Pubs and Bars

Tech entrepreneurs Michael and Xochi Birch reopen 17th Century pub

The Farmer’s Arms, a Grade II listed, thatched roof local pub dating back to the mid-17th Century, has undergone a major renovation as part of a wider rejuvenation of the village of Woolsery in north Devon.

The former blacksmiths-turned-inn has been transformed into a pub and restaurant, with two bars, a dining room, a small upstairs lounge and garden with outside seating.

The Farmer’s Arms was purchased in 2015 by Michael and Xochi Birch – co-founders of social networking site, Bebo. Michael, who has family ties to the area and whose grandmother was born above Woolsery’s village shop, heard the derelict building was for sale and took the opportunity to bring it back to life. The neglected historic building has now been sensitively reimagined – the fallen through roof re-thatched, the walls rebuilt, and reclaimed oak floors laid.

Ian Webber, formerly head chef at Michelin starred Gidleigh Park Hotel in Devon, is executive chef of The Farmer’s Arms. Originally from Devon, his passion for local sourcing means he will focus the menu on local farming and suppliers, foraged herbs and regional dishes.

There are two menus available – a rustic, hearty traditional bar menu served in the pub and a more refined option served in the restaurant, where the spotlight is on local ingredients and balanced flavour combinations. This menu is available in the Shippon, West Barn and 10-cover private dining room.

Dishes served at the Farmer’s Bar and public bars include; homemade pork scratchings with sage and onion; mutton stew with smoked garlic mash; fowey mussels in cider, tarragon and cream served with natural ferment homemade bread and an array of hearty and fresh sandwiches. Guests can also order takeaway from the Woolsery Fish and Chip Shop which was bought and refurbished by the Birch’s in 2015.

In the main restaurant, Webber has curated a menu championing local farms and suppliers while the dessert aims to showcase the best of the south west.

In the oldest part of the building, guests will find the Farmer’s Bar, designed to be a cosy, rustic space and created using authentic reclaimed oak and beamed ceilings. The Public Bar next door offers more room for guests to relax, designed with warm colours and comfortable seating. In the West Barn, guests can find both a lounge and dining space. The Shippon next door is a bright dining room, with high ceilings, a wall of glass doors leading out to the garden. The overall aesthetic, designed by Hannah Lohan Interiors, has been thought out to evoke the feeling of a traditional pub, with a modern twist.

The opening of The Farmer’s Arms is part of a wider project within Woolsery village. After Michael and Xochi purchased The Farmer’s Arms, further businesses and cottages were offered to them one by one, leading to The Woolsery Project.

Another aspect of the project is the 70-acre farm. It will be a short stroll from the village and be the heart of the project, supporting all the food and beverage outlets. The farm team will work with chef Webber to supply the kitchen with ingredients. Jenny Hayns has been appointed head grower to implement the practice of agroforestry, which integrates trees and shrubs into crops and pasturelands; this method promotes biodiversity.

The project includes the refurbishment of the recently reopened Farmer’s Arms pub and restaurant, Woolsery Fish & Chip Shop, The Village Post Office and Shop (currently open but will undergo a renovation in 2019), four guest cottages located in the village centre and a hotel set within a Grade II listed Georgian manor house – all set to open in 2021.

Michael said: “We really want this village to thrive and our long-term goals are to preserve the historical architecture of the village, bring back its energy and vitality and in turn create employment opportunities. We’re extremely excited to open The Farmer’s Arms, offering a warm and friendly pub celebrating the best of British pub tradition with a few unexpected surprises.”

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