Followers of this blog know that I occasionally like to treat myself to a posh meal at a nice restaurant or hotel. As a holiday treat. As a chance to wear something dressy, and not just a waterproof jacket and jeggings. And an opportunity to meet similarly-minded people - I nearly always do! And if you are a regular reader you'll know that I am friendly company, easy to get along with, and can chat with anyone.
I'd been into Barnstaple late in the afternoon, and now, on my way back to Great Torrington, had decided to drive 'home' via Instow and Bideford. A fine sunset was getting under way. It looked like this by the time I reached Instow, which is a nautical, boaty little place with lots of sand. It looks across to the even more nautical and boaty Appledore. A magic moment for horse riders, and for lovers:
So what to eat tonight, I wondered. I love cooking in the caravan, but I was in the mood to buy a meal out. And I thought of The Commodore Hotel, which must be close by. I'd had a recommendation to eat there from a lady called Pam, whom I'd met at Eggesford station last September - see my post on 7 October 2013 titled Ashreigney - and Pam at Eggesford. And later, when mentioning the Hotel to Phil and Ann in the kitchen at Higher Darracott Farm (where I was pitched), there were nods of assent: it was definitely a premier place to stay and dine at, possibly the best in the area. So it needed only a slight nudge to send me there sooner or later. And lo, there it was, golden in the sunset:
I wasn't exactly dressed to kill, but I went in and made enquiries, secured the evening's menu to glance at, and booked a table for one.
The friendly lady at Reception said I might not need to dine alone. A businesswoman on her own was staying there, and she might like to have company in the Hotel's Marine Restaurant. As if on cue, she arrived just as we were speaking: a smart, slim, thirty-something professional, very well-dressed in green silk trousers with a red-and-gold silk jacket, lovely hair, a beautiful face, and fine hands. But a thought limp and tired. We fell into brief conversation. She'd been recruiting all day, and although sharing a table with me was a charming idea to her, she really wanted to eat quickly in the bar and then go early to bed. No problems. I bet she would have been excellent company in the Restaurant, but I could imagine just how wearing a day spent interviewing people might be. I'd sat on recruitment panels myself in the past.
An hour an a half later I was back, transformed. The lady at reception seemed pleased to see me again, and commented on how nice I looked. I studied the evening menu afresh, rapidly made up my mind, placed my order with James the Restaurant Manager, and finished off my aperitif. It was dark now, and a little windy. But I was able to park Fiona close to the entrance, and I'd had time to contemplate the twinkling lights of Appledore across the Torridge estuary, and the warm lights of the Hotel, as seen from outside:
I wore a favourite blue dress, my pearls, and had my hair up. The Prada bag had an outing that night, too.
In the Marine Restaurant, James showed me to my table. There were several couples dining, all rather older than me, clearly staying at the Hotel so that their dinner was part of an inclusive deal. I was eyed up pretty thoroughly. I think they couldn't quite work out why I was there, and alone to boot. After all, it was still late March, pre-Easter, and not at all the main holiday season. And I was not dressed as if I were a road warrior, living out of a suitcase. (They couldn't know that I had the use of a big wardrobe in my caravan) I'm sure I was much discussed! Not rudely, of course.
I asked James for a large glass of white wine, I forget what, but it was good. Water also of course. It was a three-course dinner, but it felt like four. After some toasted bread, I began with Crab Custard Tart - lobster mayonnaise, tartar salad, and a crab beignet:
Whimsical and tasty. This was followed by a delicate sorbet, to refresh the palate. Then the main: Duo of Pork - fillet and braised cheek, roast celeriac, pickled walnuts, red wine shallots, and a spiced jus. Here's a not-very-good picture of it, which makes it look as if it had simply been shovelled onto my plate. 'Twas not so:
It was amazingly delicious. And filling - I hesitated over having anything too rich for dessert. After discussion, I chose a selection of West Country cheeses, which arrived on a slate:
I'd just decided to give up cheese at home, to cut down my regular fat intake, and so this was a real treat.
The service from James and others was smooth and efficient, and I felt very well looked after. James was clearly a busy man, but we had a little conversation nevertheless. I explained how dining on my own was completely the norm for me, and I mentioned a similar kind of meal the previous October, at The George Hotel at Stamford. James knew it. And he wasn't the only one.
After the cheese, I said I'd like to have coffee in the bar perhaps, and settle up there. But I didn't. A couple who had been seated far over to my right, not really in my line of sight at all, came over and said that they knew The George at Stamford too. Would I like to chat with them over coffee, in the Residents' Lounge? I demurred: I wasn't a resident! Oh, that wouldn't matter. So that's what we did for the next hour.
They were a lovely couple named Douglas and Ruth, and they lived in Skegness. They were staying a night or two, having been to Cornwall. They were travelling slowly back home, seeing family on the way. Here they are:
I really liked them, and we got on so well. Once more I reflected how kind fate was to me, to send me pleasant people all the time. I felt sad afterwards that I would probably never see them again. Except that at a hotel like this one, you never quite know who you might run into. It was the favourite choice of several visiting celebrities. That view, I suppose. And no doubt the quality of the rooms (I should have asked to see a suite) and the food. Phil Spencer and Kirsty Allsop, for instance, of Channel 4's Location, Location, Location had stayed here. Pam at Eggesford had told me they always stayed at The Commodore when looking at properties in North Devon for their TV clients. A picture on a wall near Reception proved it:
My goodness it was chilly when I left the Hotel after settling my bill! Well-insulated Fiona still contained some warm air from my drive earlier, however, and I was soon cosy again. The bill was a reasonable £41.40, less than half what I paid at The George. But then The George had been full of well-heeled types who were used to eye-watering prices.
Surprisingly, I saw from their brochure that I could stay at The Commodore in the height of the summer holiday season for £791 per week, full board. OK, they would charge me another £10.50 a night as a single-occupancy supplement, which bumped the all-in price up to £864. Which is £123 per night. But that's still not bad for an amazing room with the kind of sea view my opening photos suggest, and meals of the same quality that I had that night. Plus the chance to suck up to Phil and Kirsty!