Eating Exeter on Riviera FM

So, what do you do with a brand new website that is dedicated to restaurant reviews? You go on the radio to promote it don’t you?  So that is exactly what we did.

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The Quay Brasserie, Topsham CLOSED :(

Date night. How did this phrase become relevant to my life?

I’d like to think that the quality of the time I spend with my man (and from this point onwards, my date) would render the words redundant. Realistically, for us and probably all other couples who have contact with each other more than once a week, it is sometimes necessary to designate an evening for nothing other but enjoyment of food, wine and each other.

After the recent excitement (and unavoidable stress) of moving in with said man/date, we were both a little frazzled, being surrounded by an amount of cardboard boxes that surprised even me, who’d packed them. We’d both taken a big step and felt the need to take stock and celebrate.

Date night it was.

Topsham felt like the place to go. A ten-minute train ride away from Exeter, it’s a pretty, appealing river-side small town with an excellent array of pubs, restaurants and shops. It is a lively (but not overwhelming), warm and friendly place.

The Quay Brasserie was chosen partly for its location (the quayside, unsurprisingly) and for the fact that it was one of the few places within our budget that neither of us had been to before. The menu helped too: delicious-sounding French dishes at reasonable prices. So on with our glad rags and off we went.

We’d booked a table for 7pm and arrived to an almost empty restaurant which did, however, fill up quickly. We were warmly welcomed into a spacious room with a vaulted ceiling (the building is a converted boat house), furnished in red leather and dark wood. The overall effect was elegant but not stuffy, relaxed but stylish.

The required romantic atmosphere might have been more easily attained in more intimate settings, but we were shown to a table by the window with a view over the water, which gave us something to look at once we tired of gazing longingly into each other’s eyes.

As it was a celebration, we decided to be a little daring and ordered snails to start. I had never eaten a snail before and I have to say as someone who will try almost anything, food-wise, I struggled to see the appeal. They were however served in a delicious garlic and herb butter and gobbled down with gusto by my date, whilst I sipped my Merlot, and looked forward to the main course.

So…food! I chose the Confit Duck with red cabbage, mash potato, green beans & Star Anis, which was a sticky, deep-flavoured delight. My date ate the pork fillet with mash potato, pak choi and mustard & chorizo butter (both dishes at £14.95) which put a wide, satisfied grin on his face. This is locally sourced food, simply presented and full of flavours reflecting the season. It doesn’t intimidate, it invites the knife and fork to begin the pleasurable process of devouring. In short, it’s really, really scrummy.

Afterwards, we shared a melting sticky toffee pudding (£5.95), but refrained from offering quivering mouthfuls to each other since you have to draw the line somewhere, even on date night.

And so, after a brief pub crawl in some of Topsham’s finest, we wandered homeward in a dream (and on the bus) replete, rejuvenated and ready to tackle those boxes.

The Quay Brasserie, The Strand, Topsham, EX3 0JB

01392 876123

http://www.thequaybrasserie.com/

Crosby’s, The Strand, Torquay. (4/5)

Eating Exeter spills out to other places around Devon sometimes, and this time we head to Torquay.  Torquay is a hotch-potch of little suburbs and villages, out of town retail complexes and a whole load of other attachments too including Paignton, Brixham and Babbacombe to name a few.  To anyone unfamiliar with Torquay, there is a diverse range of eating establishments that can bewilder and bemuse, but I am going to give you a good starting point.  Crosby’s is set in a very central part of Torquay, at 1 The Strand.  It is a TQ1 postcode and is at the bottom of Fleet Street, looking over the Marina and the Fleet Walk shopping centre, it is unmissable should you find yourself in the centre of Torquay.

I find Crosby’s very hard to write about as there is a lot about it that I would normally moan about.  The interior, the garish promotional signage, the palm trees and excessive interior foliage.  But I can’t.  When writing about a restaurant or cafe, or anywhere that involves reflecting on the ‘experience’ of eating in a place I can happily say that everytime I have been to Crosby’s I have had a wonderful experience despite its flaws.

Upon first glance, Crosby’s really isn’t anything special to behold. The green sign with the uninspiring lettering is, well, functional if anything.  It does the job and makes it slightly more obvious then it would have been without any signage.  The metal framed double glazed window beholds palmed pot plants and an interior decor that does look like it hasn’t changed substantially since the early nineties.  But there is a vague sense of familiarity that this sort of interior brings, it is almost comforting.

When myself and my beloved visited on a Saturday lunch time, it was bustling with the usual Saturday lunchtime clientele.  Old ladies meeting for lunch, shoppers taking refuge from the insanity outside and a few kids behaving themselves with tired looking parents relieved for a sit down.  But it didn’t feel out of control, the pace was gentle and this was much to do with the professionalism of the waiters as they took orders, brought out food and maintained calm and control.

The service was incredibly friendly and very attentive.  When one of our party dropped a knife, from the other side of the restaurant, the waitress called over and said, “I’ll get you another one!”  The coffee’s and the tea’s were very quick, and those of us that had coffee were impressed as it was Illy Coffee.  The menu promises a ‘£9.95 Steak Special’ and a ‘Two meals for a tenner’ offer too amongst the traditional fare of greasey spoon choices and healthy options too.  There was a good fish menu, and from previous experiences I can safely say that the Fish & Chips is a meal that will have you coming away satisfied.

I ordered a ‘Gut Buster Burger’ (£5.75) with a portion of chips (£1.50) (which upon reflection, I didn’t need the chips!) and the rest of the party had three portions of Fish & Chips.  The fish was well cooked with a crispy light batter coating it.  The chips were perfect, with a crispy outside and the standard hot and soft inside that every good chip should be.  My burger was a bit singed around the edges, however this only added extra strength to the chargrilled nature of the burger.  The cheese was perfect and there were generous amounts of bacon and onion rings within the burger itself.
The perfect burger in everyway, apart from the singed bits.  The meat was tasty and not overdone and the burger maintained its shape whilst I tried to eat it with my hands (a task that was considered impossible by everyone witnessing it.  I proved them right).

The bill came to £33.50 for four of us, that included drinks.  It was fantastic value with some of the friendliest service that you are likely to receive in the area, upon reflection it occurs to me that this might be the best place to eat in Torquay but recommendations are gratefully received, see the comments section below the article.

Overall, a small restaurant with dated interior.  But this is made up for with the friendly staff and stunning food.  Excellent value, prepared to feel satisfied!

Starz Bar, under the Iron Bridge, Exeter

Go for: American-style cuisine in a relaxed, party atmosphere. Massive portions. The downstairs cocktail bar. The barman.

Don’t go for: An extensive vegetarian selection. Intimate dinners for two.

Eat: Half-rack of ribs with hickory bbq sauce, Hawaiian beef burger with Monterey Jack cheese and pineapple, Shrimp Shrimp Shrimp (just for the name).

Go with: A group of friends, especially when celebrating.

Spend: £4-£10 for starters, £7-£15 for mains, £4-£7.50 for dessert.

18 Lower North Street
Exeter,
Devon
EX4 3ET

01392 256 625

http://www.starzuk.com/

McDonalds, High St. Exeter (2/5)

There has been a lot written about McDonalds in recent years. There are books about fast food Such as Fast Food Nation, Morgan Spurlock‘s film Supersize Me, there are anti-McDonald websites, pro McDonald websites and everything in between.

There are people that love McDonalds, others that are indifferent and those who vehemently oppose its existance. There are other people that go in to a McDonalds out of choice, every single day of their lives, others who go a couple of times a week and some people that have never stepped under the golden M, ever and everyone in between.

My first experience of a fast food chain was a Burger King in Exeter, around about 1985/86. It was a treat, something to be savoured and enjoyed very rarely. Sometimes my mum and me went to the cinema and then went to a Burger King afterwards, finishing off some of the happiest afternoons of my little life up to that point. There was never any thought in my little mind that the concept and the stark reality of ‘fast food’ might be something dubious or disgusting.

Insert a movie montage of me eating fast food over an extended period of time up to the age of 18.

The point that changed my mind about McDonalds was after reading a stack of literature from various animal rights groups. But what really changed my mind was apathy. I was poor, I didn’t live near a McDonalds and I had no interest in who they were and what they really stood for and I didn’t like the food.
But after 10 years of ignoring McDonalds and living a pure and free lifestyle free from most fast food and generally enjoying life as a vegetarian for three of those years, something happened. I came back through the arches to see again, exactly what all the fuss was about? Were they still as bad as all that?

What is there to say about a McDonalds burger?  It goes in and you poop it out the other end as your body says to you ‘don’t ever do that to me again’.  The McDonalds burger is a chemically engineered masterpiece that is meant to be perfect in every way.  The smell, the size, the texture and the colour has been manufactured to such a degree that it will taste as good and as promising from Beijing to Boston yet despite the millions that McDonalds have put in to R&D, it is a shame that the end product can be so, well, disappointing.
Things taste better when you know that you’ve paid a good price for it, but when you are paying for food that is nearly as expensive as some of the chain italian restaurants, your decision has to be justified by the taste and the experience.  This is hard to do if the burger tastes of cardboard, the person behind the counter has a face like a slapped arse and the restaurant is full of screaming over active children.
Despite the fact that McDonalds has democratised their menu so that poor lepers like myself and the great unwashed can afford a double cheeseburger for £1.29 etc, the feeling of betrayal seems to seep in the moment you even think about going near a McDonalds restaurant.  The knowledge that essentially what you are about to receive, is going to be soggy and substandard by definition means that the marketing emphasis has to be drawn away from the quality of the food.
This explains why McDonalds emphasises so much on the customer and their experience as they walk up to the counter, The management know that the food will only taste good when the service has been exquisite and their punters feel like they’ve had value for money.  Ultimately, the burgers won’t cut it on their own, so the whole experience has to be engineered to make the feeling of value, a feeling that will stay. (Basic retail psychology).

There is little to distinguish a Big Mac from other burgers unless you are a fast food snob.  To the average person that eats enough healthy food to know that they are all bad for you, they are also all identical. 
Stacks of chemical infused pseudo-food cooked on some mythical barbaque and created with empty love.  But to those of us who quite simply LIKE fast food there are subtle differences. 
At this point I want to introduce the antithesis of healthy eating, a website dedicated to the love of Fast Food.  http://www.fastfoodsource.com/ is intriguing reading and includes a fascinating survey of fast food lovers, more on that in a bit.
In my personal experience, Burger King burgers are vastly different in taste, texture and appearance than McDonalds Burgers and the same for KFC burgers too.  The chips are similiar but still differing in texture, taste and crunchiness.  The size is important too and so is the texture and quantity of the sauces.  In the KFC universe, a Hot Wing cooked in Paddington is going to be different from one cooked in Exeter, but with a difference only noticed by those who eat a lot of Hot Wings.  The consistency of Fast Food is one appeal amongst few, you know that a Big Mac in Greece is ultimately going to be the same as a Big Mac in Venezuala or Mexico.  Yes, there are regional variations, but the recipe is going to be the same.

So, lets review a McDonalds restaurant.  How about visiting it at 01:00am on a Friday night?  How about the reviewer be so inebriated, he can barely remember how he got there, let alone what he ate?
The Exeter High St. branch of McDonalds is a little like a massive warehouse.  55,000 tills look at you with 55,000 McDonalds employees staring at you desparate to serve you.  One thing I will say here, is that the majority of McDonalds servants seem to expect you to know exactly what you want the minute you go anywhere near a till, surely if I was ready to order I would approach a till?  Just a thought.

Since McDonalds attempt to upbrand itself with dark greens and browns, the restaurant spaces are much nicer places to eat in.  In some cases, they are far nicer then many restaurants that are serving ‘proper food’  in the vicinity given the well designed nature of the interiors.  Exeter is one of lucky outlets that have had this facelift, and on the whole it is nice, although the usual accumulation of wrappers and detritus spread across the restaurant at that time of the morning somewhat ruined the appeal.

On this occasion, I ordered some sort of chicken thing with a collection of chips and some vat of an unknown liquid that was not alcoholic.  As we waited patiently for our food to materialise, I noticed that there were far too many people behind the till, and that ultimately the whole process could be automated with minimal disruption.  I envisioned a large automatron behind the tills, a HAL9000 figure killing cows at one end and making fresh burgers at the restaurant end.
This idea, although fantastic at the time, was inevitably brought on by the excessive amount of alcohol I had consumed at this point, so I quietly hid it in my hat until we got to one of the messy tables and told my beloved about this fantastic idea to which I got little enthusiasm.

The fact that McDonalds is open  until very late is a good thing, the fact that everyone else realises this is a bad thing.  The fact that convieniance food is available to those who do not have the means to cook it themselves is a good thing.  The fact that people who are pissed out of their skull can find somewhere in Exeter that is NOT KFC, is also a good thing.  The fact that McDonalds exists is, on one level, a debatably good thing.  The fact that Dick and Mac MacDonald opened a restaurant in 1940 that eventually grew into the monolith that it is today, means that if they had not done it, someone else would have.

Here is an enlightening survey  from FastFoodSource by the way.

190 HIGH STREET, EXETER, EX4 3DU

01392 413737

http://www.mcdonalds.co.uk/

ASK, Cathedral Yard, Exeter

Editors note: This review is nearly five years old and has been marked for re-review.

5 Cathedral Close, Exeter, EX1 1EZ – 01392 427 127
The rise and rise of the casual dining, chain Italian restaurant has given us some interesting results.  Notably in Exeter we are given two offerings in the form of Zizzi‘s and ASK.  We are also given Strada, but this is in a slightly higher league (The prices reflect more then just casual dining, it’s a grown-up restaurant.  A couple of years ago, I wrote a post about Strada in String Beans, my previous food blog and found it ‘alright’ but it is due another review!).

I am saving Zizzi’s for another review as the experiences that I have had there are inconsistent.  Sometimes I go there and come out feel like I’ve had a fantastic meal with value for money and fantastic service, and other times I have feel like I have come out with my wallet molested and a hankering for KFC because the italian flavoured air that I have just eaten as not exactly satisfied me.

So, ignoring Zizzi’s and Strada, where does ASK sit in all of this?

Exeter has too many restaurants that are trying to cater for the mythical affluent middle-class casual/formal diner.  They are mythical because they are in fact cut-out’s made of rice paper that disintegrate when it rains. ASK is, thankfully, an original addition to the ‘chain restaurant‘ gang in Exeter as it is housed in a historic building on Cathedral Yard with a beautiful Tudor entrance area and slightly wonky ceilings.  The additional dining area is slightly more Georgian and regency with beautiful views over the Green and the Cathedral itself.

My beloved and I last visited on a Tuesday night after work, armed with a Main Meal for £1 voucher which they quite often send out if you’re subscribed to the email list.
We were immediately invited in by a very friendly Maitre’d who made conversation with us and put us at ease as he saw us to our table.  He was French and had a thick accent, but his English was good and he smiled a lot.  As we sat down, he sat on a chair near our table (slightly over familiar, but I liked it) and did the usual ‘selling the punter the most expensive thing on the specials board’.  He was so nice, I wanted to invite him to sit and have the rest of the meal with us.

Then trotted over another waiter who felt very much like he was on his first day.  The English was not fluid and when he came up to see if we were alright after ordering our food, I couldn’t work out what was being said what with being English and generally bad with foreign accents. Although friendly and great at coffee, it stopped there, I felt awkward and a bit uncomfortable, almost like he was trying to ask me out every time he came up to the table.

I had the Funghi Calzone with a Large latte.  The latte was glorious, especially for a non-coffee establishment with a generous fluffly head and a nice balance between milk and coffee.
After an average wait for the food, I delved in to a lovely Calzone that was hot and tasty with my ‘funny face’ salad which always makes me happy.

The restaurant was quiet so the service was excellent, but as we left the tables started filling up as the evening diners started filtering in.

Meal for two with two drinks and one meal for a £1 came to just over £14 with a £2 tip.  Overall opinion, pleasant dining experience in a beautiful setting and by far the nicest in its league, but still a chain restaurant.

5 Cathedral Close, Exeter, EX1 1EZ

TEL: +44 (0)1392 427127

http://www.askrestaurants.com/

The Gandhi Indian Cuisine, Clock Tower

I’ll start this review with a fact.   A good curry is hard to find.

Give me a place, and I genuinely ask you to comment on this review and tell me exactly where the best curries in Exeter are, because up to now I had not found one.  However I can safely say that the best curry you will find in Exeter at the moment is going to be at Gandhi’s.  There is a curry house in Heavitree that is nearly as good but I would say that this surpasses it.  I have stuck my neck out on a line here to say this, so how on earth can I justify this this review by starting so positively?

First off I am not the only person who thinks this.  In my years of restaurant reviewing and food writing, I have sometimes gone against the grain and formed opinions about places that are often loved or hated in one way or another.  Qype is a great resource at looking closely at what people are thinking and feeling about a place, and I am happy to say most of these people are thinking the same way as I am.

The scenery outside is distinctly urban in fact from the outside the Gandhi looks nothing special,( the bay window next to the entrance was where the Monty Python team filmed a sketch when they were in Exeter back in the 60’s) there are two doors one being a fire exit, the other being entrance.  You can tell the experienced regulars as they know exactly which door to come through with Gandhi virgins walking unsucessfully through the fire door.  Minimal wall decorations give the interior a modern feel to it that many Indian Restaurants are succumbing to in the wake of that cliched image that dogged them throughout the 80’s and the 90’s.  There is no dated decor, it is modern and inviting.

The waiters are incredibly attentive, but not overbearingly so like Michelin starred counterparts.
The menu is not vast, in fact it is well balance.  It has enough to keep you occupied whilst they take your drinks order, but not so much that you are overwhelmed. There is a good balance between hot and spicey dishes, and milder dishes such as Korma and Passanda.

Myself and my dearly beloved visted the restaurant early on a Friday evening as part of a birthday party.  They give you a starter of poppadoms and some nice dips to keep you going, and they’re free!  The service was brilliant as ever and after we had ordered the food, it came all at once (there were 6 in the party) and everyone’s food was piping hot.
I ordered the Chicken Tikka which came with friend onions and spices.  The chicken was perfect, not dry but perfectly cooked and the tastes were delicate and aromatic.  My beloved had a Korma that was saucy and not bland, both served with rice and peshwari naans.

EE RecommendsThe meals were reasonably priced and despite the quality, this was not reflected in the price.  For a party of six, only three with drinks and three naans between us all the whole thing came to £65.50 which equated to about £11.00 per head.

7 New North Road
Exeter, Devon EX4 4HH

01392 439 703