Occupying 550 acres of prime countryside in the rural hinterland outside Exeter, the four-star Woodbury Park Hotel and Golf Club is a mecca for all those keen to swing a club or two. If your idea of pleasure tallies more with that of author Mark Twain, however – who proclaimed golf to be ‘a good walk spoiled’ – then the hotel’s facilities are also open to non-golfers and non-residents alike, including the à la carte offerings at the Atrium Restaurant.
A bright, spacious room, the Atrium, not surprisingly, boasts a glass ceiling, which is decorously draped in fabric to spare you the sun’s glare. Although the corporate aesthetic is not entirely absent from the decor and the carpet’s pattern not the most visually relaxing, the staff are friendly and welcoming, particularly our waiter, Stefan.
Happily, what the surroundings lack in colour is compensated for by the food, because when our starters arrive, they are a feast for the eyes. My woodpigeon is pleasantly pink in its vibrant roll of spinach and crispy potato on a bright beetroot salad, swirls of pea shoots at its edge. My partner’s dish is a crisp Catherine Wheel of belly pork adorned with a single raviolo. For our taste, both could do with a heavier hand on the seasoning front, but they certainly look the part.
There is no need for added extras when the mains arrive, however, as my sea bass is crisp-skinned and brimming with buttery flavour, sitting atop a glistening pillow of saffron mash plus richly green and seashore-salty samphire – it’s like a plate of seaside sunshine. My partner’s Scottish scallops – a ‘thrill of the grill’, the menu announces, courtesy of the Bertha charcoal oven – are similarly pleasing: soft and springy, they come with a herby butter dressing that sets off their sweetness handsomely.
Desserts also hit the spot, my warm chocolate tart like a silken chaise longue bolstered by a super-sour pillow of raspberry sorbet. It doesn’t last long, of course, nor does my partner’s wobbly treat of creamy vanilla panna cotta and palate-fizzing Sambuca sorbet – just as well, as it’s perilously close to oozing off the slate on which it’s served! Both desserts contain flavours that bounce off each other well and prove to be a satisfying end to the evening.
The wine list is varied and good value – we sink a zingy unoaked chardonnay that’s a steal at £16.95 – and there’s a good mix of meat, fish and veggie options across the menu, but it’s the charcoal oven offerings (including Red Ruby steaks from £17.50 and Somerset lamb cutlets at £22.95) that keep our neighbouring tables of celebratory golfers happy. Perhaps even Mark Twain would be won over.