Paschoe House by Lauren Heath

There’s a new kid in town, well west of the city, and it’s called Paschoe House.

Having been a family home for the Amadors since 2000, daughter Tabitha decided the buildings future was as a hotel and wedding venue and, along with her father, has worked very hard for around 5 years to get it to where it is today with a bigger push over the last year. We recently shared their news of the appointment of Alex Gibbs as their head chef.

I visited in September to try their foodie offering on behalf of Crumbs Magazine (write up due out early October), for whom I am a guest writer.  The hotel had only been open a couple of weeks so I was open minded as to how the evening would go and what level of finish and service there would be. It was also my birthday so I felt very lucky with the timing!

With autumn fully on its way, the sun had already set by the time we arrived for our dinner but the warm glow exuding from the building gave me a good feeling inside of what was to come.

The open entrance hall with soft pink tones and beautiful grey geometric tiled floor caught my eye instantly along with the obvious connection to this Grade II  listed buildings heritage as well as the current outdoor pursuits on offer, thanks to the taxidermy animal heads dotted about.

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The ostrich on the wall in the gorgeous duck egg blue lounge bar is something to behold – ostriches are a firm memory of my South African childhood (my brother even raced on one once as a child) – and I was both taken a back and fascinated by this specimen coming out of the wall.  I guess it’s a bit like art – there to create conversation and a different interpretation for everyone.  In the end I grew quite used to him whilst we enjoyed our drinks and delightful trio of pre-dinner canapes in this comfortable and suave space, his black and white plumage proudly showing off.

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This may not be to everyone’s taste but I can assure you the dining room is animal free. The dining room itself is of a much more masculine stature; rich dark turquoise wallpaper with silver geometric design that bounces the light gently, matching suede chairs, original fireplace, understated chandeliers and crisp white linens bringing it together.

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Connected to the lounge bar was a sitting area with original fireplace, walls adorned in butterfly wallpaper with a fabulous purple settees. Certainly a room that would cheer you up on even the greyest damp winter day whilst cosying up to the fire with a good book and a drink. Saying that, with the outdoor activities on offer here, you could don your mac and head out instead and embrace it – it is amongst 25 acres of land after all, on the edge of the Two Moors Way footpath.

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A broad staircase crowned with antler chandelier leads you to 9 beautiful bedrooms, all with a different personality; it’s all about style and comfort for the staying guests but they are also geared up for weddings, boasting a lovely conservatory room for such event and plenty of lawns and acreage for exploration and photo opportunities. The venue is open to non-residents too of course, for lunch, dinner or even afternoon tea as a reward, for a special occasion, general good behaviour or to relax after a long walk.

Anywho – let’s get on to the good stuff – the food!

Evening menu choices include a three course a la carte menu for £50 with six choices for each course, or you could opt for the no holds barred six course taster menu for £65 where you can technically have twice the food (2 x 3 = 6 see what I’m saying?), maths aside, you don’t have to miss out and you can have a bit of everything.

We dived into starters of salmon mi-cuit with beetroot, horseradish, lemon and mustard  and Devon scallops with pea, bacon, black pudding and shallot; both fishy friends were cooked perfectly, surrounded by flavours that respected yet enhanced every mouthful, and I declare that I have found the best black pudding I’ve tried so far, thanks to local supplier Pipers Farm.

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Spiced Creedy Carver duck breast with heritage carrot, confit leg and duck sauce as well as lightly salted hake, clam, broad bean, sweet pea and beurre blanc were next in line. A plump duck breast and a crunchy bon bon were happily living side by side – until I devoured them with gusto. The hake was a delicate yet meaty dish that was respected by not being over complicated and was cooked beautifully.

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Pudding was described in four words – milk chocolate, banana and hazelnut; I was intrigued! A generous pudding of unctuous milk chocolate cream, with added textures of a mille feuille type pastry layers and sticky bananas – it was sooo good.

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I was then delighted by a little birthday treat of petit fours and birthday wishes – the macarons were delicately crispy , flavoursome and as light as air!

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I had a quick chat with Alex, who was happy to have some of his previous brigade with him, front and back of house, and it showed – service was excellent, relaxed yet professional and they really were a knowledgeable and smooth team for such a new opening. In this demanding industry, experience and good leadership really does show.

Sadly we couldn’t stay that evening, but it’s on my list for a child free night! Being only 20 minutes west of Exeter, you can find this new country house hotel retreat waiting to embrace you – and I urge you to let it.

Paschoe House, Bow, Crediton, EX17 6JT

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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.

 

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

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High Tea at Salcombe Harbour Hotel by Chris Gower

Cliff Rd, Salcombe TQ8 8JH Tel: 0844 858 9187 – T: @SalcombeHHotel ‏ 

http://www.salcombe-harbour-hotel.co.uk/

South Devon gets left off the radar quite a bit on Eating Exeter.  We’ve done reviews in all parts of Devon but nothing towards Plymouth or the South, so I was over the moon when we were invited to touch down the historic port town of Salcombe for a spot of Afternoon Tea at the prestigious Salcombe Harbour Hotel.

We compiled a quick video of our afternoon including a walk around Salcombe afterwards.  Camera was jiggling around so apologies for the wobbles.

The first thing that hits you about Salcombe is that there are, in fact, two Salcombes in Devon.  One of them lies just outside Sidmouth and the other one – the one which is much better known – is Salcombe in South Devon.

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There are two things about both Salcombes, is that most of the infrastructure relies on lanes and hedgerows.  To navigate the lanes and roads of this end of Devon requires a good dose of ‘single lane driving knowledge’ which I have perfected over the years living in this funny and beautiful county.  Parking in Salcombe is tricky, in fact the Harbour Hotel has its very own park and ride service.

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But this is to be expected at the peak of summer at the busiest times in one of the UKs most desirable places.  Our fuddy little Skoda wasn’t the naffest car in the car park though, although it was definitely second.

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Nestled snugly on the Kingsbridge Estuary, or as some refer to it as the Salcombe Estuary, the inhabitants have historically lived off smuggling and fishery.  There are a number of historic wrecks that lie just beyond the estuary including one of three known UK bronze age wrecks. Although I am certain smuggling doesn’t continue, fishery and tourism is now the mainstay of this little town.  One of the bigger attractions is the Salcombe Harbour Hotel.

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Owned by Harbour Hotels, they have other hotels in attractive Harbour locations across the UK.  The Salcombe Harbour Hotel is a four silver star rated hotel and spa, and food is served at The Jetty restaurant and bar which has fantastic views over the estuary.

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We had been invited along to sample their Jetty Afternoon Tea, a light tea with the classic sandwiches and cake options.  A little bit of each.

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There are grander and more expensive options available for Afternoon Tea with champagne or sparkling wine, but you are going to be hard pressed to find a nicer location to have an afternoon tea in Devon.

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Parking was, despite my initial worries, a total breeze.  There was space in the car park and even if there had not been, the park and ride service would have catered for us. Once parked up the front desk look after your keys and you’re taken through to the Jetty Restaurant, a large open plan restaurant with big windows overlooking the beautiful Kingsbridge estuary.

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The hotel provides its guests and visitors with sumptuous fine dining as well, in fact Co-Editor Lauren visited not too long ago, look out for her review!  But for us today, we were going to do Afternoon Tea!

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The tea arrives on a platter, a three tiered tray of treats towering over the table.  Starting at the bottom with a small selection of sandwiches, moving up to a Devon Cream Tea and then finishing with a selection of small fancies at the top.

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We were particular fans of the home-made scones that Tori had likened to her own ones she bakes at home.  They were warm and fresh, with lashings of cream and jam to spread.

It all went too quickly, so we decided to go for a walk around Salcombe.  The day was bright and the tourists had gone home to leave a few stragglers enjoying a quiet Sunday evening rambling among the narrow streets and alleys.

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We ended the day in the pub. The Ferry Inn to be precise, having a swift half before heading back to the hotel to pick up our car.

Everything about the Salcombe Harbour Hotel is about making life easier.  From the car turntable outside the hotel entrance to the little touches.  The service was, throughout our visit, completely dedicated to making us feel welcome and the Afternoon Tea was delicious.  A perfect escape from the city!

This meal was paid for by Salcombe Harbour Hotel. The opinions expressed here are independent of influence from the restaurant.

Grand Hotel, Torquay by Chris Gower

Sea Front, Torbay Rd, Torquay TQ2 6NT – 01803 296677 – T: @grandtorquay

Torquay: home of beaches, guest houses, palm trees, a large wheel, a marina, train station or two and lots of people of a certain age.  OK officially the oldest town in Britain is Southwold in Suffolk, and despite the stereotypes Torquay is adorned with, it has many different faces.  One face is a young and vibrant resort with clubs and ‘things to do’ and the other face is the Torquay that is friendly to the older folk.  It is multi-faceted, and much more so than its gentrified brother Exeter.

If you have never been to Torquay before, it is likely you are going to be hard pressed to find another place like it.  Like many large towns and cities the whole area is a conglomeration of small villages and towns that has grown in to one large massive built-up area; Cockington, St Mary Church and Babbacombe were all quite separate in their own right to begin with but as Torquay hit its Golden Age in the late 19th Century, the resort became much more like the resort we know today.  And with this came the railways, and with the railways came more tourists and the building of The Grand Hotel in 1881.

Torquay is a veritable warren of small roads and windy streets with a one-way system that changes with the wind and a host of stunning views across the bay from many vantage points.  Some lucky people live on these vantage points and everyone is very envious when they say how lovely the view from their loo is.

The arrival of the railways became catalysts for the very concept of holidays and hotels started springing up next-door to railways stations especially in resorts like Torquay.  The Grand Hotel was built to accommodate the GWRs expansion in to the South West, originally only with twelve bedrooms it grew over the years and in 1926 the installation of one of the first central heating systems within a UK hotel – it was the height of luxury.

We were invited (please see our FAQs to see what this means) to stay at The Grand Hotel and be their guests.  We were treated to a dinner and breakfast too along with an overnight stay.  It was a ‘nano-break’ and it was certainly needed given our life at the moment.  The Grand Hotel is owned by The Richardson Group who also own The Groservor Hotel in Torquay which Co-Editor Lauren reviewed a few months ago.

The Grand Hotel sits in a commanding position with a fantastic sea-view that would make folks back home quite jealous.  The vista encompasses the entire bay from Torquay Marina all the way over to Brixham in the distance.  With a sea-view room, you can see everything; a short walk away is The Princess Theatre, Las Iguanas (which we visited a while back) and a row of nice restaurants and cafes which are definitely worth a visit. But with the lovely food served in the restaurant, why would you want to?

It has had its share of famous residents including Agatha Christie to name but one, the luxury that comes with a name like The Grand is a calling to anyone looking for the finer side of things.  But the majority of residents are simply those who are on holiday, taking advantage of Torquay’s mild climate and local beaches.

Because of its close proximity to the station, I wanted to take the train originally but out of the sake of ease and comfort we decided to drive instead.  The romance of the image of arriving off the train and walking through the doors was overshadowed by the idea of timetables and the dire state of our local commuter trains “Oooh lets go down by train!… upon second thought, nah we’ll just drive”.

Parking at The Grand Hotel is split up between being able to park on the road directly outside the hotel, between their own allocated parking next door to the station and on the Rugby Ground.  We were fortunate enough to be able to park on the road which was free and very convenient.

We checked in, booked in our evening meal and settled in to our room.

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The height of the hotel means the views are good no matter which side you end up on, but naturally we had a sea view.

A large spacious room with nice comfy beds, a sea view and all the amenities that one comes to expect in a hotel room.  Tea and coffee making facilities, trouser press, television en-suite bathroom with complimentary toiletries, a working shower with loo roll!

But, first thing is first, a little exploration followed by a complimentry glass of prosecco.

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On the outside The Compass Lounge looks like a last minute thought, stuck on to the side of the hotel rather ungraciously, but inside it has lots of light and central bar that serves drinks and coffees.  It also serves light lunches in The Keith Richardson Brasserie as well, and is the perfect day-time destination if you miss breakfast, or if you wish to grab a light bite to eat before you head out to the wilds of Devon.

There is table service here and as with all of the service at The Grand Hotel, it was friendly and incredibly attentive.  We settled in with a glass of prosecco and watched the world through the lovely large windows, perfect for people watching as they went about their Saturday afternoon.

The Grand isn’t just about a place to stay and a place to eat, there is also a Spa and Pool area.  We did’t get a chance to experience this, but we went downstairs to have a peek at the facilities.

We had booked in to Dinner at the Restaurant 1881 for 8pm – their large restaurant area is also the place where they serve breakfast from 7:00am most mornings.  A vast room with strong coloured walls and a jazzy vintage patterned carpet – we were shown to our seat and given a menu.  We were served by the lovely Felix throughout the evening.

The menu is straight forward, there are no bells or whistles with a firm focus on the food and the quality.  We were both taken with how the whole menu encompassed a range of tastes and expectations, it wasn’t eclectic but it catered for a wide spectrum of diners.

For starters I kicked off with a starter of Wild Mushroom Risotto served with parmesan crisp and pickled mushroom.  Tori kicked off with Pan Fried Scallops which she has developed quite a taste for since being introduced to them by Chef Tom Williams a couple of years ago at the Food Magazine Festival of Food and Design.

It was moist and mushroomy – can you see why I’m not a professional food writer? – I ruminated on the words that I needed to describe this dish and the best I could come up with was mushroomy.  Earthy, savory and exceptionally moist.

For main course we both went for Pan Fried Duck Fillet served with celeriac, rhubarb and five spice. Full marks for quirky presentation, slightly post-modernist but an attractive arrangement none-the-less.  The duck was beautifully cooked, moist and full of taste as you would imagine from a restaurant with an AA Rosette.

The contrast with the duck and the rhubarb was weirdly nice, bitterness contrasted with the savory of the duck meat was a palette that I hadn’t experienced before.

Our final chapter of the meal was the dessert and for me this was particularly memorable.  I opted for the Pina Colada (pineapple sorbet, coconut panna cotta, chilli poached pineapple and lime gel)  and Tori went for the usual chocolate option which was Black Forest (dark chocolate mousse, which chocolate mirror glaze, brandy poached cherries, cherry gel, cherry jelly, chocolate soil, vanilla and cherry macaroon).

Pina Colada has so many connections, not all of them are positive.  I think of Pina Colada and think of naff cocktails and package holidays.  But something drew me to it, some sort of inner need for a classic cocktail told me to have this dessert.  I had no idea really what to expect but the whole thing was gorgeous.  It had a real summer taste, sitting on a coconut panna cotta plate, the elements were arranged like a little beach scene (I didn’t have to use my imagination too much) which gave me a very summery glow.  It was rich, sweet and coconutty, like coconut scented sun cream, it really evoked an inner feeling.

We finished off the meal with a lovely coffee and a stroll down The Strand to breathe in some fresh sea air, reflecting on an incredibly enjoyable meal.

The next morning we rose earlier than we normally would on a Sunday to get down to breakfast.  There is a helpful chart in the lift that shows peak times for breakfast, and the best time to get down.  This is great if you’re a super early riser, but like most people, we are not.

So there were two queues. One queue for being seated and one queue for the breakfast buffet – they merged in to one which was quite confusing.   But it was fine as a waiter appeared and seated us in a position where we could watch what happens at Breakfast time.

Unfortunately I feel The Grand Hotel suffers a bit with breakfast because there were long periods where certain things would run out at the breakfast buffet and then there would be a period of diners standing around waiting for certain things to come out.  Naturally if we had come down earlier, this is unlikely a problem when there are less bodies, but the sudden peak of diners seemed to throw the service and possibly the kitchen.

Given this we ended up waiting a bit for the queue to die down.  When we realised that the queue wasn’t going away, I sucked it up and joined in.

In the end, after a little more waiting, I was able to get most of the items we wanted for breakfast apart from Bacon.  And here is the ultimate test of any establishment, how are they going to resolve the problem?  What happens when someone wants bacon?

The resolution was perfect.  One of the waiters advised me to go and sit down at the table and he would bring over the bacon, and within a few minutes four slices of thick bacon appeared, appeasing any bacon based disappointment.

We were approaching the end of breakfast service so that was it for the bacon for the day, the staff went above and beyond; we went away feeling incredibly happy that we managed to get bacon.

Our stay at The Grand Hotel was a welcome break from the life and everything else.  The service was attentive and eager to please, the hotel itself was unconventionally homely and echoed a heritage that still draws guests back regularly.

Please note that this stay and dinner was paid for by Richardson Group.

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 City Gate Hotel: The first impressions of refurbishment

http://www.citygatehotel.com/  – Iron Bridge, Lower North Street Exeter, EX4 3RB

The last time The City Gate hotel had much of a refurbishment was back in 2003, a rebirth from the days when it was The Crown & Sceptre hotel.  It sits in a commanding position over the Longbrook Valley roughly where the old North Gate had been situated before being removed in the early 1800s.

For me it was always the choice place for staff drinks, lunches and long afternoons in the beer garden, or watching people from the sofas in the conservatory.  And now, thirteen years later, it has had another revamp by Young’s and it is looking fabulous.

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We were invited along to see what has changed and meet their new Head Chef.  They were eager to show off the new surroundings, and we were eager to see what to see what has changed.

Gone is the well-trod carpet and the dark wooden bar area; there is now a light laminate flooring with modern light furniture.  Gone (sniff) is the sofas from the conservatory, now replaced with more tables and seats for dining.

The downstairs area is now a swanky craft beer and cocktail bar that is bookable for meetings and parties, the back room that was a bookable meeting room is another dining area with more tables etc.

The beer garden, one of the best in the city in my humble opinion, is all about Al Fresco dining, with more seating for eating, sofas for kicking back and relaxing whilst you order a burger from the swanky burger bar that is now making use of dead space.

The rooms are redecorated; gone are the days of being a fuddy little hotel that provided a place to sleep, it is now fully embracing the ’boutique hotel’ moniker.  The gentrification of The City Gate has gone down well with the regulars, we are assured, but will it strike a chord with the rest of Exeter?

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The ethos of The City Gate has changed too.  Gone is the standard pub food, in its place is a seasonal-local ethos being driven by their new head chef Jason Mead who had previously been at The Conservatory, just over the road.

His fine dining background has armed him well and with this experience, Jason is determined to introduce Exonians to this new and improved menu.

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Our feedback evening was a chance for The City Gate to show off and make contact with foodies and bloggers who would spread the word.  In my mind, this was also a chance for me to see properly what has improved and to confirm my suspicions that they had gotten rid of the sofas from the conservatory.

The menu for tonight was a taster of the spectrum of dishes that The City Gate are introducing.  Below is the menu with annotations – the mind of a food blogger is a scribbley messy thing sometimes!

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For our starters we had the choice of a Devon crab cake with homemade tartare sauce and pickled cucumber tarts, or Crispy duck, spinach & watercress, pomegranate, hazelnuts with an aged sherry glaze.

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Naturally we went for the duck (a Gressingham duck) which Jason gets from a local source – which was beautifully moist and tender.

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Next up with had Lamb Rump, again it was locally sourced and was beautifully cooked. With a rump like this, it has to be tender and medium rare to pull it off and Jason did this expertly.

Then the final lovely thing (which my camera refused to capture properly) was a Soft poached rhubarb and lemon curd Eton mess which was, as the rest of the meal was, absolutely delicious.

In lieu of a photo of my dessert this is Lauren’s.  A gorgeous Dark chocolate delice with a salted caramel sauce and honeycomb.  I felt a pang of dessert envy when I saw this come out.

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The food was a great improvement – it is refreshing to experience the passion of a chef who has been given the reigns to create a remarkable casual dining experience.  And I severely hope that readers come and support Jason and his fantastic menus.

Young’s Brewery are firm believers of autonomy as each pub is very different, and that individuality is emphasised in the way the pubs are run.  Diners can experience different menus presented in different ways, as chains go they are not bad at all.

But now the great journey starts for this pub, convincing visitors and locals alike that The City Gate Hotel has turned over a new leaf.  I think they have and I would urge you to come down and give it a try.

Try the lamb.

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

 

 

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.

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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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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
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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
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Pan fried guinea fowl, red quinoa, roasted shallot purée, grilled baby leeks

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

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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.

John Burton-Race is looking for Torquay’s new kitchen stars

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After last week’s announcement that two Michelin starred chef John Burton-Race is to join Richardson’s Grosvenor Hotel, it has been revealed that the hotel is looking for a handful of new chefs to add to the team for the restaurant re-launch.

John has said today, ‘I’m looking for the very best talent Devon has to offer. I want chefs who are talented, motivated and eager to learn.’ At present, Burton-Race is working behind the scenes, designing the kitchen and creating new menus for the venture, which has been scheduled to open February 14th 2017.

With key positions at all levels up for grabs, it is the perfect moment for ambitious chefs to make their move! Burton-Race, who trained in a number of London’s best restaurants, is now looking to pass on his skills and knowledge.

‘I want to work with real talent, people who love food, who have fresh ideas and innovative techniques,’ John has said. With applications already being received from across the Devon area, we are keen to see as much talent as possible.

Applications for all levels of skill from Head Chef, Sous Chef, Pastry Chef and Chef de Partie are still being encouraged, and interested applicants are invited to email gm.grosvenor@richardsonhotels.co.uk, with an up-to-date CV, a covering letter, and any images applicants may have which demonstrates their suitability for the role.

For more information about the hotel, visit their website: http://www.grosvenorhoteltorquay.co.uk/

More information from Eating Exeter to follow in the coming weeks!

 

 

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.

Sunday Lunch at Hotel du Vin, Exeter – by Lauren Heath

Hotel Du Vin, Magdalen Street , Exeter, EX2 4HY – 01392 790120 – www.hotelduvin.com

Back in September, as a late birthday surprise, I was treated to Sunday lunch at Hotel Du Vin, Exeter. Previously called The Magdalen Chapter, the building that was originally an Eye Infirmary was taken over by the luxury chain earlier this year.

Along with rooms, a spa, walled garden and guest areas, it also has a bistro which welcomes both residents and non-residents. Having seen a post on Twitter politely boasting a table full of seafood and following further menu investigation, I was pleased that my retweet and subtle suggestion to my husband worked wonders.

Due to limited parking, we parked in the very nearby in Magdalen Street Car Park and walked over. On entering the hotel and meandering to the rear of the property, I was pleasantly surprised at how large and light the Bistro was, overlooking the private and well kept garden, containing a few al-fresco tables.

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Having seen the menu and the price, at a not-so-eye-watering price of £22.95 per person for 4 courses, I was slightly dubious at what would really be on offer. To my delight, there was the ‘French Market Table’ area covered in seafood, pates, a leg of ham, continental meats, potted shrimp, breads, olives et al.

As we were seated and served drinks by our friendly waiter, we were told there was no hurry. No hurry to eat, no hurry to order the soup or our mains, just enjoy your Sunday – this felt nice. The real hurry was the urge felt by my food mad son, and his desperation to get to the buffet offering and help himself. There is a childrens menu consisting of 3 courses for £10 which had some good items on, but actually I would have been happy to pay the child money and just let him eat once course – as much buffet as he could muster.

So after eating our soup, helping ourselves (quite a few times) to the market table, eating our main of beautifully tender Pipers Farm roast beef with homemade yorkshire puddings and oodles of gravy (a request fulfilled without any disapproval – I do love gravy!), we somehow found room for pudding…

I enjoyed a sweet and sticky apple tartin whilst the boys devoured the ice cream. The ice cream alone is worth a mention; all homemade on the premises, it consisted of the creamiest vanilla, chocolatiest and not too sweet chocolate, and the best pistachio ice cream we have ever tasted – fantastic ‘eye-scream’, we nearly fought over it!

Overall, a lovely setting, tasty and plentiful food and choice, good service and incredible value. It would be a great place to not hurry – either as a couple or with a group of friends catching up over a long lunch. You could, quite frankly, eat til your eyes pop…matron!

 

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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Marco’s New York Italian – by Lauren Heath

Clyst Honiton, Exeter EX5 2LJ – @marcosexeter – 01392 348111 

ee-recommendsOn the east side of Exeter, off a lane at the back of the airport, lies a hotel in a convenient location for travellers. Beside said hotel is a restaurant which, in my opinion, is conveniently located for locals. With easy access by car off the M5, A30, surrounding villages that lie east of the city and with plenty of free parking is Marco’s New York Italian.

Having been open 3 years now, I was invited to give it a try so on Friday night Steve and I went to see what it was all about. We are well aware of the story of Marco Pierre White and, at the same time, are aware that a restaurant associated with a chef’s name can be a let down as they inevitably don’t cook there, with prices to imply that they do.

Having looked over the menu last year, I recall seeing items such as hot dogs  – and for some reason this made me think that, for a restaurant, perhaps the food was a bit too basic and not going to be good. Thankfully, the menu has since changed slightly, and we already had our eye on one or two items before our arrival.

On entry, it is designed so that you wait by a reception desk and, if you wish, start off your evening in the smart bar with its casual seating or stools.The bar area is very cool; dark wood, good lighting – matching the italian/american theme.

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Having been seated at our table, we browsed the wine menu which is well laid out first of all by colour, then by what food it would suit. For a change I chose the Pino Grigio Rose (£6.65 for 250ml) and Steve was intrigued by Passori Rosso which was under the subheading of spicy peppery red as well as having the MR (Marco Recommends) next to it and described as simply stunning (£9.25 for 250ml). My wine was delightfully light with a hint of rose and Steve was very impressed with his wine – sweet, rich, peppery; he agreed it was something different as the menu had described.

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We then set ourselves on the food menu; Steve had already decided on the Grilled Jumbo Shrimps (£9.75) served alone in all their glory, but brushed with rosemary, garlic butter and sea salt and a sprinkling of baby coriander leaves. Some may feel this was a bit ‘naked’ but he believes seafood should be served as simply as possible. He couldn’t locate any rosemary flavouring but his words were “they were cooked to perfection”. A huge and rare compliment indeed from a seafood lover with over two decades of culinary experience. Maybe one or two more on the plate would have been nice, but he was pleased to have had a light starter.

I, on the other hand, decided to be a little bit brave (polite word for greedy) and go for the Hickory Smoked Pulled Pork Nachos (under the heading ‘For the Table’; £6.50). I was informed this could be a sharer but I went for it anyway as I love nachos. It was a really tasty dish, served with what tasted more like BBQ coated pork along with melted cheese (Monteray Jack possibly), homemade guacamole which was lovely and chunky, as well as a very nice sweet chilli sauce-come-salsa. I can see that it could be a sharer between 2 people for a light starter each or even between 3 for nibbles.

For mains I knew I wanted a pizza so opted for the Americano (£9.50) and asked if I could have mushrooms on it as well which was accepted without any issue. Steve chose the Great American Beef Burger with BBQ sauce, bacon, Monterey Jack cheese, served with seasoned fries (£11.50). The pizza was approximately 10 inches at a guess, and was right on the money. Stonebaked base, well cooked with crispy edges. The meat was not pepperoni, but like a milano salami which was very tasty with a good amount of tomato and cheese supporting it. It also came with its own pizza cutter which was very uself. Steve’s burger was juicy and a good thickness, served with partially skin on fries. He also enjoyed the cheese but post meal we realised that he didn’t recall any BBQ sauce; it was, however, served with its own individual sealed tomato ketchup pot.

Somehow we found room for pudding. Having a savoury tooth, Steve was very pleased to see a cheeseboard and ordered the Selection of Italian Cheeses (£7.50). When this arrived, it was very appealing visually. Served with high quality biscuits and with two ramekins of accompaniments, one of which was a beautiful honey. The cheeses were mozzarella (definitely not your average shop bought mozzarella), parmesan, goats cheese and gorgonzola. He enjoyed it immensely.

I went for the Classic Affogato; vanilla ice cream served with a shot of espresso and amaretti biscuits (£5.25). I am not totally sure how you are meant to eat this dessert but I love that you can eat and drink it. I have had this pudding before elsewhere, and normally the coffee is served in an espresso cup that when you try and pour it on the ice cream it goes everywhere, so I was delighted to see it in a mini gravy boat which was also rather cute! My only critique would be the presentation; it would have looked great served on a board or slate to bring it all together – but if that’s my only complaint then they have nothing to worry about. The vanilla ice cream was absolutely delicious – full on vanilla flavour and so creamy; the coffee was excellent and very strong.

In between courses we looked at our surroundings and mused; there is an open kitchen but it’s a tiny shame the seating near it has such high backs that you are unable to enjoy it in full view and the same goes for the bar area – hidden by high backs of the end booth area. On the plus side, I love the chequered floor and thankfully the seating and tablecloths are plain and simple so as not to clash. A nice mirror at the end gives further depth to an already large dining area capable of seating around 90 and I am aware they can cater for large parties which is useful to know. There is plenty of space between tables so your conversations at the table are your own, and we noted you could definitly fit prams or wheelchairs in without coming close to the next table which is a big plus as many chain restaurants really cram the tables in.

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Overall, it was a very enjoyable meal for a what we believe to be a good price (approx £50 for 2 people with 3 courses each excluding drinks). The food was uncomplicated and very tasty and the restaurant is smart but relaxed. I’m not sure how many locals or city dwellers go here for lunch or dinner, but it isn’t just for hotel guests or flight passengers. Yes, Marco’s face is on the walls here and there with his name above the door but if the name puts you off by giving visions of shouty chefs, expensive food or just another chain – I suggest you ignore the name (except for when you put it in your sat nav!) and I urge you to give it a try. Filling, tasty and good value for money. Yes Chef!

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Cream Tea At The Magdalen Chapter – (4/5)

Guest blogger, Ditch Townsend, takes tea for two in Exeter

Tastefully renovated, decorated and furnished, we chose to sit in the light and comfortable lounge, but we could have used the darker, sparklier bar, the generously plush library, or a spacious patio. Music was soft, lilting, and predominantly instrumental, with some lounge jazz. But you just can’t escape the fact that the hotel is nesting in the armpit of one of Exeter’s more unpleasant main road junctions. Still, it’s a short walk up to the Roman wall and Cathedral, or down to the quayside.

We caught the scones freshly baked – one with raisins, one without. They were a moderate size, warm, sugar dusted and firm to touch and cut. But the crust wasn’t too thick or hard and was pleasingly biscuity and sweet. The centre was very light, soft, slightly yellowish, cakey, sweet and tasty. I couldn’t taste an underlying difference between the scones, and the raisins were few and far between: more for interest than flavour I guess.

The cream came from a Devon creamery in a good volume, was quite soft but lightly crusted, pale, and very mildly flavoured.

I’m not a lover of strawberry jam and it’s a pity when no pleasant choice is available (and I don’t mean plastic contingency breakfast blackcurrant or marmalade packets). Still, this one was quite manageable and not congealed with too much pectin.

Plenty of nicely mixed black leaf tea and extra hot water proved very refreshing and tasty, although I hadn’t come across the swivel-type tea strainer before (not posh enough 😉 ?) and nearly got tea leaves and tannin up my sleeve.

Overall, this has been a really pleasing experience (4/5). It’ll cost you £7.50.

You can follow Ditch’s blog about his anonymous, self-funded, ‘mid-range’ cream tea exploits via www.devoncreamteas.info and be kept up-to-date on Twitter @DevonCreamTease. He hopes to offer us occasional reviews about his ‘high-end’ cream tea peregrinations here at Eating Exeter, so keep a look out. (NB: The ones here are complimentary, but neither paid for, nor edited by the venue.)

© Text and pictures by Ditch Townsend (6 June 2015)


The Magdalen Chapter, Magdalen Road

Being a student means that I don’t often have the chance to visit fine dining restaurants, not just due to the high prices but as the vast majority of my friends are also students, the opportunity doesn’t pass me by all too often. So when I was invited to lunch at The Magdalen Chapter, one of Exeter’s most exclusive restaurants, for an old work friends hen party, I couldn’t wait to sample the food.

The first things you notice upon arriving at the hotel is how unlike a hotel it actually is! Entering the former eye hospital you’re first greeted by some amazing contemporary art work, which spans the extent of the hotel. My favourite piece was a fantastic collage of a spoon made from beauty advertisements, which I was advised by one of the staff, depicted the way in which women were spoon fed societal values by the media. I thought this was great, supporting original artists and something a little different!

The hotel cradles a beautiful court yard, complemented by the glorious Devon sunshine, which is over looked by their stylish, glass panelled restaurant. As we were a large party we had a private room at the front of the building which was modern and spacious. The room held a wide wooden table which was a perfect fit for the 15 of us, meaning we could all interact and no one was left stranded at the end of a table.

We kicked off the festivities with drinks in the lounge bar. As the sun was shining I opted for the customary summer Pimms (£5). The tall drink was served with freshly sliced strawberries, cucumber and mint, which, I know this may sound silly, made the glass really refreshing and flavoursome, opposed to some bars which will chuck in fruit which you can tell has been sitting around for days. Most of my fellow diners chose exciting looking cocktails (£8) from the extensive menu which included an exotic range of fruity concoctions.

After a few moments exploring the grounds with drinks we were shown to our seats in our private room by our server for the day. The service was brilliant and was one of the elements of the day which really stood out for me. Our water glasses were repeatedly filled, nothing was too much to ask but also they weren’t too over bearing which I have found in the past in more expensive restaurants. We were left to enjoy ourselves with our own space, without feeling we were being watched over.

The lunch menu was concise but included a trail of appetising flavours. At first I was tempted by the monkfish stew but ended up going for the spinach and ricotta gnocchi served with roasted tomatoes and courgette, topped with Parmesan and pine nuts (£12). After ordering the plates arrived at our tables within 20 minutes. Whilst waiting I tried the bread on the table which was beautiful in itself as the crust was baked with herbs and sea salt.

EE RecommendsThe gnocchi dish was absolutely delicious. The spinach and ricotta gnocchi was slightly gooey from the cheese so had a pleasing texture and was complemented well by the crunch of the courgette and pine nuts. I was apprehensive that the gnocchi may of been a little dry as it wasn’t served with a sauce,  however the juice from the plump cherry tomatoes served that purpose well. My fellow guests meals all looked and sounded great as well. The flat iron steak served with chips and roast tomato was cooked to perfection, and the roast chicken topped with chickpeas and chard smelt delicious.

I honestly couldn’t fault The Magdalen Chapter for the food, service or even price. Although many of the meals were way beyond my normal price range (my gnocchi was modestly priced compared to other dishes) I believe the excellent quality of food and first class service make it worth while. I would highly recommend the restaurant for a special occasion and I will be pestering my boyfriend to take me for a nights stay in the gorgeous hotel until he breaks!

To read more from Kathryn, head over to http://adayinmyshoeskathryn.blogspot.co.uk/ and subscribe to her wonderful blog 🙂

http://www.themagdalenchapter.com/

Magdalen Street, Exeter, EX2 4HY

Telephone 01392 281000
Email: magdalen@chapterhotels.com

 

Magdalen Chapter Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Dining at Highbullen Hotel, Golf & Country Club: Part 2/2

I don’t envy Dean Griffin, who is Head Chef at The Highbullen Hotel, Golf & Country Club.  Providing a menu that will satisfy the most demanding of high-end diners in The Devon View Restaurant, then a cheaper yet quality ‘pub-based’ menu for The Cellar Bar that is designed to appeal to those who want to pay gastro-pub prices, then a breakfast menu and bespoke menus for those shooting parties who might want to eat game or golfers who want Fish & Chips (see previous post).  And even then the wedding parties and the mass provision of catering for 100 or so guests on top of keeping it all running like clockwork.

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Having previously been at The Barcelo Imperial Hotel in Torquay, Dean has brought 25 years of experience to Highbullen, and through his small team of dedicated chefs, they rise to the occasion.  Our meal at The Devon View Restaurant was smooth culinary bliss with seamless friendly service in this ‘smart-casual dining’ experience.  The Devon View Restaurant is not about formal dining, but they do ask in the hotel information that you wear smart casual attire.  So no muddy trainers here thank you.
I managed to miss the concept of ‘wear some nice trousers and look presentable’ and got a good telling off from my marital unit for packing what I believed were comfortable yet smart clothes but alas were actually thinning and creased, which left me feeling very much like the scruff-bag in the corner.  The era of packing my own suitcase will be a distant memory from now on.

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We got to sample the more traditional three course menu which is new for spring.  It twists the modernism that you would expect from a contemporary hotel with the traditional English style influenced by the setting of this amazing hotel; the balance between the experimental and safe was struck well with this expertly engineered menu that made me wish every eating place had such a well thought out selection.  This is accessible high dining.  Not in the socialist way, but in a way that says ‘come in we don’t bite!’

I kicked off my meal with the Goats Cheese Mouse served with an Apple and Vanilla puree and micro-coriander, Tori started her side with Cauliflower Soup with Cheddar Cheese croutons.  The Goat’s Cheese was mild and had an intriguing texture that worked well with the Apple and Vanilla purée.  The Cauliflower Soup had a classic taste to it that reminded me of Cauliflower Cheese, but stronger and with much more body on the palette.

The main was going to be a tough choice, torn between Oven Fried Breast of Corn Fed Chicken and the Pan Fried Cod Fillet; the Pan Friend Cod Fillet with Chorizo, Chick Pea and Lemon Cassoulet won me over as I was intrigued to see how the strong tastes of Chorizo was used with a delicate taste like Cod.  I was pleasantly surprised when I found that the Cassoulet was as delicately seasoned as the fish was and acted as a perfect accompaniment as only small flakes of Chorizo was used to punch through the tastes of the lemon.  Tori had as similar problem deciding what her main should be and ended up choosing Oven Baked Duck Breast.  The duck melted off the fork and from what I tasted, it was a quality piece of meat cooked expertly.

There are a few things that every foody should try at some point in their life and a good Creme Brulee is one of my ‘must try’ items.  Oddly I had looked at the Desserts first before even thinking about the rest of the meal. And I wasn’t disappointed; it shattered like glass and tasted like a textbook example of how it should be done.  Tori went for the Vanilla and Orange Parfait which consisted of an orange sorbet and a raspberry coulis and from the noises from the other side of the table, it sounded divine!

The meal was accompanied by a very nice bottle of Santa Helena 2013 Merlot from their Wine List which consisted of no less than 64 different wines.  It was balanced and well bodied and was a good all-rounder with the meal.

The service has to be noted as things happen here that make you realise that you are in a high calibre restaurant.  On the night, the service was near perfect, ensuring we had something in front of us when we were supposed to and when we were finished, it was gone.  At the end of the meal we were still drinking wine and we were allowed to sit and drink our wine first before having teas and coffees, at no point did we feel rushed.  Douglas Muir the Restaurant Manager went from table to table talking to the guests and making sure that everything was acceptable, and this I liked.  The high level of customer care and service at Highbullen is something that has to be experienced, and in my opinion it is something that they have managed to get spot-on.

Breakfast

Our stay included a breakfast as well.  Luckily for us, they serve breakfast until 10:30am as we are lazy and like lying in on Saturday mornings. Guests are given the choice between just a continental breakfast or a continental and cooked breakfast.  Fatso here restrained himself from having both, but could have quite easily gorged himself on Croissants before hitting the fried stuff.

The numerous times I have stayed in hotels across the UK with packages that include breakfast, you get used to a certain standard of cheap breakfast.  Sausages boiled in their own grease, soggy croissants and a general feeling that some hotels are just not trying with their breakfasts.  A sort of breakfast apathy which always surprises me given the breakfast is still part of the ‘experience’. Thankfully I can report that Highbullen takes their breakfasts quite seriously, using a high quality ingredients and cooked well.

Also bonus points to Highbullen for the size of their teapot.  There is always a distinct lack of tea with ‘included’ breakfasts.

As we left Highbullen we had a lovely conversation with Keira who was on reception.  And this embodied, for me, the entire experience just through this one conversation.  Highbullen has an understanding of their customers’ needs that makes this hotel stand out from other similar hotels.  You pay for a touch of luxury, a friendly face and staff who will go that extra mile for you.  You pay for an impressive range of activities and access to some of the most dramatic and spectacular scenery in the UK and what better place to do it from?

In my last post I mentioned the fact that Highbullen are widening their appeal, and they are have widened it a little further with a new package that has just been created.  The Garden Break includes the following:

Gardens Break in Devon

On our Gardens Break you can enjoy a short break at Highbullen Hotel coupled with visits to two of the best gardens in North Devon. This special break includes 2 nights’ accommodation in a standard room, a hearty Devon cooked breakfast each morning, dinner each night in The Devon View Restaurant, plus 2 tickets to both RHS Rosemoor and Castle Hill gardens, both within a short distance of Highbullen Hotel.

Low Season – £259

Mid-Season – £319

Gardens Breaks are subject to availability. Price is per 2 night package, based on 2 people sharing a double or twin standard room. Low Season is January, February, November and December; Mid-Season is March to June and September to October. Room upgrades are available.

Eating Exeter were guests of Highbullen Hotel. http://www.highbullen.co.uk/

Highbullen Hotel, Golf & Country Club
Chittlehamholt, Umberleigh, 
North Devon, EX37 9HD

Email: welcome@highbullen.co.uk 

T 01769 540561
F 01769 540492

International Tel: +44 1769 540561
International Fax: +44 1769 540492

 

 

 

Highbullen Hotel, Golf & Country Club: Part 1

In the life of a food blogger, the chance to go outside of the box is rare.  But recently we were given the opportunity to visit one of Devon’s most luxurious destinations to experience what happens between the walls and hedges at The Highbullen Hotel, Golf & Country Club at Chittlehamholt in North Devon.

The hotel is steadily becoming one of the top destinations in North Devon and its easy to see why.  Its remote location, 18-hole USGA specification golf course and superior views, and taking in Exmoor, Dartmoor and down the Mole Valley, make Highbullen the ideal getaway for urbanites, golfers and a leisure destination for locals too.  It has recently been featured in The North Devon JournalDevon Life and Horse & Countryside after its 2013 renovation.

Built in 1879 by Exeter architect William Moore, its architecture is strongly influenced by Phillip Webb who was considered the father of Arts & Crafts architecture.  Built from stone quarried on the 125 acre estate, it remained the Moore family home for forty years.
In the Second World War it housed an evacuated girls private school, then in 1963 it was bought by Hugh and Pam Neil who turned it in to a foodie destination that attracted some top names such as Delia Smith, who became a regular visitor to The Cellar Bar in the seventies.  Some of Pam Neil’s (the founding chef) recipes appeared in Delia’s recipe books, and after their children Collette and Martin Neil (the actor) took over the reins, it continued its popularity as a destination for good food and its fantastic remote location.  Legend has it that Laurence Olivier used to pretend to be a barman and serve guests who didn’t recognise who he was.

In 2012 it was bought by the timeshare pioneer Frank Chapman and now with the help of his daughter Susie Gowenlock, they have reincarnated the Arts & Crafts glory days from the bottom up.  After a £1.4 million pound refurbishment, the hotel has risen from the ashes and now they’re ready to show exactly what luxury is all about.

You could be forgiven for walking in and that you have stepped through the doors in to someone’s front room, or you are about to take a tour around a National Trust property.  The ‘hotelness’ of the decor is minimal, and the staff who looked after reception were all about smart casual, no stuffy uniforms, no feeling that we were anything but welcome.  We were greeted by the Restaurant Manager, Douglas Muir who would give us a tour of the estate but first we needed to settle in to our room.  And boy…what a room!

There are 36 rooms dotted across the estate that are bookable, 11 in The Manor House which are all given names to reflect the history of the room.  Each room is designed to be individual, classically styled with a modern twist and we were lucky enough to stay in the Chinoiserie Room which overlooked the croquet lawn and the golf course.  With a turn to the left, you could see down the valley to the hills beyond.  Wherever you go in Highbullen, you cannot escape the views.

The four poster bed in white and gold was massive, double king or emperor size maybe? I could finally realise the joy of actually getting lost in a bed. A fine large bathroom and a large antique wardrobe with a wall mounted LCD TV topped off a very impressive room.

Douglas, the Restaurant Manager took us over to The Pavilion to show us some of the facilities that the Highbullen offers.  We also got a chance to talk to Head Chef Dean Griffin who was preparing to cook Fish & Chips for a party of 35 golfers!   Dean was recently appointed Head Chef and oversees the food at Highbullen’s five food outlets.  “It’s all about getting the local community on board” Dean mentions when I ask him about the ingredients and sources that he is able to use in this part of the world.  Fish comes fresh from a seller in St Ives, dairy and vegetables come from sources close by and bread is baked, where possible, on site.

The Pavilion includes a fully equipped gym, swimming pool, sauna, jacuzzi and bar area called The Club Bar that offers reasonably priced pub style food.  All of which are all open to locals as well, as are the restaurants and the golf course itself.  And Highbullen wouldn’t be a Country Club if you couldn’t shoot (clay and live), fish, play croquet and tennis.  The remote location is perfect for walkers who want to walk around the surrounding countryside or even Dartmoor or Exmoor.
The Pavilion hosts functions and an ever increasing amount of wedding evenings/receptions  in The Brasserie, but also acts as the place to go for the Sunday Carvery including the ‘Dip n Dine’ where the cost of a swim and the carvery is included together.  Douglas mentioned that Highbullen Hotel is in the middle of building The Forum which will allow these sorts of functions to take place separately and will allow more guests and the creation of a Health Centre which will greatly widen the hotel’s appeal.

And you can’t accuse Highbullen of not trying to widen their appeal.  Recently they created two new packages that would certainly appeal to dog-lovers and bike-lovers alike.

Hounds at Highbullen lets dog owners bring along their dog and provides the following:

  • In-room dog basket with blanket and lead
  • Two course “Dogs Dinner” of Chicken Casserole followed by Sirloin Steak with Vegetables and Jus
  • Doggie bag of toys and treats tailored to size of dog (small, medium or large) including brush, toy, treats, bag for waste and a tennis ball
  • Exmoor walking map
  • Two nights for two owners on a dinner, bed and breakfast basis

And their Cycling Package looks like this:

  • 2 night’s accommodation
  • Dinner each night in the Devon View Restaurant
  • A hearty Devon breakfast each morning
  • Cycle routes
  • Cycle clean
  • Packed lunch on one day and 2 £10 lunch vouchers to use on the other
  • 2 rounds of golf

Our tour took us next to The Cellar Bar and The Devon View Restaurant.  Like the rest of the hotel, these have both been given a makeover and look fabulous.  Unfortunately The Devon View Restaurant was set-up for the wedding the next morning, but happily enough The Cellar Bar was in full swing.  In my next post I’ll talk more about the food and the breakfast with photos and me writing the word ‘mmmm’ a lot.