I live close to the coast nowadays, but grew up on the edge of Dartmoor. It's still one of my favourite places – no crashing waves can beat the wide, high views of hills, heather and tors, the smell of gorse and peat, the hours of exploring....
So, with excitement, myself and good friend Gia headed for Two Bridges. During the hour-long journey, the moor threw its magical micro-climate at us: rain bursts, sharp sunlight, galloping clouds and rainbows accompanied us to the country house that is the Prince Hall Hotel.
We knew it was a laid-back kind of place when, as we arrived, we were joined by a large four-legged friend, who showed us the way to the lounge for a pre-lunch drink! An array of owner Chris Daly's art was hanging up on the walls and we sat down on a well-worn, comfy sofa to admire his work and make our choices.
The house itself has impressive flagstone floors, tall windows and long corridors. This is softened by the owner's style, which creates a lived-in, homely vibe. You won't feel out of place coming here after a trek on the moor, kicking off your wellies and relaxing in front of the fire.
However, where it matters, there are touches of luxury. The eight bedrooms are sumptuously furnished, but it's the food that is King at Prince Hall. Chris and his team carefully source their seasonal, local produce, and the menu changes frequently. The chefs are clearly adept at giving traditional dishes an added twist.
Take our starters. Gia's soup was a thick, root vegetable blend of carrot, turnip, celeriac and squash; a wholesome dish that was well-seasoned and slightly sweet. My chargrilled bruschetta was a lively, Mediterranean combination of feta, vine tomatoes and leaves, and the olive oil for dipping had a fresh and tantalising grassy flavour.
Glasses replenished, the friendly waitress arrived with our mains. Gia noted the well-balanced flavours of her seabass; the fillets were moist and flaky, and the taste was lifted by the herby crushed potatoes and lemon beurre blanc. The vegetables added colour to the plate, which incidentally was made by Chris.
My beef fillet was a joy to eat: tender, juicy and flavoursome, it stood up well to the garlicky potatoes and oyster mushrooms. Our chef, Rees Thompson, had only been working in the kitchen for a day or two, so credit to him!
Gia remarked how the portions were a good size, enabling us to thoroughly enjoy three courses. For dessert, her lemon and lime posset delivered a sharp/sweet end to the meal, further lifted by some fiery stem ginger sorbet. My seasonal fruit crumble had a not-too-sugary biscuit topping, the crunch factor heightened by some sticky walnuts and a delicious apricot sorbet.
What a feast, and what a relaxing lunch – another reason to keep coming back to Dartmoor.