Exeter isn’t a large city, and eventually things get back to me about restaurants in Exeter that are either truly amazing places to eat or should be just avoided. And one thing that comes back to me quite often is the varying experiences of friends of ours who have visited The Malt House. Take a trip to Trip Advisor and you see a worrying consensus. Out of 404 restaurants in Exeter, The Malt House slinks in at 325. The vast majority of the reviews are in the Poor and Terrible categories, a lot of diners complaining about service strangely enough with many enjoying the food but finding the execution somewhat unpalatable.
So in need of a quick fix after a Saturday of moving around boxes and rearranging furniture, we headed to The Malt House to see what would happen…
The Malt House sits on the St Thomas side of the river, just down from the Quay. Originally built in 1791 and extended through the years, Brewers Fayre took it over in 1995 to turn it in to a Family Pub. Its a family pub, it has plenty of accommodation for kiddlywinkles and in fact, if I ever end up with varying amounts of small children I wouldn’t hesitate to take them to The Malt House given the outdoor playground and the family orientation of the place.
The Malt House has its own car park which is free and within easy reach of the pub. Upon entering the staff seemed to have an expression of sheer panic which is normally the first sign that they are very busy and not really coping. The chap we spoke to said that he didn’t have any tables for two cleared (despite a few obvious empty tables?), so we could either do something something in the bar, or be in the bar area, but he would much rather have us in the restaurant area. It was up to us.
As we stood in the middle of a blisteringly loud restaurant about to ask the waiter to repeat what he just said because we couldn’t hear him, a manager (must have been as he was wearing a buttoned shirt) spied a table that was ready. So we sat down and ordered our drinks.
We waited for our drinks whilst looking through the menu (which isn’t that bad as menus go). Lots of chicken stuff, half chickens, racks of ribs, gourmet burgers, hell they even do breakfasts when they manage to open on time (have a look at Trip Advisor). There was a 15 to 20 minute wait on food, which wasn’t horrendous so not really wanting to go tramping down to McDonalds out of desparation we decided to wait it out.
One of the ‘perks’ of The Malt House is the refillable never ending free salad bar which is, oddly enough, refillable. If you ignore the fact the salad has been sitting around, just waiting to be man handled by flies and fingers then this is great, especially if you’re very hungry and like me have an appetite like a walrus. The range of condiments and bread rolls in addition to all the salad is a nice touch, but the inclusion of some tongs for the warm bread rolls would be nice. Small things, you know.
You can also get a free refillable soft drink for £2.45, but at this point we were still missing our drinks. So whilst watching the chap who was meant to be getting our drinks wipe some tables, we got ready to wait.
We were spotted by another server who came over and took our food order and tracked down our drinks. Given we only wanted a quick bite to eat, we ordered from their ‘main meals from £4.99’ section which was pretty good. It contained the classic sorts of meals including Fish & Chips which is what I went for. Tori went for a Chargrilled Chicken Fahita Wrap with chips and we both had a bottomless Pepsis. Whole thing came to £14.88 for both of us, which we thought was reasonable for what we got.
As we ate our salad bar salad, we concluded that it had a strange taste to it which made us wonder what it had been washed in? Water would be a good guess? Possibly? The food appeared within 10 minutes and was surprisingly nice (given reviews and experience up to this point).
The fish tasted like a quality piece of cod, the batter was well cooked and it had a nice taste to it and the chips, what chips there were, were fresh and crunchy. Tori had no complaints about her Wrap and by the end of the meal we were left pleasantly surprised by the food.
The Malt House has no qualms about being a family pub and we found that the low ceilings of the restaurant meant the sound resonated at just the right frequency that our ear drums were useless. By the end of the meal, we had come up with our own sign language which we intend to publicise and use as an alternative to BSL. It featured such gestures as ‘those people have been waiting ages’ and ‘do you want more Pepsi?’, including my favourite ‘This place has free WiFi, I am so happy’. OK, humorous exaggeration aside, it was noisy and the environment wasn’t overly relaxing but it was very busy. However by the time we left, the majority of diners had left and we ended up leaving a quieter and much more pleasant atmosphere.
The food was good, the service was flaky at first but seemed to sort itself out after we got someone who stopped obsessing over tables. Would we recommend it to others? Well, yes but with a health warning (noise and children) and don’t expect too much given the reviews. Would I go again? Yes, so long as it wasn’t busy. It is good value, and you can’t get past the excellent prices no matter how bad the Trip Advisor reviews are.