Review by Fiona Duncan, published 20th May 2008.
We’re a strange-looking bunch. We’d arrived exhausted, after varying alarums and excursions, in picture-perfect ham-stone Hinton St George in time for a late Friday evening dinner.
Now, on Saturday morning, we are standing on Exmoor’s Dunkery Beacon, at the start of a 10-mile hike, with the promise of a pub lunch halfway. It’s nearly summer, and therefore the temperature is arctic, visibility nil, rain sluicing down. Of our group of seven, plus a shivering spaniel that would rather be in the car, the QC in fetching headgear fashioned from a blue and red plastic bag and the husband, dressed for the ocean in bright red oilskins, stand out.
Things, however, only improve, as they have a habit of doing if you stick at them. The peer of the realm is in charge of the exhilarating route, which, despite the weather, is declared a triumph. Outwardly bedraggled, inwardly glowing, we return to Hinton St George for brandy-and-lovage (the barmaid’s excellent idea), hot baths and a second satisfying dinner at the Lord Poulett Arms, which was my choice and also, I’m happy to report, a triumph.
Everything is right about this updated inn, especially if you like lodgings, as we do, that are comfortable and imaginative yet unpretentious, with a bill that doesn’t dismay. I’d called in a few months before and liked what I saw; now it’s being tested strenuously with a two-night stay, occupying all four of its upstairs bedrooms.
We all love our rooms, particularly given their gentle price (which includes a full “Somerset” breakfast of generous proportions). Two have slipper baths in the room, two have bathrooms across the corridor; all are quirky, with pretty wallpapers, amusing carved beds, old wardrobes and antique mirrors. We could have done with more storage and not just one but two bedside lights in ours, but this is the only quibble. The digital radios are a boon (no televisions, happily, except on request).
Across a prettily papered hall, the larger of the public rooms, with two open fires, has been furnished by the young owners, Steve and Michelle, with a carefully sourced collection of country furniture and resolves itself into three user-friendly areas, one for locals in wellies to drink at the bar and two for dining in large groups or small. “I sense balance here,” says the marketing man among us. “Everything, rooms, service, ambience, food, feels part of a satisfying whole.”
Having had a knock-out lunch dish (butternut squash and filo pastry) on my earlier visit, I own up to a small sense of disappointment on the culinary front, but it isn’t shared by the others. On two consecutive nights we make short work of the menu.
Typically, in these days of soaring food prices, the offerings include a few pricey ingredients such as foie gras, venison and scallops, but also sausages and sardines, gurnard and pork belly. Nothing wrong with those. Bring on Austerity Britain: at least as far as the kitchen is concerned, this bunch is ready. And walking is free.
Hinton St George (01460 73149; www.lordpoulettarms.com). Doubles £88 per night, including breakfast. Access for guests with disabilities: not suitable.