will not comment too much about the entertainment on the evening but suffice to say the band was incredible with Greg being a particular delight of the evening, the staff had managed to positioned all the tables to allow for everyone to get a great view as well which was a great plus.

The menu was then presented to us, which on this evening was a set menu priced at £38 and formed of 3 courses.  The menu had some really tempting choices and with only 3 starters and 4 mains, it took me a good time to finally come to my decision.  The style of cuisene was really pushed towards classic/modern british, with famous classics you would expect such as belly pork, chicken breast and the famous sticky toffee pudding.

The young lady waitress kindly took out orders and as the band began to play, I suddenly realised that no bread was insight and then it dawned on me that we had no bread plates……….. my heart suddenly skipped a few beats as this is normally what I look forward to the most in these gastro-pub style places.  I know they say simple things for simple people but something about that still steaming soft chewy homemade bread with lashings of butter just makes my spirit lift!  After 15mins myself and dining partner finally came to the conclusion that no bread or amuse bouche would be appearing tonight.

Starter : Pork, Ham and Smoked Bacon Terrine

Immediately this dish jumped out at me due to the stunning colours and how everything jumped off the plate, even the neutral colours of the Brioche and terrine blended so well with the great glossy dressed salad, and stunning blood red plum compote.  The brioche bread was lovely and soft with only the slightly of toasting on the outside of the slice but with a good crunch in the crust, it had a great sweet taste and this melded very well the other elements of the dish.  The salad was your standard mixed leaves with a light olive oil dressing, standard item really here but were fresh with a good bite and the olive oil added the needed texture to the item.  The terrine it self was excellent it was served ice cold, but was not too loose and allowed for a good slice to be cut away from it, due to the lovely amount of bacon rind  wrapped around this the flavour on the outside was gorgeous with a strong smokey flavour.  The ham in the terrine really did have a kick and could easily over power many items, however the plum compote worked so well with its sweet plums it added such a wonderful additional element and I just couldn’t get enough of this.  I really did enjoy this starter, to a point I would travel down the enormous hill just to pop in and grab this as a light lunch.

Main : Mushroom, Blue Vinny and Butternut Squash Wellington

I am still foolishly aiming to keep trying different out of my normal comfort zone dishes and avoid the usual selections I make, such as the Belly Pork or Duck etc etc.  When I saw this item on the menu I thought this would be a good chance to swing away my normal narrow minded selections and for once step into the dark dark corners of vegetarianism.  Again the dish was presented well with the wellington being not as I had expected.  In my head I envisioned a large cylinder of puff pastry, and inside would be many chopped mushrooms with tones of cheese, then a small touch of butternut squash, this would be served as a single slice on the plate.  However what was presented instead was a more refined dish with a large portobello, placed atop a thin slice of butternut squash and then a very small amount of blue vinny cheese placed on the mushroom, all wrapped in puff-pastry. The puff-pastry was the first element to be sampled, the top pastry was incredibly crisp and airy, with the layers all giving different flavours due to the mushroom and cheese leaking into the internal layers.  The base was very soft and soggy, but being the heathen I am….. I loved this as all the flavours had soaked/absorbed into the pastry and seemed to have the most intense flavour!  The mushroom provided a great earthiness when combined with the strong cheese and without this, the cheese would have just been too overpowering.  The whole wellington worked well apart from the butternut squash which I found the flavour didn’t really come through in the dish, this element was not missed though and if it was not named on the menu I would have said it was not needed.  The cranberry sauce was great with a really sharp acidic taste which complimented the wellington well, and worked well to lift the entire dish up in terms of strong flavours.  This dish was also served with your standard side dish of buttery vegtables.  The dish all worked well and every element from the internals of the wellington to the sauce and side veg, all seemed to blend exquisitely.

Dessert : Slow Baked Lemon and Lime Tart

Now comes the favorite part of any meal for myself…… dessert.  I was brave again here and resisted the urge to go for that good old favorite sticky toffee pudding and pushed those voices in my head aside and decided to go for the “heathy” option of a tart (I think I actually fooled my head into thinking this was healthy to get away from the pudding!).  I was immediately impressed when served the dish by the size of the slice with a large spoon of Chantilly cream with a raspberry coulis.  The tart it self consisted of the main filling being very well set and great to slice with the edge of the spoon, it had a great strong lemon flavour but being sweet at the same time with no element of sour at all.  The topping was a lime jelly with strips of lime rind spread throughout the topping, this added a very strong sour kick to the dish and would be slightly overpowering if it was not for the tart pastry being very sweet.  The pastry was great and crisp with your spoon snapping through to the base of the plate with a bang.  All three of these elements of the tart made for a great combination, however, with the addition of the cream and the slightest bit of coulis  just lifted the entire thing to the next level, you would need to ensure you did not over power the tart with the coulis as this was extremely sweet and took away the sour kick of the lime.  After consuming this I can safely say I was full, with this being a particularly filling dish, but being a perfect end to the three courses.

Finally served with the bill was a small sweet which was a slice of Devon “Rock”, which is a lovely sweet suckable sweet, it even had the name of the restaurant printed and was a great memento to take home.

Overall – 9/10

This was a particular favorite meal of mine, with all the elements just blending so well.  When thinking back to the meal, not a single dish jumps out at me, and for once they all do! with every dish being a delight to remember.  Everything from this evening was great from the relaxed service from the young (and very very attractive) waitresses, to the speed at which everything was served with a good break between the courses as I didnt find myself looking at my watch wondering how long since my last course.  The food here was a delight with the starter being the favourite dish of the evening and makes the whole trip of the steep hill worth it.  I would love to give this a mark of 10/10 (my first), however the only complaint that comes to mind was the lack of bread at the start of the meal, as this has become a real highlight of visiting Gastro-pubs and sampling some great home cooked bread.  I hope this would be changed in the future, and when I next visit would love to find this addition.

I would recommend the Cary Arms to my friends and family.  I cant wait to return to try their standard menu and will be interested to see how that fares compared to this special set menu.

Also for those watching their waistlines, just make sure to park at the top of the hill and not be temped to get a taxi up to the car, as the walk will really help burning off some of those consumed calories!!

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