Flashes of genius
The Cranford Inn, Torrington
Here we are in the heart of Tarka country on the lookout for somewhere that I’ve been informed blends unpretentious country pub with Michelin-level cooking at very reasonable prices. The scene is set and I’m ravenous.
Tucked just off the main road that rises and falls between Torrington and Umberleigh, on arrival it feels like you’re entering an old estate. What was once a working farm is now home to a mixture of fishing lakes and selfcatering cottages soundtracked by a distant cockerel. Thirty years ago the old longhouse with its thick walls became the pub that you see today.
The locals in these parts all speak fondly of ‘The Crannie’ when it was enjoying its heyday. A decade in the wrong hands can leave any ship rudderless and it’s fair to say that after a number of short-term tenants this pub had lost its way. A shot in the arm was needed from someone with vision, experience and the appetite and determination to ride out any rough patches in the pursuit of creating something unique.
An Australian swapping the Gold Coast for the UK may not seem the obvious starting point but then Leanne Freeman is not your typical landlady. Her story begins some 28 years ago after touching down in Edinburgh. Fast forward to the millennium
‘Hands down this was the best meal I’ve eaten in a long time and young Jack is a Devon star in the making’
and a move to Dorset would ignite a love affair with pubs.
More than a decade there equipped her with an enviable set of hospitality skills before a move to Norfolk presented the opportunity to finally become her own boss. North Devon entered the frame purely by chance via a short summer break in Appledore. After falling in love with the rural landscape, by August 2016 a new chapter was underway and the fortunes of The Cranford Inn were suddenly looking up.
Leanne has taken charge of a property that will take time to fully spruce up. There are none of the superfluous extras that normally go hand in hand with a new gastropub opening. This is in fact a completely different proposition, understated but quietly confident in its offering.
Still only two years in, her first priority has been to recruit the right people. On the lookout for a second chef, in February a CV arrived from an ambitious young man plying his trade at one of Kent’s Michelin-starred restaurants. Before long Jack Cannell was one of Devon’s newest residents. Six months in and still only 24 he has already been promoted to head chef.
The menu quickly had our undivided attention. A trio of starters; wild mushroom arancini, sticky beef cheek and confit salmon showed some serious intent. Next up, Cranford Park venison loin with roasted squash, hasselback potato and pickled trompettes had a lightness of touch surely hard to extract from such earthy autumnal ingredients. Cauliflower roulade with marinated beets, golden raisins and romanesco was a picture on a plate, perfectly executed and veggie heaven. Dessert, a caramelised apple parfait tarte tatin, was perfect.
Hands down this was the best meal I’ve eaten in a long time and young Jack is a Devon star in the making. As well as pub classics here you get his relaxed take on fine dining served in a casual and peaceful setting. Add in the warm hospitality, ongoing plans for the interior and you have a winning formula. Make the journey…you’ll be extremely glad you did. firstname.lastname@example.org