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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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