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Dear Jac
Dear Jac
Culm Valley Inn, Culmstock, Devon. It would be very easy to drive past the Culm Valley Inn without giving it a second thought, such is its...

Culm Valley Inn, Culmstock, Devon.

 It would be very easy to drive past the Culm Valley Inn without giving it a second thought, such is its down-at-heel appearance. Inside, this charming Devon pub is just as scuffed around the edges. The walls are salmon pink, the paintwork is chipped and, on this visit, the front curtains were still closed at lunchtime. With its old piano and numerous nick-nacks, first-time visitors may think they have walked into somebody's house by mistake.

 But once you have stepped over the threshold, you really don't want to leave this quirky place, which is a serious treat for lovers of real ale and cider, fine wine and great food. There is no printed menu, only a board, but the food is as extensive as it is fascinating. A witty notice stating that "at busy times, good food will be served slowly" was a reassuring sign that this is a pub that takes its food seriously, as does a list of local suppliers pinned beneath the menu. I counted 11 starters, many also available as a main course. They ranged from lightly curried squash and carrot soup (£5) to mussels mariniere (£7). Other included a Spanish-style aubergine and cheese pie (£6), "served at room temperature", and a Provençal fish soup (£6).

 We started with a small selection of tapas (£7) - a tasty and generous plate of various types of Spanish and Italian charcuterie, cheeses, cornichons, olives, pickled garlic and peppers. Not quite so impressive was the crab cocktail (£6), a large plate of well-dressed leaves, pieces of tomato and cucumber, more pickled garlic and a mound of crab, which was certainly very fresh, but whoever had prepared it had left an inordinate amount of shell in the meat. Main courses were spot on. An enormous piece of poached cod was served with Puy lentils and a piquant salsa verde and was excellent value at £12. Two plump locallyshot pheasant breasts arrived with a delicious Somerset cider brandy sauce - a steal at just £10. A bowl of roasted red peppers, aubergine, Anya potatoes and carrots showed imagination when it came to the side order of vegetables. And, from a list of seven homemade puddings, warm ginger parkin (£4) was as comforting and welcoming as the pub itself.

 PubChef rating​ (out of 10)Ambience:​ 8.5 Value for money:​ 8 Flavour factor:​ 8 Overall impression:​ 8.5 BEERS:​ Six ales from Devon and Somerset microbreweries, including Branscombe Vale Branoc and Exmoor Stallion. MAIN COURSES:​ From £7 to £21 WINES ON LIST:​ Chef/proprietor Richard Hartley's brother imports French wines from small growers and the wine list exceeds 60, of which 50 are available by the glass. ANOTHER THING:​ The pub has a selection of unusual French fruit liqueurs and even makes its own homemade sloe vodka.

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