NICK HAMMOND excels himself in the West Country by finding a tiny restaurant offering gargantuan pleasures. If you promise to obey his rules – read on…
THE very best dining, I think, should be joyous and fun-filled.
Civilised, yes; stuffy, no. A celebration of what we are receiving and who we’re receiving it with.
Sepulchred tones and supercilious staff are most definitely not my cup of tea. I want to be treated with courtesy, of course; but more like a friend than a customer.
And by golly, I got this in spades at Langmans. It’s an absolute gem and I’ve dithered and dallied and shredded fingernails before deciding to tell you about it. It’s one of my very favourite places in all the world to dine so I’m warning you – don’t all go down there and ruin it for me. Do we have a deal?
Don’t suppose you’ve heard of Callington. It’s a middling town on the borders of Devon and Cornwall. Langmans has been run by husband and wife team Anton and Gail Buttery for the past 15 years or so.
Aside from having a delightful surname, the Butterys run a tight ship at their little restaurant on Church Street. The understated exterior hints not a jot at what awaits behind the blinds.
Front of house Gail makes sure you have time for a Betty Stoggs from the bar while you take stock of the menu and then, with a swift kick in the seat of the pants from the amuse-guele, your evening is off in a shower of sparks and doesn’t really stop until you arrive back home in a sort of stupefied wonder.
That first mouthful tonight happens to be a tiny pastry parcel stuffed with a mushrooms and topped with a barely poached quail’s egg which explodes in a foaming breaker of warm, gooey flavours. And I won’t bore you with repeating the menu in its entirety, but special mention must go to an 36-hour sous vide belly pork with a wafer thin layer of crackling which, when eaten, defies speech for several orgasmic moments.
That’s before I work my rapturous way through John Dory, fresh British asparagus, squid, sirloin of beef, wild mushroom sauce and duck breast, Madeira and my, oh my, oh my.
And did I mention Gail’s wine? While Anton, an escapee from the Army Catering Corps, is healing the blind and the sick in the kitchen, Gail is peppering us with the flight of wines that accompany our meal. She gives us the lowdown on the nuances – ‘Minerality, grassy freshness,’ – that sort of thing; and leaves us to wallow and luxuriate in an evening that lasts a nearly four hours before we’ve even realised it.
By then I am carefully apportioning space in the old stomach for Gail’s Trolley of Wonders – piled to the gunnels with dribbling, honking, crawling cheeses of magnificence and lined with an array of drinks that circumnavigate the globe. Saki, perchance? Not this time.
I opt for an Elysium Black Muscat dessert wine as recommended by the boss and she’s not wrong. Final assorted chocolatey things, plus macarons, sorbet et al and we have collapsed across the finish line.
What’s great about this place – apart from the obvious salivation above – is that it’s also laughably cheap compared to, ooh, uber-expensive London, let’s say. A tasting menu of this magnitude in the land of the oligarch would surely set you back in excess of £100 a head. Down in the achingly beautiful fold in the countryside which forms the Devon/Cornwall border, I believe the price for our tasting menu was around £40. Add the flight of half a dozen top class wines for another £35 and you’re still jingling a fair amount of change in your usually moth-eaten pockets.
All of which is not designed to encourage you to ruin this pearl in a vast ocean of restaurants, believe me. My strict rules are to be observed on pain of severe retribution; don’t all go down to Callington at once – form an orderly queue and it would be decent if you’d first enquire whether I intended to be there on the same day as there aren’t many tables; also, don’t invite any obnoxious, braying acquaintances you may have made, because this place just isn’t for them. Trust me.
And, finally, tell Gail I sent you and that I still sometimes dream of that pork belly at night. And that I miss her and Anton – and could they never even dream about retiring. Ever?
Langman’s restaurant, 3 Church Street, Callington, Cornwall PL17 7RE. T: 01579 384933. For more information, including details of events and suppliers, and for bookings, visit www.langmansrestaurant.co.uk.