Bike Shed Theatre & Bar, Fore Street

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mercilessly stolen from Trip Advisor

Zion has over three years of experience as a writer and a journalist. Career highlights so far include interviewing Ethics Director at Lush Hilary Jones, contributing poetry to Musings to raise funds for Leche League, and working with co-founder of One Green Planet Nil Zacharias. Zion has also worked on the Eradicating Ecocide campaign. Follow Zion on TwitterLinkedIn, or email her at zio.lights@gmail.com

The Bike Shed Café is no ordinary café. This theatre-bar came into being only 3 years ago through the entrepreneurship of local – well, entrepreneurs – Fin Irwin and David Lockwood. The café opened last September and I have already frequented it over a dozen times. Let me tell you why.

The Bike Shed Café is based in the theatre bar and it’s decorated with all sorts of quirky art and writer-tributes courtesy of the Bike Shed team and local artists. Once you’ve found a cosy sofa or a 1940-style chair to ensconce yourself in, there is tea for only £1 a mug- possibly the cheapest in the city?- and enough board games to keep you there for a year at least. People come and go but there is always a hum about the place, possibly because of its underground location (perfect for a cold, drizzly winter’s day), or maybe because so many artists hang out here. Playwrights, actors, poets and writers seem to converge in this underground den and, like myself, emerge blinking into the daylight after acclimatising to the cosy, creative feel of the Bike Shed Café.

The food offered at the cafe is simple but nourishing, reasonably priced and offers vegan options, which of course pleases a decade-long vegan like myself. My toddling daughter particularly enjoyed the leek and potato soup with crusty rolls, and samples of several cups of non-caffeinated tea (peppermint: I live for you). There are also cakes and flapjacks if you have room for more, which I rarely do, so I can’t comment on those.. Yet.

But there’s more to this place than all of that. There’s something about the Bike Shed Café that you won’t find with many other cafes in Exeter or beyond – and I can say this honestly, speaking as someone who reviews cafes in her spare time. First, there’s the fact that this cafe doesn’t actually close, because in the evening it becomes a bar, opens the Box Office and greets theatre-goers, or on Friday and Saturday night welcomes music-lovers into its midst. This constant coming and going over the period of a day is what characterises the Bike Shed Café as a venue that has everything, and wants for nothing. I want to say that the only thing missing is a bike, but actually there is one mounted on the wall of the café. So I will end saying that here you will find a buzz like no other, a uniqueness rare in these parts, and a damn good vegan soup.

It gets 5 stars from me.

EE Recommends

The Bike Shed Theatre
162/3 Fore Street
Exeter
EX4 3AT

info at bikeshedtheatre.co.uk phone: (01392) 434169 @BikeShedTheatre

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Special Dispatch: Scoff’s, Paignton (4/5)

Paignton has a strange attraction, it is a splat in between the sizable populous mass of Torquay to the north and the beautiful harbour of Brixham.  There are a few words that you could use to describe Paignton, and depending on who you ask will depend what sort of words they end up being.  True, the town has its problems and suffers from a lack of investment but its charm and cheesyness is the thing that brings me back to this slightly strange town time and time again.

The town has ample supply of cafe’s and restaurants aimed at visitors and locals alike.  There are so many arcades, cheap tat shops and charity shops you might end up getting lost in a bizarre world of childhood nostalgia and vintage re-runs of Coronation Street that will scar your brain forever.
The choices are endless, and despite the fact there is a Costa and the obligatory chain outlets, it is full of strange independent cafes and take-aways and for me, that is too much to resist.  And, despite a previous visit I am here at Scoffs in Torbay Road again.

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Scoffs has no website.  It has no online presence at all, apart from a slightly scarce Facebook page with little on it apart from a comment about chips.  It has no twitter account, at least nothing that is visable from a Google search.
When you do a Google search you get ample amounts of Tripadvisor reviews and only then do you realise what a dichotomy exists between the people that LOVE this place and the slightly lesser amount of people who don’t like it at all.  Luckily I can put myself in to the camp of people who do love this cafe, with my couple of visits being both very happy experiences.

Scoffs stands out because of its claim to be the home of the Yorkshire Chip.  What exactly is the Yorkshire Chip? A quick google search brought back nothing of any use, and I wonder if this is something that is truly unique to Paignton.  The Yorkshire Chip is from what I can see, their special variation on the traditional chip.  Coated in something that resembles batter, the chips are coated in a light sprinkling of this special ingredient which gives them a bright orange glow and a very crispy-on-outside-soft-inside end result.

pieIt was the end of a busy Saturday.  We had been around to pretty much every arcade, looked around every charity shop and been to see my friend Bryce over at Epicentre Cafe.  The one thing I had set my heart on was some Scoffs chips.
To the right you see the Pie and Chips (£5.50) that my companion had, bad photo was because I took it on my iPod as I forgot my usual camera.

The one thing that left a positive impression with us was the service.  As soon as we came in we were greeted by a lovely long-haired waiter who found us a seat and said that he’d be with us shortly.  So we sat down and waited, and it wasn’t long until the waiter (who we found out was called Stuart), took our order.  He knelt beside the table so we were able to make eye-contact with him, we actually had what could loosely be called a conversation.  Throughout our short visit, he was attentive and polite, near perfect service and certainly the best I had ever come across in a cafe of this type.

Scoffs has a charm which I am yet to pin down.  It has laminated menus that have been photocopied time and time and time again, and the ambient noise seems to be a blonde haired lady who shouts a lot.  During out visit, despite our best attempts we couldn’t quite work out what she was shouting about.  Was it at customers? Was she the manager? or just mad.  Either way it is something you generally have to accept when the chefs are front-of-house.  Upscale restaurants have theatre kitchens, but the humble chippy has been doing the ‘theatric dining expereince’ for generations.  Cooks/chefs shout.

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The decor is average chippy decor, but it was clean and looked hygenic which is up on many cafes I have been to over the years.  Very quickly Stuart brought over our food, me with a battered sausage and chips and my companion had. Whole thing including drinks was shy of £12.

The sausage was well battered with an even coating, well cooked and not overdone.  The chips were generally perfectly cooked, although the large portions that they serve are terrific value but the coating can be quite heavy on the stomach.
My companion’s pie was very nice, with a rich sauce and generous chunks of steak which were cooked well and not overdone.  A very satisfying hole-filling meal.

True, Scoffs isn’t exactly Michelin star quality and the Yorkshire Chip is an delicious oddity with many other local variations (they have something similiar in Exmouth) . And you can read through Tripadvisor and see that the service hasn’t always been very good to some people, but the portion size to the price paid ratio is high.  The value is quite amazing in that sense, but it depends if you can eat it all.

Scoffs is food to fill a hole with, the experience of dining in was for us a really good one which I am happy to recommend to anyone.

Pros: Excellent service, fantastic value for money, amazing chips, proper cafe grub with no pretensions.
Cons: Shouting lady, located in Paignton which for some might be bad. Chips are ‘too much’ depending on appetite.  Inconsistent experiences from other diners.

23 Torbay Road, Paignton TQ4 6AA, 01803 529 584

Mammas for Victory: a bad experience at The Crystal Cafe?

EE hasn’t reviewed this cafe yet, but Zion Lights, (journalist, fellow blogger and mum), had a bad experience which you can read about here at her blog.  If you have been to this cafe before and would like to submit a well written independent review, please get in contact.

http://mammasforvictory.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/utterly-disgusted-by-anti-child-anti.html

RAMM Cafe, Queen St

Exeter is an amazing city. Tea is also amazing. But there is something more amazing and that is finding something, expecting it to be great and then finding out it is and that you’re right.  And this is exactly how I have found the in-house cafe in the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter.  Knowing it was ran by Otterton Mill was a guarantee that this wasn’t going to be a traumatic experience.

The RAMM has gone through a dramatic transformation recently which has taken it from being a pokey rural museum to the benchmark for some of the best museum experiences in the country.  It won the Art Fund ‘Museum of The Year 2012’ and a host of other accolades which has transformed the facilities and given the building a feeling of renewal and energy.  This is very true when the building is full of kids, doing half-term activities whilst being corralled and herded by weary looking parents with squadrons of pushchairs and grandparents in tow.


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My experience with in-store cafes and on-site cafes has been potted and mostly terrible.  They are functional facilities that are a convenience, they are there to provide you with a place to refresh your soul but often for a price, a hideously inflated price that warrants nothing positive to their existence.  Normally staffed by apathetic teens with less than a clue, they give you that feeling of sheer terror when you get to the till.
Take the catering facilities in theme parks, or the buffet cars on trains and you have the normal miserable experience that I have accepted is the inevitable consequence of wanting a cuppa or a sandwich through a long journey or through the traumatic experience of going to an ‘attraction’ or a park of some sort.

Last year I had a very pleasant experience of having a cuppa and soup-of-the-day at the The Portrait cafe at the National Portrait Gallery.  This was a stylish affair with a lovely reasonably priced menu, quick service and fresh take on the whole concept of attraction cafes.  I really hoped it’d be a similiar experience, I even hoped that my visit to the Cafe at the RAMM would be as good as Otterton Mill’s cafe at their main site in Otterton which is pure AWESOME.

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The cafe is itself, as cafe’s go, is quite simple.  There is no theme as such as the identity of the cafe is dictated by the building that it resides in, rather than relying on the interior to dictate the identity of the business itself.  The artwork on the wall is meaningful and colourful with one whole wall being taken up by something that in my mind represented an African sunset through Geordi La Forge’s visor.

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Interestingly the main seating area of the cafe is located where Gerald The Giraffe used to be located.  You could have called it the Giraffe House?  The lofty roof space is visually stunning but it lacked the cosyness that other surrounding cafes have.  Credit to them the heater was on full-blast, and it was pretty intense too so this didn’t matter too much!

The menu isn’t overly complex. It offers Panini’s and cake, tea and coffee and some other bits & pieces made in the artisan bakery back at Otterton Mill.  The food prices are a little more than just a cafe on a street corner, but they are justified given the heritage and the pedigree of food that they serve.  On my visit I wasn’t able to eat anything, but I was able to have a lovely cup of tea.  £1.60 for a tea is a good price, given Costa is pushing nearly £2.00 for something with little milk and more water than the floor of Britain’s Next Top Model.  The tea was lovely, and with a decent amount of milk, I have ear marked this as a definite lunch-time visit.

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This is a functional cafe, but it is somewhere that I would be happy to visit JUST for the fact its a cafe.  It has nice artwork on the wall, it is an attractive asset to an already amazing attraction in the centre of Exeter.  The score reflects the fact that the cafe is a shining example of what all in-house cafe’s should be like in attractions. Not overpriced, conscious of ingredients with willing and friendly service.

Special Dispatch: Seaview Diner, Teignmouth (4/5)

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Eating Exeter likes to push boundaries sometimes, and we really have this time.  We’ve been to Teignmouth.  The heart of the bit between Torquay and Exeter.

Due to failing finances and the urge to get out of Exeter we ran away for an afternoon by the seaside in order to inhale some sea air and go for a bit of a walk to observe the tracksuit clad wildlife and to watch trains roll by as they traverse the sea wall, before diving into the first of five tunnels that Brunel built when he constructed the Great Western back in ’em Victorian times.

Teignmouth is a small town with a port and a lovely Georgian seafront.  It has a train station, a port and it was officially the last place in England that was invaded.  During the 1600s some French troops whilst moored in Torbay sailed up the coast and had a bit of fun by plundering, looting, vandalising and generally causing mayhem.  Eager to find out more about Teignmouth’s history we headed straight for the museum  which was shut.  In fact a lot of Teignmouth seemed to be shut, which was odd for a Saturday.

And so we plodded along the seafront and plodded back, by which time it was time for my obligatory afternoon cup of tea.  Phased by the sheer number of choices that we had for a place to grab a cuppa, we ended up in SE4 Lite Bites just next to Courtenays Theatre.  Perfect Clipper Tea and lovely coffee was the order of the day here, and I will write a separate little review for this cafe itself as it was truly a delight to dip in to.  Friendly service, great value with a quirkyness all of its own.
After feeling thoroughly revived with went to peer at the Estuary and soon enough we were hungry.  Earlier in the day I had set out with the need to eat Fish and Chips, so it had to be one of Teignmouth’s many Fish n Chip shops which would satisfy the gaping hole in my stomach this time.

Central Fish Cafe seemed the first place we were drawn to, adorned with Pukka Pie adverts and a nice smell from outside we wanted to eat inside.  The welcome from the staff was subdued to say the least and the cafe was dark and completely empty.  The smell, the feeling and the whole atmosphere led us to quickly run away and instead we ended up in the originally titled Seaview Diner.

Seaview Diner

The Seaview Diner has no website or twitter account, and like many of these small places there doesn’t seem to be any back history to when it was started and who owns it now.  But what I can say is that the current owners are friendly, Chinese and have a good idea on how to run a restaurant.  Give the diners an incredibly cheap menu which caters to a large variety of tastes, put them in small seats designed for Chinese proportioned people and watch the diners come.
When we walked past earlier in the day, we had earmarked it as a potential place to return to as it was full to the brim with people.  Even when we were running away from the Central Fish Cafe the cafe was still quite busy.

Online the diner has only got three reviews on Google and Qype, and they are all five stars.  This diner has a charm to it, which must be the same sort of charm that 6 All Day has and I can’t quite place it.   So what adds to this charm, what exactly is its attraction?

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I have made this pretty clear.  The prices are incredible.  Yes yes, I know its a small cafe in a small town but it is still something you don’t see very often.  Certainly not in the sprawling metropolis of Exeter.

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The most expensive thing on the menu was the Mixed Grill at £8.90, it would be easy to come in here and have a lunch for two with drinks for under a £10.  And I nearly did, but I wanted Fish and Chips, I was at the seaside and you cannot come to the seaside without having Fish and Chips as it is quite literally the law.

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And this is what appeared. With a mug of tea as well, a very filling meal for under £6.  The surprising thing was that you also got a salad AND peas, in many cafe’s it would be one or the other.  The portion size for the price paid was incredible value for money, given this whole plate cost just over £5.

The fish was clearly over-cooked but it was not dry as such, it looked very much like a frozen bit of fish you’d get from a supermarket but it was very tasty.  Although it was cooked to an inch of its life, it crumbled and melted beautifully.  The chips were freshly cooked and although the peas were hard (across the table her peas were lovely, typical), the whole thing was incredibly satisfying.

The decor of the place was an interesting one as the walls are adorned with the menu, but no prices.  Just empty pound signs.  Apart from that the entire cafe is surrounded by windows which means maximum light and ideal for watching the world go by.  It was the standard ‘Fish and Chip Cafe Blue’ which never gets boring.  There were a few standard sea ornaments and the usual sort of thing adorning the wall, shells etc.

The service was pretty non-existent however, being served by what seemed like a sullen Chinese teenager who didn’t say anything apart from the necessary statements of  ‘can I help you?’ and ‘is that everything?’ after we had ordered our food.  When she brought out the food it was quite literally plonked in front of us without even telling us where the knives or forks were.
The feeling of powerful resentment against being made to work on a Saturday seemed to ooze from her, and unfortunately this really ruined the general ‘experience’ of our visit. But it was salvaged by the friendly chef who upon clearing away our plates accidentally cleared away a half finished can of coke.  When we realised I headed to the counter to retrieve it.
Peering down the long corridor to the back office, I spied an elderly Chinese gentleman who clearly couldn’t speak any English.  He beckoned the young man to come out front, and when he appeared and I told him he had cleared away the can he gladly gave us another one for free and off we toddled on our way, feeling quite satisfied.

I shall return to this place of wonder and delight, only hoping that the waitress is having a better day and that I have lost enough weight to sit at the seats without wearing the table.

Oggy Oggy, Queen St

Oggy Oggy is quite firmly established in Exeter, having occupied a corner of the Guildhall Shopping Centre on Queen Street for what seems like donkey’s years.  It has now moved to what had been a gift shop on the corner of Queen Street and Paul Street.  The previous cafe was small, pokey and dark and this one is now cold, airy and clinical.  I visited earlier in the week, not to eat initially but after falling foul of the terrible signage, I thought I would write a quick review of my experience as despite the initial trauma, I will certainly be going back.

I was originally thinking about the average price of a cup of tea and whether I should write about it as I was on my lunch at the time so I was desperate to think about anything else.  My thoughts had been to wander through a few places, see how much they cost and then possibly grab a seat in a place and think my thoughts.  I wandered through Costa (£2.00), the RAMM Cafe (£1.60) and I ended up in Oggy Oggy.  I looked at the menu above the counter and it said £1.20!  So I asked at the counter for a cup of tea to drink inside, and was told to take and seat and my order would be taken.

What I wasn’t told was Oggy Oggy has a separate menu for the table seats.

In the world of cafes, you tend to have one menu.  The one menu will often have an ‘In’ price and an ‘Out’ price.  Not in Oggy Oggy though, the menu’s are quite separate.  I know however this is the old way of doing things, and to be fair I can see why they keep it this way.

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I placed my order with a friendly waitress, sat down and only then realised that there was a table menu.  The problem with this whole situation was that I had exactly £1.20 in my pocket.  When the waitress came back with the tea, I had to confirm that the price on the board was the same as the one I was expecting to pay.  Nope, to drink your tea inside you have to pay £1.65.  So, without wanting to make a fuss I accepted I was going to have to pay the extra.  No problem I have a card… card minimum is £5.

“So let us be objective about this” I thought, lets make the best out of a bad situation and write some sort of review.

The tea comes out in large pot, the mug is tiny and despite trying to pour the tea in such a way that you won’t cover the entire table with scalding hot water, you WILL fail.  The mug wasn’t clean and it was tiny, did I say that? Luckily Oggy Oggy is generous with the milk which means you can really get your money’s worth if you’re willing to overlook the dirty mug and the unpourable tea-pot.

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I went for the Pixie Pasty at £2.10 and Cheesy Chips at £2.50.  There is no denying however that their pasties are delicious, the traditional pasty filling which is a meat and veg mixture was a taste to savour, not too salty and not overly greasy which meant they must use a lean mince of some sort.  It was one of the best pasties I was likely to taste anywhere outside of Cornwall.  The cheesy chips were, unusually mostly cheesey and less chippy.  There was a LOT of cheese and after I had to let it cool down as it had obviously been in the microwave, it was quite edible. The chips were well cooked but as with a lot of cheesy chip dishes, the minute the cheese gets added and it gets zapped in the microwave it tends to turn in to a homogeneous greasy mass, which inevitably happened this time too.  But not without taste, and despite the mushyness of the chips, I still felt satisfied.

The service in Oggy Oggy is completely without fault.  One of the things I love about sitting in a cafe where you can see everything, is that you get to witness the interactions between other diners and the staff too.  The ladies in there are friendly, accomodating and really polite and you can see why it attracts lots of the older generation.  The food arrived in under 7 minutes and the tea arrived in under 2 minutes, although I would be interested to visit the cafe again on a Saturday or during a peak hour, I am quite sure this is not a place where you will have to wait long for your order.

Oggy Oggy is really an old person’s cafe; I was the youngest diner on a Thursday lunchtime, my beautiful brown locks of hair out of place in a sea of grey and white rinse bobs.  The decor is safe to the point of spartan, and there is nothing here that you would not find in an old person’s living room.  The interior decor is incredibly safe, a bit cheap but ill-fitting given the surroundings.  The whole cafe feels cold and unhomely, with a feeling that it is still a gift shop, just with a few seats and a kitchen area installed.  But the large windows is perfect for people watching, probably the best windows in Queen St for that very purpose.

So, my final thoughts. Aesthetically the cafe is ugly on the outside, occupying an ugly corner of one of the ugliest buildings in Exeter and the interior decor is not much better; the signage in the cafe itself gives no delineation as to the system they operate.  You don’t pay the price on the board above the counter, you pay the price in the menu which is hidden away.  No one actually tells you this.
But the positives are that the staff are friendly, polite and accommodating and the pasties are delicious.  The prices are on the cheaper side of average and the tea is unpourable (yet good value) without a special technique that I am terrible at, and ultimately the lower score is brought down by the whole decor, outside building and the lack of signage.

Valentine’s Day Special: Alcoholic Brandy Fudge

Valentine’s Day Special: Alcoholic Brandy Fudge

One of my other passions, apart from writing about food, is collecting (hoarding) recipe books.  Especially old ones with forgotten recipes in from the past.  OK I am without a first edition Mrs Beeton  but there are some amazing recipes hiding on shelves of dusty recipe books which are bursting for a new lease of life.

And that is exactly what Recipe Vintage is all about.  Whether you need a recipe for a themed dinner party or something unusual to cook for tea.  This weird and sporadically updated website is where I share some of best and weirder recipes from beyond the recipe grave from my vast collection.

So tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, and if your other half is not exactly thrilled at the idea of shop-bought chocolates, or whether you want something different then here is a link to a very customisable little recipe for home-made alcoholic fudge.  If it goes wrong blame Marguerite Patten, as its one of her recipes taken from 500 Recipes for Sweets and Cakes.

A small opinion piece I have published in my personal blog Gower The Gourmand

Bella Italia, Queen St.

This post appeared originally on Gower The Gourmand on the 5th February 2012.  It might have got better since then?  I have edited it as the whole experience wasn’t a great one, but then I am my own worst critic sometimes.

Bella Italia sits in the heart of Exeter opposite Oggy Oggy on the end of a row of nice eateries and shops at the top of Queen Street in Exeter.  It is another chain Italian restaurant which serves a nice range of interesting meals in quirky surroundings.  A large group of us decided to choose Bella Italia as the destination for a reunion meal, and this was the outcome.

Strada and ASK have all fed me well in the past and I haven’t felt terrible for parting with my money as they do good food at sensible civilised prices.  Strada and Bella Italia are owned by the Tragus Group, (here is a video) who also own Cafe Rouge.  However, the value of the meal overall was quite disappointing given my previous experiences with Strada and ASK.

Bella Italia is a new one for me, the food does seem to be a very loose take on Italian.  We had a waiter with the Italian accent who was very nice indeed, (swift service especially for a large party like ours), the names of the food was written in Italian and we really felt for about three seconds that we could be in Italy.  But the image shattered when the food came.

I ordered the Fritto Misto:

Fritto Misto

Lightly battered king prawns, cod, calamari and courgettes. Served with fries and a herb, lemon & caper dip

 a small bowl of deep fried seafood and some large chips.

It had a lovely lemony herby dip, that didn’t strike me as actually having capers in them, a rather disappointing selection of deep fried oddments and some half cold chips.

The cod pieces were dry, the calamari was chewy but the courgette managed to save this meal despite the fact I only got a few titbits of it.   This would be easier to overlook had it been 4.99 but it wasn’t it was 10GBP.

This left me feeling somewhat annoyed, hoping the dessert would be better.  It was better, The Cholocate Lava Cake was delightful but still a fiver for, well not much in volume.  The taste however, saved the day as it was heavenly.

By the end of it, I did feel that I had finally found a bit of value.

My wife had some sort of pasta dish that mostly consisted of peppers and ccreamy chicken, it was sickly and watery and although there was enough taste to be able to distinguish it, the peppers overpowered the taste of the chicken and the cream.

Bella Italia seems to have high expectations of itself which do not match the end product.  If you do go, maybe stick to the staple pizza option or spag bol, and leave the exotic items to the poor fools like us who will then moan to their friends or write strange reviews on sites and blogs.  The service was great though, polite and attentive to a large group and generally professional.  I shall return one day to see if it has improved, you never know…

Bella Italia - Exeter on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Guide – La Petit Maison, Topsham

www.lapetitemaison.co.uk   01392 873660    @chefdougipm

La Petit Maison, fine dining in a small house.  Chef Douglas Pestell has a fine pedigree, and took over the restaurant in 2000 finally realising his dream to run his own restaurant.  With a background in four and five star establishments, including Gleneagles in Scotland, he brings his philosophy and exquisite cuisine to the people of Exeter.

Baked Camembert: The first recipe is always the easiest

Camembert of Normandy - French cheese
Camembert of Normandy – French cheese (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On Eating Exeter, we intend to put out the occasional recipe.  Some of them are, like this one, tried and tested and others just sound nice.

Before you proceed though, have a look at this article with some good do’s and don’ts for Baking Camembert.

Here is a recipe for the cook-shy amongst you.  It has to be the easiest culinary method to follow, and most probably the most satisfying.  The hot crispy texture of the fresh bread, with the gooey cheese-ness of the hot Camembert with the fragrance of the Rosemary and the Garlic is the ultimate Valentines Day ‘night in’ treat.

Camembert is a fascinating cheese.  It is a little like Brie on steroids.  It has a stronger taste and is much more odourful than Brie and it comes from a different part of France too, Normandy to be precise.  It is traditionally made from unpasteurised cows milk, but mass produced stuff is made from pasteurised milk these days.  Interestingly the cheese was first made by a farmer on the advice of a priest from Brie.  The cheese was issued to soldiers during the First World War, which helped seal its popularity in French culture.  (Thanks Wikipedia!)The sort of Camembert you use is personal choice.  This was bought from a well-known supermarket, but you need the sort that comes in the box as this is quite important to the whole process.

Ingredients:

A Box of Camembert
Clove of Garlic
Sprig of Rosemary
Bread – bought fresh, preferably French bread.

1. Take the Camembert and unwrap it.  Put it back in its box (peel off any paper labels stuck on to it!) and stab it a few times.  Insert the garlic (peeled and chopped) in to the holes, squeeze in the rosemary too if desired.

2. Bake in an oven (in the box) for about 180C to 200C for 20 minutes or until it starts leaking.

3. Serve with fresh bread and enjoy 🙂

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If you don’t fancy this quick and dirty recipe there are a whole host of variations on a theme.  Richard Phillips has one offering on the BBC website and Jamie Oliver has his version as well.  It is so simple it is easily to adapt it to whatever your tastes might be.  Nigel Slater also has his version too on the Guardian website which involves wine somewhere in the process too.

Enjoy cooking this, it takes a few goes to get it perfect despite its simplicity.

Restaurant Guide – Oliva Restaurant, Topsham

 

 

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http://www.olivarestaurant.co.uk/ 01392 877878 

6 – 7 Fore St Topsham Devon

If you want an award-winning place to eat, look no further.  This place has won more awards than you could wave a deliciously coated stick at.  Located in the heart of Topsham, the posh annexe of Exeter, it has won Devon Life Chef of the Year and Restaurant Of The Year multiple times, and is opentable.com’s Diner’s Choice winner 2011.

Restaurant Guide – Harry’s Restaurant

http://www.harrys-exeter.co.uk  01392 202234

Harry’s Restaurant
86 Longbrook Street
Exeter
Devon
EX4 6AP

Harrys Restaurant is an interesting red-brick oddity on Longbrook Street.  Named after Harry Hems, a master carver who occupied the premises following its design and construction by the architect Robert Medley Fulford in 1882.  The whole restaurant is very much a family affair, with the third generation of the Pounds family working for the business.
The website says

Quality, tasty food at affordable prices; a varied menu with something for everyone and a relaxed, fun, friendly environment for staff and customers. Harry’s uses locally sourced produce wherever possible and coming from a farming background, Sam ensures that Harry’s meat comes from farms with high standards of animal welfare.”

Restaurant Guide – The Magdalen Chapter

http://www.themagdalenchapter.com/  01392 281 000 @magdalenchpt

The Magdalen Chapter is set in a beautiful building that was formerly the Devon Eye Hospital.  After it was a hospital it became the Hotel Barcelona.  And now, a new chapter in its existence sees it as The Magdalen Chapter. Spot the pun?
“Head Chef Ben Bulger and his team are guided by good cook and best-selling author Simon Hopkinson. Led by Simon’s philosophy of thoughtfully prepared food, the dishes are created to be as simple as they are delicious – and all the better for that.” says the website.
This is fine dining, so be prepared to pay for the brilliant cuisine and the floating light features.  Photo taken off the website.
According to the website Ben Bulger has recently won Devon Life Chef Of The Year

Restaurant Guide – Southernhay House

http://www.southernhayhouse.com/ 01392 435324 @SouthernhayHome

Al Fresco dining on the veranda at Southernhay House, Exeter, Devon

The beautiful Georgian quarter of Exeter’s Southernhay hides many hidden gems.  Including this one, Southernhay House.  Reviewed in the Telegraph, it got a fairly good review.  But all food critics are ultimately wrong until proven right, so ignore the star rating.

This is a definite fine dining restaurant so be prepared to pay over £100 for two people if you have the whole nine yards.  The Restaurant’s sister establishment, Burgh Island, is notoriously lovely to eat at so be prepared to have a brilliant dining experience.

 

Southernhay House on Urbanspoon

Exeter Farmer’s Market

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South Street in Exeter is mostly filled with estate agent’s, low-rent restaurants and The George’s Meeting House, the better Wetherspoons pub in Exeter by far.  Such other delights include a couple of churches, a KFC and some ruins.  It is the average bit of Exeter which, every Thursday transforms itself with the Farmer’s Market.

For foodies are quite spoilt for choice in Exeter.  Darts Farm lies just outside Exeter, and within easy driving distance there is a whole load of organic farm shops and nice place to buy nice things.  But for those who can’t get out to the sticks, the Farmer’s Market showcases some of the best local produce that you can grab with your foody mits.

When I popped down for a nose around a couple of weeks ago, I bumped in to an old family friend. Vic who runs Random Cottage remembered me and with this I couldn’t help by a large chunk of Random Cottage’s Afterburner Cheese.

So here is a list of producers who appear at the Exeter Farmers’s Market either weekly or occasionally.

  • Sweetland’s – pies and pasties from Honiton
  • Higher Hacknell – organic meats from Umberleigh
  • Bread of Devon – from Exeter
  • Linscombe Farm – organic vegetables from Sandford, Crediton
  • The Old Watch House – fishmonger from Lyme Regis
  • Blackaller Apiary – honey from Bovey Tracey
  • Sue’s Home Baking from Okehampton
  • Farmhouse Pies & Pasties from Silverton
  • SB Stanbury – venison & game from Tedburn St Mary
  • Random Cottage – local cheeses
  • Milltop Orchard – apple juice and fresh fruit from Chudleigh
  • Nourish  –
  • Gratton & Oldridge – preserves and chutneys from Chulmleigh
  • Poole Farm –  producers of pork products
  • Otter Valley Poultry – chicken, duck and seasonal turkey from Honiton
  • Random Cottage – fresh eggs are sourced from Rosamondford Farm, Perkins Village, Exeter
  •  Norsworthy Dairy Goats – hard and soft goats cheese.
  • South Ham Lamb from Sandford
  • Maia Moss – Middle Eastern Deli
  • Annie’s Cakes –  Cupcakes
  • Gardners Delight – fresh fruit from Bude
  • Bocaddon Farm Veal – welfare friendly
  • Moonbeams – rare breed Gloucester old spot pork from Wellington
  • Gara Barton –  Farmed venison
  • Emma’s Bread –  from  Shillingford Abbot
  • Shillingford Organics –  Organic Fruit & Veg from Shillingford Abbot
  • Exeter Brewery – from Exminster

Ruby Burgers, Exeter – Press Night 25th January

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A couple of months ago, I received a bit of an unusual tweet.  It was from the owners of Ruby Burgers inviting me to a press night at their lovely looking establishment that has just opened their doors, on Queen St in Exeter.  It was nice that they were holding such a night in the first place (to be honest why would they not?) but to invite little old me too? Well that is just the height of niceness.  So Polly Addison and myself went along to see what all the fuss was about, and to take full advantage of their offerings and experience the natural charm of this landmark location.

Queen St. is becoming one of the hot areas for eating-out in Exeter with the likes of Devon Coffee and Urban Burgers recently opening along its half a kilometre of nice buildings and students.  And there are a lot of students.  Exeter College has two premises on Queen Street and the University is a mere hop, skip and a jump away.  This is a very busy street throughout the day, and is the perfect place for fast tasty food.

74 Queen St has for a number of years lay dormant after it was sold when its previous owners (Effings) pulled out of Exeter to focus on their other shop.  But stuff started happening, things started appearing inside the building and then slowly but surely Ruby Burgers have appeared from out of the ashes.  Ruby Burgers has a blog, http://www.secretgriddle.com showing the stages of progression.  It is a fascinating journey and reading it gives you a glimpse in to the ethos and vision of the restaurant and the company behind it.

Ruby Burgers was started by Erin Allgrove and Dicky Harrison, photographed here by the talented Mr Matt Austin.  How could you summarise the ethos and direction of Ruby in one sentence? Erin does it well by stating “The Modern Diner concept combines the heritage of the American diner with the best produce the region has to offer.”
 The word ‘Ruby’ comes from the type of beef that goes in to making the burgers.  Just to prove to the world that they source local ingredients you can see a list of their suppliers on their website.  A veritable portfolio of local goodness.  The meat comes from Mid-Devon (Copplestone Barton Farm to be precise) from a herd especially sired for Ruby Burgers.  And yes the coffee comes from Bristol but thats good enough for me.

So as Ruby Burgers classes itself as a ‘modern diner’, (this being Modern Diners ltd. first flagship restaurant) and with this phrase in our heads we headed over to the restaurant to say hello and sample the delights of this brand new eatery.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

What does one do on a press night? Well we earnestly got our notepads out and started writing notes down, looking like we were studiously examining the walls and savouring the food.  For the first few minutes, I did this but then realised that we seemed to be the only ones actually doing anything vaguely ‘press like’.  So after a while I realised that my role on this journey was to be the one to hold the camera and take unflattering photos of Polly and myself.  After a couple of glasses of Prosecco the ability to write was lost and I settled in to tasting wine and enjoying the pleasure of nosing around and trying to guess who was famous and who wasn’t, Ben Bradshaw was there and a few other people of notable standing.

Interior

I like the concept.  The subtle Americana that sticks in the mind as you look at the photo wall and the large wooden benches.  The subtle quirkiness of some of the furnishings, the phrases in the menu (to ‘go dirty’ sticks in my mind).  The first thing that really strikes you when you walk in to the space is the interior design.  One thing I was really happy about was that they kept the mezzanine floor.  And here I introduce Polly:

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The wall beside the rustic, canteen-like wooden benches on the mezzanine floor of Ruby Burgers is covered in an array of photos depicting moments in a version of an American landscape, one in which ‘mac n cheese’, pancakes with syrup and of course, burgers of every variety, reign supreme. Neon road signs, a desolate crossroads, lurid red plastic booths all feature, perhaps as a reminder of the roots of what Ruby now calls the ‘Modern Diner’. 

However, on first impression, Ruby bears little resemblance to its apparent heritage -certainly it pays more homage to the ‘Modern’ than the ‘Diner’, stylistically at least.

With painted white clapboard, soft reds and brown leather, the interiors of Ruby owe more to Martha’s Vineyard than Route 66 but nevertheless retain a suitably ‘truck stop’ edge.
Fresh, bright and spacious, it has a relaxed elegance with industrial touches and fits effortlessly into the lofty Grade II listed building which houses it.

Menu

The menu is online here.  And boy is it a menu. I managed to taste a bite-size version of the pulled pork, a gorgeous succulent bit of meat in a soft bun.  It was a stunning sample of a this lip-slapping array of offerings that they have available.

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I like the fact that it is not JUST a restaurant but there are take-out options as well.  They do breakfast options with bagel’s (how Amercian!) and hot drinks to go.  Again I will let Polly take over here:

Kitsch, such an intrinsic quality in our minds when we think ‘diner’ is underplayed at Ruby. The booths and one neon sign above the bar add an easy, playful edge, but the addition of a menu item called ‘Not Ya Mama’s Slaw’ and the invitation to ‘Go Dirty’ with the addition of sliced processed cheese, feel a little incongruous in such determinedly tasteful surroundings. After all, when you can order a glass of Prosecco with your ‘Boom’ burger, you know you’re not in Kansas anymore. What you are in, is one of many current examples of ‘gourmet fast food’ establishments, bringing a little more refinement, but  no less flavour, to gut-buster style eating.   

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The prices are average for location and type of food served.  n the context of producing delicious food from local ingredients; you pay for what you get.

Starting at £5.50 you can get the classic burger which comes with a variety of dressings.  For the same price as the ‘Plain Jane’ burger in Urban Burger.  The prices then go steadily up to £10 for ‘The One’ burger which sounds immense.  Two hamburgers, Hawkridge Cheddar, bacon and Ruby’s own sauce.

I got to taste some ‘Proper Chips’ which cost £3.  Cooked in beef dripping these little calorific morsels were close to the nicest chips I had tasted in a very long time.  Sides and Chips start at £2.50 for fries and are nearly all £3.

Final Thoughts

As this article is just a preview, it is moreso a report on the evening rather than a recommendation or otherwise.  I never review a restaurant or eating place within the first three months of opening, its not fair.  So I am now counting down the days to go in and write a review.

My final thoughts is simply this.  I can’t wait to review this place properly.  I have anticipation of my first burger, and if it is anything like the pork that I tasted, its going to be epic.

For a better look at our photos, visit our Facebook page!

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