The meal provided in this review was gratis. Views expressed are independent of the business and is not seen or approved before publication.
Halfway between Exeter and Exmouth lies the village of Exton. Residents enjoy the immediate access of the Exe cycling trail, the nearby train station giving freedom to Exmouth in one direction, Exeter and beyond in another. Another resident that enjoys this positioning, and the footfall it brings, is The Puffing Billy.
Image courtesy of St Austell Brewery
I have passed this watering hole many times myself, whilst out on a cycling or walking adventure. Many people have mentioned how good the food was and I have to say that, other than a drink or two, we hadn’t been in for a couple of years to dine. So when an invitation to try what was on offer came through I was delighted to accept and find out what all the fuss was about.
The Puffing Billy describes itself as a Restaurant and Bar; the entrance opens out to the modern bar with stools, stone flooring with sofas to the left, and a more pub-like dining area with wooden flooring to the right (the hard floor areas are dog friendly plus the garden of course). Behind the fireplace brickwork it opens out into a more restaurant like setting.
The Puffing Billy is a St Austell Brewery linked establishment which ties them down to the wet offering only, but is otherwise individual and runs like an independent with freedom to do as they please, by tenants Adam and Charlotte.
We were greeted very warmly by Adam who has been at the helm for a couple of years now; he was very chatty with a clear passion for The Puffing Billy’s offering as well as the local produce used throughout.
We design our and wine and spirit list, source our food suppliers, plan our own menus and recruit and train our own staff
This was reiterated in the informative and honest blackboard above the fireplace, proudly sharing use of the local suppliers which is always nice to see.
We noted a huge variety in diners on our Saturday evening visit; one large party having birthday celebrations were just leaving, and within half an hour the next group arrived for their family celebrations. Children, grandparents, couples young and old – you name it – they were there. So it seems a great place to dine for any occasion – we were dining with our 8 year old son and felt very at ease and welcome.
The menu offering had a great mix of items, clearly denoting vegetarian, vegan and gluten free items, along with a bijou specials menu to accompany it.
Being seafood lovers – hubby and son honed in on the sharer section where a seafood platter of mackerel pate, shell on king prawns, crab salad, home cured salmon, lemon mayo and toasted brioche were on offer. I really struggled to choose from all the delicious sounding options but opted for the duck liver and cointreau parfait, Jail Ale chutney and toasted brioche.
The shellfish platter looked fab! A really good looking board of seafood delights, all treated with care. Hubby hates it when seafood or fish is messed with too much – it just needs to be served with a delicate touch to accentuate an already great natural food. The crab salad was lightly coated in lemon mayo, the kings prawns grilled beautifully with a hint of paprika and the cured salmon was delicious – the brioche was a lightly sweet addition to match with the fish. My generous slab of parfait was wonderfully smooth, with a super yummy chutney.
For mains, my son went for the children’s beef burger, hubby opted for the fish pie and I knew it had to be the lamb shank, both from the specials menu.
The fish pie contained prawns, salmon, smoked haddock and cod, topped with a cheddar and mash potato crust, plus peas and pancetta on the side. My braised lamb shank came with fondant potatoes, seasonal veg and red wine gravy.
The mains turned up a little too fast in our opinion, in less than 5 mins – the kitchen may be well informed and have great timings for feeding the amount of people they have in, but this was a tad too fast for us – a little breather would have been nice.
Apart from the lightning speed of being served, the portions were great in size; my shank meat was as tender as I’d hoped with melt in the mouth potato, well cooked veg and a super tasty gravy. The fish pie was creamy, full of fish and I even stole some of the pea and pancetta mix which had a lovely saltiness to it. More colouring/grilling on the cheesy mash topping would have been good but that’s us being a tad picky perhaps.
We were impressed by the children’s burger which tasted like it had been lightly glazed with a bbq’y sauce or flavour – my son commented it was really meaty and delicious and we even had a nibble to try it.
Desserts are another challenge – a serious offering to choose from. I went for the apple crumble with vanilla ice cream, hubby opted for a selection of ice creams and the boy, having tested quite a few fondants lately, couldn’t resist the raspberry and chocolate fondant with clotted cream and berry sauce. Everything was spot on!
The service was friendly and efficient, food was delicious, and with great use and mention of local suppliers and a buzzing atmosphere where everyone is welcome – it’s no wonder they won Taste of the West Gold last year for Dining Pub.
So whether it is by foot, cycle, train or car – make sure you set your course to include The Puffing Billy for a drink or a meal, and invite everyone along; they will be made very welcome and leave satisfied I’m sure.
The Puffing Billy Inn, Station Road, Exton, EX3 0PR