Latest News – Celebrate English Wine Week in Devon

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English Wine Week begins on 28th May with plans to raise awareness of the quality of our national vineyards. Devon Hotels and Restaurants Association member, Rendezvous Wine Bar in Exeter is celebrating with self-led wine tasting sessions at their city centre restaurant throughout the week.

Jemma Mitchell, owner of Rendezvous and Vice Chairman of the Devon Hotels and Restaurants Association said ‘English Wine Week is an opportunity to shout about some of the exceptional producers we have here at home. Here in the south west particularly we are spoilt for choice with a number of regional and local vineyards offering wines of the highest quality, many of which win awards in international competitions against old masters.’

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Jemma Mitchell, owner of Rendezvous

Rendezvous has built a reputation for its extensive wine menu since 2006, enlisting the expertise of wine writer, tutor and consultant sommelier Rebecca Mitchell. Together Jemma and Rebecca have compiled a wide selection of exceptional wines to accompany the daily changing lunch and dinner menus using the finest local ingredients.

As Jemma continued ‘Our wine tasting sessions will include local wineries across Devon, Cornwall and Dorset. There will be five different wines to try with information on the wineries and notes to guide our customers through their tasting, at a cost of £10pp. Our aim is to give people an insight into the high quality still and sparkling wines that are being produced right on our doorstep. It’s so important to shout about them and we’re excited that English Wine Week gives us the opportunity to do that. It’s another great reason to visit Devon and make the most of what it has to offer.

Tastings are running from 28th May to 5th June.

For more info visit: http://www.devonhotels.com/Rendezvous-Wine-Bar-and-Restaurant/Devon-Restaurants/

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Dartington Food Fair – by Lauren Heath

Well what a great day out as always; we went to Dartington Food Fair on day 1 of its 2 day event held over Sunday 29th and Monday 30th May. Now in its 6th year, and held at The Shops at Dartington in conjuction with Food and Drink Devon, this perfectly formed fair works well hosting over 40 local food and drink producers alongside the normal shops on site.

Thankfully the sun shone, surpassing 20 degrees C!

It was great to see Susy Atkins again, and she was giving ad-hoc tastings to anyone who ventured into the Devon Drinks shop – I tried some Lyme Bay 2014 Shoreline, Steve had the Dartington Elmhurst Ale, and I also tried the very tasty Sharpham Sparkling Pink Brut. I loved this last drink – a lovely light fizz I thought, light sherberty taste almost and Susy told us about how it has been made using the champagne method, certainly one to buy for a treat or celebration!

As well as catching up with well known local companies such as Blueberry Brothers, from whom Steve bought a Blueberry Ale and Norcotts Cider who make our favourite Elderflower Cider which I highly recommend even for the non-cider fans such as me (I hear cider fans gasp in horror, but I am afraid it is true). Bell and Luxton were also there who have a new basil oil which is a delight, and the fab South Devon Chilli Farm were also showing their wares.

Some new discoveries were made today – Bini, with her new business Sweet Cumin which consists of home cooked Indian ready meals, South Hams Brewery who had a lovely amber beer called Devon Pride and a light amber ale with a hint of Stokeley honey called Stumble Bee. We also came across Ebb Tides who were selling sustainably hand harvested seaweeds including kelp, dulse and sea salad in both bags and grinder options (it was their first outing for the business so we wish them luck in their foodie adventure!). Steve tried everything and is certainly a fan already. And last but certainly not least we discovered New Lion Brewery with beers crafted in Totnes, they had a lovely Totnes Stout and real treat of a chilli beer called Scorpion IPA – a triumph of a beer for a chilli head with a good heat in the middle of the palet and a touch of lemon came though on the tip of your tongue.

We watched Favis in the demo tent show us how to crack open a crab, and Exeter Cookery School were to follow to showcase co-owner and chef Jim’s spun sugar skills. There were other chef demos earlier in the day as well. There was Crazy about Clay for young and old alike, cast your vote for the best scarecrow, meet some rare breed animals, forage tours on the estate and of course, after all this, the food tents and bars outside providing lunch and much needed refreshment.

Our son was delighted at the sight of the Dartington Dairy Ice Cream and, with mint being his favourite flavour, he throughly enjoyed a scoop of their mint ice cream made with fresh mint from the Dartington gardens picked this morning – incredibly fresh and light.

So a great free day out with the only cost being £2 for all day parking. I highly recommend it; go on Bank Holiday Monday if you don’t already have plans!

For more info visit: https://www.dartington.org/visit/the-shops-at-dartington/dartington-food-fair/

Foraging in Sidmouth with East Devon – by Lauren Heath

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Last week, the lovely people at East Devon invited me along to their foraging course in Sidmouth; I jumped at the chance to do this as I have always wanted to learn about our edible countryside, but I have found nearby courses to be a bit out of my price range.

The event, one of many run by East Devon but involving local specialists in their field, would start at 6:30pm and finish approximately 8:30pm, which fitted in perfectly on a weekday evening timewise. The cost is £10 per person which sounded excellent value. So after work Thursday, I drove down to Sidmouth and found The Knapp which is just on the downhill road before the town.

On arrival, there was a Wild Food banner, which confirmed I was in the right place, and I was then greeted by Chris  Holland who left me in no doubt that he was the foraging specialist thanks to his Indiana Jones hat – stereotypical I know but hey – I was right. The other leader was Tim who is one of the East Devon rangers/managers. We waited for the other people to arrive and we ended up with a group of 14 of us. One lady was telling me she had already attended their other event the week before and raved about it. There was another Sidmouth local, and a few people from slightly further out. A good mix of people all ready to listen, learn and taste!

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Chris walked us up the path only 100 yards or so and started the evening. He initially asked us all to introduce ourselves and just mention a river, sea, or forest we lived near or that we enjoyed. This gave him a feel of the people around him. He then explained we would do some foraging, collecting leaves for a salad, nettles for a risotto and some plants to make tea with.

Almost immediately we were by the most common plant that anyone should know – nettles. I’m sure plenty of you have either been a victim of this plant whilst gardening or when hiding in it by accident as a child (yes I really did that!) Chris explained about their nutritional values (up to 40% protein with many further benefits – but please look this up if you wish to have more accurate info) and explained why the plant ‘stings’ us. It in fact is a stimulant and activates the synapses in the nervous system. He explained that the little hairs on the stem point upwards and therefore to pinch the tips, come at it from below pulling upwards to avoid being stung.

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So off we all went, pulling some tips and adding them to his basket. I questioned the truth behind the dock leaf being nearby and being an antidote and he confirmed this was true. Dock, in fact, are also edible and he even uses them in lasagne; steep the leaves in hot water first then lay them in alternate layers instead of pasta. Curly dock is slightly tastier apparently. He also showed us that you could roll the nettles firmly in between your fingers and eat them straight away.

So we then moved on and stopped a bit further up at some Beech trees. We were shown the older beech leaves that were darker in colour and are also hardier. To the left were younger leaves, softer in texture, lighter in colour. We all had a taste of them, then collected leaves for the salad bowl.

Passing some daisies, Chris confirmed that they are perfectly edible and great in a salad. We then stopped at some pine plants. Pine needles are great for tea, rich in vitamin C and he recommends when you put them in hot water you put a lid on whilst stewing to keep the oil in the cup. We pinched the pollen balls off them as they would add a sweetness to our salad.  We came across another plant at the foot of the trees called Jack By The Hedge or Garlic Mustard – with 4 petals they are the same family as oil seed rape. These plants had very distinctive  leaves, pointing upwards like the cactus’ you see in a western movie. We tried the flowers and true to his word, they gave a mustard kick at the end. So we foraged some of these for the salad bowl too.

Another plant we foraged was ground ivy, with its beautiful purple flowers, it has minty leaves which are perfect for a foraged tea. Tim and the rest of us gave it a good sniff!

After gathering enough to feed us all, but respecting the landscape and leaving enough for others, we moved on to our camp fire area. Chris and Tim had a camping table set up with some wraps and balsamic vinegar ready for our salad wraps to be made and with gathered firewood keeping dry underneath.

Chris quickly got a fire going whilst Tim got the special fire tea pot on the go. The wok then went on the fire and he threw in some pre-prepared onions, water and the risotto adding the nettles in the middle and a bit of parmesan near the end. Both the salad wrap and the risotto were absolutely delicious. The tea was not necessarily to my taste but then I don’t even like herbal teas.

It did rain on us for a few minutes but the trees provided the necessary shelter and we were all dressed appropriately anyway so it didn’t bother us too much. It was really enjoyable eating what we had gathered whilst being round a camp fire.

Chris and Tim were really friendly and easy going people – it wasn’t in your face or ‘hippy’ if it’s OK to use that phrase – just really informative and I am already confident enough to forage nettles and have a go at home.

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Please note: I believe what I have written to be correct based on what I was told and tasted and the notes I made – I suggest going on a course, buying a book or researching a bit before foraging so you know what you are looking for. As always, if you are unsure – do not eat it! Some books that were recommended include ‘Food from the wild’ by Ian Burrow or ‘I love my world’ by Chris Holland himself.

This outing was a good length of time, easy to get to and incredible value for money – I highly recommend it and urge you to give it a go and support our countryside.

The more interest they get then the more foraging events can be put on. This event and more, including bird and wildlife events, can be found on http://eastdevon.gov.uk/countryside/countryside-events/ or follow them on Twitter @wildeastdevon or Facebook “East Devon Countryside”.

Food Festivals in Devon! – Dates for your diary

Being a foodie can be an organisational nightmare sometimes.  Devon and The South West has so many fantastic foodie things going on, so as you might think there are many opportunities to celebrate the fantastic produce we are known for.

There are food festivals happening all over our fair county.  The excitement of the Exeter Food Festival might have passed for this year, but there are other festivals happening over summer.  Here are just a few for your diary!  I expect there are more, but this is just a selection, with handy screendumps of websites too – click the text (not the screendump) to get to the website.

Ottery St Mary Food & Families Day – 4th June 2016

FF Ottery

Kingsbridge Food & Music Festival – 3rd to 5th June

FF - Kingsbridge

Flavour Fest in Plymouth – 3rd to 5th June

FF - Plymouth Flavour Fest

Crediton Food Festival – 18th to 19th June 2016

FF Crediton

Nourish Festival in Bovey Tracey – 3rd September

FF - Nourish

Taste Of The Teign – September 19th – 25th

FF- Taste of Teign

Powderham Food Festival – 1st to 2nd October 2016

FF Powderham

Dartmoth Food Festival – 21st to 23rd October

FF Dartmouth

If there are any other food festivals that you reckon we should add to the list, please contact Eating Exeter via the contact page.

Ben Richards presents Build A Beer

Pale ale3You might remember a few weeks ago that we posted 10 Questions for Ben Richards: Beer Sommelier.  I want to welcome Ben to the pages of Eating Exeter as he presents a guest post about beer and the fantastic Build A Beer event that he runs. All images courtesy of Ben Richards.

Right now is an exciting time for beer. There have never been as many opportunities to try new beers, discover how well it goes with food or get started on a brewing adventure, and many more people are rethinking our national drink with an open, inquisitive mind and seeking out new experiences.

Over the past couple of decades we’ve seen a drop in both breweries and pubs – there are 16,000 less pubs than there were 25 years ago. It’s a worrying trend, but it’s important that people also realise that there is a lot of exciting growth too. Different kinds of beer are emerging, our attitudes toward drinking are evolving and contemporary establishments are arriving. Smaller, more adventurous breweries are taking their inspiration from styles across the world and a host of new venues that specialise in variety and exploration of beer are popping up – all acknowledging that whilst the classic pint of British bitter is a wonderful thing, there are more than a hundred other types of beer out there to discover.

There is such an interest in British and international beer it’s now possible to find a range of dedicated events and books that focus on brewing, beer and food, beers from all corners of the globe and those that look back in time at our brewing heritage. Because of this I get to do a lot of interesting or fun events, but probably my favourites are the Build a Beer days. Aimed at groups of 15 or more, it’s a full afternoon or evening traversing a wide variety of different beer styles from around the world, learning about the ingredients, flavours and processes, followed up by the professional brewing of the group’s bespoke beer. It’s hard to imagine I would have been able to do this 10 years ago, but the demand for modern beer and renewed interest in homebrewing has allowed me to spend the time needed to train and provide these focussed events.

It’s great to be able to share something you really care about with other people, and Build a Beer is a good example of this. We start off exploring the different malts that are available, and how they can create something as light and crisp as a pilsner or as dark and decadent as 10% imperial stout. Next we look at hops and how the type and country of origin have a huge impact on flavour and bitterness, before seeing how yeast choice not only affects the alcoholic strength of a beer, but also the taste. During all this, we’re also finding out which of the different beer styles the group like most – this is important as this will allow us to create a one-off, bespoke recipe.

I then pass on that recipe to a great local brewery – located just north of Exeter and run by my friends Toby and Gemma, The Occasional Brewing Company specialises in small runs of really high quality, adventurous beer. Once they’ve worked their magic, everyone gets a case of truly bespoke beer, professionally bottled and labelled with their design. We’ve brewed beers for parties, weddings and even corporate events – it’s a really enjoyable one to organise and hopefully it sees even more people get into homebrew or start exploring the amazing range that’s out there now.

Read more about Ben and this event at his website www.beerwithben.co.uk 

A Business lunch at Bill’s, Exeter – by Lauren Heath

32-33 Gandy Street, Exeter, Devon EX4 3LS – 01392 259 227

Monday – Saturday 8am – 11pm
Sunday (and bank holidays) 9am – 10:30pm

In a city full of a variety of restaurants at all budgets, I was delighted when I was told I could choose where to go for a business lunch meeting – delighted and bewildered! I love ALL food – the choice was too large. I felt an opportunity here for a restaurant that has not been featured on the blog, and also somewhere I had been to before and enjoyed enough to return, also to ‘save face’ and be confident of guaranteed satisfaction for my meeting partner.

I settled on Bill’s in Gandy Street, which is also very conveniently located about 100 yards from my work and with a busy schedule, was not too far to go if I was running late – which I was. I had already booked online using their easy system to ensure a table, as I have seen the place bursting at the seams most days as I walk by during my lunch break.

On entry we were very warmly greeted and I mentioned the name of my booking; I had written some notes online about requesting a larger table for the 2 of us and in a quieter corner if possible. I’m not sure if this shows on their booking sheet as I had to repeat my request verbally to the hostess, but nonetheless it was granted with absolute ease and no feel of us being awkward. In order to accommodate this request they offered us a table upstairs; having only ever sat downstairs, I accepted gladly and we were seated by 2 large windows at a spacious table that was not too close to others. We had a great view of downstairs through the railings and a very light and airy feel to the whole room.

Bill’s serves breakfast as well as a good sized main menu across lunch and dinner. Over the last 3 years I have enjoyed their breakfast once and lunch twice – my most recent visit being at the beginning of the year. In addition to this they have a very well priced set menu from 12pm until 7pm, with 2 courses for £10.95 and 3 courses for £12.95.

Whilst perusing the menu, I knew from experience which drink I wanted right away and ordered the Elderflower Cordial (priced at £2.50) which can be served hot or cold – I opted for cold which has a selection of fresh fruits floating at the top. It is delicious and refreshing and just a bit more exciting if you are not able to choose a cocktail or similar. There are plenty of fruity non alcholic options if you’re that way inclined. There are plenty of wines, beers and everything else you’d expect of course.

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Whilst browsing the menus, our waiter asked if we wanted the windows opened, to which we replied yes as it was a lovely (and humid) day. He then apologised for the noise of the delivery truck just outside and assured us it would be moving on shortly – what a nice touch – being concerned for their customers enjoyment regarding something they have no control over, I was very impressed.

My business partner chose from the set menu; a starter of Potted Ham Hock and the main of Hot Smoked Salmon Salad (£10.95 total). I have recently been on a bit of a carb-free rule during the week but that went ‘out the window’ as the Rarebit Mac ‘n Cheese (£9.95) was standing out for me as a treat and it sounded different and so not to be left out I settled on a starter as well, choosing one of my favourite items – Crispy Calamari (£6.50).

The Potted Ham Hock came in a glass pot containing mustard mayo, radish and watercress with toasted campagne bread on the side. It was vibrant in colour and delicious so I was told, with enough bread to cater for the quantity of food. The Crispy Calamari was served with a tartare sauce and red pepper tapenade; both were delicious. The panko style breadcrumbs were light and crispy and the squid was cooked to perfection without being too oily.

They were spot on with their check back timings and I found that we were left long enough after we had finished eating before they took our plates away, and with a nice enough gap between courses. We didn’t feel rushed at all yet felt well attended to.

Mains arrived and we were both delighted visually. My business partner’s salad looked vibrant and well stocked with enough salmon versus salad and veg. I had a taste of it and the fish was beautifully smoked and the right ‘meaty’ texture. It contained baby potatoes, radish, long stem broccoli, green beans, lemon crème fraîche dressing, pickled red onions and bramley apple slices. The smokiness of the fish against the sweet onions, sharp apples and fresh lemon dressing was a real triumph and very well balanced in flavour.

My Mac ‘n Cheese wasn’t quite what I expected, but in a good way – I like to eat items that I can’t or don’t make at home and this was certainly a twist on the usual heavy yet comforting pasta dish. Small and very soft macaroni pasta served in a cheddar cheese sauce with mushrooms, leeks, peas, broad beans, topped with a mustard rarebit and garnished with baby kale. The sauce was thinner than I thought it would be but so full of flavour – I considered asking for bread to dunk and absorb some of it but decided against it in order to not over fill myself and actually by the end I had eaten everything including said sauce. It didn’t mention mint or similar but it certainly had something ‘fresh’ tasting in it  which really lifted it to be something else. A really unusual version, and the mustard rarebit top was really yummy and quite a treat, I’d highly recommend it!

You would have thought by now we would be stuffed and indeed my guest was, but  everything so far was so nice I felt I couldn’t leave without completing a hat-trick. Our very smiley waiter also helped convince me, although with fairly little effort to be fair. I adore pudding, it’s my weakness and I really couldn’t decide on what to have. I decided to test and trust him and asked for a recommendation. He very confidently said, that without a doubt, the Lemon Meringue Pie (£5.50) was the best – decision made.

This course was another surprise when an unassuming little glass turned up with the most gorgeous blow-torched meringue top and yellow layers. The waiter suggested, with great enthusiasm, to dig deep and get all the layers at once. I tried but there was lot to this well filled pud. This cheesecake in a glass was topped with Bill’s lemon curd, yogurt ice cream and poppy seed meringue – and was just spot on! The meringue was so creamy and fluffy but nice and firm, enveloping a ball of delicious yoghurt ice-cream. You then come across a creamy, zingy lemon curd followed by a layer of cheesecake and the expected biscuit base. The base was a little too crumbly or sandy if you will, but that only caused slight inconvenience as some of it fell off my spoon as I tried to eat it, although luckily back into the glass! The ice-cream worked really well as a cleanser against all the other sticky, gooey textures.

You may think I am being over enthusiastic – but what Bill’s manages to do is serve very tasty food, good portions, well priced, in a really comfortable and buzzing environment with efficient yet discreet service – money well spent I’d say. They really do offer something more than other chains offer, and it doesn’t have the feel of a chain, more so an independent.

EE RecommendsThey do, however, add a discretionary service charge (although this is clearly noted on the website and the receipt). This is not something I’m a fan of and I am unsure if the staff receive the full amount – I do hope so, as our waiter was very good and represented Bill’s well. Not forgetting to mention the kitchen staff who, if they hadn’t done their job properly, would’ve made our lunch a very different experience, good service or not.

I look forward to the next visit and sooner rather than later I hope!

exeter@bills-email.co.uk

https://bills-website.co.uk/restaurants/exeter/

Board, South Street

EE RecommendsI have been big fan of tabletop/board games since I was properly introduced to them by my good friend Julien a couple of years ago.  The board game has experienced a resurgence in recent years, and this has led to a small but steady emergence in cafes that specialise in catering for board gamers.

The South West now has its own permanent game cafe which opened earlier this year, and I couldn’t wait to get down South Street to see this game changing cafe in full play.

Board is a little different to a regular cafe.  Firstly you pay an admission fee; this gives you a chance to play the games on offer, have some tuition from one of their Game Gurus and order food & drink too to have whilst you play.

Our visit was last bank holiday.  It was quiet-ish, with only a few other tables being used.  Although we had eaten, our gaming companions had not which gave me a chance to see the food on offer.

A straight forward menu that compliments any gaming session.  Hot drinks, grilled sandwiches, burgers and fries freshly cooked to order (I think?).

You’re not left in the dark about how Board works; there is a handy board up by the till which details prices and how the cafe works.  Then once you’re clear about what the deal is, you can take your place at a double-deck gaming table, either in the window or in one of the booths that line the length of the cafe.

The games for rent are at the back of the shop, there must be nearly 100 games on offer ranging from epic-RPG games to smaller quicker games like Zombie Dice which we played at the end of our session.

This won’t be my last visit.  Viva la Board!

10 Questions with Veg In A Box – by Lauren Heath

As it does these days, it all began with a tweet…my husband Steve was singing the praises of Devon based BOOM Kitchen and their curry kits (further info on these guys to follow in due course) and a twitter flurry occurred between him and a small local business called Veg in a Box about how good the curries really were – “excellent” we said – “give them a try, you won’t be disappointed”…a week later, we heard a deal had been struck and a ‘veg curry in a box’ was in the making.

We have since met the owners, Julie Corcutt and Bela Dobrovenszki, on a few occasions and found them to be so down to earth, friendly and incredibly passionate. Based at the back of Clyst St Mary, in a little cluster of barns, buildings and businesses they are possibly the hardest working people we know.

Their ethos is to buy the best they can for their customers, customising their boxes as you desire and taking orders up to the night before to match demand and fit in with the busy lives we all lead nowadays. This does mean they are working their socks off…but then success never comes easy and they are already planning the secondary side to the business called The Devon Meat Co, making up meat boxes for those more focussed on protein, the major BBQ fan or just thegeneral meat lover.

They are also passionate about partnering with other local producers including BOOM Kitchen, Eat the Smoke, Privateer Jerky and Quiet Waters Farm (to name a few) to make their offering even more exciting whilst supporting other small businesses like them. Their produce and boxes are portayed to their full potential and beyond in their marketing thanks to the photography skills and food passion of Marcus Bawdon of Country Wood Smoke and Editor of UK BBQ mag.

We finally got to visit The Old Piggery, their home from home they have been working very hard on recently, to take a few pictures and catch up with them over their plans.

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1. Who is behind Veg in a Box and where are you based?

The business is a real labour of love for me and my partner Bela.  It’s lucky that we get on so well as we do everything ourselves – picking and sourcing the produce, ordering, marketing, customer service. It’s really important for us to be available for our customers whenever they need us so it’s pretty much a 24/7 operation. There’s not much time for sleep! We recently moved to new premises in Courtway Farm, Clyst St Mary. We’re still settling in but we really love it there.

2. Has this always been your job?

No, we’ve had a real change of career! Before starting Veg in a Box we were actually property developers with a property maintenance group.

I made my first fruit and veg box as a gift for a friend. I collected the produce from local farms. I thought it looked pretty good so I posted a photo of it on Facebook. By the end of that day, I had 25 orders and by the end of the week I had 90 orders! That persuaded me that it was time for a change of direction.

Bela and I started making the boxes in the spare bedroom of our tiny cottage. One day I was passing Darts Business Park and spotted Dartfresh produce, a fruit and veg wholesaler. It must have been fate. I went in and met with the owner, John Pritchard. He offered me a space to rent that same day and has mentored me ever since. He has 30 years’ experience and really knows his stuff – I’ll always be grateful for his support.

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3. I can tell you work long hours – describe your typical day

We’re up at 3am to pick up supplies for the boxes – there are no lie-ins in this business. The first thing I do each morning is check my inbox for overnight orders while Bela deals with the important work – feeding our cats and making the coffee!

We drive to the farm, where we put away any deliveries and start bagging up mountains of potatoes. Bela heads out to collect more produce from our wonderful, local suppliers. Then we start making up the boxes ready for Bela to deliver. By the time he gets back I have another batch ready for him – I like to keep him on his toes! We normally get home about 7.30pm but business continues – I carry on answering customer enquiries and placing all of our orders with our suppliers ready for the next morning.

4. You won an award in 2015, tell us more…

Last September, we decided to take a very rare day off and go camping. I wasn’t planning on answering my phone but one caller was particularly persistent so I relented and was very glad I did. It turned out to be a representative from the Devon Life Food and Drink Awards inviting us to their ceremony. A few weeks later I received a posh invitation telling us that we had been shortlisted for ‘Best Newcomer’. I actually burst into tears!

We were up against some very well established businesses and I didn’t think we had a chance of winning – I was happy just to be nominated. When we actually won, it was like a dream come true. It made all of those early mornings worthwhile.

5. Where do you get your lovely produce from?

High quality produce is the lifeblood of our business – we want the best for our customers so we’re lucky to be surrounded by wonderful, local farmers where we live in Crediton.  We source as much of our produce from Devon as we can. My mentor, John, from Dartfresh has put us in touch with some excellent local suppliers. Our neighbour, Michael Thorne, provides a lot of our tasty vegetables and the rest come from farms in East Budleigh and Yeoford. Our delicious apples are from Four Elms farm.

We’ve just started getting our salads from a new producer just outside of Bradninch and we’re meeting with local community growers to plan some lovely salads for the summer. We’ve also just had our first field planted with greens for the months ahead – I never thought I’d be so excited about a field!

6. What type of boxes do you make and approximate price range?

Today we have around 40 different boxes. But that can change quickly – sometimes I wake up feeling inspired and have a new box available online within a few hours!

Our lowest priced box is a Child’s Fruit Box at £15 and then a medley of fruit, veg and salad boxes ranging from £20 to £65. Our Deluxe Box (£45) is a customer favourite, it holds 12 free range eggs and as much fruit, veg and salad as I can squeeze into it – it’s a real whopper! Locally sourced meat boxes range from £55 to £65. We have a new range of meat boxes in development for those in training or following a particular diet or nutritional plan which I hope will be very popular.

7. I have seen a lot of redecorating posts on your Facebook page, what are you up to?

Yes, we’ve just moved to our new HQ. A lovely guy who owns a farm in Clyst St Mary showed me around some rental units but none of them seemed to fit the bill. He told me there was one more available –The Old Piggery – but he was pretty sure I wouldn’t want it. The ceiling was hanging down, the windows were rotting, covered in dirt and cobwebs and the floor had concrete pig stud in it but I just fell in love with the space. I knew I could transform it with a bit of love. It’s taken about three months and it’s almost complete – just the flooring to be finished. It’s like our second home now!

8. So what are your overall plans/vision for the future?

Now we have our HQ up and running, we plan to grow Veg in a Box significantly. We’re going to focus on letting people know who we are and what we do. We’ll be attending as many local fêtes, shows and festivals as we can – really getting ourselves out there. We’ve just commissioned the Prop Factory to help us get noticed at festivals so the next few months should be a lot of fun.

We’re also are going to continue to do as much fundraising for our chosen charities as we can. With the help of our generous customers, we’ve raised thousands of pounds for Hospice Care which we were thrilled about.

9. What makes you different from other veg box schemes?

We must be the only one that is totally run by just two people. I think that makes us unique (and exhausted!). It means that we really know our customers, their families – even their pets!

We make our boxes fun – we have themed boxes for every occasion imaginable. We’re even launching a kids master chef box soon which we hope will encourage children to have an interest in where their food comes from.

10. Tell us something funny, random or interesting!

Cats love our deliveries as much as their owners. Bela is so crazy about cats that he keeps cat food and treats in our delivery van. When we pull up, our customer’s cats are always the first to give us a friendly welcome!

Thanks to Julie for answering my questions in between her busy schedule. Devon is lucky to have a couple of veg box schemes available for the busy household, but if you like even more flexibility and choice and want to experience the epitome of personal touch – then give Julie and Bela a try! We can’t wait to see what they offer next.

To see their fantastic range of veg boxes and more visit:

www.veg-inabox.co.uk,

www.facebook.com/veginaboxdevon or

www.twitter.com/veg_box

 

Cooking on blood; Rusty Pig turns into test kitchen

The team at Rusty Pig in Ottery St Mary has been busy testing traditional English recipes to help a food writer with her research for an Oxford Food and Cookery Symposium.

Dr Jan Davison is presenting a paper looking at how offal was not always viewed as food for the poor, but was instead served up for the very wealthy, including the royal court.

“Although the principal ingredients in black pudding are seemingly modest, the expensive seasonings used as flavourings indicate it was held in high regard,” Jan explained.

She asked chef Robin Rea to make up the recipes as he is one of the few cooks in the country to still use fresh blood in his own black puddings.

Robin said: “I’ve always used fresh blood as an ingredient; I know some people recoil from the idea but blood is a natural animal product, and as always we only use animals that have been raised in the very best natural conditions, with high levels of welfare.”

As well as Robin, the black pudding ‘team’ included Rusty Pig’s Fran Lea who researched and put together the ingredients, and Steve Williams from Good Game in Topsham. They tested eight recipes using lamb, pig and cow’s blood. Amongst the stranger ingredients were rosewater and strawberry leaves.

“One recipe called for ambergris, which is an excretion from the intestines of a sperm whale, pretty rare – and it proved a little expensive at around £11,000,” explained Robin.

“Another required porpoise as the main ingredient – but we decided not to attempt that one!”

Recipes included one from the 18th century, ‘Blood –Puddings, The English Way’ that Jan found in a cookery book by Patrick Lamb, ‘Royal Cookery or, the complete court-cook’.

Jan, who has also written ‘English Sausages’, a book telling the history of English sausages from the Roman conquest to the present day, said: “It was great fun putting all the recipes to the test and seeing how they turned out.

“My research turns current thinking on its head; we have always thought of offal as the scraps of an animal carcass, and it was clearly a far more respected ingredient in earlier times,” added Jan.

As a result of the tests and a celebration of black pudding, Rusty Pig is holding a ‘Bourbon and Black’ evening on May 13. Guests will have the chance to try different types of Bourbon with the various black puddings – with no porpoise included. To find out more call 01404 815580

The Samosa Lady, Ottery St Mary

14 Broad Street, Ottery St Mary – 07879 995273 / 01404 813280

One of the aims of this blog is to showcase the best eating experiences that Exeter and the surrounding area has to offer. But there is a whole lot of stuff happening outside of the Exeter area that I encourage you to visit. One place that is hot on my radar at the moment is Ottery St Mary, and a few months ago you might remember we took a trip to visit The Rusty Pig.  This time we were guests of The Samosa Lady, whose name is Tina.

Ottery St Mary loves Tina. And Tina loves Ottery too. When she took up residence at 14 Broad Street, Tina put a call out on Facebook asking for help setting up shop payment was in curry and samosas. Tina was amazed to find a queue of eager helpers waiting to offer themsleves with brushes and paint in hand. This was the beginning of a long and happy place in the hearts of the residents of this large East Devon town.

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Through the foodie circles I move in, praise for Tina’s cuisine (especially her Samosas) has echoed. She is renowned for producing some amazing food. After she appeared at one of Hanlon’s Brewery Pop-up Evenings the positivity on social media was building me up for something epic. The expectation was delivered, the evening was as memorable as I had hoped it would be.

We were invited along to one of Tina’s dining nights where a special four-course menu is prepared with a theme; tonight’s was Eat East, a whole Asian menu fused together tastefully with Thai, Indian, and Chinese being a few themes of the evening.

The first thing that hits you when you walk through the door of 14 Broad Street is the smell. Its like some sort of olfactory welcome party, with the strong smell of spices filling every inch of cubic airspace.  It was a busy evening and, as a first for one of Tina’s events, there were named spaces as a group of friends wanted to be together.

There was no written menu, each dish was announced by our host at the beginning of each course with a wonderful fusion of different eastern styles of cooking.

The table was laid out with aperitifs, including Poppadoms; strips of scratch-made Samosa dough and to dip some home-made Mango Chutney; Aubergine Pickle and Lime Pickle.

As guests started to filter in one by one, we met our table mates.  On my left was John & Meena, both retired residents of Ottery St Mary.  On my right was Gary and Helen from Copperhill Farm Meats, who were absolutely lovely.  We shared many laughs at our end of the table.

Our first course was Peking Duck Samosas served with a tamarind chutney and Chicken Satay on Yorkshire Pudding with a cucumber salad.  I liked the fact that Tina introduced the evening with her specialty; up to this point I had never had a Samosa Lady samosa, but with my SLS virginity taken, it was clear what the fuss was about.  Beautifully cooked duck wrapped in a crispy light home-made dough.

The wonderful Chicken Satay on Yorkshire pudding was an homage to Tina’s Northern heritage.  After moving from Africa to the Gujarti region of India, Tina’s parents (Mama Samosa was present tonight!) ended up in Yorkshire.  This was a fitting tribute with the exotic satay contrasting with a such a traditional British staple; as a fusion dish it worked really well with the similar buttery flavours and that nutty, slightly spicy edge to the chicken.

Before our main we were treated to a complimentary Spiced Rum and Ginger shot.  Down in one? Or sip? I deliberated, but opted for sipping it as I am a tad strange with alcohol.

Our main dish was a Thai Seafood Curry with Ginger & Garlic infused Pilau rice with curried spinach.  The curry included a medley of different seafoods and a beautifully scented rice. The dish felt so home-cooked, as if it had been cooked in Tina’s very own kitchen at home.

Throughout the meal Tina had assistance from a small army of helpers who assisted with prepping the food, serving the food and being accommodating to the various needs of the convivial gathering downstairs and the raucous birthday party upstairs who were also taking part in the meal.

Our dessert was a spin on the traditional.  A Sticky Toffee Pudding infused with cardamom, drizzled with a Chilli Toffee Sauce and topped with saffron clotted cream with crushed Pistachios as an option.

The pudding was light as I would imagine a pudding like this to be, the addition of the pistachios with the exotic accents of this traditional British dish really worked, saffron clotted cream is a first for me but it won’t be the last.  The chilli toffee sauce intermingled with the clotted cream, playing with texture and temperature.

Communal dining isn’t for everyone.  In fact for most Brits whose idea of ‘eating out’ involves a table away from the rest of the humanity in a dark corner of a soulless restaurant, the concept of having to sit with strangers within close proximity would send them screaming for the hills.  But once diners get past that initial apprehension, it is an easy way to make friends.

This type of dining experience was fun, even for an INFJ like myself  It was immensely entertaining, and when the wine/beer/shots flow, your friend count rises gradually.

EE RecommendsTina knows how to do a dining night.  More than one person recounted ‘the time when’ something fun happened at a previous event (I think dancing on tables was involved?…), Tina has a definite band of avid supporters and it is clear to see why.  From the moment the community banded around to support her setting-up shop, that support hasn’t wavered and there is a definite place for her with her delicious smells in the heart (physical and emotional) of Ottery St Mary.

The evening cost was £35 per head.  It was BYO with table water available.

For more dining events at The Samosa Lady, check out the dining event page on TSL website and catch up with TSL on Facebook too.