We needed to stay in Babbacombe for three nights and decided to really push the boat out. “The Cary Arms” offered five stars and the Peter de Savary name so it seemed the perfect mix – and the icing on the cake: ‘dog friendly’.
As the hype says:
‘ A chic boutique hotel and gastro pub’
At £250 a night we expected luxury and good service. What we got didn’t quite live up to their promises.
The Cary Arms is situated at the bottom of a very, very steep, narrow and winding cliff road. There’s no gain without pain so I gripped the steering wheel and double-checked the brakes as we weaved down into the bay watching out for walkers and day-trippers.
The car park was a real bone of contention for me. First of all it was a steep climb up from the hotel and secondly, the steps leading down to the hotel were nothing short of dangerous. It would have been useful to have been told that access with the car was not possible from the car park directly to the hotel. When I mentioned to the chap behind the bar that I had managed to wedge the car trying to turn right he laughed, agreed that there should be a sign because a couple of weeks ago a guest got his car completely stuck. Very helpful!
Coming down these steps is not easy, especially as there is no handrail and the gravelled part is not level so I was in constant fear of slipping. Gravel spilling onto the steps only makes it worse.
The Cary Arms is definitely a pub first, a bed and breakfast second and not what I would call a hotel at all. The waitress behind the bar also acted as the receptionist, and after waiting for her to finish serving in the bar she took our booking and led us through the crowded and narrow bar area and out onto the terraces where we negotiated the Sunday masses to our room.
The room was bright, airy and chic; no complaints there. The colours are New England and the furniture and bed do give a luxurious feel. Shame it ends there.
Left to our own devices we started to explore. I opened the wardrobe door to find two white very stiff towelling robes and two pairs of slippers. Something, I can’t tell you what, suggested that I didn’t really want to try them on let alone wear them. Instead I got cold feet on the black slate flooring – a small price to pay. Nothing like an old pair of torn, worn slippers to make you feel at home – but not someone else’s!
Talking of someone else, the Cary Arms also very thoughtfully left a short curly hair for us to find in the not so clean bath too. I got the feeling that between us arriving and the previous guest leaving the bathroom had been forgotten in the cleaning rota.
I found the complimentary drinks tray and our spirits lifted until I looked inside – there were some cartons of milk and two tea bags – which looked like they could have been there since Victorian times. Who knows? The hygiene of the bathroom made us think we would perhaps opt for room service and some afternoon tea, but there was no phone. Hacked off we tried the biscuits – tasteless cardboard. Things were not boding well for the Cary Arms. On the upside the dog was happy as he had a rather nice dog bed, water bowl and food bowl waiting. Inside the food bowl were some dog biscuits, which he much appreciated. Unfortunately, he didn’t quite understand why over his three-day stay no more appeared.
Still there was always dinner to look forward to….
The Otter Ale Battered Brixham Fish with ‘Proper’ chips , crushed peas and costing £12.00 was a disgrace to the fish and the fishing industry. The beer batter was flat and soggy, enveloping the fish like a damp blanket and tasting much the same. The peas were bashed frozen minted petit pois and the chips were the strangest of all, they were thick cut and so hot they burnt the mouth and took an age to cool down but when you did get to eat them they were greasy and unpleasant.
The Devon Steak and Otter Ale Pie £11.95 was a good portion but lacking in quality. The vegetables in the foreground were overcooked mush apart from the broccoli. The pie, which you can see is swimming in gravy, was heated up under a grill or similar which resulted in the overspill meat pieces drying up and being slightly burnt and unpleasant. It would have been nice to have had some bread to mop up the gravy – as the vegetables were so overdone they were incapable of absorbing any more moisture.
Neither dishes lived up to gastro status more like a greasy spoon café on a bad day.
The second night we decided to give the food another chance, everyone has bad days. How wrong we were. We opted for starters, as the puddings from the previous night were not up to much. The mushrooms arrived and our faces must have said it all. We had ordered the Baked Field Mushroom £5.95 with Dorset Blue Vinney, served with garlic crostini and leafy herb salad. We stupidly thought baked field mushroom would be a large mushroom on a large slice of crostini – not one and a half medium mushrooms. Nothing about this dish was pleasant or appealing. From the cloying sauce to the nasty pile of salad leaves to the meanness of the serving.
The other starter was Seared Brixham Scallops £8.95 with soy, sesame and chilli dressing and a beansprout salad. I counted four small but well cooked scallops. Again I was bored with the green leaf salad but the only saving grace was the little pieces of bean sprout, that lifted the whole dish. As for the soy, sesame and chilli dressing maybe my taste buds fell asleep or maybe it tasted of not much.
We both went for the fish and chips – despite having suffered enough the night before, but there was nothing else that we felt we wanted from the limited unchanging menu.
Needless to say, the third night was even more disappointing as again the menu remained the same and neither of us could face another portion of the ghastly fish and chips so we opted to have nothing. An evening in our room watching the telly and a pint of Otter would do. Even that eluded us as the beer was off and it was still off when we left the next morning. When asked the staff didn’t know when it would arrive – no time or day arranged – a pub without their star ale, there’s a story.
Two of the hotel rooms are directly behind these chairs, which are occupied by the general public when they use the pub and when we arrived on Sunday the whole area was packed and quite noisy. As the room has a glass door and no hallway you do feel a little exposed. No exclusivity here.
Not the nicest beach and certainly not the private affair that the Cary Arms would like you to imagine. But, if I had young children I would be very happy for them to play on the beach while I sat on the terraces of the hotel having a quiet drink, allowing them freedom and me peace of mind that I could see them clearly.
For us the corner cutting became a bore. We expected our drinks, shower gel, tray biscuits and water to be replaced each day, we expected as promised an evening turn down service but it never appeared. Our room wasn’t cleaned until well into the afternoon. We were in their high season yet the staff had no direction.
The only food that came out of the kitchen of any merit was breakfast, even though we had to wait over 20 minutes for it to arrive. Again there was no consistency in what was served. Things were left off the plate one morning only to appear the next. The coffee changed dramatically in strength each morning ranging from undrinkable to barely palatable.
The Cary Arms for us was one BIG disappointment and we left with the car in first gear up the dreaded cliff with the feeling that we had not only not enjoyed our stay but we were resentful of how we had been conned by their hype and ripped off by their cliff matching prices. It remains a glorified pub with rooms.
Overall, the stay was vastly overpriced and under serviced. The staff are merely pub trained and have very little to do with the running of this “’boutique’ hotel” – there lies the real nub of the problem for the Cary Arms because it is NOT a hotel it is one very overpriced over hyped bed and breakfast..