When a hotel’s head housekeeper has been with them over ten years and the head chef for 13, you know a place must be doing something right. Owned and run by the Fox-Edwards family since 1962, the 300-year-old Arundell Arms Hotel in the small village of Lifton, Devon, has won numerous awards in its time, and has many strings to its bow.
There’s a two-AA rosette restaurant on-site, for example. It’s a popular choice for anglers, with the hotel owning private fishing rights on 20 miles of local river banks (they teach fly fishing, and sell and hire equipment, too). They organise other country sports, including shooting and horse riding. And they’re also home to six Tesla Superchargers – as far as I know (correct me if I’m wrong), the only ones in Devon.
It was a place we ended up staying at for our first child-free night away, and it sounded ideal for a relaxing, back-to-nature break with some good food thrown into the mix.
We were greeted warmly at reception, where we were given a tour of the public areas – the bar, lounge, garden and restaurant – and told about the pub at one end of the building – also part of the Arundell Arms Hotel – before being shown to our room. Clearly we’d chosen a busy weekend, as when I’d booked, the only double room available was in a cottage across the road, also owned by the Arundell Arms Hotel and offering extra accommodation during busy periods.
Despite the place being on the main road through Lifton, our downstairs bedroom faced a tiny alley and the church just across the road, and was surprisingly sheltered from the noise of the road. And it looked pretty smart, too, with contemporary, very new-looking furnishings, a modern en suite shower room, and all the facilities you’d expect: tea and coffee plus kettle, toiletries in the bathroom, a TV, ironing facilities, extra blankets, free WiFi and bathrobes.
A framed sign in the bedroom highlighted the green credentials at The Arundell Arms Hotel (including electricity sourced completely from renewable sources, and their own Eco Energy Centre providing all the hotel’s heat and hot water), and (not that we planned to make use of it), we were impressed with the pricing of their 24-hour room service menu (sandwiches around the £6-£7 mark and a Devon cream tea for £5.50, for example).
We’d stopped in Tavistock en route so arrived pretty late, meaning we didn’t have a chance to really explore the place before dinner. But in all honesty, dinner was what we were most excited about: a five-course tasting menu that sounded pretty amazing. We headed through to the bar area (pretty traditional in its design), where we were furnished with a copy of the menu, asked about any dietary requirements/things we don’t eat, and invited to head through to the lounge or garden with our drinks and await our canapés.
Passing through the lounge en route to the garden, we were pretty impressed: with its comfortable-looking seating, open fire (unsurprisingly not lit in July) and a range of games, magazines and papers, it proved as cosy as it looked when we retreated there later for our post-dinner coffees…
The hidden garden was a little suntrap, complete with water feature, plenty of roses in full bloom, and a lawn where two other guests were working on their fly fishing techniques. It was beautiful – but quickly overshadowed by the canapés that arrived shortly after we sat down.
A creamy chunk of grilled goats cheese on a crunchy sliver of bread was topped with a fresh and vibrant pesto, while the tomato arancini, with a nice bite and a delicate crisp crumb, were lovely and sweet. The star, though, was the tartare of brill, the firm-fleshed fish complemented perfectly by the creamy, zesty herb marinade.
It was almost reluctantly that we left the sunshine for the Arundell Arms Hotel restaurant, but it was just as welcoming: very traditionally hotel restaurant in its style, with long sweeping curtains, a huge chandelier on the ceiling, and piano renditions of songs by Elton John, Michael Jackson and the Beatles, among others, playing through their more modern Sonos system.
A basket of bread went down a treat – the lemon and poppy seed the star for me, but the white and the wholemeal walnut equally expertly baked in house – while we waited for our starter.
The tomato and turmeric soup was more the former than the latter: delicate flavours brought to life by the salty shaved Parmesan and an earthy drizzle of olive oil on top. For me, though, it wasn’t a patch on the next course: two meaty pan-seared Brixham scallops (one with the roe still attached), enveloped in a rich and creamy warm tartar sauce – somewhat reminiscent of a bearnaise – and surrounded by crispy capers that could have been crispier.
An incredibly intensely flavoured passion fruit sorbet followed to cleanse the palate, before our main of ridiculously tender roasted beef sirloin cooked pink. It was served with baby veg that still had a bit of bite, plus sweet and fleshy glazed salsify and an incredible potato rosti, its crisp outer giving way to a velvety centre flecked with thyme. The tenderstem wasn’t great – too raw, too fibrous – and it was hard to distinguish any of the promised peppercorn sauce, especially with the liquid from the creamed leeks spilling out over the plate.
The dessert, though, was a masterpiece. A thyme-roasted peach tart was elegantly presented: the pastry lightly perfumed with ginger, the chilled custard with finely diced stem ginger, the slivers of roasted peach nicely charred in places. The ginger and honey ice cream we were expecting didn’t make an appearance, but with clotted cream in its place, we didn’t complain.
After post-dinner coffees in the lounge (which we had completely to ourselves), we retreated back to our room – and it was then that we realised just how noisy an old cottage can be. With very little soundproofing, we could hear the conversations from upstairs and feet tramping across the floorboards, but it wasn’t enough to stop us from relaxing. Considering the hotel’s eco focus, we were impressed with both the heat and the power of the bathroom’s shower – and despite a far softer mattress than we’re used to, we managed a solid seven and a half hours of sleep (which doesn’t happen with an 18-month old at home).
And it was back to the hotel restaurant for breakfast the following morning, where we were greeted warmly by the hotel’s food and beverage manager, who had served us the night before.
Served from 7 till 10 Monday to Friday and 8 till 10 on Saturdays, Sundays and Bank Holiday Mondays, the Arundell Arms breakfast offers a cold buffet, plus a couple of fruit juices, as well as tea or coffee and a variety of hot dishes, cooked to order, included in the room rate.
Our toast didn’t come out until we were nearly done with our hot dishes, but we were regularly asked if we wanted our coffee pot topped up, and our buffet plates were cleared promptly before our hot dishes arrived. My cold buffet highlight was the big bowl of natural yoghurt and a whole host of toppings to choose from: fruit compote, dried fruits, a few varieties of granola, nuts and fresh fruit.
On the hot front, Chris (predictably) went for the full English, which was beautiful. And for me (in a bid to be relatively healthy), the poached smoked haddock and poached eggs, which were tasty enough, but could have done with a little spinach or similar to make it into a real meal.
With checkout up till 11am, we had a bit of a chance to digest before we set off. And when we did, it was with equally warm and friendly service as we’d experienced throughout our stay – the Arundell Arms Hotel really does live up to its family-run credentials.
It’s a three-star hotel, but it feels like more. And with a two-AA rosette restaurant, if you do head over for a visit, dining at the restaurant is a must – especially with the tasting menu priced at just £49.50 a head (and the four-course accompanying wine flight at only £23). Rack rate for a classic double room is £170 per night, but you’ll often find discounts on offer, especially if you book relatively last-minute. If you’re looking to stay in the local area, we’d definitely recommend stopping by the Arundell Arms Hotel.