I am chuffed to present a Guest Post from fellow food blogger Emilee Tombs. Emilee keeps a cracking food blog called Eaten by Emilee, which I strongly recommend you subscribe to :). If you want to see the original post, have a look here.
When I told my brother last week that I was going to ask a meat-obsessed restaurant to cater for my vegetarian Mum’s palate he wished me good luck and hung up on me. I’d offered to book somewhere for dinner on Saturday night to celebrate Mum’s birthday, and I’d be damned if she had to settle for a dull and unimaginative plate of of stuffed peppers or butternut squash risotto for the zillionth time. Having been meat-free for over 10 years she’s suffered myriad boring vegetarian options in Exeter because, with the exception of Herbies on North Street, there really isn’t much choice when it comes to the smaller independent places, even the ones that do exist often rely on the same half-hearted offerings usually involving a lot of pasta, rice, sauce or all of the above.
So when I contacted the Rusty Bike last week to request the unrequestable, I was shocked to receive an email reply saying that the chef would be happy to prepare an entire bespoke menu especially for the birthday girl. Even more incredulous was I to learn that not only does the Rusty Bike specialise in the cooking of meat, but has its very own hunting team to go out and get it.
“We think doing it this way is actually much more humane than ordering-in bulk buy meat,” general manager Paul told me on our arrival. “Most bulk-bought meat has had a terrible life and has been frozen or travelled the length and breadth of the country before we see it. Here we go out to hunt for food the week ahead and as a result our menus are planned around what we’ve managed to catch.”
I’m not surprised this trend for catching what you cook has surfaced of late, after a summer celebrating hedgerow finds at restaurants like Noma in Copenhagen and Michael Smith’s Pothminster Beach Café in St Ives, menus and epicureans all over the world are getting more involved in the process of sourcing their produce, and for the locavores among us this is great news.
The Rusty Bike interior is no bad thing either. In a former life the converted townhouse near Exeter’s Prison was occupied by the Eagle Tavern, a place popular in my Mum’s college days and avoided in mine. There remains no trace of the Eagle, save for a name- toting light box which now hangs on the exposed-brick wall above our table. The Rusty Bike is both the spirit-lovers pub of choice and the foodie’s haven, with seating for around 30 in the main dining area, a collection of tables for drinking and a separate room for functions on the other side of the bar (when we dined it was burns night and the place was awash with tartan and unshaven legs.) The furniture is deliberately mismatched and everything from the wall art to the flowers on the tables and the vintage crockery adorning the shelves has a hunted-down feel, just like the menu.
After an education in the varying degrees of botanicals in different gins we ordered nibbles and starters to share. Deep fried Sharpham Brie with homemade tomato swish, fennel seeded granary loaf with peppery butter and a canvas of beetroot, blue cheese and pickled walnuts, which satisfied both vegetarian and carnivores.
The menu is separated into two sections; ‘classic’ and ‘modern’, classic being ruby red ribeye steak, mash and wild (foraged) mushrooms, roasted pork loin, parsnips and prune sauce or fish and chips. Modern being salmon, brown crab and prawn (in two acts), Boudin of Langford lamb belly, goats cheese, kale and white anchovies and local pheasant, truffle oil mayo, partridge ham and pheasant sausages.
Intrigued by a double act of seafood I went for the salmoncrabprawns which arrived as promised, on two plates. On top the salmon was roasted to pink perfection and arrived lounging on a bed of finely chopped, salty leeks. The crab stood stage right, nestled in the soft embrace of a Chinese-style dumpling. On top of both was a halo of crispy seaweed straws and paprika dust. Plate two was a modern take on shrimp aspic, the dish spread out rather than moulded and dotted with watercress sprouts. Of the two I favoured plate one, but I’ve never been a great fan of gelatine and undoubtedly this dish would suit some more than others.
Mum, being utterly in awe of a menu made just for her, was indecisive, but eventually selected the green olive cake with honey and goats cheese, which split and melted gloriously into itself on the plate.
Throughout the meal miniature bottles of homemade pink raspberry gin were brought to the table, expected to be shot back between mouthfulls. Regular-sized gins were matched to their best accompanying mixer; Pink Sicilian lemonade with Botanicals gin, elderflower presse with Millers and tonic with cucumber for the Hendricks.
We left a good three hours after sitting down, having devoured two cheese boards between us for desert. I’d clearly recommend dinner here to anyone be you locavore, carnivore or herbivore, but do remember to ask ahead of time if you’d like to steer clear of the meaty menu, because turning up unannounced with a taste only for veg here be tantamount to blasphemy here
Telephone: 01392 214440