In case you were wondering, I can report with certainty that this is not just the first time I have eaten in Doddiscombsleigh, about five miles south-west of Exeter, between the Teign Valley and the Haldon Hills, but the first time I have eaten in a pun. It's the Nobody Inn, which takes its name from the unfortunate moment during a former landlord's wake when his coffin was brought back to an empty pub.
You half-expect, on turning up to eat in a pun, that the menu will be saturated with double entendres, or a court jester will pop out from under the table; but in fact this bar and restaurant with rooms is no more comic than other country inns in deepest Devon. It does, however, differ in three crucial respects: the service, food, and affordability are excellent, whereas generally round here you'd think it was your lucky day if you chanced upon just one of that holy trinity.
The original building goes back to the 17th century. It has a beautiful thatched roof, low – and at times very low – black roof beams, a blazing fireplace, rickety, beer-stained tables, and dim electric bulbs, which convert the shafts of sunlight piercing the windows into an ethereal glow. They take orders only at the bar, and leave you well alone to eat your food. A bevy of local ales at around £3 make it the sort of place that aged locals attend religiously. They, too, feel part of the centuries-old furniture.
There are five starters, 13 mains (two vegetarian), four desserts and a selection of cheeses, all crammed on to a single A4 sheet of paper. It's all very minimal fuss and unsurprising – but that doesn't stop the dishes coming out of the kitchen from attaining an impressive standard.
The duck-liver pâté (£6.95), for instance, is extremely smooth and moist, and comes with perfectly toasted wholemeal bread. So, too, does the duck terrine, which is the same price but has an excellent orange marmalade – not too sweet, and full of tiny chunks of orange rind that add intense flavour and a contrasting texture. The soup of today – butternut squash – is rich and creamy and worth £4.75. Best of all among the starters, and again £6.95, are crisp, pungent crab cakes with a memorable red-pepper mayonnaise. The short strips of pepper are cooked until soft and visibly bleeding flavour into their greasy companion.
Most pub staples, from fish and chips to home-made (lamb) burger, sirloin steak, lamb shank, and beef-and-ale pie are on offer. There's also fish pie, beef or vegetable lasagne, ham and chips, roasted plaice or sea bream, a platter of beef, and a Ploughman's lunch. Of those we plump for, the lamb shank (£15.95) is least worth the asking price. It is more tough than tender, and the roast potatoes and seasonal vegetables are bland.
Unfortunately the latter accompany several other courses, too – but those, in contrast, have star performers on the plate. My girlfriend's cold-beef platter (£7.95) contains some exquisitely moist offerings, and comes with a sour pickle that gets the best out of them. There's not a lot wrong with the Dartmoor-sourced sirloin steak (£18.95), and plenty right with the aromatic peppercorn sauce it comes with. The fish pie (£10.50) has all manner of delights swimming within it, from haddock and salmon to succulent king prawns. It's also cooked to the point where the wispy peaks of mashed potato on top have passed golden brown, making a crunchy foil to the sea of sauce below. In short, perfectly done.
Of the desserts, a chocolate brownie with ice-cream (£5.50) is let down a tad by a dull chocolate sauce, while sticky-toffee and bread-and-butter puddings are the same price, but done better. If you can spare 25p extra, splash out on the white-chocolate-and-raspberry crème brûlée. That said, you might want to save your money for the local cheeses (£8.95 for one person, £10.95 for two), or one of the 260 whiskies that are stashed behind the bar, which rather charmingly make Doddiscombsleigh a whisky connoiseur's paradise. (It's not too shabby on wine, either: the Nobody has 29 by the glass and 240 by the bottle.)
The uninspiring pun in its name aside, this inn gets very little wrong. That is probably why the place is nigh-on full, despite being in the middle of nowhere. And that, in turn, is probably why it is long overdue to be renamed.
Scores: 1-3 stay home and cook 4 needs help, 5 does the job 6 flashes of promise 7 good 8 special, can't wait to go back 9-10 as good as it gets
The Nobody Inn, Doddiscombsleigh, Exeter, Devon, tel: 01647 252 394 Lunch Mon-Sat 12pm-2pm; Sun 12pm-3pm. Dinner in restaurant, 6.30pm-9pm Tues-Sat; dinner in bar, 6.30pm-9pm daily
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Reviews extracted from 'Harden's London and UK Restaurant Guides 2012' www.hardens.com