Eating Exeter Update – July

It seems like no time at all since the last update.  We had a really busy June, including a visit to The HH Restaurant, some product reviews and a rather interesting experience at The Red Deer in Crediton.  And the end of June and beginning of July seems to be hotting up to be quite busy too.

Next week we finally visit Harry’s Restaurant in Longbrook Street.  They’ve made some big changes, so we’re going to go and take a peek at whats been happening.  The week after that will be a trip to the The Cosy Club to sample their new Summer menu.

At some point I will also do a review of Hunter’s brewery limited edition Chilli Ale and anything else that comes my way that might be worth writing about.

And…then with the possibility of going on holiday, Eating Exeter will be on hold for a bit as I pry myself away from the keyboard.  Well, I at least try to.

And and and…in July, we’ll see the first ever Eating Exeter Podcast.  Me waffling with my co-host, Riviera FM radio personality Steve Price, about food and foodstuff.

As usual, if you want to get in touch about absolutely anything (I like a good conversation sometimes) then use the contact page.

Cheers,
Chris

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Beer, Burger and Beyond: No longer updated

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A couple of years ago, I started a blog called Beer, Burger and Beyond.  I really enjoyed writing this blog, but due to a complete lack of time and the usual ‘life stuff’ getting in the way, I have decided to put it on an indefinite hiatus.

The quest to find Burgers and Beer will continue through Eating Exeter, and future Burger Reviews will be hosted on Eating Exeter and not BB&B.

Cream Tea At The Prince Hall Hotel

Guest blogger, Ditch Townsend, takes tea for us on Dartmoor

On the site of a 15th century house, the current mansion was rebuilt in 1787 after being destroyed in the English Civil War. ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ was allegedly inspired by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stay here. Being outside offers a stunning view (it can often be glimpsed through the windows), and the drawing room, with its wood burner, is comfortably and pleasingly, if eclectically, furnished.

The scone was cooked to order, so it took 10-15 minutes to come; an acrid oven cleaner-type smell kept intruding into the parlour, which was unpleasant. Anyway, I had enough time to explore my loose leaf Earl Grey tea choice, which arrived a few minutes after ordering: The bergamot oil only made the vaguest of ghostly swirls on the surface, with hints of orange blossom as it evaporated; I didn’t expect too much citrus and was justified when I sipped it. But it had a good flavour, with quite clear smokey traits. Plenty was supplied, with extra water, but without a removable in-pot filter, it stewed a little harshly.

Back to the largish, sugar-dusted scone which had now arrived. It was warm, obviously, with a glaze, and flexible but friable crust. The inside was a very pale yellow, somewhat like dense cake, but soft and not heavy or stodgy. It was also  soothingly fragrant and flavoured.

The Cornish cream came firm, as I like it, and in a reasonable volume, but cold and with a very mild taste that was only really accessible on its own.

The locally produced strawberry jam was all that was available. Be that as it may, it actually tasted strongly of strawberry rather than sugar, and wasn’t over-pectinated.

In conclusion, a single scone doesn’t comprise the base for the largest (nor even the norm) of Devon cream teas, but this was still a very pleasant session. It will cost you £8.00 to repeat.

You can follow Ditch’s blog about his anonymous, self-funded, ‘mid-range’ cream tea exploits via www.devoncreamteas.info and be kept up-to-date on Twitter @DevonCreamTease. He hopes to offer us occasional reviews about his ‘high-end’ cream tea peregrinations here at Eating Exeter, so keep a look out. (NB: The ones here are complimentary, but neither paid for, nor edited by the venue.)

© Text and pictures by Ditch Townsend (6 June 2015)


The HH Restaurant, Broadclyst

I like discovering the hidden gems.  There are always some culinary pockets of the unknown in any part of the world, and the latest discovery for me is The HH Restaurant in Broadclyst which, for me, is one of the most underrated fine dining restaurants in Devon.  That was a statement wasn’t it? But I hold to it happily.

Years ago back in my yoof, I used to attend Clyst Vale Community College and each day we’d drive past The Coachman’s Rest (as it was) as part of our bus route.  A strange and quirky tea-room, it never seemed to be open but had been on this spot for absolutely years.

When it was sold, I was intrigued to hear that it was going to be turned in to a restaurant, and since it opened I have heard from other foodies it is actually really good.  How good is it? It is Taste Of The West Gold standard, having won a gold award in 2013.  It has won or been short listed for a raft of other commendations as well such as:

Michelin recommended 2013 and 2015
Best Fine Dining Restaurant” Food & Drink 2013
Devon Life Best Restaurant Runner Up 2011

And a quick look at Trip Advisor shows the usual spread and variety of comments that any restaurant tends to get, but a strong consensus on the fact that this is, according to TA, a fantastic restaurant.

So I was quite excited to have been invited over to see what they do well, and after a lovely evening I really want to help this place gain the recognition that it deserves amongst foodies in Devon.

The day-to-day operation is headed up by Head Chef, James Nightingale who met us and had a quick chat with us before the meal.  Having started off at The HH Restaurant, he left to hone his skills at other fine dining restaurants before coming back as Head Chef a few years ago.  Since James returned he’s been skillfully and carefully creating seasonal menus using fine local produce from producers near and nearer.

The menu changes regularly, a nice touch is that they put a recommended wine with each dish.  It is a really good British menu with a nice variation with fish, pork and a vegetarian option all included.  Fancy something off the menu? Then given everything is from scratch, they are accommodating to all tastes and diets.

The HH Restaurant is also doing a Steak Night on a Wednesday night which is really staggering value! and a Sunday Lunch offer too.

We kicked our meal off with a complimentary Beetroot Velouté with Fresh Bread. A delicious and complex palette, the sweetness and the earthy tones balanced nicely and contrasted well with the fresh bread.

For starters I had the Ham Hock Terrine accompanied by a Pea Puree (not avocado Chris..), my able assistant going for the Mushroom Velouté which was scattered with tiny mushrooms and edible flowers.  The Ham Hock Terrine was full of lean cuts of ham and a wonderfully colourful puree was blended and presented wonderfully. As with these sorts of dishes, the presentation itself is an art form.  Tori’s Mushroom Velouté inspired many satisfied noises from the other side of the table.

For the mains I had to go for the Devon Day Boat Fish, which today was Bream with tomato & caper dressing.  I’m really becoming quite a fan of Bream, which for me is quite an achievement as I really am not a fan of seafood.  Given I don’t eat fish at home, its always a treat to come out and have it cooked expertly.

But Bream? I would happily choose this again, a lovely fish that wasn’t too fishy (those who are like me about fish will know the score) but had a good texture to it. It flaked like soft pillows, the potato puree underneath gave it a diverse palette that resulted in a gorgeous sauce with the juices mixed in by the end.

My able assistant went for the Pork Loin served with haricot beans, bacon, mushrooms & tender stem broccoli.  The meat was tender, the vegetables were beautifully steamed and the whole thing looked amazing.

Dessert is always, for me, one of the highlights of any meal. But go to a chain restaurant and you’re faced with a disappointing affair, often bland and overpriced so often I don’t even bother.  But this is fine dining, and there is no such thing as ‘pre-made’.

My dessert was a luscious Ginger Loaf served with butter scotch sauce and homemade vanilla seed ice cream.  It looks gorgeous in the photos, and it was as delicious as it looks.  The warmth of the loaf and the coldness of the homemade ice cream was sweet but not overly sweet, a well balanced dessert with a variation of temperature that really worked.

Tori went with the Homemade Rhubarb Crème Brulee, a brulee that kept its shape, crunchiness and texture beautifully on the plate.  This for me, really showed the technical skill that James Knightingale posesses as a chef, given this is one of the harder desserts to get right.  It wasn’t just right, it was pretty much perfect.

Fran, the waitress has to get a special mention as she was brilliant.  We had a good conversation with her, and she’s quite the artist too!

http://www.the-hh.co.uk/

Tel: 01392 461 472

Exeter Road,
Broadclyst,
Exeter,
Devon
EX5 3ET

Rob Dawe’s Pop-up Restaurant – July dates

Tuesday 7th July –Heart of Oak pub at Pinhoe, Exeter.
Please buy your drinks from the bar at this venue.

Monday 20th July – Rodean Restaurant in Kenton.
Please bring your own drinks to this venue.

Both events will start at 7.15pm with canapes, followed by a six course summer tasting menu. With coffee and petit fours to finish.

Tickets are £35 each, please text Rob on 07745438481 if you would like to book a table. Please inform him of any special dietary requirements when booking.

Cream Tea At The Magdalen Chapter – (4/5)

Guest blogger, Ditch Townsend, takes tea for two in Exeter

Tastefully renovated, decorated and furnished, we chose to sit in the light and comfortable lounge, but we could have used the darker, sparklier bar, the generously plush library, or a spacious patio. Music was soft, lilting, and predominantly instrumental, with some lounge jazz. But you just can’t escape the fact that the hotel is nesting in the armpit of one of Exeter’s more unpleasant main road junctions. Still, it’s a short walk up to the Roman wall and Cathedral, or down to the quayside.

We caught the scones freshly baked – one with raisins, one without. They were a moderate size, warm, sugar dusted and firm to touch and cut. But the crust wasn’t too thick or hard and was pleasingly biscuity and sweet. The centre was very light, soft, slightly yellowish, cakey, sweet and tasty. I couldn’t taste an underlying difference between the scones, and the raisins were few and far between: more for interest than flavour I guess.

The cream came from a Devon creamery in a good volume, was quite soft but lightly crusted, pale, and very mildly flavoured.

I’m not a lover of strawberry jam and it’s a pity when no pleasant choice is available (and I don’t mean plastic contingency breakfast blackcurrant or marmalade packets). Still, this one was quite manageable and not congealed with too much pectin.

Plenty of nicely mixed black leaf tea and extra hot water proved very refreshing and tasty, although I hadn’t come across the swivel-type tea strainer before (not posh enough 😉 ?) and nearly got tea leaves and tannin up my sleeve.

Overall, this has been a really pleasing experience (4/5). It’ll cost you £7.50.

You can follow Ditch’s blog about his anonymous, self-funded, ‘mid-range’ cream tea exploits via www.devoncreamteas.info and be kept up-to-date on Twitter @DevonCreamTease. He hopes to offer us occasional reviews about his ‘high-end’ cream tea peregrinations here at Eating Exeter, so keep a look out. (NB: The ones here are complimentary, but neither paid for, nor edited by the venue.)

© Text and pictures by Ditch Townsend (6 June 2015)


The Red Deer, Crediton – (2/5)

Can I start this review by saying that I don’t have a vendetta against Marstons Inns.  I didn’t go in to the pub preparing to pick at the service or criticise the meal and the fact that they own The Waterloo Cross (where we had a disastrous meal last year) does not sway me in one direction or another.

But I went in, willing to give a Marston Inn another go…

The outside of the building is clad in that doctor’s surgery chic, a bland and apathetic attempt to make it less of an eyesore than it could be. But there isn’t even a hint that its trying to really look anything but aesthetically acceptable.  Its not overtly offensive, in some lights it might actually be quite nice.

Despite the modern ‘housing estate’ feel of the outside of the pub, the inside is decorated with wood cladding. It’s tasteful, with a strong theme of deer and antlers throughout the pub.  Had the pub been included in A Game Of Thrones, it would be the pub that Stannis Baratheon would nip out to for a quick pint in between burning pagans and marching on Winterfell.  And if you hadn’t noticed that the name of the pub was The Red Deer, there is a massive deer on the wall as you enter the pub.

As we seated ourselves, almost instantaneously a sour
faced waiter came over to see if we wanted any drinks. I’m not a fan of being asked even before we have sat down, as I have no idea what they have and I generally want to look at the menu first so we asked the waiter to come back as we didn’t know what we wanted to drink, to which he turned on his heels and stomped off impatiently.

This is, I have to say, was the general theme of the service.

Like a troupe of bad actors, moving around a large stage they stomped around quickly, delivering the food, running off, taking an order, replaying the same automatic phrases to diners.  With little passion and no soul. It wasn’t that they were in panic mode, it just seemed so…flat.

The waiter returned, he took our drinks order, made no eye contact, came back with our drinks, took our food order with no eye contact and that was it.

No pleasanteries, no passion, just the feeling that the relentless march of people who wanted their BOGOF meals was wearing him down.  One positive I had picked up was that Brakespear Oxford Gold was on draught, which was my tipple of choice for the meal.

The Red Deer proudly states on the outside that all main courses are buy-one-get-one-free.  This includes everything that comes to you as a main course.  If you want to go and eat on your own, you’re stuffed, because the prices don’t match the portions and definitely don’t match the quality.

We went for a 10oz Gammon Steak and a Chilli Beef Burger both of which were passable.  In fact the chips were really nice, freshly cooked and really crisp.  But it stated that it came with coleslaw.  A small (I estimate it to be about 4cm in diameter) plastic ramiken of catering discount coleslaw, I would hazard to say that it was a ‘sneeze’ worth and a measly portion of chips, all topped off with the most apathetic, ‘gourmet burger’ that I have had the pleasure (because it tasted quite nice despite the crap presentation and accouterments) of eating.

I realised that actually, had we paid £4.99 for the burger meal, it would have been an alright meal.  A small portion of chips, a large but sparsely decorated burger and a sneeze of coleslaw would have been passable.  But had we paid £10.60 for this I wouldn’t be so forgiving.

I find this method of marketing deceitful, and if you are going to promote a BOGOF offer, then at least give the diner the meal that you would have paid for.  And the meal I received was not even worth £4.99.  So on this level, it is hideously overpriced for what you get.

Would I go back, I expect so. But not if I was hungry.  Am I being mean? Only as mean as the portions served.

The flatness of the service, the food, the children running around semi-clothed (yes I know this is a family pub…) the limited range of Ales available from such a large brewery pub and the deceptive offer make me wonder what we are really going to get from The Pinhoe Hoard (the new planned Mega-Pub on Pinhoe Road) I want The PH to be so much better than this, and I really hope it is.

Eating Exeter Update – June 2015

At the beginning of the year I said to myself “I must try and do other things other than Eating Exeter…” and I can safely say that like most new year pledges, that has gone firmly out of the window.  June is shaping up to be a busy month on the blog, but it certainly is the most exciting one so far!  So much so I just had to post some photos of Devon Coffee for no apparent reason, but to say that they are opening a second shop in Heavitree 🙂 and that makes me happy.

I’m excited to be working with one of my new favourite bloggers, Ditch Townsend, who writes Devon Cream Tease; an exploration in to Cream Teas that are served throughout Devon and possibly beyond.  Ditch is the subject of an Eating Exeter first, an interview which I am currently preparing and could very well be up as soon as tomorrow.

He has already been busy reviewing some Cream Teas for Eating Exeter, and over the next few weeks we’ll post them every so often.  I’d encourage everyone to go forth and have a look at Ditch’s blog!

We are also visiting the HH Restaurant in Broadclyst, Harry’s Restaurant in Longbrook Street and The Red Deer in Crediton, all of which will be reviewed and digested.

Along with reviews, I have started working with our in-house graphic and illustrator Tori Dee on a new Eating Exeter Guide to Eating in Exeter (catchy title huh?) which might or might not materialise at some point and be in for sale via the blog as an ebook/pdf file thing.

So lots to come, many things will appear which will hopefully be enjoyable to read and inspire you to eat out in Exeter and Devon.

Cheers,
Chris

10 Questions for Ditch Townsend: A Devon Cream Tease

Ditch Townsend

10 Questions is a new concept for this blog.  If you wish to be asked 10 Questions and you are a food lover, chef or producer, please contact me via the contact page.

Eating Exeter accepts contributions from seasoned bloggers, aspiring journalists; pretty much anyone who wants to have a go. Our newest contributor is Ditch Townsend who writes one of my favourite blogs ‘Devon Cream Teas’ which reviews and rates Cream Tea’s that are available in the Devon area, hence the title.

I first heard of Ditch’s blog through Twitter, but had heard of a ‘man writing a devon cream tea blog’ via a friend’s significant other who works in a cafe that was reviewed by Ditch.  The blog is intriguing and enjoyable to read, this fascinating insight in to the life of a cream tea blogger was certainly a bonus start to the beginning of a format that I’ve been wanting to start on Eating Exeter for a while now.

Over the next couple of weeks, Eating Exeter will be publishing some exclusive reviews of some of the high-end cream teas that are available.  But Ditch is adding new reviews regularly so I would urge you to head over to devoncreamteas.info and have a look at what he is up to.

1. Why Cream Teas?

Ever since I first tasted one in north Devon as a teenager, and was momentarily rendered speechless by its sensuousness, I’ve had a love affair with them. Growing up in southeast Asia, there was very little so rich except for coconut cream, and the ubiquitous condensed milk in tins. Much as I love Asian cuisine, it was wonderful to find something so different in the UK – I remember too my aunt saving the ‘top of the milk’ for my cereals when I made the occasional pilgrimage back to England as a child. Maybe its a Freudian thing? Either way, at this point in my life, I just need to re-wire my pleasure circuits, which have become in danger of burning out.

2. What did you do before you started this blog?

I’ve spent most of my adult life living and working in often remote and difficult places (for me) in Asia and Africa, generally with extremely marginalised people (e.g. drug users, and people affected by leprosy). Since returning to the UK with my family in 2009, I’ve worked in community development, most recently at the Hospice in Weston-super-Mare for a couple of years, trying to help families work out ways to strengthen and use informal networks of support. To be honest, I needed a break from all that, and am now on an extended ‘sabbatical’ – and who knows, maybe even a new career path…

3. Have you ever had High Tea at Claridges? Is there anywhere in particular you’d like to have a cream tea?

I’ve had the chance to take afternoon tea at Raffles Hotel in Singapore, and with the British Ambassador’s wife in Yangon (Rangoon), but neither had clotted cream… I’m not really into opulence however, but I am into self-help therapy: I did a summer as a student working as a volunteer in a clinic for undocumented people in Amsterdam’s red light district. I was continuously being shocked, and sought refuge in an English tea room in the basement of a book shop on odd afternoons off. There I could get Earl Grey tea, and a scone with cream (not clotted) and jam. I needed to reconnect myself to a gentler reality, and the taste sensations were usually a great help in rallying me. But for me, the best cream tea would be the one produced at the least expected moment, in the most unlikely place possible, at the time when it would be most therapeutic.

4. I really like your writing style, surely you’ve done this before?

I’m glad you like it. I’ve written before, for magazines, promotional stuff, personal blogs, and I really enjoy it. I’m nearly four months into writing a daily experimental Twitter Fiction feed called ‘Dissonant Dan’ at present. I tend to write observations better than stories, so I’m more suited to snap-shots like food reviews, than to narratives like novels.

5. Clotted Cream or Jam first?

That’s like beating a straw man isn’t it? The traditional Cornish way is to use butter first, then jam; a dollop of clotted cream is just a tasty extra. But I have a moustache and have to be pragmatic: to avoid cheesiness (see my rather gross explanation at http://devoncreamteas.info/curdling/), I prefer to turn my scone upside down. This is fine if thick cream is applied, like plaster, to the scone first, but is horribly dangerous if jam underneath provides a Teflon layer to prevent cream adhesion! Anyway, cream first tastes better 😉

6. Has there been any challenges you’ve faced whilst writing your blog?

Money! Apart from more expensive ‘high end’ boutique cream teas, which I’m not blogging about on my own site, I’m trying to pay for myself or get completely unvested sponsorship… anyone? b) Cream from the average cream tea will have 50% of my recommended daily fat allowance. I try to eat just one eighth of a scone with cream and one eighth without, at any given venue… unless it’s just too gorgeous and I give in. (This also means that I shiftily shuffle away from most places with half a scone crumbling in my pocket, because I don’t want chefs and waitresses to think that I hated it all so much, that I left most of it!) c) Pounding caffeine headaches if I drink 6 cups of tea in one afternoon whilst researching… d) I try not to comment on service – the Trip Advisor world seems to major on that and it tires me; anyway I suspect I’m as much of a difficult customer as anyone is a difficult member of staff: maybe they’re legitimately just reacting to me!? Anyway, a couple of times, I’ve had to mention some mishap which spoiled a cream tea, but felt so sorry for the person concerned, that I didn’t want to write anything… in the end, both times I have, but with lashings of sympathy offered in one case, and a re-review allowing for an upgrade a month later in another case. e) I hadn’t thought that a relaxing pastime would upset people quite so much sometimes. I know I wouldn’t like to be criticised, and some people mistake my wry comments for snide comments (I’m really not a sarcastic person), but… c’est la vie, it’s just my style. Anyway, I have redoubled my efforts to be constructive and where possible, focus on things that can be changed, without cringing from being authentic for my readers. Too much that is written nowadays is about selling rather than participating.

7. Is it scone as in cone, or scone as in gone?

Tricky. I was brought up to say scone like gone because it was more ‘proper’. But it was recently pointed out to me that it’s often an accent thing in the southwest, rather than a cultural thing. I’m beginning to wonder if I shouldn’t call it a scone (like loan) when I’m in Devon.

8. Do you have any long-term goals for the blog?

I’d like to cover the whole of Devon; to keep it updated; to map seasonal closures; to track changes in cream and jam sources; to explore local cream and jam supplies; to understand the art of scone making; to understand tea; to understand some of the business issues; and to rid our cream tea landscape of its red-flavoured sugar-gunk cankers. Ultimately, I’d like to see that EVERY DEVON CREAM TEA SHOULD BE A GREAT CREAM TEA (and cream first).

9. Would you say that, like me, you’re a ‘tea-snob?’ Any favourite blends?

I don’t understand tea very well at all. But I love a pungeant, fresh Earl Grey (see http://devoncreamteas.info/tea/) – the best ones shouldn’t need lemon, because bergamot oil is a citrus oil already – hence why I have milk with mine so as to retain any unevaporated fragments of bergamot and not smother them with a different, stronger citrus. One tea I watched at all stages of production, as I went to primary school where it was grown, is the mostly unblended, and phenomenally fragrant (if a little bitter and grassy from my recollection) Cameronian Gold from the Boh tea estate in Malaysia’s Cameron Highlands.

10. Are there any particular food writers or bloggers who you admire or read regularly?

Can I say you? Not that it’s necessarily true (let’s pretend it is), but I’m new to this foodie world and haven’t yet been socialised to recognise its most mythical figures 😉 You tell me..

Exeter Night Market @ The Quay – Not a definitive review

If you head down to the Exeter Guildhall on a Friday, Saturday and Sunday you’ll spot a cluster of street food stalls in the centre, surrounding the chapel.  This was the beginnings of Street Food Exeter, and with its popularity they opened a second event down at The Quay.  Called Exeter Night Market, it follows a similar thread with street food stalls but some live music too but happening less frequently.

Given the fact I’ve been such a fan of the Guildhall Street Food market I thought I’d give it a go and see what was making this event so popular.  In fact the Night Market must be popular as they’ve added an extra night too.  Full details can be found on their website www.streetfoodexeter.co.uk

The event itself is brilliant.  World food traders, local food traders and Otter Brewery were all represented under the transport shed on the Exeter Quayside. The sun shone, the Otter Amber flowed and we had a lovely evening generally.  Unfortunately, and this goes for anything that happens on the Quayside, there are cobbles and cobbles don’t generally bode well for people in wheelchairs.

Although we didn’t get to eat at this event (other reasons that I won’t go in to in this post), there are other events on the Exeter Street Food calendar to try, and its Friday today so I might head over to the Guildhall later and get my Hog Roast fill (they ran out last night)…

GUILDHALL SHOPPING CENTRE, EXETER – FRI(9-5) SAT(9-5) SUN (10-4)
NIGHT MARKET @THE QUAY – 1st THUR OF THE MONTH (5:30-9:30pm)
NIGHT MARKET @PIAZZA TERRACINA 3rd THUR OF THE MONTH (4:30-9:30pm)