We've used The Commodore a number of times over the past ten years but haven't stayed for the past three. Is it managing to maintain its reputation for fine food and excellent service? Does it still belong to the Woolaway family? When we booked in last week, the omens were good.
This is still a privately owned hotel, located in a truly wonderful position in the small village of Instow. Almost every window looks out across manicured lawns with palm trees to the village of Appledore on the other side of the estuary. Facing west as it does, the sandy beach is bathed in sunshine (if you're lucky!) for most of the day and the sunsets are stunning. Well, in our case we were lucky. In what has been a truly awful summer, our arrival coincided with wall-to-wall sunshine.
And yes, the hotel most definitely remains in the Woolaways' capable hands. I was greeted by young James Woolaway who may be a bit upset at being described as 'young' but that's how I remember him when he was still learning the ropes. Today he is outgoing, charming, professional and - despite my absence over three years - seemed to know me immediately. I was made to feel welcome. My room was excellent. White shutters give a colonial air and the double bed, piled high with cushions, was very comfortable. The en suite was large with a bath and separate shower cubicle.
Having unpacked I headed to the terrace outside to enjoy a cream tea. The Commodore doesn't stint on the clotted cream. There is far too much but yet we managed to not only eat it but also scrape the ramekin for every last drop. The scones are freshly baked and warm. Dinner (£30 unless staying on a half board basis) is a grand affair, taken in a sparkling restaurant which looks out to the sea. My polonnaise crayfish salad starter was light and fresh; lovely. We had hoped for the braised Clovelly longhorn beef for the main course but other guests had beaten us to it and we had to settle for the sirloin. This was tasty if a bit chewy, but the confit garlic mash, glazed carrots and port and red wine sauce gave it real flavour and rescued the day. As did the South African red which had depth and was good value at £14.75 a bottle. Olivia served us cheerfully and professionally and James was also on hand to make sure everything was okay.
I chose the Devon ice creams for dessert but my friend's cheesecake with clotted cream and fresh raspberries would have been a more exciting choice. It looked delicious and I was assured it was. Coffee and chocolates were taken in the residents' lounge, where we were able to watch the sun setting.
Breakfasts are good (and hot) and once I had remedied James's over-enthusiasm with the teabags (three for a small pot makes a brew that is way too wrong for my delicate constitution!), my cup was the perfect accompaniment for the grilled kipper. There was no shortage of toast; on both mornings we had to leave much of it behind. For medical reasons, one of my friends is unable to eat any food with seeds in it and because of this did not dare risk eating the toast which was made from good quality bread with flecks of grain in it and had to request a plain white roll instead. This was delivered during the second breakfast but, despite assurances that one would be brought to the table at our first breakfast, it did not arrive. This was a shame rather than a disaster and underlines the need to be fair to hotels by giving advance warning of special dietary requirements.
That said, the meals and the service were excellent. Joe and Connor were excellent waiters, keen to help and always polite. The Commodore is a fine family-run hotel and it is set in a glorious position. If you want a perfect break in peace and quiet, and you enjoy luxury that is understated, book a room. I paid £80 for B&B and when I elected to take dinner, this was charged at only £10. My friends secured a half board tariff.
Plenty of people return time and again and some guests are rather better known than I am. Kirstie Allsop and Rolf Harris have stayed, for example. Just one thing, don't tell too many people about The Commodore. The hotel, and Instow itself, is one of north Devon's best-kept secrets. Let's keep it that way.
- Also Known As:
- Commodore Hotel Instow, Devon