In writing this blog, I have met some people and eaten some food that I might not have been able to even consider. I’ve been given some ‘awesome food moments’ for me to write about and remember for years to come, and certainly the Pop-up restaurants that I have reviewed have given me plenty of material to digest and photograph. They are special, one-time menus that you might never experience again cooked by chefs with vision and experience.
On Tuesday night we were invited to Rob Dawe’s Pop-up Restaurant which was taking place at The Heart of Oak in Pinhoe; I can happily add this evening to my list of ‘awesome food moments’ and it makes me reaffirm why I write this blog with my spare time.
Rob Dawe (formerly senior sous chef at the RAC Club Pall Mall and Head Chef at The Puffing Billy) is a chef tutor at the prestigous Ashburton Cookery School and now he is adding to his many strung bow, by putting on pop-up restaurants in select restaurant locations in and around the Exeter area. Each evening of his Pop-up restaurants have been a sell-out so far, and Rob is now looking at adding members to his exclusive mailing list which you can do by reading to the bottom of this review.
The Pop-up Restaurant scene has really taken off in Exeter and Devon over the last two years with Chefs such as Josh McDonald-Johnson (Pickle Shack) and Jonny Jefferies (Jonny Does Dinner) doing regular events throughout the county. Tim Maddams, of River Cottage Fame started a Pop-up event using Village Halls as the main locations for his pop-ups, through his Hall and Hearty evenings and I expect there are others too. But Rob’s Pop-up Restaurants stand out for me as they are mostly in Exeter, and so far they are all in established restaurants.
The recently refurbished Heart Of Oak in Pinhoe was a fantastic setting for the evening, which saw diners treated to a 6 course tasting menu. The Heart of Oak itself is a pub which has undergone quite a transformation recently. The clean, modern interior was comfortable, and I hope I’ll be able to do a review of the food here at some point soon. The menu was a well balanced exploration of tastes, ingredients and presentations which was accessible yet perfectly executed. As we sat at our table, we were presented with Spicy Duck Canapes to mull over as we inspected the menu.
Rob kicked off the evening with a Sweet Potato, Ginger and Coconut Veloute (generally a soup thickened with either butter, egg yolks and cream). This was accompanied by artisan garlic bread which warmed up the taste buds. I loved the coconut and sweet potato combination.
Our next course was a first for both myself and my able assistant, as we are not overly fond of seafood. Black Bream with a Mussel, Butternut Squash and Fennel Fricasse. Yes, here is someone who writes about food who doesn’t like seafood and has no desire to eat things with shells. But that feeling of accomplishment and discovery that we both really quite enjoyed the Mussels both shelled and in the beautiful Fennel Fricasse was overriding. Unfortunately my benchmark of Mussels are now set pretty high, whether I will ever have mussels that good again is unlikely. But thank you Rob, for introducing me to Mussels.
After the fishy feast, what better way to clear the palette than a Gin & Tonic Sorbet presented in frosted glasses. This refreshed the palette and got it ready for what I personally saw as the highlight of the evening.
Sous Vide Rump of Beef with a Horseradish Mash, Honey Glazed Carrots and a Port and Thyme Jus was a massive highlight for me and my love of meat. Sous-vide is a method of cooking using airtight bags with increased cooking times, which results in a beautiful tender texture.
Next out was a Lemon Posset and vanilla shortbread which was beautifully presented. The ‘topping’ was a layer of raspberry which worked with the tangy zestyness of the lemon. Add in the shortbread, and it presented the palette with a crumbly, buttery, lemony spectrum of flavours that had me scraping the last few bits out with my spoon.
And then from tangy and creamy, was the glorious taste of salted caramel in the shape of Chocolate and Salted Caramel Tart with Honeycomb Ice Cream. The consistency and texture of the chocolate was literally like slicing through velvet. Up to this point we had been having a quiet conversation about this and that, narrating the food, talking about what we were eating but at this point our table fell silent and we were quite overcome with the amazing taste.
The menu was rounded off with Coffee and Homemade Pistachio Macarons.
The evening was, for us, a resounding delight. The service (hand picked by Rob) was excellent and really attentive, food came out quickly and drinks (although not BYOB) were served speedily and elegantly.
The combination of location and the quality of the food would be for any foody, a memorable food moment. For the prices that Rob charges, for instance our night was £35 per head, you are unlikely to get such good value for a tasting menu as well put together. Had we paid £70 per head, then it would have been a true reflection on our evening.
If I could make this the next culinary sensation that everyone talks about in Exeter, I would. But that is up to whether you put your name on the mailing list for the latest news and dates.
At the moment Rob’s mailing list and word-of-mouth is the only advert for dates of future Pop-ups.
There are two more coming up at The Salty Pigeon on Sunday 1st March and Monday 2nd March. If you would like to book a place, please text Rob on 07745438481. Drinks are BYO.
There are plans for a website and a greater social media presence. You can follow Rob on Twitter as well @RobertdaweRob
To join the mailing list, email Rob at firstname.lastname@example.org