In the kitchen is owner Josh Eggleton, a young, energetic and entrepreneurial chef who is sure to become an even bigger name in UK food going forward. What was really fantastic about Josh and his food is how connected it is to his local environment. In talking about his dishes, he would tell me who supplied what and then point and say 'his farm is 500 yards that way' or 'that white house up there on the hill'.
That connection to the immediate farming community put me in mind of the likes of Simon Rogan, with the connection not ending there, for Josh is similarly looking to not only grow more of his own produce but even to rear chickens and pigs in the immediate grounds around the pub. With the Pony & Trap set in the heart of some glorious countryside (I watched a tractor ploughing a field as I ate my lunch), the space is available, and Josh has already started a community farm nearby.
I also got lucky today. Josh had heard about my Devon/Cornwall travel plans and Tweeted me asking if I might be stopping by the Pony & Trap not knowing that I was in fact already booked in. Brimming over with ideas (Josh, not me), he asked if he might experiment on me with a long form tasting menu of smaller bites that he is considering offering on an occasional basis at the restaurant. I readily agreed. Bear in mind, when you see the food below, this menu is very much work in progress.
We start the menu with a number of fun and one bite type items. There's a Hendricks cucumber Martini to start, and a cucumber, almond and toast gazpacho. There's an English version of insalata Caprese with a local ewe's cheese and beetroot. The cheese, of course made just up the road, is stunning and one bite seems hardly enough.
There's an oyster from the River Foye, the shell almost overflowing with its own juices (and a potentially messy one to shoot) served with a simple mignonette. Venison merely flash cooked with an elderberry jelly and shavings of foie gras torchon highlights how good these ingredients are and how little needs to be done. Josh is clever enough and confident enough to avoid overdoing it. The term 'allowing ingredients to speak for themselves' is now a hackneyed phrase but here at the Pony & Trap, with such great produce on the doorstep, nature needs only a slight and sure touch to deliver a perfect finish.
Pork three ways is a very much a trial plate, served for the first time here. There's the loin, head croquette and a cleverly done mini ham hock. There's three condiments too, parsley purée, cooked in clay roasted pineapple, and a sauce reduction. It's a beautiful pork plate done well. The head croquette which if overcooked can be dry and underdone too loose was perfectly delivered. A mini ham hock meanwhile is a remarkable thing in its own right. Nothing like this plate is on the current menu as far as I can see but should be, it's a total taste winner.
The next dessert is a panna cotta made of 'pineappleweed', a weed so called because its flowers exude a pineapple aroma when crushed. This grows on the side of the road outside the front door of the pub. It puts a smile on my face even before I discover that it's a superb panna cotta.
Finally there's a chocolate fondant with beetroot (which I'll admit to being as little afraid of, beetroot in desserts should possibly be banned by law), though he gets away with the beetroot ice cream here as the chocolate presides. However, I can't help feel that, rather like they do at L'enclume, chocolate should be set to one side on this fabulous local menu.
In summary, The Pony & Trap: loved it!
Visit The Pony & Trap website
Follow Josh on Twitter @josh_eggleton
The Pony & Trap was the first stop on my drive around the UK. Next stop: The Masons Arms, Devon.
Disclosure: I was the guest of the chef.
The Pony & Trap location Map