Owners Graham and Gill Brooks were complete novices in the hotel and restaurant trade when they took over Barclay House. And what a place to start: a hugely successful business named after renowned former chef-owner Nick Barclay.
The risks were enormous. Bringing in young head chef Ben Palmer was a good start and his skill in the kitchen has taken the restaurant from strength to strength, not least by being named South West Restaurant of the Year last year by Taste of the West, an accolade which will come as little surprise to anyone who has eaten at the hotel.
Ben’s culinary skill and attention to detail are evident right from the start of any meal, with offerings such as homemade pumpkin and parmesan bread, and a sublime amuse bouche of crab cake with pepper and chilli jam. He believes in keeping food simple, and not cluttering it with too manyflavours, so combinations are classic rather than adventurous. Scallops are accompanied by black pudding and jerusalem artichoke purée, pumpkin risotto is complemented by Cornish Blue cheese and candied walnuts, and pheasant marries perfectly with braised red cabbage and glazed apples.
The elegance of the food is matched by a contemporary dining room with doors opening onto a patio with views over the south coast. The smart surroundings are softened however by service that is friendly and refreshingly informal, as befits such a family-run enterprise: as well as the Brooks family management team, the sous-chef is Ben’s brother, while his partner works on reception. Good work team!