For those of us who don't live in Devon, the name Lympstone, if we've heard of it, is synonymous with the Royal Marines. The nearby Commando Training Centre can boast international renown; but that it should forever associate Lympstone with human killing machines must be a matter of regret to at least some of the locals in this gloriously bucolic civil parish on the eastern coast of the Exe Estuary.
There is a church tower, built in 1409, and a waterfront and harbour that bear the heavy imprint of a once-thriving maritime industry and constant fear of flood waters. Fishing – for cod, salmon, and mackerel mostly – and ship-building used to provide the income for most of the residents, who even now number fewer than 2,000. That economy is mostly gone. Now most of the jobs lie to the north, in the swelling belly of Exeter.
What's been left in Lympstone is a quaint, becalmed village stalked by the ghosts of glories past. This quietude and heritage have yet to make it a fashionable destination in the manner of, for instance, Padstow – which is much bigger – or Port Isaac – which isn't, but received an extended visit from Martin Clunes in Doc Martin, after which locals complained the show was ruining their home. Short of getting Clunes and his crew to relocate, perhaps the only sure way to make Lympstone the tourist redoubt it deserves to be is the installation of a fine restaurant.
Redwing Bar & Dining is nearly it, and certainly could be fully it soon.
Barely a year old, the clue is in the name: this is not just a pub you can eat in, but two quite distinct entities. In the front is a local bar, with local people; further back is a restaurant full of foreigners such as me. And full it is: on this, a pre-school-holidays Saturday night, there aren't too many spaces going. A chasm seems to separate the locals from the foreigners, in comportment and clothing as well as distance. They don't mix at all.
There is an extremely charming maître d', and an extended menu and specials board that bears no resemblance whatsoever to the menu on the website. The seared scallop and smoked salmon with a caper-and-parsley dressing is good but not worth £9.95. The deep-fried poached egg with asparagus and black pudding salad, at £7.25, is infinitely better: the sunset-coloured yolk has an ideal consistency, and the black pudding is suitably salty in a well-dressed salad.
I'm afraid my bugbear of "seasonal vegetables" – a ubiquitous euphemism for flavourless, boiled vegetables that are knocked off without a hint of fanfare – appears with terrible regularity alongside the main courses here. I know a lot of English people like inoffensive vegetables on a plate, but I don't. This Indian palate wants offensive vegetables, in the sense of being on the attack, and finds what one local critic calls "the comfort of bland" offensive, in the sense of please don't say that again.
Such flavourless friends accompany, among others, the grilled lemon sole (£15.95). This European flatfish is always a prickly customer, and here it has a strong acidic flavour and so many tiny bones that eating it involves an archaeological journey of discovery.
The honey-glazed duck breast (£17.50) is, by contrast, exquisite: tender and moist with a rich plum sauce. There is an excellent Pinot Noir for £18.95 on a solid wine menu divided by type ("dry, delicate white", "spicy, peppery, warming red") and the desserts, which are superb, include a lemon tart (£5.95) and a crème brûlée (£6) whose glazed surface is very deep and fun to crack.
I know it's expensive to do, but before Redwing becomes famous it could do with a refurb. A discomfiting zebra-print furnishing and moody burgundy and turf-green fabrics dominate the interior. To look at zebra print when you're eating is bad enough; but when you're drinking it basically induces nausea. Aside from being a distraction from a very competently executed menu, in a rather lovely setting, it jars with the local vibe.
But get that refurb done, keep this kitchen going, retain the charming staff, who have a sense of humour and know the virtue of leaving diners alone when you can sense that's what they want, and Lympstone could yet be flooded with tourists rather than estuary water. All it needs is a visit from Martin Clunes.
Redwing Bar & Dining, Church Road, Lympstone, Exmouth, Devon, tel: 01395 222 156 Lunch and dinner daily; £80 for two with a bottle of wine
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