The George Hotel, Axminster
Axminster, the ancestral home of carpet and gateway to the Jurassic coast, is a town I know well. Tackling the daily school run would take me along the River Axe and out towards Tytherleigh. For over a decade, the journey’s halfway point was unmissable – a once impressive landmark in the centre of town that time had reduced to a derelict shell. Sadly for all concerned, this boarded-up eyesore had become more of a roundabout than pub and was earmarked to be pulled down.
There is a fascinating history behind the 400 year-old former coaching inn. Lord Nelson stayed here as did John Adams, the former US Vice President. King George III and Queen Charlotte dined here, Oliver Cromwell based himself and his troops around the pub and the Army’s top brass planned their D-Day tactics upstairs. Trading to until around 2008 and then closing, after a good 10 years of stagnation it was in dire need of some serious TLC and a push in the right direction.
Recently acquired by the family-run South Coast Inns hotel group and with top hospitality couple Alan and Mo Berry headhunted from Newbury and installed at the helm, a blank canvas has been transformed into a bright and airy, welcoming space. A strong effort has been made throughout to recreate the building’s rich historical past – a cast iron range now snugly fits within the old hearth, there’s a feature wall full of clocks and the well-stocked bar occupies the same long footprint as before.
Where I think they really exceed though is the friendliness from the assembled team. Together they’ve cast their net wide and created a superb venue for meeting friends, to grab a decent bite to eat, a leisurely afternoon cream tea and as the new bedrooms come online, a comfortable base from which to explore East Devon. Already the pub has built up a decent drinking trade no doubt helped along by ‘Fizz Fridays’ and their ‘Cask Ale Club’, both of which build atmosphere and attract a good cross section. Upstairs, the open-plan function room with its rare minstrel’s gallery provides a versatile and stylish space for wedding receptions, parties and meetings.
Alan and Mo are personally helping to oversee this extensive refit as well as heading up the kitchen and front of house respectively. Drawing upon a wealth of experience, Alan has previously cooked for the top boys at Oxford University, the Williams Formula 1 team as well as running pubs and his own catering business. Mo meanwhile was formerly a teacher hankering after a change. They certainly play to each other’s strengths and you can see them thriving off the buzz of a busy pub.
The menu is geared around prime Devon ingredients from local suppliers including Darts Farm, Complete Meats, Kingfisher Brixham and Trill Farm. Lunch kicked off with a shared starter; deliciously light courgette and feta fritters followed by an impressive asparagus tagliatelle and a devilled mackerel partnered with a cooling dill yoghurt. A light-as-air chocolate brownie finished off a great meal.
This long overdue revamp has delivered an impressive refurbishment transforming what was a derelict landmark into a slick hotel and a jewel in the crown for Axminster. Eat, drink or sleep, The George is a grand design that East Devon can really be proud of as well an easy going place for everyone to enjoy. Keep up the good work guys!
The George Hotel, Axminster, Devon. EX13 5DW.
Tel: 01297 33385