The Rusty Pig, Yonder Street, Ottery St. Mary EX11 1HD 01404 815580
Butchers: open Thursday to Friday 9.30am to 4.30pm Saturday 9.30am to 4pm.
Supper tables: Thursday, Friday and Saturday (Fixed Course only)
Breakfast: Friday and Saturday 10am to 2pm
In the last twenty years or so, East Devon has had somewhat of a food renaissance. Near the Devon-Dorset border lies River Cottage HQ, at the other end will be Michael Caines new flagship hotel and restaurant at Lympstone. In between are a whole raft of producers and restaurants that are producing something amazing on a daily basis. Deer Park Hotel, Trill Farm, Axminster River Cottage Canteen, Otter Brewery, Castlewood Vineyard etc. are all giving East Devon that edge.
In this litany of hallowed foodiness, sits The Rusty Pig in Ottery St Mary; a vanguard of good food and seasonal simplicity amongst the fussiness of a la carte and tiny portions. Ingredients are made on site, local or foraged; plucked from trusted local producers and hedgerows to create a palette you’re unlikely to find in other restaurants.
We were invited along to witness one of their supper table nights which tend to happen on a Thursday and Friday night. Diners are welcome to have a 10 inch hand made pizza, or they can go for the fixed price three course menu. On Saturday nights, only the fixed course menu is available and it is bookings only!
The Rusty Pig sits on Yonder Street. When I googled the directions, I said to myself ‘ah I know where that is…’ and didn’t think anything else of it until we entered Ottery St Mary – I drove up to where I thought The Rusty Pig should be. Of course neither myself or Tori had mobile coverage so there was no GPS to save the day. About 15 minutes of light swearing, driving around in circles and ‘I’m not going to ask anyone’ ensued until we just happened to come across it in Yonder Street.
It feels like a home. There is no delineation between the kitchen and the dining area on the ground floor, there are no barriers between customers and the important people who run the business, and throughout the evening it felt like the layout of the kitchen matched the ethos. There is a shower in the toilet, and lots tables and chairs throughout the upstairs. Recently having just obtained their alcohol licence, The Rusty Pig has come-of-age and is now looking at new horizons.
Robin Rea is the owner/butcher/head chef/chief smoker. Devonian by birth, he started cooking in Melbourne during his travels in Italain restaurants which gave him a real spark for cooking, this continued when he returned to the UK, working in numerous restaurants before taking up a position at River Cottage. His mother owned a shop in Ottery St Mary and when she retired, Robin fulfilled a dream by opening a butchers; producing air-dried and smoked meats in various forms.
An affable friendly chap with an absolutely cracking sense of humour, he was more than happy to chat to us throughout the evening, and we learnt a whole lot about what goes on at The Rusty Pig. Helping him out on the evening was ex-River Cottage chef Joe Draper. I first met Joe at the inaugural start of Jonny Does Dinner that took place at Trill Farm a couple of years ago; it was great to be able to catch up with him after the meal.
On Thursday & Friday nights The Rusty Pig serves food in the evenings. The Butcher-Kitchen area has some seating, but upstairs a hidden world of exposed floorboards, wooden furniture and pig/Ottery St Mary ephemera. We took our seats, we ordered our drinks and took in our surroundings.
Tonight we would be having the three-course menu (£32 per head). This fixed price menu was simple but effective, and it can change too depending on ingredients available.
We kicked the evening off with an Onion Soup, sprinkled with Rusty Pig made Black Pudding. I found out afterwards that technically it is an onion milk, but frankly it could be called Mike Onion and it would still be delicious; it was so smooth and the savory kick of the Black Pudding made for a balanced starter that had me rethinking my previous misgiving about Onions in soup form. The starter was accompanied with a Garlic & Fennel Flatbread which looked wonderful and tasted as good.
The main course was a colourful mixture of roasted vegetables, wild garlic gnocci, beetroot relish, Rusty Pig made Cotechinni garnished with a hard ‘mountain cheese’ as Robin described it afterwards.
The dish was a colourful firework of food that I nearly forgot to eat after snapping it from every conceivable angle. The Gnocci was smooth and the garlic worked well with the beetroot relish, the roasted vegetables (including carrot and parsnip) were perfectly done and as a Cotechinni virgin, I am glad that I was. It has a bite to it, and the slight chewiness of the Cotechinni contrasted in texture to the creamy smoothness of the Gnocci.
Our dessert was a traditional yet edgy conclusion to what had been a stonking meal. A Rhubarb and Cardoman Panacotta with Almond crumble. This played on the different textures and the variation between the sweetness of the crumble and the sourness of the Rhubarb. I love dishes that go beyond smell, food that looks amazing and uses a different set of tastes beyond sweet and savory – this makes for a memorable plate of food.
Afterwards we got chatting to Robin and Joe. The evening was coming to an end, but the party of fourteen ladies upstairs was still in full swing. Joe was putting the finishing touches to the next day’s dishes, an event and a fully booked evening meant that the Saturday was going to be a busy day for both Joe and Robin, rafting in help from another chef.
If I was compiling a ‘foody tour’ of East Devon, The Rusty Pig would be on it. There are few places in Devon that share the same ethos and passion as this Butcher-Restaurant. I was already a fan of Robin and brilliant little butchers, but this visit confirmed for me that The Rusty Pig is one of the vanguards of the local-seasonal school of cuisine in East Devon.
There is also the ‘Rusty Pig at Home’ where Robin will come in to your home to cook a private meal in your house. Fancy a bit of Rusty Pig magic at your wedding? When we first arrived, Robin was talking to a bride & groom for whom he would be cooking for on their big day. For more information about these other services, best ring the number at the beginning of the post.