10 Questions with John Burton Race – by Lauren Heath

John Burton Race is well known for being a passionate chef with a reputation that precedes him.

Having worked under chef Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons, back in the 80’s, and gaining his first Michelin star whilst heading up the restaurant and kitchen, he has since moved to France and back, had books published, worked in television and owned and run his own restaurant ventures. In 2016 he co-founded a private catering venture, Two Grumpy Chefs, with Totnes based chef Chris Shervill.

With one of his previous restaurant ventures being in Dartmouth, he previously lived in Devon from 2004 to 2010 and he has now returned to enjoy the quiet that Devon’s countryside has to offer whilst enjoying an exciting and busy role with Richardson Hotel Group.

At the end of 2016, it was announced that he would be heading up the kitchen and restaurant at the newly refurbished The Grosvenor Hotel, Torquay – also with a reputation that precedes it, the hotel with a haphazard owner was the star of a Channel 4 television show, called The Hotel. A match made in heaven you may say.

At the end of the day, chefs work incredibly long hours in a job they do more for love than money, otherwise they wouldn’t do it – so passion and drive is what’s needed and can often be mistaken for a difficult personality (I too, am married to a chef, and I know how passionate they can be). Either way, whatever drives John – it works.

We thoroughly enjoyed his incredible food and delightful service at the refurbished Grosvenor earlier this year, which you can read here.

In between John Burton-Race wrestling with lobsters, and dishing out divine Michelin level food, he was kind enough to answer 10 questions for us:

1 – In your spare time (probably rare, we realise) what do you like to do to relax?

Fishing, walking, riding and shooting.

2 – With nearly a decade since your last cookbook, any plans for another on the horizon?

Yes, I’d love to write a new cook book and base it on my dishes at the Grosvenor.

3 – The Grosvenor was the venue for Channel 4’s infamous show ‘The Hotel’ with the funny but hap-hazard Mark Jenkins; did you ever watch it and, if so, is it strange being there?

No, I never watched the show nor have I met Mark Jenkins. However, I am aware that it used to have somewhat of a reputation, this however has already changed.

4 – As seen on the telly, the hotel has great potential with the event room, large restaurant, bar area and swimming pool. Are you looking forward to the variety of menus you can offer?

Yes, absolutely and new menus for all occasions are in place.

5 – I love a well laid out kitchen, and some mighty stainless steel.  With a complete redesign of the kitchen, what is your favourite piece or gadget or is there something you’ve had put in that you’ve always wanted?

I have lots of gadgets but my favourite has to be my water baths and my Paco-Jet.

JBR (27 of 53)

6 – Is there a seasonal favourite, old favourite or signature dish that you hope to put on the menu?

All of my dishes are my favourite dishes, however, I am a self-confessed chocoholic, therefore something chocolate will be at the top of my list.

7 – My husband and I enjoyed being guests on Market Kitchen in 2009 when you were cooking a brown shrimp dish with Tom Parker Bowles; do you miss doing television or is it too tiring in comparison to the adrenaline of the kitchen?

I love doing television and hopefully will do some more in the future. It’s a different type of pressure, but I love it.

8 – We shared your news about the hunt for some talent for your kitchen team, how’s that going?

The Hunt is going really well, in fact there are only two positions that I need to fill now.

9 – Once you have a great team in place, are you still hoping to fit in your private catering Two Grumpy Chefs occasionally?

Occasionally. Possibly.

10 – It must be refreshing that Richardson Hotels Group is privately owned, with just a few well picked establishments here in Devon and Cornwall.  How did the opportunity come about?

Mr Richardson found me. And what a treasure he found! (I think he was contacted by my agent, Sue Hesketh)

Thanks to John for his time and answers; we highly recommend you hot foot it down to Torquay and sample his tasty offerings!

*Photos courtesy of Richardson Hotel Group.

 

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Seafood Delights at Salcombe Harbour Hotel – by Lauren Heath

Salcombe – a glorious South Devon waterside town, full of ambitious and successful businesses from Salcombe Gin and Salcombe Dairy to Favis of Salcombe and Jack Wills – it has become a name synonymous with quality.

On this basis, it’s no wonder the Harbour Hotels Group snapped up this top of the estuary, hillside-set property. The Salcombe Harbour Hotel, a 50 bedroom building, was extended with a spa and the Jetty Restaurant back in 2013, maximising the available space, glorious estuary views and thus increasing the overall offering to clientele visiting from near and afar.

We were delighted to have been invited to try the Jetty Restaurant; headed up by Chef Alex Aitken and Head Chef Jay Gulliford, the website informs us they are proud to be ‘Serving local and seasonal dishes, with fish landed daily and a local larder of delicious seasonal produce on its doorstep, The Jetty offers an exceptional Salcombe dining experience. Our Chefs combines expert knowledge with a passion for local ingredients, to create outstanding seasonal food.’

After making a day of it, venturing down the South Hams on a mini food tour and enjoying late-afternoon wave jumping at North Sands, we were ready for dinner!

We were a little early so took advantage of the al-fresco seating and ordered some drinks whilst we perused the extensive menu. We did have to wait a little while to have our drinks order taken, but thankfully the view kept us occupied.

There are a few sections seating, some on the balcony directly in front of the restaurant and then some top sections, with even more of a view and glass balustrades high enough to not block said view, but instead reduce any breezes or chills.

Once we settled into the restaurant, we took stock of the light and smart yet warm, casual feeling to the bar and restaurant area, with estuary views out to the front – a large flowing space with earthy seaside tones, plump seating and clean, crisp whitewash ceilings to give an even more spacious feel.

The venue is a mix of high rollers, families and couples all with their own style – smart, casual or even beach ready, which gives this a nice feel of comfortable elegance.

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Whilst we viewed the extensive menu and specials, we opted for the ‘While You Choose’ pre-starters of Deep Fried Tempura Oysters served with fine diced shallot & vinegar, Cockle Popcorn served with sweet chilli sauce and Seafood Jetty Bites. We were very pleasantly suprised at the beautiful presentation and taste of everything. Light batter, fresh zingy dips, and the whitebait was clearly breadcrumbed in house – a great start (p.s. if you’re a bit unsure of oysters, I highly recommend having them battered, it’s my new favourite thing!)

Starter options included a varied selection of vegetarian, meat and fish – we opted for Scallops, Apple and Bacon as well as Crispy Salt and Pepper Squid. The scallops were as I would expect, but that’s the beauty of a classic combination like this – smokey bacon, sweet juicy scallops with a bit of added sweetness and crunch offered by its foodie bedfellows. The salt and pepper squid was completely different from what we imagined arriving, but not negatively so; squid cooked just right on a bed of salad leaves, pea shoots and peppers for a bit of crunch with a lovely complimenting dressing bringing it all together.

Choosing from mains would have been incredibly hard, save for the fact I told myself if there was lobster thermidor on the specials, that it would be the one – and it was! An all time luxurious favourite (and rare treat) of mine, it did not dissapoint.

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Hubby ordered Jetty on a Plate – South coast fish and shellfish with fennel, tomato, herbs & beurre blanc; a delicious array of fish and shellfish, with spring greens and a light butter sauce – he doesn’t believe in messing about with fish too much and this was very much to his taste.

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Other main courses include Duck and Squid, Ruby Red Beef, Monkfish and so on…all sounding tantalisingly individual making it hard for the diner to choose but all certainly a bit different from other restaurant fair. (making this ‘what do I choose’ scenario not a bad middle class problem quite frankly) – so choose wisely or maybe sneakily convince your dining partner to have something you also like the look of and steal from their plate, or share amicably – best of both worlds!

Desserts of  Dark Chocolate Fondant with Salcombe Dairy salted caramel ice cream and Crunchy Peanut Butter Parfait with roasted nut crumb, rich Belgium chocolate were our final victims for the evening. Good puddings, although I found the parfait plate a little too much of the same texture, still tasty nonetheless, and the fondant was possibly 60 seconds past perfection – but technically, this is a hard one to hit on the nose.

Overall, the food was delicious, well presented and of good portions sizes, but sadly the service was a little hit and miss in our section. I noticed nearby servers giving a wonderful personal approach to their tables and feel that this is what the venue is striving for overall and perhaps we were just a tad unlucky that evening. For the price point and venue though, I would expect this to be a slicker affair, and perhaps they could tighten this up a little.  We enjoyed a very relaxed evening, nonetheless, before sailing away into the night (not on a boat sadly, just driving home).

Co-editor Chris recently visited for Afternoon Tea, which can be found here if you’d like to see what else is on offer.

Salcombe Harbour Hotel, Cliff Road, Salcombe, South Devon, TQ8 8JH;

01548 844 444 salcombe@harbourhotels.co.uk

Website           Twitter           Facebook           Instagram

Ex Royal Clarence chef heads up restaurant at new luxury Devon hotel

BRAND new Devon luxury hotel and events venue Paschoe House has appointed Alex Gibbs as Executive Head Chef.

The stunning 10-bedroom manor house on the edge of Crediton throws open its doors to the public for the first time in its 800 year history this month.

And Tabitha Amador-Christie, Owner of Paschoe House, believes her new chef will play a vital role in the hotel’s success.

Alex Gibbs and Tabitha Amador Christie. Picture credit Neil Gratton Photography
Alex Gibbs & Tabitha Amador-Christie; Image Copyright of Neil Gratton Photography

She says: ‘Alex has an excellent reputation. I am excited about his creativity in the kitchen and can’t wait to see what delights he and his team produce from our brand new kitchen at Paschoe House.

’Alex previously held the position of Executive Head Chef at The Royal Clarence in Exeter. He sadly lost his job when the world famous hotel and restaurant burned down in October 2016.

‘All the staff from The Royal Clarence, many of whom had worked together for years and years, became unemployed overnight. It was soul-destroying, not to mention incredibly sad, to watch the venue that we’d loved, burn to the ground,’ says Alex.

But every cloud has a silver lining, and it was a supplier whom Alex had known for a number of years, who suggested that he contact the owners of Paschoe House, a brand new restaurant, hotel and events venue near Crediton who were looking to serve beautifully cooked, locally sourced food from their country house base.

He adds: ‘As soon as I heard about Paschoe House, I realised that this was exactly where I wanted to be. I fired off my CV and met the owner that same week. We open shortly, and I’m currently busy setting up the kitchen and creating our menu.’

So, what is it about Paschoe House that makes it such an appealing prospect for a chef such as Alex?

Alex Gibbs at Paschoe House. Picture credit Neil Gratton Photography
Image Copyright of Neil Gratton Photography

‘At the moment we’re busy planting up our kitchen garden, so it’s wonderful to be part of something from the very beginning. I have the opportunity to create the sort of menu that will make the food at Paschoe House stand out from its competitors, and that is very exciting indeed.’

Tabitha adds: ‘As soon as I heard from Alex, I knew that I’d be a fool not to appoint him as our new head chef. The food at The Royal Clarence had such an excellent reputation, so I knew that we’d be in safe hands.’

For more information about Paschoe House visit the website at www.paschoehouse.co.uk

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…

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…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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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Lympstone Manor

Courtlands Lane, Exmouth, EX8 3NZ

Telephone 01395 202040 or email welcome@lympstonemanor.co.uk

Find out more on their Website, Facebook or Twitter

The Swan at Bampton – by Lauren Heath

You know those days, between the seasons, where there’s just enough warmth yet still a chill in the air? There’s the lure of a country walk to inhale fresh air and appreciate nature as she removes her winter layer or gets ready to batten down the hatches.

That feeling seems to envoke the need to find a resting place so as to reward yourself for said walk, or cosy up to comfort yourself if the rain fell. A perfect place to fulfil any such  need or even just as an excuse to get out of the house if the walk had not been possible at all, is The Swan at Bampton.

Situated just outside Tiverton, The Swan at Bampton is owned and run by Paul and Donna for what is now their 10th anniversary year, it has been rewarded with many accolades including Top 50 Gastro Pubs and 2 AA Rosettes. The website informs you that ‘The Swan, being the oldest pub in Bampton, was originally lodgings to accommodate the masons and other craftsmen who were hired to enlarge the church in 1450. St Michaels church can be seen from the terrace just behind the pub.’

It still holds a sense of history with its beams and stoney walls, but has had a beautifully tasteful and modern refurbishment, whilst still keeping warmth and charm.

Having engaged with Paul on social media for some time due to my drooling over his food images, I finally found the perfect excuse to visit – Mothers Day. I didn’t want anything fancy, just a blimmin’ good roast and with his ethos of local meat, and comforting yet modern food, I had no doubt it would be good.

After enjoying a stroll in the sunshine along the Tiverton Canal, we arrived at 4:30 so as to enjoy Linner or Lupper (somehow not the same ring to it as brunch…I’ll fetch my coat!) We settled down at a table near the bar. There was evidence it had been very busy but nonetheless we were welcomed with smiles and served with ease, even Paul gets involved in ensuring his customers are happy (both Paul and Donna cook as well).  With no official children’s menu, the younger ones are encouraged to choose from the mains and they are happy to serve a smaller portion ensuring the children eat just as well as their parents and none of this chicken nugget malarkey. (Don’t get me wrong, they have their place..but when you eat out, eat fresh).

So both my hubby and I settled quickly on roast beef and my son wanted the roast pork. There were plenty of main menu items nearly seducing us but I hadn’t had a pub roast in forever, and for once this ensured I didn’t dawdle over my choice.

The pub has its bar placed well in the middle of the ground floor with around 10 tables to the front left and right, fireplaces on either side for those colder days, and a small more cosy dining area set back upstairs with 4 or 5 tables.

Locals surrounded the bar area enjoying a catch up, with roast potatoes on deck for a thirst inducing snack. The bar includes the usual suspects with regards to drinks along with some great local beers and ales. We enjoyed a lager called Curious Brew, brewed using the champange method, it was refreshing and slightly fizzy, a clean and refreshing partner for the impending meat feast.

What arrived was fantastic; beautiful meat, on a bed of crispy roast potatoes, yorkshire pudding and a sticky and sweet oven roasted red onion. My son’s child portion arrived looking very similar and he was delighted to see a bit of fat (how he stays skinny, I’ll never know!). What followed was even more pleasing; not just a bountiful offering of vegetables but a jug of meaty gravy and a jug of cheese sauce!  It was all just gorgeous, and these jugs were an extra I wouldn’t expect to receive but it just shows how Paul and The Swan know what their customers want. The veg consisted of leeks, heritage carrots, broccoli, cauliflower and a wonderful pot of sweet potato mash. All this for £11.95, this was a roast with the most and for a greedy gravy guzzler like me, it was nice not to have to ask for more!

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My son completely cleared his plate which was a sure sign of enjoyment as he has a tendency to get distracted, it goes cold and he leaves some aside…but no dithering here. At £6.50 for a child portion, it includes a bowl of ice cream to satisfy the mini-me’s sweet tooth requirements. He gave it a big thumbs up and 100 out of 100!

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For us bigger kids, the normally savoury husband found one of his favourite puds was on the menu, and went for it – treacle tart with vanilla ice cream. I struggled to choose from the great options but the mini egg ice cream that accompanied the chocolate brownie somehow swung it for me…boy it was good. Gooey, cakey, crispy, warm, chocolatey,  bitter chocolate balanced with sweet with honeycomb bits for extra texture….delicious indeed. Hubby was super happy and impressed with his choice – a crisp pastry bottom, with a gooey layer then tasty treacle top, best he has had in a long time.

Well it was time to go, and be drawn out into the evening with the church bells a ringing amid the clear skies.

Want great pub food, that surpasses your expectations but doesn’t break the bank, best flap your wings and swan over to Bampton. If you’re too full to leave, there are some tastefully appointed rooms above to sleep it off.

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The Swan, Station Road, Bampton, Devon EX16 9NG. Telephone: 01398 332248.

Email: info@theswan.co

Web: www.theswan.co

Instagram: theswanbampton

Twitter: @theswanbampton

Facebook: @theswanbampton

*I’d like to add that there is good access and enough room for those with accessibility needs as well as parents with pushchairs.

Tuesday to Saturday
Midday – 2.00 pm
6.00 pm – 9.30 pm

Sunday
Midday – 2.30 pm
6.30 pm – 8.45 pm

Monday – 5.00 pm – 11.00 pm
Tuesday to Thursday
Open all day until 11.00 pm

Friday & Saturday
Midday – Midnight
Sunday – Midday – 10.30 pm

 

 

 

 

Dinner and Overnight Stay with John Burton-Race at The Grosvenor, Torquay – by Lauren Heath

Being ex-hospitality, I find it interesting to watch certain reality series like Four in a Bed and Kitchen Nightmares – having been there, done that, you wander how on earth people can get it so wrong. Another entertaining fly-on-the-wall show was The Hotel on Channel 4. The Hotel itself was The Grosvenor in Torquay, which was owned and run by Mark Jenkins – a haphazard yet entertaining guy who, bless him, always tried his very best. But with little money in the pot and micro managing everyone around him including some larger than life characters, this big hotel with even bigger potential just seemed to fall at every hurdle. We had even passed this hotel on a day out, and in sheer nosiness, popped in for a quick browse mid-fame.

Fast forward a couple of years and my, how things have changed. The hotel has since been purchased by the Richardson Hotel Group, a privately owned business with Keith Richardson still very much at the forefront. Along with The Grosvenor, they own 6 seafront hotels in Devon and Cornwall including The Grand in Torquay, and then The Fowey, The Falmouth and The Metropole Hotels in Cornwall.

Since purchasing the hotel, it was recently closed for a short period of time to push its refurbishment plans through as well as completely renovating the kitchen for it’s new michelin starred captain at the helm: John Burton-Race.

Some of you may or may not know who John is but one thing that precedes him is his feisty reputation. Saying that, JBR, who has had recipe books published, cookery tv shows and his own restaurants under his belt has been living a much calmer Devon life for quite a few years and it seems fitting that he is the one bringing order to this once chaotic establishment.

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John Burton-Race – image provided by PR company

Interestingly nearly 9 years to the day, I met John Burton-Race whilst being a guest on set of Market Kitchen in London, where John cooked brown shrimp for us, so I was intrigued by the news of his appointment.

So with this combination of life stories and events, I was delighted to have been invited for an overnight stay to test out the accommodation and food offering in this fairly local seaside town.

The front of the hotel has been treated to a good facelift to freshen things up as has the interior. We were checked in promptly and advised on the location of our room so off we toddled, wheelie bag in hand ready for a proper nosey.

Our room was enormous! Large bed, very high ceilings, tall windows to match. There was plenty of storage for those longer stays, and a nice pair of chairs with coffee table for relaxing. There was even a fridge which was great for a few treats we had brought with, and it wasn’t a noisy ‘buzz all night’ type of fridge. We had seen this room before on the telly, and it was tired and a bit wasted – but now it was fresh and clean. It was not what I would call luxurious – but it didn’t need to be, this is not a boutique hotel – it is comfortable and gives value for money, and they understand the price point of the guests they are likely to welcome here and have not over egged it.

We enjoyed the pool and jacuzzi facilities; a slightly roman-inspired area with its curves and decor. There is also a sauna to use if you wish to sweat anything off. After our relaxation, we then returned to the room to refresh ourselves for dinner.

Prior to dinner, we were sat in the lounge area to peruse the menus – the a la carte menu with individually priced items and the 6 course tasting menu priced at a very affordable £50 per head. If you have booked Dinner, B and B it includes the a la carte and if you really fancy the tasting menu you can pay a small fee to ‘upgrade’. We ordered our drinks with hubby being well advised on a good gin to go for, to fulfill his current drinking fad.

The restaurant tables were well spread out, private enough for your own conversation yet filled enough that there was a lovely buzz in the room from other tables. The lighting was right, the service smooth and effortless and it was non-intrusive. James the maitre’d, really had it; that irish charm goes a long way but he exuded genuine customer care and the right amount of humour. I had my ear out listening to him with other diners and he could certainly read his customer which is a much needed talent amonst a good front of house position.

Dinner really was sublime. I have mentioned before how chef hubby, Steve, is hard to please or impress but he had a wonderful evening, as did I.

It all started with an amouse bouche of seafood raviolo, with crispy fish skin and an asian salad. For starters Steve chose the Salad of Beef Rib served with truffled potato, watercress, hazelnuts, and sour dough crouton. I had my eye on the lobster ravioli in lobster bisque as seen on Twitter and thankfully it was still on the menu. Both starters were just beautiful, each element singing through and packed with flavour. My ravioli was bursting with a hunk of tender and meaty, sweet lobster.

For mains Steve flew for the Roast Devon Quail, herb purée, beetroot, quail jus, and tarragon gnocchi and I leapt at Roast Chump of Lamb, jerusalem artichoke, purple sprouting broccoli & tapenade jus. All the meat was cooked to perfection – juicy, tasty and well taken care of. Steve loved his gnocchi and I must say the Jerusalem artichoke puree was an eye opener for me and a flavour triumph – earthy yet sweet.

For dessert I couldn’t decide (what’s new) but was recommended one and thought why not, sounds interesting. It was Sweetcorn Custard, toffee popcorn, quince sauce, and popcorn ice-cream. It was a set custard, not sweet or savoury – somewhere in between but the accompaniments added the dimension and enhancement.  Being me, I could have done with something sweeter but it was tasty and something I’ve never seen before.

Steve opted for a selection of the cheeses which included Ossau-Iraty, Glastonbury Cheddar, Raclette, Sharpham’s Elmhirst, Crottin de Chevre Melusine, Morbier, Langres, Fourme d’Ambert. He was very impressed that these were stored in the dining room at room temperature, cut to order and was a very satisfied customer once he’d munched his way through.

Pleasantly full we headed back to our room for a good sleep. The bed was very comfortable and the room a good temperature.

Morning came and we ventured for breakfast in the same dining room, only with her morning wear on, with lots of homemade pastries, local yoghurts and such items on the central table with a breakfast menu to choose from as you would expect.

Breakfast was good; the only thing that really let it down was the coffee – or lack there of. It was filter coffee in the coffee plunger but it was either weak coffee granules or whoever is making it doesn’t know how it tastes as a finished product and therefore isn’t spooning enough in – it wasn’t good. I suggest they invest in a filter coffee machine or coffee shop type instrument – perhaps this is on the shopping list, as I really can’t start the day without a good cup of java.

We were sat on the higher glass extension end of the restaurant and so had a view out on to the garden and it was light and bright. I ordered the eggs benedict and Steve ordered the smoked haddock. Both very tasty but the haddock could have been a bit more generous in size or at least with a muffin for sustenance. We saw other diners enjoying the Full English and it looked to be of great quality and a good portion. Overall we were satisfied and the service was very good.

So with full bellies for the second time in just under 12 hours, it was time to venture back out to the real world. The hotel’s refurbishment is stylish and comfortable with many more things to come in the entertainment spaces. There is also an outdoor pool with plenty of potential for the summer months if the weather is kind to Torquay and it’s visitors. The hotel is perfect for families and couples alike, and I think the upcoming refurbishment will include family friendly dining to accompany the Michelin star level offering.

For a stay in Torquay, The Grosvenor is like a caterpillar, finally becoming the butterfly it so deserves to be; perfectly formed for its purpose. As for the restaurant and dining experience, well you need to try it for yourself; a warm glow at the belly of the beast, albeit a much calmer beast, with outstanding dishes showcasing the best the South West has to offer.

To add a bit of adventure to your lunch or dinner outing and allow you to enjoy a tipple from the vast choices on offer, why not catch the train down from Exeter? The hotel is only a 5 minute walk from the train station, and would really add to the whole experience. If you can’t manage a stay, once contently filled with your delicious dinner, perhaps a nap on the train home will have to do.

With John having experienced French living back in the day, I hope the English Riviera will now satisfy, where he can add his je nais se quoi to Torquay and The Grosvenor for the foreseeable future.

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The Grosvenor Hotel, Belgrave Road, Torquay, TQ2 5HG

Website: www.grosvenorhoteltorquay.co.uk

Twitter: @GrosvenorTQ

 

 

Dinner at newly refurbished Circa 1924 – by Lauren Heath

Circa 1924 is already one of my favourites out of all the chains and independents. I have enjoyed their Express Lunch a few times (see my review here), taking friends with to show my ‘secret’ off. But this place should be far from a secret – it deserves to be found and filled with both diners and drinkers.

On this occasion I was invited for dinner; the interior has recently had a slight refurb to make the downstairs more diner focussed by removing the bar area, with upstairs fulfilling that part of the business with live music sessions every Friday. The upstairs is beautiful, with apex beamed ceilings, it’s cool yet cosy and a great place for a date or group gathering.

On a chilly Saturday night, we ventured out on the bus with our 6 year old son, so that we could enjoy a drink or two.

I always struggle to choose what to eat here; I would eat it all – it all sounds so delicious and there is a nice selection of meat, fish and vegetarian options. Of course, as important as the food is the drinks offering, which is extensive too – wines, soft drinks, craft beers and cocktails.I had no hesitation in choosing my favourite Espresso Martini and Steve made a special request for a Margherita.

So on to the food!

Whilst deciding, and due to having an ever -hungry child, we had some bread to start. It was lovely selection with some high quality butter and ewas consumed with gusto.

For starters I opted for Cured Loin Of Local Venison with Västerbotten cheese, wild mushrooms & lingonberry coulis whilst Steve chose the Crispy Softshell Crab with spring onion, house sweet chilli & wasabi. As ever, I had trouble choosing between the venison and the bisque so ‘blow it’, we order the Brixham Crab Bisque with butter poached king prawns & homemade bread as well to share.

The venison was soft and tasty, with a tang from the cheese and sweetness from the coulis. The softshell crab was beautifully crisp, texturally soft inside and sweet – really yummy. The bisque had a good amount of depth to it with two very plump and sweet prawns. A delightful start to our meal.

For mains I went for the Rump Of Local Lamb with roasted garlic purée,buckwheat pancakes & sour cream and Steve had his name on the Local Fillet Of Beef served with potato muffin, tenderstem broccoli & red wine jus. Our son enjoyed the starter softshell crab along with a side of skin on fries which he rated highly!

Both meats were cooked perfectly, were soft and full of flavour with no chewy bits in sight. Muffins and pancakes were light and all the elements worked well together. We were also enticed by the option of adding surf to our turf and enjoyed two fried oysters, which were absolutely delightful – something I have always wanted to try.

Last but certainly not least, it was dessert time! I opted for the Dark Chocolate Truffle Torte, vanilla-coffee mascarpone, honeycomb & blackberry coulis whilst savoury Steve was delighted by the chance to have Selection of Three Cheeses which came with a fantastic variety of crackers and crisp bread. My pud was rich dark chocolate, lots of crunchy textures, blobs of creamy loveliness and coulis for a bit of sharpness – and it was a work of art.

I may sound like a stuck record, but I do love the food here. It’s tasty, flavoursome, interesting, local, an independent and beautfully presented. The feel is casual and comfortable yet attentive. It’s ideal for groups or even a special evening.

My only small suggestion would be that, with the mains, perhaps a bit more starch is included as I was dining with a hungry man – yes you can order some extra sides but I guess at this price point you may not want to spend more on sides. The plus side to the food here is that is just so fresh, light and pleasing so you can manage 3 courses and you don’t go away feeling awfully stuffed.

Having written this after visiting a more premium restaurant further afield, at a similar price point, the quality of the food and cooking was very close and I do hope Circa 1924 achieves some recognition in future. But more important than any awards is that the locals (and visitors) support the restaurant and vote with their feet…and eat! Until next time Circa; this restaurant is firmly on my recommendation shortlist!

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Circa 1924, 6 Northernhay Place, Exeter, EX4 3QJ.
Ph: 01392 438545
Web: www.circa1924.co.uk/
@Circa1924
info@circa1924.co.uk

Online reservations: http://www.circa1924.co.uk/#!make-a-reservation/cg3s

Be one of the first to experience Lympstone Manor, Devon with 40% discount

Lympstone Manor, the most eagerly awaited hotel launch in 2017, is offering the limited opportunity to experience the hotel and restaurant at 40% off during its soft opening period from the 20th March to the 2nd April.

This soft opening will set the stage for Lympstone Manor’s grand opening, which follows on Monday 3rd April, and promises to be an outstanding showcase of the hotel.

Michael Caines MBE, Chef Patron and one of the UK’s most acclaimed chefs, has spent the past two years personally overseeing the complete transformation of the Georgian grade II listed mansion overlooking the Exe estuary into a luxury country house hotel and restaurant.

Dining at Lympstone Manor will be an exceptional experience in every sense. Michael will express his vision of modern British cuisine that is fresh, seasonal, original and exciting. Utilising the bounty of the Exe estuary, East Devon and the South West, his cuisine will be matched by wines selected from a world class cellar that contains over 600 bins.

Guests can choose from seven distinctive room categories including estuary suites, garden suites and standard guest rooms – all of which are designed in hues to mirror the surrounding estuary.

Heron Bedroom 3

The soft launch period will allow a limited number of guests to experience the hotel at 40% discount (room and food menus). This will enable those fortunate to get a booking (hotel as well as non-residential dining) to enjoy the Lympstone Manor experience, while allowing the team to train under the experienced senior management team.

To be one of the first to experience Lympstone Manor, call their reservations team on 01395 202040 or email reservations@lympstonemanor.co.uk.

*The Lympstone Manor soft launch offer*

Lympstone Manor are offering guests 40% off rooms as well as the food bill at lunch and dinner for residents and non-residents. Food offer is for the food bill only excluding drinks. Offer runs from 20 March – 2 April 2017 inclusive.

Private Dining at The Pig at Combe – by Lauren Heath

The Pig at Combe is far from the dusty, muddy, snorty (but intelligent) animal it is named after, it does however embody the essence of countryside. As you drive towards it from the a30 and through the villages, you see this warm glow illuminating in the distance, calling you into its warm belly.

I have heard many many things about the Pig at Combe- all positive; and having seen plenty of lovely pictures, have wandered what it would be like to dine there. Editor Chris visited late last year and thoroughly enjoyed himself with their 25 mile ethos, you can read his write up here.

On this occasion I was invited to enjoy their private dining option along with some other press. I was really looking forward to it and had not just my foodie/social hat on but also my corporate hat – as in my day job as a PA, it is good to have places to book for meetings or events as well as to add to my pool of knowledge to recommend to others.

To start the evening, I was led underground to the cellar. I was immediately taken aback by the cosy yet elegant atmosphere; white brick walls, stone flooring, wood, and loads of candles creating a sense of warmth. We enjoyed bubbly and canapés whilst chatting with other guests. Canapés included mushroom samosas, scotch eggs, pork crackling, lamb koftas, and fried kale with prawn salt. Everything was just delicious – little taste sensations.

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We were then led up to the Georgian Kitchen; a hunting lodge type kitchen (could almost be in a National Trust house) with large aga/wood burning stove across the back wall and a scullery off the back left. A grand wooden table surround by 12 chairs awaited us, with more ambient lighting and candles. A few stags heads adorned the walls along with a dresser of country house crockery – nothing forced or kitch, just everything naturally belonging.

Rather than having a menu of individual dishes to choose from, the ethos is about sharing –  an option I loved. I struggle to choose from a menu when I could quite frankly eat it all – so to have a bit of everything is right up my piggin’ street!

Don’t for one minute think this is buffet style…it is banquet dinner style.  Wooden boards arrived adorned with starters of smoked organic salmon, cured meats, toast topped with mussels, crab and exmoor caviar as well as garden leek and blue cheese tarts.

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For mains we enjoyed a whole cod with foraged sea veg, roasted and slow braised Dartmoor lamb and hay smoked BBQ Pipers Farm chicken – all meaty, succulent and cooked to perfection. Big knives landed into them, ready for serving the troops. On the side, our mighty feast was compimented by creamy layered potato, roast celeriac and lemon thyme, glasshouse leaves, foraged herbs and garden greens.

The pudding offering sent us all into ‘kids in a sweet shop’ mode. The most comforting and delicious rice pudding I’ve ever had, clear and wobbly gin and tonic jelly with tongue tingling lemon sorbet, a smooth ice cream parfait, sticky toffee pudding, apple and blackberry crumble and a trifle that would put your grandmother’s to shame.

 

For coffee we wandered across the path to the Folly. This was a lovely outhouse restaurant, candlelit once more, giant wicker woven lampshades hanging down, it had an African/ethnic feel for me. Coffee and ‘piggy fours’ were served whilst we admired the pizza oven and outside seating, complimented by firepits. This space is open, serving more casual food and dining and can be hired for private parties. Ceiling height sash windows can be opened to let the outside in if the weather permits.

We had enjoyed the evening thoroughly and all the spaces we had been in worked well for their purpose. The Pig at Combe really is a flexible venue, and I can assure you they will be able to cater for your private dining or casual party needs.

It was hunting lodge elegance..big food, beautifully cooked, subtle service. It’s been a long time since I’ve enjoyed such casual, comfortable yet sophisticated dining, with professional and effortless hosting. I look forward to returning, and sending everyone I know!

Check your diary and find an excuse now – you’d be a silly little piggy not to; pigs are one of my favourite animals and this beauty is no different. A great venue for family dining, a couples treat, corporate entertaining or getting down to serious business – you still gotta eat, a deal can’t be done on an empty stomach right?! As a restaurant with rooms you could of course stay over and be happy as a pig in…well, bed.

Time for this little piggy to go wee wee wee all the way home.

Find them on wheels: The Pig at Combe, Gittisham, Honiton, Devon, EX14 3AD

Find them online:Facebook, Twitter or on their website

*Dinner in the Georgian Kitchen can be for up to 14 people,

priced at £32 each for a 3 course family-style sharing menu.*

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Seahorse Guest Chefs Big Line-Up For 2017

Every year Mitch Tonks and Mat Prowse, who run the award-winning Seahorse in Dartmouth, invite a few great friends in the restaurant world to cook and host the restaurant with them. This year’s stella line up kicks off with Richard Turner from Hawksmoor followed by Spanish Legend Jose Pizarro, Angela Hartnett & Neil Borthwick, seafood superstar Nathan Outlaw and legendary Tuscan butcher Dario Cecchini.  Dates for further great names including Fergus Henderson and Trevor Gulliver, Mark Hix, Nieves Barragan-Mohaco & TV presenter Matt Tebbut will be announced shortly.

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Mitch Tonks, Angela Hartnett, Mat Prowse

Events this year will start in the newly opened Joe’s Bar at the Seahorse before a fantastic night of food, wine and great spirit. Sommelier Tim McLaughlin-Green will run the room on these evenings matching special wines to every menu. The full line up will be added to our website and bookings can be made direct with the restaurant as they are released.

Mitch Said “The Seahorse has a wonderful spirit and we love having our friends join us and bring their own special magic to the restaurant.  I’m convinced they leave a little of their magic behind which is one of the reasons the room is so special to us and to many of our guests. We all do these events for the enjoyment of it, every one of them is like a dinner party with everyone just chatting away and enjoying great food, wine and great company, what could be better!”

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The Seahorse, Dartmouth

In addition to these events the Seahorse head chef, Jake Bridgwood, has opened the doors on the last Sunday of each month for lunch with a menu specially created for each one. Aperitivos will be served at 1230 in Joe’s bar followed by lunch at 1 – wonderful family occasions and guests are invited to bring their own wines to enjoy with just £10 corkage.

Full event listings can be found at www.seahorserestaurant.co.uk

Experience Valentine’s Day at South Sands Hotel

Salcombe’s South Sands Hotel is offering guests an exclusive dinner experience this Valentine’s Day as Head Chef Allister Bishop has prepared a romantic six course feast for lovers on this special night. Wherever possible, Allister uses local ingredients and integrates foraged food as demonstrated in this mouthwatering menu:

Beetroot soup

Liquorice & peppermint cured salmon, liquorice gel, soft herbs
or
Heritage tomato textures, Devon goat’s cheese mousse

Steamed local lemon sole fillet, hazelnut crust, wilted baby spinach
or
Sautéed gurnard, salsify purée, sprouting broccoli

8 hour slow cooked Dartmoor reared beef cheeks, heritage carrots & purée, soft mash
or
Pan fried guinea fowl, red quinoa, roasted shallot purée, grilled baby leeks

Sharing chocolate assiette plate
or
Oven roasted compressed rum scented pineapple tart tatin, lemon grass ice cream

or
Selection of West Country cheeses

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Encouraged by the knowing lure of fresh beach side produce and divine country living, Allister brings with him decades of experience having been based in London, working at some of the most reputable establishments the city has to offer – Harrods, Le Meridien and Hilton to name but a few.

Head chef Allister Bishop comments on the Valentines menu: “We look forward to welcoming our Valentine’s diners who are looking for something extra special – not just with the tasting menu but also with the wine, cocktails and surroundings. Wherever possible at South Sands we use local ingredients and integrate foraged food into both the food and the drinks menu. We’ve tried to create a sensational and ultimately romantic dining experience combined with the unparalleled views overlooking the Salcombe Estuary.”

The Valetine’s Dinner menu is complimented by a wine flight curated by sommelier Richard Coulson who recently joined the hotel from Gidleigh Park bringing with him 24 years of knowledge of the wine business.

Bar Manager Will Neal has created two Valentines cocktails, both are based on a warming and seasonal blend of white rum and honey with a sparkling splash of Lyme Bay Brut. The ‘Stupid Cupid’ includes beetroot powder and a touch of lemon juice and ‘Cold Black Heart’ incorporates activated charcoal.

The team are also hosting a South Sands Lunch Club from Monday to Saturday, 12-14.30, offering two courses for £14.95 or three courses for £19.95. This ends March 31st so don’t miss out on this sumptuous Winter treat!

The Valentine’s Day Dinner costs £65 pp or £95 pp with wine pairing and is bookable here or by calling 01548 845 900.

Whether it’s a first-rate dining experience, a romantic escape, a wedding or a corporate event space required, South Sands Hotel is the destination to treat your loved ones in 2017. Doubles cost from £170.

The Coach House by Michael Caines at Kentisbury Grange – by Lauren Heath

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The Coach House by Michael Caines, Kentisbury Grange, Kentisbury EX31 4NL   –  01271 882295

@KGCoachHouse  –  http://www.kentisburygrange.com/michael-caines-restaurant-north-devon/

Eating Exeter may be our name, and we certainly love to discover local eateries, producers and events. However, our adventures extend much further into the county we live in; we’re very lucky that within around an hours drive of Exeter, many Devon delights await. This is certainly the case with The Coach House.

The Coach House by Michael Caines is situated in the grounds of Kentisbury Grange Hotel in North Devon, on the edge of Exmoor. Open to residents and non-residents, they serve lunch, dinner (with a choice of taster or a la carte) and afternoon tea. It has recently been awarded two AA rosettes as well as Gold award for Restaurant/Bistro of the Year by South West Tourism Awards – quite an accolade considering the talent in the region. The menus consist of local, seasonal produce cooked sympathetically by staff Michael Caines MBE himself has chosen as well as him overseeing operations there to ensure quality and consistency akin to his established reputation.

When we were invited to come and try their culinary delights, Steve and I immediately sorted childcare so we could go out and enjoy each others company in what we hoped would be a gastronomic lunch. We also love a little ‘road trip’ and knowing North Devon’s lovely coastline, packed some good walking boots for post lunch adventures.

The journey to Kentisbury was lovely, motorway to start but then an easy main route past Tiverton through some beautiful scenery on a lovely crisp Sunday morning. The restaurant is situated in a beautiful 17th Century former coaching house, it is slightly tucked away off a good A road, and up a short driveway, making it feel slightly secret but not too far off the beaten track.

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On arrival we were warmly greeted and offered a drink in the bar area pre lunch. We were well and truly ready for lunch so opted to be shown straight to our table – a lovely curved booth by the window with us sitting facing inwards to the restaurant so I could people watch along with having a view towards the kitchen.

Hearing and reading about the food offering here, I thought we were in for a very upmarket restaurant setting – but actually it wasn’t like that at all, which was perfect for us as we enjoy somewhere we can relax and feel easy. Rich velvet and comfortable chairs, warm lighting along with natural light, a walnut and marble bar, dark wood flooring and touches of modern with the glass lined banister. It was comfortably sumptuous – it gave me a good feeling for what was to come.

We were pleased to see a good selection of wines and beers; ranging from a champagne with MC’s name on it and yet a local stout that we hadn’t heard of before. Having ordered our drinks, we salivated over the lunch menu – I could have ordered it all. Some gorgeous warm fresh homemade breads and salty butter were served while we were deciding. I finally settled on Mushroom Raviolo and Steve chose the Smoked Salmon Mousse.

My raviolo was a perfect size, beautifully made and cooked stuffed to the brim with wild mushrooms and spinach. The white wine foam actually tasted as such and provided a delicate coating for the moist pasta, allowing the other flavours to shine through. A scattering of nasturtium leaves added an even fresher and earthier dimension; I loved it. Steve’s smoked salmon cigar was well filled with creamy mousse with was beautifully well balanced with light, acidic, and stronger accompaniments of cucumber, wasabi yoghurt and honey and soy vinaigrette. A great start.

For mains I chose the Confit Duck Leg,whilst Steve opted for the Pan Fried Sea Bream.

The duck was incredibly succulent, meaty and with a crispy skin. What wasn’t on the menu but I was delighted to see was the duck bon bon – delicately soft yet fully flavoured  meat with a crispy outer, my favourite type of food item. The sauce was rich and bold with a hint of orange to lift it and the softer texture of the chicory complimented it well. Steve’s fish was possibly the best fish he has had in a long time; the skin was still on the fish and was so crispy,  yet the fish perfectly cooked. The light vanilla, sweet parsnip, meaty chicken sauce and touches of pickled ginger supported the fish perfectly.

Now for puds. Being a bit of a lemon curd fan I chose the Lemon Curd and Steve who is less of a pudding person and more a cheese man, opted for the Milk Chocolate Mousse.

The lemon curd was firm but not overly so and well flavoured with zingy lemon. The pistachio cake was as it should be and the cassis sorbet certainly packed a blackcurrant punch. I found it a bit disjointed as a pudding if I’m honest, but enjoyed the items individually. Steve’s was a chocolate triumph; a light crumbly biscuit base, silky smooth milk chocolate topped with crunchy hazelnut and pistachio crumb along with a light caramel ice cream – I was totally jealous and managed to thieve a tiny morsel.

Service was attentive yet not over bearing, the staff seemed confident and relaxed and Steve was even impressed by the ‘crumbing down’ that he witnessed having not seen that for quite along time (something even he learned in catering college).

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Ending our lunch with a cup of coffee (which can also be enjoyed on the loft lounge sofas), and with the buzz of some other tables around us including a well sized birthday group consisting of very young to very old, I feel The Coach House is a great venue for any occasion and certainly for a weekend lunch. It’s quite frankly a steal at £19.95 for 2 courses or £24.95 for 3. Add this to the easy yet scenic journey to get here and the fact we stopped off for a lunch burning stroll in nearby Lynmouth afterwards, it all equals a perfect Sunday out.

For a more special occasion, perhaps book for their 6 course tasting menu and team this with a night in the hotel for a truly relaxing weekend away. I would certainly recommend you try it for yourself.

The Salutation Inn, Topsham – Chris Gower

The Salutation Inn, 68 Fore Street,Topsham, Exeter, Devon, EX3 0HL – 

01392 873060
info@salutationtopsham.co.uk

http://www.salutationtopsham.co.uk/

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!

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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”

http://www.salutationtopsham.co.uk/liam-stevenson-wine-dinner-a-journey-through-the-languedoc-roussillon/

It sounds like a fantastic experience for wine lovers and is definitely worth considering as I doubt this will be repeated.

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The Salutation Inn scoops Best Bed and Breakfast of the year

Photography credit: Adam Oseland

On Monday 12th of September at The RAC CLUB, Pall Mall the Williams-Hawkes family and staff were awarded Food and Travel Bed and Breakfast of the Year 2016.

The Salutation Inn is owned by the Williams- Hawkes family South Western Hotel & Catering Company Ltd (who previously owned The Imperial, Exeter) and was purchased on New Year’s Eve 2010 from Punch Taverns.

The property had been empty for two years and was in need of care. The Grade 2 * listed building was granted planning permission in late 2011 when the rebuilding project commenced, creating a 45 cover glazed atrium cafe, a 30 cover Fine-Dining Restaurant and now most importantly four lovingly restored en-suite guest bedroom accommodation and two additional suites. Now run by Tom Williams-Hawkes and partner Amelia Boalch they have a young vibrant team attracting many regulars locally and further afield.

Tom attended Exeter College as a chef trainee for three years graduating as Top Student, then on to Gordon Ramsey at Hospital Road, Chelsea then to Petrus under Marcus Wareing before returning to Devon and working his way up to Sous Chef at Gidleigh for Michael, a spell in France followed for the Rothschilds during Gidleigh refurbishment and then on to the Abode in Exeter as Executive Chef for three years.

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“With dinner and breakfast cooked by Tom and his wonderful brigade, served with fabulous smiles after a great night sleep Naturalmat bed we have won.  We cannot thank you enough for the votes, support and lovely words, we feel very blessed! To be alongside the names on this list of winners hopefully speaks for itself..”

The Salutation Inn, Bed and Breakfast of the year looks forward to welcoming you soon.

Read our review of The Salutation Inn tomorrow from 17:30!

South West Chef of the Year 2016 – Semi Finalists announced

Judges of South West Chef of the Year have chosen the semi-finalists who will go forward to the closing stages of this year’s prestigious competition. Chefs from around the region battled it out for a place in the next stage of their category. Founder and co-judge Michael Caines MBE has praised the standard of culinary skill already shown in this stage of the competition. The full list of semi-finalists and finalists has been published on the South West Chef of the Year competition website: www.southwestchef.co.uk/2016-semifinalists/.

Michael said: “The first round is very hard because chefs need to demonstrate from just a menu what they are capable of producing in the kitchen. Their menus must also have an emphasis on sustainability and use specific ingredients that we give them. The results were, once again, fantastic with some great taste combinations and the right amount of inventiveness. I can’t wait for these menus to be recreated in the semi-finals.”

Chefs chosen for the Professional, Young Professional and Student Chef of the Year classes will now go through to the semi-finals held at Exeter College on Saturday 8th October. This year, Jack Sharland – who won the South West Student Chef of the Year award in 2015 has successfully gained a place at the Young Professional category and is working as a full-time chef.

Jack said: “Winning the Student award last year has brought about so many opportunities. It was a great chance to find out what other people thought of my cooking and I learned so much from the other competitors and what they did. With another year’s experience, I wanted to put myself up for the challenge again in the next stage of the competition and hopefully learn even more.”

Finalists of the Junior Chef of the Year – who have been selected from county-based semi-finals held at catering colleges throughout June and July, will now go through to a grand final at Ashburton Cookery School on Saturday 15th October. They will be joined by Home Cook finalists who have been selected by the judges based on their two course menus and which they will now be asked to prepare. Last year, Andrew Callaghan was the joint winner of the South West Junior Chef of the Year award and has this year been selected for the final of the Home Cook category. Although not studying catering at the moment, he is still considering this as a potential career path.

Andrew said: “The South West Chef of the Year competition has given me many opportunities, skills and the confidence to learn about life as a chef. Mentoring, work experience, opportunity after opportunity – it has changed my life. To all those junior cooks out there, enter, try and whether you succeed or not, never give up, keep learning. I’m delighted to reach the final of the Home Cook category this year and look forward to the challenge ahead when I can put my new skills and imagination into something I love doing.”

Several chefs see the competition as an annual challenge with entrants coming back each year. With many crediting the competition with giving them valuable professional development opportunities, some progress from South West Chef of the Year to the next stage in their career.

A grand final for the two professional classes and the student chef class will take place on Monday 24th October at Exeter College swiftly followed by a lavish awards ceremony and dinner held at Exeter Golf & Country Club that evening.

Hosted by the judges including Michael Caines MBE, the awards dinner is a culinary feast comprising courses prepared by three top chefs from the region. This year, the chefs selected to cook at the awards dinner are Hywel Jones who will also be judging this year’s competition and is a Michelin-starred Executive Chef at Lucknam Park, Bath; Jamie Rogers, a previous winner of South West Chef of the Year (2015) and Head Chef at Belgrave Sands Hotel, Torquay and Scott Paton, also a previous winner of South West Young Professional Chef of the Year (2009) and Head Chef at Boringdon Hall Hotel, Plymouth. Hywel, Jamie and Scott will be supported in the kitchen and front of house by students of the Michael Caines Academy.

Members of the public can buy tickets to the South West Chef of the Year Annual Awards Dinner, priced at £80 per person and enjoy sumptuous food and drink throughout the evening. A further information and ticket reservation email address has been set up: info@southwestchef.co.uk.

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.” – http://www.hotelsthatwerenot.com

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…

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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.

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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.

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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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Back for 2016: South West Chef of The Year

Non watermarked images courtesy of South West Chef Of The Year.

The prestigious South West Chef of the Year competition is back and open for entries.  Last year I had the honour of being invited to watch some of the region’s finest chefs produce some staggeringly wonderful food in the heat of the kitchens state-of-the-art facilities at Exeter College.  More details are available here on their website if you are considering entering.

Attracting the south west’s best culinary talent with professional and home cooks taking part,the competition is hotly contested in each of its five categories and continues to be one of the most exciting demonstrations of imagination, skill and proficiency in the region. Semi-finals and finals take place at catering colleges throughout the south west and the competition culminates in a glittering awards presentation evening in the autumn.

Judged by exceptional chefs of the region, the panel is led by 2 Michelin starred Michael Caines MBE who also co-founded the competition with the aim of both recognising excellence in the south west hospitality industry and nurturing the next generation of chefs and budding young cooks. The competition provides a launch pad for contestants and winners alike with many going on to exciting careers at restaurants around the UK.

Michael Caines, Judge and co-founder of the competition says, “Taking part in South West Chef of the Year can provide a fantastic platform to further your career, even if you don’t win. It’s a chance to demonstrate your skills to some of the South West’s top chefs and gain valuable publicity for your talents. The competition also promotes the exceptional produce we enjoy in the south west. I feel very proud to champion this.”

Previous winners of South West Chef of the Year include the award winning chef Simon
Hulstone of The Elephant who has since gone on to represent the UK in the 2011 Bocuse d’Or; Ian Webber of The Five Bells in Devon recently awarded its first Michelin Bib Gourmand; Matt Mason of the multi-award winning The Jack in the Green, recommended by Alastair Sawday and Matt Downing of the acclaimed River Cottage. Joining Michael on the judging panel are Chris and James Tanner of Barbican Kitchen and Kentish Hare, Neil Haydock of Watergate Bay Hotel and Mark Dodson of The Masons Arms as well as Matt Mason, Ian Webber and many more highly accomplished chefs.

The categories are: Professional, Young Professional, Student Chef, Home Cook and Junior.
Entry is now open for all categories except the Junior category which has now closed.
Applications should be made online at http://www.southwestchef.co.uk/how-to- enter/ by 1 st August.

The Professional category has been designed to challenge those of any age working in the
industry at sous or pastry chef level, or above. To enter, Professional chefs must submit recipes for a starter and main; the menu must include whole pheasant in one course and scallops and razor clams in the other.

Successful menus will go through to the semi-finals at Exeter College
on 8th October. Chefs aged 19 to 24 years and working in any kitchen role within the industry up to and including junior sous chef, may apply to the Young Professional category which has the same entry requirements. Young Professional chefs must cook with whole partridge, smoked back bacon and whole sea trout.

For those aged 16 – 19 years, the Student/Apprentice category is for full-time students and
apprentice chefs and has two possible entry routes. Regional catering colleges are invited to nominate a student to the semi-final while a number of places are reserved for individual entries made directly by students and apprentices. Those applying directly will be appraised by the judging panel. Again, the entry requirement is to submit a two course menu comprising a starter and main that use whole guinea fowl, monkfish tails and mussels. Those menus selected will go through to semi-finals to be held at Exeter College on 8 th October.

The Junior category is for young cooks at school and aged between 11 and 16 years. Entries for this category have already closed and selected entrants have been invited to prepare one main course dish of their choice at a catering college during the first county-based round to be held in June and July.

Michael Caines continues: ‘We are really pleased to offer finalists in the Junior category first rate mentoring to help them progress. The aim of this category is to help young cooks develop their skills and their interest in a career in catering. For this reason, each finalist is mentored by one of the county judges who invites them into their kitchen to help them improve their skills, widen their understanding of various processes and gain valuable experience of a working, commercial kitchen. It’s an exceptional opportunity for young people with a passion for cooking.’

The judges also recognise the fantastic talent of home cooks and invite those aged 16 years or above with no formal training in or work experience of the catering industry to enter the competition. Those interested in applying for the Home Cook category must devise a two course menu for two people; with a main that includes either pork tenderloin or whole sea trout and a dessert which uses one or more from the following list of ingredients: apples, pears, autumn berries, quinces and vanilla paste. Successful entrants will be invited to cook their menu at the final taking place at Ashburton Cookery School on 15 th October.

A celebratory and lavish awards presentation will take place on 24 th October at Exeter Golf and Country Club who also sponsor the event. As well as winners in each of the main categories there will also be presentations for Best Dish, Best Presentation, Best Use of Regional Produce and Best Menu. The ceremony concludes with the awarding of the prestigious overall South West Chef of the Year 2016 title to one of this year’s entrants. Tickets will be available for all who wish to enjoy an evening of food and celebration!#

www.southwestchef.co.uk

Twitter: @SWChefComp

Facebook: www.facebook.com/southwestchef

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.

Circa 1924 presents Skandel@Circa1924

6 Northernhay Place, Exeter, EX4 3QJ  Tel: 01392 438545  Twitter: @circa1924

The end of the week is here, another rare day off for me on a day that is not a weekend! So what a better way to spend it by visiting Circa 1924 and indulging in a Coffee Marathon! That is for a later post, but we broke up our caffeine binge with a lunchtime treat.  We had been invited along to sample a culinary innovation that I would love to see take off for the team in the Northernhay Place based restaurant.

One of the best things about Exeter being that there is always something innovating going on within restaurants and cafes that grace our city.  Circa 1924 is hosting a Scandinavian Pop-up lunch menu called Skandel@Circa1924, envisioned and developed by Circa’s own Scandi chef Lauri Hilli.  The price is cheap, but the meal itself is not reflected in the price, a top-notch slice of fine dining from one of Exeter’s best independent restaurants.

The menu is a simple but attractive affair with Swedish named dishes and a concise description of the dish itself; its OK, put away those Swedish-English dictionaries! Based downstairs in the Bootleg bar area, diners get to properly see the wood paneling and the speakeasy inspired design that gives this restaurant the aesthetic edge

One of my dining rules is to always go for the fish.  This is often a good indicator of the skill of the chef, as fish can be tricky to get right.  We don’t tend to eat a lot of fish at home, so it is a special occasion to have a fish based meal when the opportunity arises.

For our drinks we chose a delicious Cloudy Lemonade non-alcoholic cocktail made with lemon cordial, an almond based syrup called Orgeat, dill and crushed Ice.  It had a strong flavour, but the combination of almonds and lemon was a surprising success at our table and, as our waiter Zac pointed out, it worked really well with the flavors of the lunch menu too.


As I am reviewing a fixed price meal, I am not putting down prices.  Two courses costs £10.95 per head which I feel is fantastic value.  For starters I went for Gravad Lax which is Smoked Salmon, Swedish Potato Salad and Pickles.  Tori went for the Jagar Toast which consists of creamed mushrooms & Vasterbotten cheese on toasted sourdough.

Given I have not traveled extensively throughout the Scandinavian regions, this is the first time I’ve really come face to face with Nordic dining.  I’m always up for new things, and if this is anything to go by then I am officially a fan.

The smoked salmon was delicately smoked, not overbearing in flavour so much it out-weighed everything else.  The potato salad and the pickles were delicate, so it balanced out well with the salmon.  Tori made approving noises from her side of the table, she was happy that there were lots of pea-shoots as she is a bit of a fan.  She liked the sourdough bread and the creamy mushroom was a hit too.

Our main course was a tough choice, but given I am one for stereotypes and a Scandi menu wouldn’t be authentic if there were not meatballs on there somewhere, I had to go for the Kottbullar – Devon Venison meatballs served with Lingonberries, New potatoes served in a cream sauce.  Tori went for the Kyckling & Rotmos – Chicken Schnitzel with a dill & lemon butter and a root veg mash.

My Venison meatballs had a wonderful meaty aroma on first biting in to them, and a lean density that you could tell was a quality Devon meat.  Ultimately all meat in Devon is superior, and that is a fact.  And yes, I am bias.

The cream sauce with the new potato combined beautifully to create a homely comforting feeling that you might get with that combination of flavour.  But then add a Lingonberry in there too and it takes it to another level.  They are sweet, gently tart little berries that are not as harsh as cranberries but not as fruity as pomegranate, a really superior-berry-sharpness middle ground.

Tori’s chicken was moist, again adorned with pea-shoots and combined with the butter and the lemon, made for a very happy Tori.

So we reached that stage of meal called The Pleasantly Stuffed Phase.  I am generally only a two-course kind of person, but our waiter Zac managed to sell the Ligonberry Ice Cream to us.  We decided to share it, as ultimately it would be nice to have a sweet thing, but not a whole one.

The sweet rye bread crumb provided a satisfying crunch and the caramel constrasted with the delicate tartness of the ice cream.  It was very rich,  so we were both glad we only went for one dessert between us.  Zac said that we needed this dessert in our lives, and I am glad it is now added to the list of things I have tasted and will have again.  Thank you Zac.

It was a nice surprise to bump in to one of my blogger mates, Tara from Tara’s Busy Kitchen who was also having lunch and doing a write-up.  We shared notes, I recommended the Cloudy Lemon and had a brief natter before we left.  Being a food blogger in a smaller city like Exeter means you can sometimes be a little isolated from other bloggers.  It makes me realise that we need some sort of Food Blogger/Foody Social thing, so watch this space as I might be organizing something in the not too distant future.  I digress.

Skandel@Circa1924 is a fantastic concept from an innovative restaurant, driven by clean food and fresh ingredients.  There is simply nothing else like it in Exeter at the moment, and I would strongly urge all foodies to take up the opportunity to visit.  Lunch is served between 12 – 14:30 on Mondays to Saturdays.

 

An evening with Chef Nina Groves, courtesy of La Belle Assiette.

This meal was provided for guests by Belle Assiette

A quick scour across the lifestyle magazines and foody websites will inevitably show you that private dining is a thing.  Its also a growing thing, with the trend for bringing in a private chef to cook for special meals being on the increase.  Companies like La Belle Assiette make it easy for diners and chefs to hook up, and we were lucky enough to be asked by Millie from LBA to host a private meal to be cooked by Chef Nina Groves as part of her validation for being a La Belle Assiette chef.

I live in a smallish flat.  But the kitchen is decidedly Parisian.  Had we wanted to even consider hosting an event like this, the first thing we would have had to consider is, well, the space.

Had it not been the fact that our flat has a distinctively ‘creative’ vibe to it, then I would have been jumping for joy at the fact that someone would be coming to cook for us in our house, but with the lack of storage space and my obsession with piling things on top of other things, we thought it best not to subject a skilled chef such as Chef Nina to the ordeal that might ensue trying to cook a la carte standard food in a teeny weeny kitchen.

Luckily I know people who have BIGGER kitchens so after some umming and arring, I asked my good friend Dr Steve Price if he could host it.  His house is bigger than ours and its a lot less chaotic.  But after a conversation with Vanessa (a friend of his), it was decided that we would host it at her wonderful house which even nicer than Steve’s.  It had an amazing kitchen but also a separate dining area that would be perfect for the event.

Nina Groves is a Dawlish based chef who has had a varied and exciting career cooking in resorts and on private yachts.  She has cooked for the rich and famous including one of the founders of Google.

We all signed up to LBA’s in-house event system with our email addresses and we were all invited officially. With the menu sorted, it was very much a case of just appearing on the night.

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The evening would start at 7:30pm with arrival at 7:00pm for an aperitif of Soft boiled Quail’s eggs with celery salt, game terrine with onion marmalade and fresh peas and sugar snap peas wrapped around Prawn tails.  They were a lovely start to the evening and, as you might think, divine; and so well presented on mirrored plates.

This evening I was under strict instructions not to worry about photos, as the pro photographer was there to cover this, but I still took a few sneaky snaps (can’t resist..).

For starter we were treated to Crab Tian, layers of fresh Brixham crab, concass tomato and avocado which was a light and refreshing combination that was, well light and refreshing…bloomin’ lovely. The Tomato and Avacado as a combination is quite familiar, but throw some fresh Brixham Crab in to the combination and it works so well.  These were immaculately presented and I felt sad that I had to actually eat it. I know this is generally the idea with food, but I had to admire it.

The main was a Fillet of Ruby Devon Beef with Mushroom Fondant, Celeriac and Potato Dauphinois and Asparagus.  The fillets had been sourced from GT Orsman of Shaldon which I happened to visit last year, given their care and expertise in our fillet we bought last year, this was going to be a good fillet!

As we tucked in, the table went quiet, our chatter and laughter stopped as we all took a step back to realise how delicious it was. Slow cooked and braised, it was one of the highlights of the meal, and not only was the texture perfect but the taste hit the spot dead on.

We had a little time to recover from the main course then we were presented with our dessert.

For dessert we were treated to Pineapple Tarte Tatin with Vanilla Ice-cream.  Full of flavours and varying textures and temperatures, it was a delightful way to round up an amazing evening.

Private dining might not be for everyone, but for that extra special evening with friends or even just as a couple, it is an experience that is hard to forget.  Chef Nina bought all of the ingredients, there was some negotiation about what sort of resources Nina would have before the date and as Vanessa mentioned, the meal itself nearly didn’t happen due to the oven going phutt two days before hand but it ran smoothly, like clockwork.

Would I do it again? Absolutely.  Chef Nina was discreet and generally lovely, there is little hassle in the organisation of such an event and so long as you can get over the fact there is a chef in your kitchen producing culinary magnificence then I would definitely recommend it.

Fore more information, head to their website.

Photos provided by La Belle Assiette