Editor’s note – The Welcome Café have paused this offering and closed again due to viability. They hope to reopen again soon.
Exeter (and Devon as a whole) is very blessed to have many independents eateries, offering a variety of treats to visitors and residents alike. As we have seen from the last few months, many have had to adapt their offering through lockdown, whereas some have stayed closed in order to take stock of the situation, wait for government decisions and then look at moving forward if they can.
One such venue is The Welcome Cafe on Exeter Quay…. having been owned independently by Stewart and Marianne since November 2016, and opening to the public with their name above the door in February 2017, they have welcomed many customers through into their quayside café – young and old, passers by and regulars plus plenty of furry companions.
Now offering a supper club option, this makes sense in a climate where you’re not sure what passing trade you’ll have, but instead, if you can secure a fixed number of bookings, you can guarantee a level of income, order the right amount of produce, keeping waste down, and also not waste wages with lovely passionate staff hanging around due to quiet footfall.
A Little Background
I asked Stewart and Marianne for a little background as to how they came to own the cafe in the first place:
We had never owned a cafe before, I was a construction project manager and Marianne a design technology textiles teacher. We had both been talking about making a change in our careers when one day visiting The Welcome we noticed it was up for sale. The Welcome was always a favourite cafe of ours. We contacted the estate agents the same day and also booked a valuation of our own house. Within a couple of weeks or so we had put in an offer – the rest is history. We decided to make slow gradual changes to the cafe offering as there was a loyal following which we didn’t want to lose. Over three years we doubled its turnover and built a very good reputation.
Talking about when lockdown hit:
We had just employed a new chef team and had intended on making further tweaks to our offering when the lockdown hit. The cafe was so busy when we had to close we found it hard to envisage how we could reopen it safely whilst being financially viable due to the amount of staff we would need to control the flow of customers. As we have a very talented chef team we decided that for now a reservation only set menu dining event offering was the way to go. We have held many pop up restaurant events by pop up Chef Rob Dawe previously and we thought this format could work for us.
Will you only be open for the supper clubs for the foreseeable or will you open the cafe in the day too at some point?
We are going to keep the same format until the end of August and then take stock and decide what to do from September onwards. We are considering developing our afternoon offering.
The Supper Club offering can’t happen without some talent in the kitchen of course; enter Paul Brinicombe. Paul started his catering career in the RAF at the age of 16. Formally trained in traditional French cuisine he has worked in a number of well known dining establishments in Exeter including The Royal Clarence Hotel and was Head Chef at The Southernhay House Hotel. Paul describes his food as “fresh and light” and is going to lead the team to develop some very special menus. He is supported by chef Alex Borland and commis chef Adam Rendall.
I don’t really want to use the C word, or even ‘safe’… as nothing is ever guaranteed in this life, and these hard working businesses can only promise to hold up their part of the bargain, and we as customers, need to promise to do ours to achieve an environment we are all comfortable in.
On arrival, care was taken to seat each table individually; a wine cooler was promptly popped on our table for our bottle of prosecco we brought with (it’s BYOB!) and each table was equipped with their own bottle opener. We noticed each table had their own hand sanitiser in a presentable bottle (not too clinical-looking) and also our own little waste bin. Hand sanitiser was available at the entrance and rear door to the loos, with the view out to the garden a welcome one, but also a practical one due to ensure fresh airflow in the cafe.
Tables were seated a good distance apart, and the lovely bucket-like chairs were comfortable to relax in. Everything you needed was already laid on the table – enough glasses and plenty of cutlery for all courses, to minimize the to-ing and fro-ing of staff near tables and reducing touch points.
Supper Club Menu
Glazed shallot tart tatin, broad bean & pea salsa & crème fraiche: this crispy little number was lovely and light, with a fresh ‘salsa’ cosying up to it. It needed a touch more seasoning to liven the greenery up, which I happily added myself.
Stuffed lamb breast, Provencal vegetables, white beans & salsa verde: tender lamb meat rested on a bed of tomato-bean deliciousness, topped with a vibrant salsa verde for contrast.
Marinated aubergine steak, confit tomatoes, homemade ricotta, herb puree & black olive tapenade: my lovely date Steph of Exploring Exeter is vegetarian (occasionally she may stray to the meat option, but very rarely). She told me the aubergine was perfectly cooked (no hardness or bitterness), and loved the saltiness and flavours of the cheese and especially the tapenade. She could have eaten more!
Sharpham Brie, pain d’epices and gooseberry curd: this was a really intriguing combination of things, I was pleasantly surprised. Award-winning Sharpham brie (very impressed it had been allowed to rest and ‘warm up’), with a sweet, spicy almost gingerbread like slices and a tart but perfectly balanced curd. I don’t tend to eat gingery things or gooseberry – but this was a party in the mouth all combined!
Raspberry summer pudding, Devon clotted cream: a perfect looking dessert, it was lacking sweetness for me and was missing a little texture somewhere which I have fed back, but it was put together beautifully, with naughty-but-nice clotted cream on the side.
With hot drinks and a little extra treat at the end to finish the meal, we felt really relaxed – the light had slowly faded outside giving a warm hue to the sky and we knew it was time to depart before it got too dark, as we had walked to the cafe in order to enjoy our booze responsibly.
We chatted with Stewart at the end asking about their local ethos:
We use Dart Fresh Ltd, Country Cheeses and PVM Supplies. We are working hard to not only use local suppliers but local producers. We are looking to forge links with Good Food Exeter as part of this process. We are proud to be using Dartmoor farmers Association (via Dart Fresh) for our Lamb and Beef, and all our meat is Devon reared.
Any other plans for the future?
Our chef team has a lot of knowledge and experience in making their own charcuterie, preserves, fermentation, etc and we would like to explore this further and see how we could develop our food offering.
Anything else you’d like us to know?
We have had a lot of customers saying how they will miss the welcome as it was. We would just like to urge people to support us during these difficult times so we can survive and grow again, we really haven’t made our mind up on what the future looks like, we never thought 4 months ago we would be running a restaurant!
I couldn’t have said this better myself – “We would just like to urge people to support us during these difficult times so we can survive and grow again“. Hospitality businesses are having to find their way (a new way) around providing personal service, but at a distance and are finding their feet in this ‘new normal’ as much as we are. Be kind, be considerate and most of all – support your local businesses (and in, turn the local economy) where you can.
Supper Club Overview
The Welcome Cafe will be operating their Supper Clubs:
Friday and Saturday nights – 7:30pm service, 4 courses, £38
Sunday lunchtimes – 1:30pm service, 3 courses, £30
They operate a Bring Your Own Booze (BYOB) policy, and sell soft drinks, tea and coffee although hot drinks are included at the end of your meal. Dietary requirements can be catered for.
The Welcome Café, Haven Banks, Water Ln, Exeter EX2 8DU
#Ad #invited – I was invited to a pre-opening event in exchange for an honest review and direct feedback, this does not affect our opinion. Views expressed are independent of the business and has not been seen or approved before publication.