Be prepared to have your preconceptions about candlelit dinners snuffed out at the Candlelight Inn in Chard, says Abi Manning
What’s the draw?
The concept of candlelit dinners may feel somewhat old school, conjuring images of formal dining à deux – possibly with a silver cloche or two involved. But owners Mike and Simon Rose-Macleod have given this charming 17th-century pub a tasteful and contemporary makeover (think country-chic styling and smart food) and the result is fabulous.
You have to put in the effort to get to Candlelight Inn – it’s uber rural, in the heart of the Blackdown Hills – but every twisting country mile is worth it for the friendly service, intimate-yet-unstuffy atmosphere and on-point cooking.
Young chef Aaron Ashworth heads up a talented kitchen team who craft beautifully prepared, multidimensional dishes featuring local produce (including ingredients from the kitchen garden).
Go casual and order from the pub menu in the gorgeously attractive bar, or book a table in the beams-and-fireplace dining area where a more upscale and pleasingly compact menu showcases Aaron’s excellent edibles in dishes crafted with finesse. The dining experience is completed with hedgerow flowers on the tables and the obligatory flickering candles.
What to order?
The à la carte menu comes with the added perks of amuse bouches and handcrafted petits fours – the former a flavourful trio which, on our visit, included a miniature mug of silky mushroom velouté.
The sophisticated execution of the meat dishes made them a particular highlight. A slow-braised pork cheek starter with celeriac remoulade, apple puree and bacon crumb was especially unctuous, while a second dish of tempura tenderstem broccoli with Isle of Wight tomatoes and pickled green strawberries provided a palatecleansing counterpart.
For mains, a carefully cooked roast lamb rack was accompanied by braised belly, rainbow chard, salted caramel onion, new potato fondants and lamb jus: a delightful alliance of sweet, rich and crunchy.
Pace yourself (doable when the portion sizes are spot on) so you can enjoy pudding without slipping into a food coma. Crisp, buttery mille feuille, appropriately wobbly pannacotta, seriously good homemade sorbets (we’re still dreaming about that basil and lime combo) and locally roasted speciality coffee are all top-notch.
Elevate the experience via the carefully chosen wine pairings listed alongside each dish. Alternatively, try a G&T made with the inn’s own artisan gin (called Beau, after the owners’ Irish Setter) and served with mint, lemon and elderflower tonic.