Beer and Burger Bonanza at The Bridge Inn, Topsham – by Lauren Heath

The road between Clyst St George and Topsham holds many talented local businesses – Naturalmat, Sapphire Spaces, Amos Lighting and now even the operations for Good Game. Two more of these is the successful Darts Farm and the unique and historic The Bridge Inn pub.

On the back of some playground chat whilst dropping the kids off at school, the business minded ladies at both The Butchers at Darts and The Bridge Inn decided they should do a joint event, especially considering they are so close together. The Bridge Inn already holds ticket-only USA banjo infused music evenings and occasional evenings with Darts Farm providing the fish and chips for customers within their beautiful long brewhouse.

So on a lovely weekday summer’s eve in July, we ventured down to our favourite local pub for The Butchers at Darts Farm and The Bridge inn’s Burger and Beer evening.

It was a community feeling affair; it’s an incredible space filled with treasure, trinkets and furniture and all customers sitting together with friends as well as strangers (you know the saying – ‘arrive as strangers, leave as friends’), all chatting and wondering of the foodie delights ahead.

Caroline, the current owner, told us a bit about the history of this beautiful end of their pink pub. Their history page states:

It is thought there was a dwelling on this site as early as 1086, in the time of the Domesday Book. The stonemasons responsible for the construction of Exeter Cathedral may have lodged here.

The present building you see is substantially 16th Century, but the actual date of the different parts varies considerably. Unlike today, much building in the past was piecemeal, with new rooms added as necessary. Most of the fabric is local stone, but the old brewhouse at the rear is traditional Devon cob. This has the remains of the hop drying floor, and is adjacent to a large brewing chimney.

Great-grandfather was William John Gibbings from Clyst St. George. He moved into the Inn in 1897, and our family has been there ever since. The current licensee is Caroline Cheffers-Heard, his Great Grand-daughter. She is the fourth generation, her daughter Riannon will be the fifth, and Amelia, born in April 2008, will be the sixth generation.

Outside The Butchers at Darts were cooking up a storm on the Big Green Egg, with burgers galore; thankfully the weather was kind, gifting us a glorious Thursday evening.

Beers and burgers were paired up, with Caroline explaining each pairing as we went along and Alastair telling us about the meat and their flavours. We were served sizeable ‘mini’ burgers with generous servings of local ales:

  • Pork burger with Clyst St Mary’s very own Powderkeg Speakeasy
  • Duck burger with Jollyboat’s Thunder
  • Lamb burger with Branscombe Vale’s Summa That


The big finale was a steak burger with Exmoor’s Beast. This mouthful was served with delightfully fresh salads, and we ventured outside at this point to sit on a bench and enjoy the end of the evening al-fresco.


The burgers were absolutely delicious, juicy and flavoursome and of course the meat is all locally reared or sourced and expertly prepared by the Butchers at Darts.

The business is family run and based within Darts Farm; brothers Philip and Alastair are Master Butchers, which is not a common title and it means they can choose the right animal by feeling and handling it live on the farm – they even judge competitions. ‘Their knowledge and expertise of breeding, rearing, sourcing, maturing and butchering the best livestock enables us to provide you with the highest quality meat which you can trust.’ Becky, wife to Alastair, takes care of marketing side of the business and was delighted to be able to organise this event and there are plans for more so keep an eye out!

Here’s a peek inside the pub; there are two rooms indoors and both well behaved dogs and children are welcome, but noisy mobile phones are not. Don’t come here if you’re expecting lagers – this pub serves some wines and spirits but are very well known and loved for their fantastic local ales straight from the barrel with an ever changing beer menu being updated on their Facebook page each week. Food-wise they simply serve Chunk’s pasties or ploughmans with local cheese or meats.

If the weather is beautiful enough, you can be served out of the hatch (pictured top left) and sit on the benches enjoying the view!


So keep an eye out for more joint ventures with these two brilliant examples of what makes local businesses special. If you can’t wait for an event, pop to the pub for a pint and make sure you drop in at the butchers for your burgers to cook at home!


Recipe: Baked Kenniford Farm Cranberry and Rosemary Sausages with Piri Piri and Thyme

This delicious recipe uses Kenniford Farm’s Taste of the West Gold Award winning sausages and is packed full of flavour – great for enjoying in the garden in the sunshine or for a warming supper in the cooler weather. Recipe from Love Pork –

Cooking Time: 40 Minutes

Cooking Skill: Easy

Serves: 4 People



450g (1lb) Gold Taste of the West Award Kenniford Cranberry and Rosemary pork sausages

3 large sprigs fresh thyme

4 cloves garlic, peeled


15ml (1tbsp) olive oil

45ml (3tbsp) sweet chilli sauce

1 red chilli, deseeded and cut into large pieces

½ lemon, cut into wedges

2 large sprigs, vine on, cherry tomatoes



Preparation: Pre-heat oven to Gas Mark 4, 180ºC.

  1. Place sausages into a small baking pan or tin.
  2. Mix together in a bowl or jug the thyme, garlic, seasoning, oil and chilli sauce. Pour over the sausages and roll them to coat. Add the red chilli and lemon, squeezing and leaving wedges in the pan.
  3. Place in the pre-heated oven and cook for 35 minutes, then add tomato sprigs and cook for a further 5 minutes to soften slightly.
  4. Serve with mini roasted new potatoes tossed in thyme and drizzled with piri piri juices.
Wilde  460
Photo Copyright of Love Pork

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Trio of Awards for Farm’s Speciality Sausages

A Devon farm has beaten off stiff competition to win not one, but three, highly sought-after awards for its farm-reared pork products

Taste of the West awarded Kenniford Farm a gold award for its cranberry and rosemary sausages and two silver awards for its pork pie and Cumberland ring.

The awards celebrate quality, integrity and provenance of food in the west, and seek to promote and give recognition to local produce that goes above and beyond in terms of quality and taste.

Kenniford Farm has been rearing pigs in Clyst St Mary for over 20 years. The farm is Red Tractor approved and has consistently won awards for its produce.

Andrew Freemantle, owner of Kenniford Farm said: ‘This award means the world to us as we pour everything into the care and welfare of our pigs, and work hard to create delicious and innovative recipes. It’s fantastic to get this recognition for our work and passion.’

Kenniford Farm produce is sold at local stockists, and in their on-site farm shop.

Visit for more information.


Michael Caines’ MBE luxury dream finally takes flight with estuary estate at Lympstone Manor – by Lauren Heath

Down at the bottom of the garden, amongst the birds and the bees, is a hub of activity, and no it’s not the Poddington Peas…


…It’s Devon’s very own 2 Michelin starred chef Michael Caines MBE. The Exeter-based chef, who left Gidleigh Park at the beginning of 2016 after 18 years, sowed the seeds of his vision a few years ago during his notice period, as he sunk his heart, soul and many great British pounds into what once was Courtlands House. This elegant Grade II listed Georgian mansion, that was a wedding and event venue, was in need of much love and life injecting into it to bring a slightly ugly duckling to its full potential as a graceful swan…and my oh my, he has done it.

I was thrilled to be invited along as part of a bijou group for a local press lunch and tour on what became a splendidly sunny Tuesday. After parking in the car park, with no building in sight, I meandered awkwardly in my heels along a wood chip path.  From the moment you emerge from the forest path, which is peppered with stone art work for your enjoyment and seasonal bluebells, the positioning of Lympstone Manor really comes into it’s own – the view that opens up to the right is SPECTACULAR.

As you enter into the spacious foyer the furniture, décor, details and warmth hit you from every corner; it took me a moment to soak it all up and I’m sure reception will get used to guests entering and not even realising they are straight ahead of them as the arriving guest breathes everything in.


With sitting areas to the left and right, and a bar area right back leading onto the beautiful verandah with such detailed archways that run the length of the main building. Sit here with a coffee or a glass of something and just soak that view up.

If it’s a bit chilly and you can’t face the outdoors, the comfy and well filled lounge areas will keep you warm. I found it to be really well decorated, nothing was cold, bare or chintzy, just filled with warmth, comfort and exuding elegance and individual quirky seating in places.




The theme and colour palette of the bedrooms is in keeping the blue calm of the Exe estuary along with rooms named after local birdlife and hand painted by local artist Rachael Toll.


Prices start at approx. £230 per night, 5 of the 21 bedrooms having views to the rear of the property, but fear not as the interiors will make you enjoy your indoor surroundings. Plump cushions, fluffy carpets underfoot, accents of gold, complimentary Williams Chase laden gin trays, Nespresso coffee machines. L’Occitane toiletries (and the all essential GHD’s for the ladies) await you. Rooms also contain local Devon made beds from Enchanted House Beds and plush duvets from Devon Duvets.

The majority of the rooms have garden or estuary views; ranging in size, one suite even has double gold roll top baths whilst other suites boast glass fronted balconies, outdoor patios areas with fire pits, outdoor soak tubs and even private garden entrance.

For locals who don’t need an overnight expedition in the cosiness and exclusiveness of Lympstone Manor’s rooms, then the dining is where it’s at, with menus to tempt your budget when you are looking for something special.  Three dining rooms – Berry Head, Powderham and Mamhead, all with their own personalities and possibilities, adorned with Kurt Jackson artwork, are perfect for couples dining, groups celebrating or business deals over dinner. There’s even a wine room that will be available for wine tasting too, what’s not to like?


And now to the food – as Michael quotes, “after love, there is only cuisine”…

We were very lucky to be treated to canapes on the veranda before indulging in 5 courses with matching wines.

Canapés of tuna tartare, a carrot creation and breaded quails egg with the essential runny yolk.

Beautifully made selection of breads to start before diving into the first course of Pipers Farm Chicken Terrine with truffle, hazelnuts and green bean salad.

Stephanie of Exploring Exeter was impressed with the vegetarian second course of Goat Cheese Mousse with jasmin raisins, apple and candied walnuts whilst I was delighted with Warm Salad of Cornish Lobster with mango and cardamom vinaigrette and curried mayonnaise.

Third course included Fillet of Darts Farm Beef, braised cheek, horseradish and shallot confit, celeriac, mushroom puree and red wine sauce whilst the vegetarian option was a Slow Cooked Duck Egg surrounded by peas, jersey royals, asparagus and black truffle.

Pre-dessert was a beautiful Apple Mousse, with green apple sorbet and vanilla foam followed by the main dessert of Poached Rhubarb with Hibiscus, lemon sponge, lemon curd and rhubarb sorbet.

All of the courses were beautiful in texture and flavour and all tasted absolutely divine. I was even allowed into Michael’s domain to see him plate up the desserts and, having worked in kitchens myself, I was impressed by the space with plenty of room for a growing brigade.

So if you are done salivating or I’ve got your tummy rumbling….shall I remind you of the view?

I must admit I was a little sad to leave, although I did so with a smile on my face.

After lounging around like lady (or man) of the manor, perhaps you’ll find the energy to explore part of the 28 acres, soon to be vineyard (with this spot being in the top 5% of suitability due to ideal conditions), or even escape on one of the Pashley bicycles available – with private access to the public cycle trail you could dip your toes in the estuary that makes this view and venue mouth-wateringly priceless. Unique, sumptuous, delectable – and it’s right here on our doorstep.


Lympstone Manor

Courtlands Lane, Exmouth, EX8 3NZ

Telephone 01395 202040 or email

Find out more on their Website, Facebook or Twitter

Devon’s Powderkeg Brewery Wins International ‘Best Lager’ Award

Powderkeg Brewery, based in Woodbury Salterton near Exeter, has gone straight to the top with its first award, having won Best Lager at The Beer Awards for its pilsner ‘Cut Loose’.


The Beer Awards are run by the world-renowned IWSC (International Wine & Spirit Competition), with the beers judged in a blind tasting by leading figures from the international beer industry. Winning ‘Best in Show’ in its category, Cut Loose was described as ‘one of the 16 best beers in the world’. Needless to say, it’s a big award for a microbrewery tucked away in a corner of the Devon countryside.

Powderkeg is run by husband and wife team John and Jess Magill. John, who makes the beer, had this to say, “It’s really amazing. We’re overjoyed. Our intention has always been to make the best beer we can and it’s fantastic that has been recognised. But it does make me chuckle that a little Devon micro can be a world-beater when you simplify things down to just what is in the glass.”


Describing the brewery’s approach, John explained “Cut Loose is a classic full-flavoured German Pilsner in almost every way, but we add a new breed of hop called Motueka which infuses a subtle lemon and lime finish, before letting the beer mature for a full six weeks. That sums up what we are all about – progressive beers, great ingredients and not cutting corners – it’s a simple approach, but it’s surprisingly rare!”

Jess Magill went on to say, “We’re delighted to have put Devon beer on the international map. Our intention has always been to move Devon beer forwards – to shake things up, improve the quality and introduce new styles and flavours. We don’t have the budget, history or influence of other breweries, so we just let the beer do the talking – and people are clearly listening. Powderkeg is still very young and this award is just the beginning.”

“We would like to take this opportunity to thank all of the great local businesses and open-minded beer drinkers that have supported us over the last year. There are so many people in Devon that care about quality local produce, and it is to those people that we raise a celebratory pint today.”


Powderkeg only opened for business in the Summer of 2015, but already had plans in place to expand by the end of the year as a result of a successful start to life, having brewed over 200,000 pints in its first year of trading.

But don’t expect to see Cut Loose everywhere you go from now on. “We’ll hopefully increase production in the new year, but to be honest – it can’t be by much. It will remain a small batch beer, and we’ll mostly keep it for the local market. The world’s beer drinkers will have to come to Devon if they want some.”

‘Speak Easy’, Powderkeg’s Transatlantic Pale Ale, was also recognised with an award at the competition.


To see where Powderkeg is sold please visit:

Interact with them on Twitter @PowderkegBeer and Facebook @PowderkegBeer or visit their website.

The Pig at Combe, Honiton

East Devon is quickly becoming the place-to-be for foodies.  The Otter Valley itself hosts The Rusty Pig & Ottery St Mary with all its delicious offerings; Ottery Brewey, Otterton Mill and Otter Valley Ice Cream to mention just a few.

Earlier this year a hotel opened just outside Honiton that is set to firmly establish East Devon as a national foodie hotspot – along with MC’s Lympstone development taking shape at the other end, the whole region is blossoming with quality food-stops and destinations.

We were invited along to The Pig at Combe to experience for ourselves The Pig Hotel.  The hotel is located in the small village of Gittisham just outside of Honiton.

If you are coming from Exeter, be prepared to go in to Honiton itself and up through the Heathpark Business Estate and then follow the country lanes along to Gittisham.  The entrance with its large gold pig on the sign is the beginning of a long pleasant drive up to the hotel through verdant green fields.

The history of this house is extensive.  Listed in the Domesday Book, the village and the Combe Estate share connections that stretch back to time immemorial.  .

The village of Gittisham appears (as Gidesham) in the Domesday Book – a survey of England undertaken for William the Conqueror, and completed in 1086. Combe manor was recorded as belonging to the King’s half-brother, Odo, Bishop of Bayeaux. It passed through several families over the next 350 years, by which time a house – probably consisting of no more than one large room, a kitchen and a buttery, with two bedchambers above – had been built.

By 1424, the Beaumonts were living in the manor house of Combe. The family held it for almost 200 years. At one stage, during the reign of Henry VII, it passed to an illegitimate son, John Bodrugan. It was his son, Henry, who built the Combe House that we see today.

The property passed through two more families – the Putts, and the Markers – before being leased out and turned into one of England’s first country-house hotels in 1968.” –

But history aside, The Pig Hotel brand took over the lease in October 2015 (having previously been the Combe House Hotel) – by July 2016 it had been well and truly ‘piggified’ and open for business.  Within days it was fully booked.

The strength of The Pig brand has been something of a success story in the hotel world and during our visit, it was clear to see why.  The Pig founder Robin Hutson has really created something in touch with the zeitgeist

An informal yet quirky interior, married with friendly conversational service. From the minute we walked through the beautiful front door into the bar area, there was a member of staff ready to help.

At The Pig at Combe, there is no reception desk; guests walk straight in to a bar area, adorned with walnut wood paneling and comfy sofas, this is where you can wait for your table to become ready, enjoy a drink and warm yourself by the fire.

The Folly

The Pig Hotel has two restaurants, the Devon Restaurant and The Folly which you walk past on the way to the main house from the car park. Before piggification, this had been The Orangery but hadn’t served much function apart from being large and strangely placed.  It is semi-restored and sensitively decorated, bringing function and making use of valuable space.

The menu here is based around the large wood fired pizza oven.  Here pizzas and flatbreads are the order of the day; there are no reservations, just turn up and make yourself comfortable outside or inside.  We didn’t eat here, but came and had a nose around after our meal.

I had a conversation with one of the chefs (I didn’t catch his name), who gave me the low-down on what sorts of things they serve in The Folly and a bit more about The Pig’s ethos. Throughout our visit, the one thing that came across was the genuine warmth from each member of staff, who were all more than willing to chat.

After passing The Folly, guests are lead down a path to the front of the hotel and it is here that we can finally admire the view.

What a view!!, looking down from Gittisham Hill; had it not been such a hazy day we could have seen all the way to Dartmoor…

Pig At Combe (78 of 103)

The Devon Restaurant

It was our turn to walk through the front door to a small welcoming party.  We were handed our drinks menu, given a bowl of home-made lemon & seaweed popcorn and made to feel incredibly welcome.  We were going to experience the Devon Restaurant and it’s daily changing menu, sourced from their extensive Kitchen Gardens and select nearby producers.

My drink this lunchtime was going to be a bottle of Otter Bright in honour of the fact that we are in the Otter Valley and that Otter Brewery is a matter of minutes away from Combe, I felt the need to honour one of our local brewery success stories.  Tori went for the Sherry Puerto Fino which she sipped happily whilst I poked fun at her for being such an old lady in her spirit choices.

The bar area is one of the highlights of The Pig at Combe.  A long line of genuine classic first/second edition Penguin paperbacks line the mantlepiece above the fireplace, behind the bar sits glass shelves with vintage coloured cocktail glasses that gives this room a cosy unique atmosphere.

Whilst sat sipping our drinks, we were handed one of the main menus.  This is the 25 Mile Menu with nearly everything on the menu coming from either in the grounds, or from producers within a 25 mile radius.  There were some familiar names on the menu including Creedy Carver who produce some exquisitely tasting ducks and Piper’s Farm who we all know and love!  The menu changes each day depending on ingredients available.

Once our table was ready, we were led in to a large dining room, languishing in light from large windows and adorned with herbs and a spectacular collection of moths and butterfly display cases.

We had already ordered our food in the bar area, so all we had to do was sit down and take in our surroundings.

Strewn across the dining room, and in fact the whole hotel, pots of herbs and plants that went in to food and drinks served at the hotel; the window sills were forest-like with mint and rosemary, fragrant leaves adding to the interior design elements that would not be out of place in the pages of a style magazine.

Pig At Combe (15 of 103)

The menu includes a fantastic vegetarian selection, but also a section called Piggy Bits – aperitif style dishes created as a warm-up act before the headliner.


I went for Ham Hock Eggs made with quail eggs from The Pig’s very own flock of quails, Tori and her secret love of pork scratchings made her go for Pork Crackling & Apple Sauce – both (£3.75).  Perfect aperitifs to the main show!

The Hock Eggs, small and perfectly formed with a seasoned ham encapsulated in breadcrumbs and garnished with herbs and a tangy drizzle.  Had we been given three large plates of Hock Eggs I would have been happy!  The crackling was served in long strips with apple sauce to dip, perfectly seasoned and crispy in the right places!

As we waited briefly for our courses to arrive we couldn’t help look around the room; a group of ladies lunching, couples on holiday, chatting away over glasses of wine enjoying the natural light coming through the large windows which had been covered up until the recent piggification.

For starters I went for the “A Pinch of Salt” Cured Meats (£8) and Tori decided on a Courgette and Walnut Soup (£6) from the ‘Literally Picked This Morning’ section of this already inspiring menu – which, as you might have guessed, was produced with courgettes from the kitchen garden.

The Cured Meats, served on a wooden platter with a home-made chutney was garnished in greens from the kitchen garden and green olives.  The whole dish was well thought-out and put together, the meats were not overly greasy as smoked meats can be and worked really well with the chutney.  Tori enjoyed her soup that came with freshly baked bread and a toasted nut garnish across the top.

For main course I went for the Creedy Carver Duck Breast served with Roasted Carrots, Chard & Rowan Berry Sauce (£19) with a Flower Pot of Triple Cooked Chips (£3.75) and Tori plumped for the Trimlett Fam Pork Collar (£16) with a side of Buttered New Potatoes (£3.75).

For me texture of meat is as important as taste.  A tasty steak is let down if I have to chew it 100 times before swallowing.  The duck breast was cooked to perfection, silky and soft as it bathed in a light gravy; it had a richness that balanced with the accompanying vegetables really well.  And yes. I had chips with it, but what chips.  Freshly cooked and clearly made out of potato, and not an indiscriminate mash, these were perfect chips.

Tori’s pork collar was tender and as expected, perfectly cooked with a sumptuous helping of buttered new potatoes, these went down very well from the other side of the table.

We finished off the meal outside with teas and coffee, kids played happily on the large lawn outside whilst couples relaxed in the wooden loungers overlooking the wonderful view.

After relaxing outside for a bit we decided to go for a wander around the house.  The piggification of Combe House has been sympathetic to many original features, and given it is a Grade 1 listed house there is only so much one can do.

The interiors promote cosiness and a place to come and enjoy should the weather change, or just somewhere to snuggle up on a cold night.

After bumping in to the wonderful Robin Rea (hi Robin!) Chef-Proprietor of The Rusty Pig in Ottery St Mary, we strolled up the hill behind the main hotel to explore the vast Kitchen Gardens that the kitchen use to supply their daily changing menu.

The Pig at Combe showcases some of the best we have to offer in Devon.  Set in beautiful surroundings amongst verdantly green fields on Gittisham Hill overlooking rolling hills off towards Exeter.  Using home grown ingredients; some of the best local producers within a small radius and presented in a modern relaxed atmosphere.

The menu changes daily depending on season and availability of ingredients, you’ll need more than one visit to properly take in this location and appreciate some of the fine foods that are being served within its walls.

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Unpack a Trill Seasons Box for picnic-inspired perfection…

Warm days on Britain’s beautiful beaches and balmy summer evenings spent in meadows bursting with life – that’s the image evoked by the Summer Seasons Box by Trill Farm, available to order now for delivery at the end of June.

Each quarterly Trill Seasons Box is full of beautiful and natural lifestyle products, made from organically-grown or wild-harvested ingredients all supplied by the landscape, organic farm and herb garden at Trill Farm in Devon, founded by Romy Fraser (founder of Neal’s Yard Remedies).

The contents of this Summer’s Seasons box is inspired by al fresco feasts and uses local, seasonal ingredients as the basis for the delicious food items and the refreshing botanicals range.

The entire range of products are skilfully made at Trill, using minimal packaging and resources, by the community of small businesses who work there and share the collective ethos of healthy, responsible and sustainable living.

The Trill Seasons Summer box will include:

  • Trill speciality herbal summer tea
  • Picnic preserves
  • Broad bean bundle
  • Rhubarb cordial
  • Trill Farm summer lavender soap
  • Summer relief spray
  • Nourishing body balm
  • Wooden picnic bowl
  • Beeswax reusable picnic wrap
  • Picnic recipe booklet
  • Citronella candle
  • Hand illustrated butterfly postcards

Trill Seasons Boxes are available quarterly and cost £85 each. The Summer box will be dispatched on 28th June (gift vouchers are able for download from the website). Purchase here.

Foraging in Sidmouth with East Devon – by Lauren Heath


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!


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.


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.


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 or follow them on Twitter @wildeastdevon or Facebook “East Devon Countryside”.

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.

The Carless Foodie: foot-friendly foodie destinations near Exeter

Exeter Food Festival is just around the corner, and it is easy to see that our region has become a shining beacon for food lovers over the last ten years, and us Exonians are in the middle of the party. But for those of us reliant on public transport, getting out to visit some of the best foodie destinations can be tricky.

So, here are a few choice foodie destinations that are easily accessible by bus or train. All of these destinations are on reliable major routes. If you’re in Exeter visiting the Food Festival, why not pay these lovely places a visit and say hello, even if you do have a car.

Darts Farm – 6 miles from Exeter

Bus: Stagecoach Route 57 –
Cycle: Sustrans Exeter-Topsham cycle path.
Train: Exeter to Topsham on the Avocet Line, (20 minute walk).

There has been a farm shop on this site for a number of years. It’s heritage only goes to strengthen the fact that Dart’s Farm Shopping Village is one of the best in the country, and handily it is also accessible by bus, train and cycle path.


Home to Green Valley Cider (Taste Of The West Gold 2014), The Butchers at Dart’s Farm, The Fish Shed and a range of other lifestyle, kitchen and luxury gift retailers, the Dart Brothers have crafted a unique niche among the foodies in the South West.

This was recognised recently when the shop picked up FARMA Best Farm Shop of The Year 2015; Food Magazine also recognised the shop in the prestigious Food Magazine Reader Awards when it was voted Best Farm Shop 2015.

There is a bus stop outside of the farm with regular buses passing. The nearest train station is Topsham which is a twenty minute walk away. Passing ‘The Bridge Inn’ before crossing the bridge over the River Clyst which is a definite pub recommendation, especially needed if walking back up the hill from the river.

Quicke’s Cheese Farm Shop – 5 miles from ExeterBus: Stagecoach 5, 5a, 5b, 5c, 155
Train: Exeter to Newton St Cyres on the Tarka Line (24 minute walk)

Quicke’s Cheese has a long legacy for cheese-making which is just a small part of a heritage that stretches back to the 1500’s. From their own herd, they produce cheese that has won countless awards and can be found in many supermarkets and delicatessens across the UK.


At the heart of the Quickes Cheese universe is Quicke’s Farm in Newton St Cyres. This is not just home to the cows, but also to their wonderful Farm Shop. The farm shop has been listed on

The Daily Telegraph’s 50 Best Food Shops outside London. And whilst you’re visiting, why not book a tour of their cheese making facility?

Their Farm Kitchen is housed in a permanent safari tent and is available for hire for private functions and events.

Getting to Quicke’s Farm is easy enough on the bus as there is a bus stop right outside. If you’re travelling by train, it is 24 minutes by foot. Alternatively there is a farm track from Station Rd. to the Farm, but be careful as this can be muddy underfoot in wet weather.

Greendale Farm Shop – 7 miles from Exeter
Bus: 52A, 52B, X53

Near Farringdon and Clyst St Mary, on the A3052 can be found Greendale Farm Shop, a very valid alternative to going to the supermarket. Open from 8am – 8pm every day apart from Sunday when they shut at 4pm, it has a resident master butcher, a fishmonger with their very own fleet of fishing boats that haul in and deliver to the shop every day. Lobster and crabs are available from saltwater tanks ensuring they are fresh from the moment customers purchase them and a vast fish counter with every sort of fish imaginable including shellfish.

Housing their own Deli and Cafe, this farm shop has grown and expanded over the last few years. Starting from a small building (I remember this one too), it has grown to encompass a vast array of goods with a specialty for locally grown seasonal produce and specialty produce that you’re unlikely to find in a standard supermarket.

The Cafe serves a particularly nice breakfast from 8am – 12pm for £6.95 and lunch from 12pm – 6pm. They use eggs produced on site by their friendly flock of hens.

Although there is car parking available, foodies relying on public transport can use the handily placed bus stops next to the road to catch the regular Sidmouth-Exeter bus service using either Stagecoach or First services.  We had a closer look at Greendale Farm Shop recently!

And don’t forget…

The Real Food Store – A matter of metres away from Exeter’s Paris Street Bus Station. The Real Food Store has won numerous awards most recently Best Food Store in the Food Magazine Reader Awards 2016. It houses Emma’s Bread and the Real Food Cafe, which serves a seasonal changing menu.

Bon Gout Deli Magdalen Road is a hidden gem for lovers of indy businesses, and one of its longest standing residents is Bon Gout Deli. With an extensive range of cheeses and meats, this deli also offers a Cheese Wedding Cake service and outside catering, using the best local ingredients on offer. Magdalen Road is a 15 minute walk away from the Exeter High Street, and about 18 minutes from the main Paris Street bus station.

Greendale Farm Shop, Farringdon

I recently took a trip to Greendale Farm Shop that sits just outside Farringdon near Clyst St Mary.  Like many Farm Shops it has grown from small beginnings, and is now hub of local produce in what I am dubbing the Farm Shop Belt; this runs between Dart’s Farm near Clyst St George, Kenniford Farm Shop at the other end of Clyst St George, and ending with Greendale Farm Shop.

Nor am I going to compare Greendale to Dart’s Farm as they are very different beasts. Dart’s Farm has a larger floor space, more counters and many other areas beyond the food side, Greendale just about selling food.  They also have a cafe and if you fancy meeting some of the livestock, you can walk around some of the enclosures.

Greendale Farm Shop reminds me of a supermarket.  Entering in to the shop, the fish counter takes a proud place overlooking the space.

With a fleet of their own vessels, Greendale Farm has one of the best fish selections I’ve seen beyond a traditional fishmongers.  Live crab and lobster are kept in salt water tanks to ensure their freshness for customers.  Although I personally disagree with this ‘pick your own’ ethos when it comes to seafood, there is no better way to ensure freshness.

With a master butchers and cafe on site, this has to be one of my favourite Farm Shops, and certainly will be my go to place for crab or lobster, should I ever have the urge.

Photo credits to Kathleen Hacking 

Eat the Smoke, Clyst St Mary – product review by Lauren & Steve Heath

Middle of 2015, during the chilli event at Darts Farm, my chef husband, Steve, and I came across 2 jars of sauce; these weren’t just any sauces, they were Eat the Smoke sauces. The brand didn’t mean much at the time, but we were impressed by the complexity of what we tasted, so bought some to take home and try. We have been addicted ever since.

Over the next few months, we had seen Eat the Smoke at a couple of food festivals including the Beer and Bacon Festival, Topsham and Powderham Food Festival; these have been a meeting of mixed emotions, as they served delicious bbq foods to hungry punters including us, but didn’t always have stock of the sauces to sell in their own right.

Recently the direction of the company has changed slightly with more focus on selling the products rather than as a food outlet and we can now easily buy our fix from one of the local farm shops and even the man himself with the HQ only being down the road from us in Clyst St Mary – you can’t get more local than that!

With this change, new products have emerged with the addition of 5 different rubs and 2 types of nuts to add to the existing 2 jars of sauce. Steve caught up with Eat the Smoke at The Source Trade Show in February and we were lucky enough to get some samples of the new range.

The range includes:

Sauces:  Original BBQ sauce, Helluva Hot BBQ Sauce

Rubs:  Cajun Blackened Fish Rub, Creole Rub, Helluva Hot BBQ Rub, BBQ Hot Rub, Buffalo Hot Wing and Poultry Rub

BBQ Rub Nuts: Smoked Almonds, Smoked Cashews

We tested all the rubs with a variety of meats and seafood in an Eat the Smoke extravaganza one Saturday evening. Cajun Blackened Fish Rub on some juicy prawns proved vibrant, earthy and zingy without overpowering the sweetness of the prawns. Creole was used on a fillet of fish as well as ribs and hit all the right notes with a great hit of rosemary that delivers but never overpowers and is balanced enough to rub on to a meaty fish like tuna or monkfish.

We scored chicken drumsticks, rubbing the Buffalo Hot Wing and Poultry Rub in and left it to marinade during the day. Soaked them in full fat milk for a few more hours before coating them in flour seasoned with more rub; a quick deep fry to seal them up and in the oven they went. These had a delicious warmth to them, with a hint of Mexico according to my taste buds.

We marinated ribs in both rubs and sauce, with the Helluva rub giving an impressive deep smoky flavour and very well balanced spicing and heat. The blend of herbs are not overpowering and you never lose the taste of the meat which is really important.

These rubs and sauces do what they say on the tub/jar and the sizes are very generous, not a one-meal-a-tub and the uses are endless with flavours for all palettes. The bottled sauces can be used as marinades as well as being used to add to chilli con carne, make a spicy coleslaw or with pasta and if you are a bit of a chilli head, I can’t recommend the Helluva BBQ sauce enough – especially the bottom of the bottle – it’ll knock your socks off! The good news is you don’t have to have a BBQ; as we tested the products at home, we know you can easily create some delicious meals in the oven, fryer or on the stove. If you do have a BBQ, then these products will withstand the heat and cook beautifully.

So who is behind the smoke? His name is Christian. We have been on polite conversational terms when meeting each other here and there and so we cheekily invited ourselves round to his HQ to see what he has been up to and how he uses his products. Eat the Smoke has been going for 3 years; Christian has been an avid BBQ’er for 20 years, smoking for 6 and left his stressful 9-5 job to pursue his passion, making use of the momentum that this way cooking is gaining. Lately BBQ’ing and smoking are becoming more popular, making its way out of the ‘underground’ scene and finding itself in the mainstream, with great exposure thanks to recent TV cookery shows, as well as demos at food festivals with audiences embracing it.

On arrival at his site, he showed us his Pro Q smoker already on the go with chicken for the evening’s pop-up event at The Oddfellows in Exeter. Along with this he had a large normal bbq ripe and ready for some tasters for us and showed us his large smoking cabinet which can also do a cold smoke. With the coals alight, Christian told us how he was using oak shavings which are a by-product of a local timber yard – a great use of a by-product.

He had beer soaked minute steak coated in Creole rub on the go, giving the meat a great flavour. He also had ribs coated in Helluva Hot Rub, initially cooked on the fire to seal the meat, then coated in glossy Original BBQ sauce and thrown back on the fire for further cooking, resulting in a pile of sticky, saucy, spicy morsels.

As Christian himself said to us with slight embarrassment and apology in advance “there’s no polite way to eat ribs with a beard” – I would agree that there isn’t a polite way to eat ribs, even without a beard, and that’s the way it should be – food that is fun. What Eat the Smoke does is help you achieve BBQ food with ease and excellent flavours, without too much effort.

I’m pleased to say he is succeeding in getting the rubs and his delicious smoked nuts into local outlets alongside his bottles of sauces, with even some bars having the nuts for sale with their beer offering. I haven’t written much about the nuts as, in all honesty, they didn’t last longer than a few minutes once opened; I guess we’ll have to buy some more and try to savour them a bit longer. I recall them being delicious, smoky and unlike anything else currently available we believe.

I urge you to support a local guy producing flavours of the deep south of America but right here in the deep South West – give one or more a try, there’s something for everyone.

the man behind the smoke (2)

Quick Q & A with Christian of Eat the Smoke

How long have you been smoking/bbq’ing for?

Been excessively bbqing for about 20 years, smoking for about 6.

What county were you born in?

Born in Devon, so lots of beach BBQs probably in places I shouldn’t have been bbqing!

When did you start the business?

ETS started 3 years ago

What’s your favourite meat?

Favourite meat at the moment is probably my ribs. After about 3 years I feel I’ve perfected them.

Favourite way to cook it?

I go for a 48 hour dry rub, 4 hour smoke preferably over cherry or apple and then wet baste and direct heat, and once done a quick caramelise in sauce

Best type of bbq or smoker for someone to start on at home?

As a start up or home BBQ I think there’s two options. For someone who is really interested, wants to try different smoke and who doesn’t mind investing time and effort I’d go for an upright smoker like a Pro Q or Webber Smokey Mountain. They’re not very well insulated so they do need a careful eye, and do need to be watched to be checked if you’re smoking overnight.

If you’re happy straight off investing money and wanting an easy life it’s a Kamado Joe or Big Green Egg. Big investment though, and not very practical in the sense that you can’t throw it in a back of a car and take it to a party or off camping.

Plenty of people are making their own though and I just love this. Important thing is to be able to get both direct and indirect heat, and a smoking area.

The Rusty Pig, Ottery St Mary

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

EE RecommendsIn 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.

River Cottage Summer Fair 2015

In this end of the South West, we are quite lucky really.  We have a number of popular culinary landmarks that any good foodie must visit at least once in their lifetime.  Gidleigh Park, Rick Stein’s Seafood Restaurant, River Cottage HQ, The Riverford Field Kitchen in Buckfastleigh are for me, those placecs in the popular food arena which foodies need pay homage to, sacrifice a virginal aubergine, sing the hymn of the organic carrots to.  So, Chris, How many have you visited?   I hear you cry! Well…I’m getting there (slowly) but I have ticked one off my list when I visited River Cottage HQ for their lovely summer festival this weekend.

It is easy to fall in love with this part of the world, the Jurassic Coast has slowly turned itself in to one of the most desirable parts of the UK to live due to its nice climate and frequent appearances on property shows which profess the benefits of the area.  Lying near the sea with lots of beautiful rolling hills, peppered with forests and a patchwork of green fields that literally roll on as far as the eye can see (cliched but true). I would consider myself an apologist for Mid-Devon and the rugged tranquility of Dartmoor, but East Devon is definitely a sapphire on our doorstep.

If you haven’t heard of River Cottage then I can assume you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last 20 years.  In a nutshell River Cottage kicked off in 1997 when journalist/chef/ Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall bought a former keepers lodge on the Slape Manor estate in Netherbury called River Cottage.  It featured as part of the renowned TV and book series that showed on Channel 4 in the early noughties. Further series and books followed, and operations were moved from the original location to Park Farm in 2004, where the River Cottage ethos lives on.

Set in 44 acres of farmland, the farm sits on the same hill as Trill Farm (the amazing setting for my Johnny Does Dinner evening in a polytunnel where I met Tim Maddams!) and within spitting distance (pun intended) of Castlewood Vineyard, a boutique vineyard that creates sparkly stuff and has a Wine Festival too which we went to a couple of years ago.

Park Farm plays host to day events, cookery courses and is the base of operations for the River Cottage universe.  You can even book it for a wedding should you wish!  Learn how to forage, how catch fish, butcher and bake on one of their courses and now there is the opportunity to learn a chef apprenticeship at their Chefs School.

And…did I mention? River Cottage also runs a series of successful canteens in Plymouth, Bristol, Axminster and Winchester which brings the River Cottage food ethos to the masses. One might appear in Exeter, but for now I’ll have to settle for a train ride over to Axminster.

One of the many things that go on at River Cottage (here is their calendar) is their Summer Fair which is where I come in.

Our visit to the Summer Fair was an appendage to a longer trip.  We had been to see Polly, co-founder of Eating Exeter and possible future creator or Devouring Dorset (hint hint Pol if you’re reading this) who now resides in glorious Wimborne.  I’ll bash out a post about our culinary adventures in Wimborne after I’ve finished writing this post.  On the way back we decided to pass through and say hello and see what sorts of things were happening at this family friendly event.

Parking is a little way away from Park Farm which is halfway down the hill at the end of a track.  The tractor shuttle service means you’re transported from your car in style and landing safely at the bottom.  But you are allowed to walk the footpath if you feel up to the climb.

The first thing we needed when we arrived was food.  The street food stalls didn’t get much of a look-in with us as we spotted that the River Cottage Kitchen were doing plates of grub for £6.50.  This went down very well (not being a beetroot fan I am now a convert as the Slow-cooked Beetroot with Oregano was superb!  It was accompanied by River Cottage Baked Beans, Potato and Spinach Curry, English Yellow Split Pea Hummus and Pearl Barley Tabbouleh.

After we topped up our energy level, all washed down with a half of River Cottage EPA, it was time to do some exploring.  As we had arrived later then we had planned, its more than likely we missed some bits entirely as we got caught up with watching Falcons and wandering around the River Cottage Kitchen Garden.

Had we been more patient we could have had a garden tour, but for that moment we were happy wandering around this magnificent piece of horticulture.  The highlights for us were the flowering ball artichokes and the sweet pea arch.

Walking around neatly planted patches of vegetables does funny things to someone at a certain stage of their life.  It makes you want to go home and grow things, the inspiration largely washed off by the time we got home and looked at how much of our garden would have to be completely dug-over.  Could I rent an allotment? Only time will tell.  Certainly Tori being the Head Gardener has decided that we simply have to grow Bell Artichokes.

After a meander around the garden we hit the local producer’s tents.  Shaldon Bakery was represented and so was Conker Dry Gin.  Distilled in a copper still, they are Dorset’s only dry gin company and making a name for themselves with their blind optimism and fresh approach to distilling gin.  We’ll definitely be getting a bottle soon…very soon 😀

Further exploring took us up to the demo tent in the Meadow.  We just happened to catch the last part of Good Game’s Steve Williams, I really wanted to go up an say ‘hello’ but we were short on time as it was nearly time for the Falconry display!

Had we been able to come up for the whole day, I might have been tempted to sign up for one of the masterclasses that were running throughout the proceedings.  And it is a credit to the organisers that visitors are literally spoilt for choice in the sort of things that they can get involved with.

River Cottage is such an iconic piece of the food scene in Devon and the Summer Fair was a fantastic way to experience an up-close view of what River Cottage does.  Local producers, activities, large green areas for kids run around in, food to eat, masterclasses to master, things to buy, drink to drink and live music to listen to makes for a fantastic festival atmosphere.