I’m told The Devonshire Arms was previously a reggae venue, its club area separated from the bar by some drapes and concealed from the outside world by painted-out windows. Precisely what they were hiding doesn’t really bear thinking about, particularly once you learn that when the pub’s new tenants locked themselves out recently the least suggestive way the neighbouring Sex Shop could assist by way of a bunk-up was to lend them a set of stilts.
This is Cambridge, believe it or not, and Milton Brewery re-launched the Devonshire, one of a bounty of terraced boozers off the city’s Mill Road, in January this year. The paintwork is so fresh it might just as well have opened yesterday, the space still retaining that hollow sense you get when you take down a room’s curtains or move the furniture out. It’s sparse and utilitarian and more about function than form, all hard wooden surfaces and high-sided booths. The warm red ceiling is hung with ornately attractive, slightly out-of-place chandeliers, there’s plenty to read, and if you enjoy a well maintained pint of the good stuff, it’s a fucking treasure trove.
I counted eight beer pumps – five serving Milton’s own, three serving guests – one carefully chosen draft English lager, and a pokey cider which, weirdly, customers seemed to be being talked out of having. The draft beer offer is backed up by a comprehensive range of bottled product, and a narrow but serviceable, shortly to be expanded wine list. I kicked things off with a pint of the brewery’s own bright, aromatic ‘Tiki’ (3.8%), before cracking into Milestone’s ‘North Rock’ (4.0%), rewardingly round by comparison and with the mouth-feel of a chocolate brazil. From here I reverted to Milton for a tried and tested Pegasus (4.1%) which, along with their Jupiter, is about as foolproof a fall-back plan as there is; it’s bitter, it’s brown and it’s ‘drinking’.
Principally, the menu looks to have been tailored perfectly, mindful of the immediate environment and its surroundings. Its prices are reserved and the content reads simply but with points of interest. Staples such as Fish Pie (£8.95) and a Burger (£7.95) made from locally reared beef are offset by Faggots with Bubble and Squeak (£8.50) and a Supreme of Chicken stuffed with smelly cheese (£9.50), any of which are sure-fire stimuli for a bit of pub purist beard-bristling. The execution, on this evidence at least, is another matter. Without a genuine appetite, but keen to partake of something, I ordered Potted Crab with Toast (£5.75) from the snack list and thought best to try the Hand Cut Chips. The food was delivered by Chef himself, which is a touch – whether it’s standard practice or not – I quite liked. He was polite, endearingly shy, and his crab, appropriately, was as dull as shit. In my experience ‘potted’ anything is cooked with sufficient butter not only to facilitate a coronary, but with enough additional flavour-giving gubbins that it at least tastes as though there’s method to the dish beyond placing its main constituent into a pot. This was plain crab meat ( plus one rogue shrimp) in a glass ramekin with an over-dressed, after-thought salad and toast. The chips were spectacularly salty. Cut long and wide, they wilted under the weight of excess oil that lent their pale colouring its unappealing sheen.
The Devonshire Arms is a proper pub, though; brass tacks and beer, albeit for me it was a real shame the integrity of the liquid offer wasn’t matched by the strength of the scran. Perhaps if it was – and with a little application it so easily could be - I wouldn’t have been sharing what already feels a little like an empty shell with just three other punters. That said, if the place had been busier there’s the danger I wouldn’t have caught every word of one unflappable old bird’s patently private phone conversation. This was a call – God forbid any of us were faced with fielding it – that you or I would have taken outside. Let’s just say the subject was delicate, the tone ever so slightly emotional, and the upshot, as the lady relayed to her partner once she’d finally rung off, that ” he’s gonna get ‘elp with his drinkin’… “
Rest assured I need no assistance with mine.