Ye Olde George & Dragon
Castle Street, Combe Martin, EX34 0HX
You'll be in a jubilant mood before you even get to Ye Olde George & Dragon in the pretty village of Combe Martin. The drive takes you through some of North Devon's most stunning countryside, winding through rolling hills and ending right at the sea. The pub was undergoing a major refurbishment when we visited, no mean feat when you consider it's the oldest one in the village. But inside, we still received the warmest of welcomes from owners Michael and Sally Collacott. Sally's a real pillar of the community and greets every one of her local customers by name. Michael, who's been cooking for 24 years, since he was just 14, modestly describes his menu as good, traditional food. But it's far more than that. Steaks are a speciality - from prime rib to giant 16oz t-bones. Sourced from Exmoor, the beef has the most wonderful, intense flavour and a succulence that most chefs can only dream of creating. Make sure you order the fabulous homemade chips to go with it. The soup is honest and hearty - a bowl of thick leek and potato came steaming to our table with piping hot crusty rolls and butter the deep yellow colour of summer buttercups. A steak and ale pie was meltingly tender with the lightest of pastries - enough to make anyone's grandmother green with envy. The key to Ye Olde George & Dragon's success is undoubtedly the outstanding quality of the local produce used. Sally watches the scallops as they are freshly shelled at a fishmongers in Barnstaple, before chef works his magic, steeping them in white wine and cream and piling wafer-thin golden parsnip crisps on top - a daily changing specials board boasts fresh dishes created using the fishmongers' fares. And, if you're a fan of puddings, prepare to be dazzled. Pastry chef Jonathan France, famed for his creations at the Woolacombe Bay Hotel, has just joined the pub as its new head chef. If you truly want to get to know the locals, join in with their regular music nights. But whatever you do, make sure you work up a healthy appetite before you go.