The Salutation Inn, 68 Fore Street,Topsham, Exeter, Devon, EX3 0HL –
Topsham is one of my favourite places. It sits on a peninsular of land between the River Exe and the River Clyst, both opening out in to the magnificent Exe Estuary. From Topsham Quay you can see right down to Exmouth with some of the nicest views in the area experienced from The Goatwalk or Bowling Green marsh. It is dominated by the sea, its history as a port is evident everywhere.
This nauticality (I know it isn’t a word!) seems to infuse itself in to the way of life in Topsham. Little reminders that the sea was one of the principle sources of income for many who lived and worked in the town, the bricks of the Dutch houses that line the riverside are made from bricks brought over as ballast in vessels from Holland, the numerous wharfs and quays used to house shipbuilders and rope makers, sail lofts and other trades related to shipbuilding were prevalent in Topsham’s hey-day.
And as you might imagine, there were a significant number of pubs for a town that had such large number of sailors. Although the pubs have dwindled – the infamous Topsham Ten pub crawl is now moreso the Topsham Seven – one of these pubs got a new lease of life three years ago when it was taken over and renovated by Chef Tom Williams and his family.
Tom’s grandfather had owned Deller’s Cafe, a popular destination in pre-war Exeter known for its high-tea and music acts. His parents used to run The Imperial Hotel before it became a Wetherspoon’s; and now The Salutation Inn continues this family tradition with this independent establishment showcasing fine accommodation and exquisite food
This was recognised when The Salutation Inn won Best Bed and Breakfast at the Food and Travel Reader Awards 2016 that took place on the 12th September in London!
Tom attended Exeter College as a chef trainee for three years graduating as Top Student then to Gordon Ramsey at Hospital Road in Chelsea. After that he took up position at Petrus under Marcus Waring before returning to Devon and working his way up to Sous Chef at Gidleigh for Michael Caines. During the refurbishment of Gidleigh Tom had a spell in France for the Rothschilds and immediately prior to The Salutation Inn Tom was at Abode in Exeter as Executive Chef for three years.
The Salutation Inn, a Grade 2 listed property, was previously a bit of an old man pub – there was a lot wrong with it. It was owned by Punch Taverns and provided a rather sedate pub menu with a range of ‘the usual’ beers on draught. It wasn’t particularly memorable. When the Tom’s family bought the Inn on new years eve 2010, the long process of turning an empty shell into a fine dining 30 cover fine dining restaurant with accommodation and 45 cover glass atrium began in earnest.
A lot of hard graft went in to getting what it looks like today. Working with English Heritage, the Salutation Inn’s unique features have been sensitively preserved; this includes their porte cochère’ (carriage porch) which has been described by English Heritage as, one of the largest single leaf doors in the country.
I have been eager to dine here since it opened so when were were invited along to see The Salutation Inn for ourselves, I was over the moon!
Our tasting menu tonight had been carefully put together by Tom and cooked by himself personally – it was a showcase of this chef’s talent and exacting nature with the dishes that leave the Salutation’s kitchen.
Arriving through the historic single leaf door, we were greeted by Amelia (Tom’s partner & Hotel Manager) and her team. Taking a comfortable seat in the modern and tasteful drawing room, we selected our wine on recommendation, which was a delightful 2014 Banfi, Toscana San Angelo Pinot Grigio which was the perfect accompaniment to our meal.
Before our meal though were three delicious canapes, perfectly balanced morsels presented tastefully on slate.
The duck liver parfait and celeriac was presented in a tiny jar with an even tinier spoon to scoop. Both being fans of parfait and small spoons, we were excited when we were presented with this lovely selection.
With our parfait we also had a Cheese Choux Gougere and Tomato & Basil Arancini as well, both delicate and quite delectable.
Our table ready, we were moved into the main restaurant for the first course in our tasting menu. The restaurant is tasteful, modern and relaxing without too much distraction from the main pieces of artwork that were plate-based. The seats were particularly comfortable, the cutlery was clean and the glasses shone. The attention to detail is not just reflected in the food.
On route to the restaurant, Tori had remembered how much she loved Tom’s scallops having had them previously at an event last year. Two things she loves is scallops and peashoots so imagine the joy when the apperitif appeared.
Just as we had both remembered, the scallops had a soft silkiness to them and with the earthiness of the peas and the savory palette of the bacon; it came together. Having never had a seafood item with bacon, this is something I would love to try again.
Our next course was a Beetroot Salmon Gravadlax with Horseradish Ice Cream. A colourful cacophony visually and in its taste. Gravadlax is cured Salmon; typically buried in salt, sugar and dill – this is a Scandinavian method of curing fish which I’ve never tried before – which was delicious. The River Exe salmon that The Salutation Inn serves is one of the few places in Exeter serve this rarity, given the fishing of these fish are controlled so strictly. During the season Tom’s father, Ed Willams-Hawkes catches the fish and walks them up to the restaurant freshly caught.
Lightly curried Monkfish, mussel and apricot cannelloni served with leeks and saffron sauce was our first main. Perfectly presented, the saffron sauce and monkfish worked together with the earthiness of the mussels. The mussels were silky and expertly cooked.
Our final main was Brixham turbot, lobster, asparagus and wild mushrooms. A beautiful buttery sauce and the richness of the lobster certainly had me. We had previously seen Tom cook a lobster at the Food & Design Festival at Sapphire Spaces last year, so this was a definite highlight of the meal. Lobster is tender and sweet, a meat that can take a bit of getting used to if you’re new to it, but very rich in taste and not ‘fishy’ like some seafood can be.
After such a variety of dishes we finished off the meal with a White Chocolate Granny Smith, white chocolate ice-cream with a wall of apple crumble lining the perimeter.
After the meal diners can retire to the drawing room for tea and coffee. We received Petit Fours as compliments from the chef, which included macarons, fudge and a wonderfully refreshing iced mint glace.
This is what The Salutation Inn is all about. Luxury, local produce in a menu that changes dependent on season and ingredients cooked by a talented chef who healms one of the most desirable places to stay in the UK…
After our petit fours I caught up with Tom and his talented team including Ethan (right) and Jack Sharland who is going to be competing in South West Chef of The Year semi-finals in October (Good luck Jack!). Their passion and expertise is evident just talking to these guys.
The Salutation Inn is a local benchmark for fine dining for me. Steered by a select team whose passion for what they do is evident in conversation and in a much deserved award.
If you fancy experiencing it for yourself, there is a special evening coming up hosted by Liam Stevenson called
“A journey through the Languedoc-Roussillon… with a Master of Wine”
It sounds like a fantastic experience for wine lovers and is definitely worth considering as I doubt this will be repeated.