Coombe Cellars is one of those “destination pubs” where the dining experience begins with the journey. Located by the River Teign in Combeinteignhead, near Abbot of Newtonvisitors must take winding country roads to get there.
Its scenic location means there are some spectacular landscapes to enjoy while you eat and drink. The pub has large windows and outdoor seating to make the most of the great views. The disadvantage of its location is that in times of flood the pub is completely cut off.
The location of the pub is undoubtedly the main reason why it is so popular and attracts visitors from miles around. It allows dogs in the large bar including the conservatory so many dog walkers come after exercising along the river or just in the field next to the pub car park.
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The Coombe cellars underwent a major renovation in 2019 and its website says it combines “rustic charm with modern interiors.”
I felt the majority of the work had improved it, and was very relieved to see that the pub had retained its lovely conservatory and open fireplaces – but I was not a fan of the new tiling around the main fireplace, which seemed cold and at odds with the welcoming sofas and chest tables in front.
Sadly, this isn’t the first time a pub has lost some of its warm and cozy character in its attempts to transform itself into a modern gastropub. The Coombe Cellars website calls it “an upscale pub, bar and restaurant that will allow you to relax, indulge and dine in the utmost style and comfort”.
Surrender was certainly the word. The NHS says that, in general, the recommended daily calorie intake is 2,000 for women and 2,500 for men. Calories printed next to menu items made reading uncomfortable – 2,167 for the Trio of Roasts and 1,341 for the Lotus Biscoff Chocolate Bomb, for example.
But our meal was a treat and not a day to count calories. We chatted and relaxed with the sounds of George Ezra and Ryan Adams in the background, occasionally interrupted by friendly people and dogs wanting to greet my dog.
Even though it was past 2pm on Sunday, the pub was still quite busy. A sign outside said the pub was recruiting so it was possible the pub was understaffed and the staff it had were inexperienced. Many looked very young, and one said he was only hours away from his first shift. He was polite and very sorry that he didn’t know if the pub sold pineapple juice or how to set up a tab.
However, things that didn’t live up to the ‘premium pub’ label included the fact that our table clearly hadn’t been wiped down before we sat down, our plates weren’t cleared after each course and our Main courses were out while I was still chewing the last bite of my sourdough. A waiter tried to serve us food that should have gone to the table opposite.
I ordered an Aperol Spritz (£8.75) and the halloumi fries (£4.95) “while I was thinking” and was told the sweet chilli sauce it was supposed to be served with didn’t was not available – but there was chilli mayonnaise which was fine. It was the highlight of my meal – tasty and homemade. We shared the panko breaded Brie (£6.50) as a starter. It came in three pieces and would have tasted a little bland without the apricot ginger chutney.
We both opted for the trio of roasts (£17.95) for our main course. The menu listed it as beef, pork and chicken, crackers, bacon-wrapped stuffing, bread sauce, roasted potatoes, sautéed greens, roasted root vegetables, Yorkshire pudding and bottomless gravy. The bread sauce wasn’t served until we asked for it, and the potatoes were the least crispy roast potatoes I’ve ever had, but the Yorkshire pudding was huge and the bacon around the stuffing was a nice touch.
For dessert I had the sticky toffee pudding (£6.95) which I don’t think was homemade and was heavy compared to the last sticky toffee pudding I ate. The menu said it was served with honeycomb ice cream, which had been the deciding factor for me, but it came with vanilla ice cream. My friend’s apple and plum crumble (£6.75) with custard was more successful, the addition of the damask plum being a welcome touch.
It was an enjoyable meal overall, but there were more disappointments and mistakes than there should have been for the price we paid. This may have been due to staffing issues as suggested above, although a quick look at Tripadvisor shows a mixed reaction. It has an overall rating of 3.5 out of five, after more than 2,100 reviews, with 664 “excellent” reviews but 343 “terrible” reviews. If The Coombe Cellars can bring its food and service to the same incredible standards as its setting, it will be unbeatable.