Since its opening last year Dr Ink’s Curiosities has raised the bar (get it…?) for cocktails in Exeter with their inventive takes on classic Victorian cocktails, spun through the eyes of Dr Ink himself and his classic cocktail based adventures.
The menu, ‘ahem’ journal, is presented in a beautiful hard back book, embossed gold lettering on the front gives the menu a steampunk-esque feel to it. The stories within are pieces of fiction written by the team and Dr Ink regulars too.
It was great to meet Paddy and Tom who are passionate about their award winning cocktail bar and we were able to sample some of the elaborate and theatrical creations that are now available to patrons.
We sampled a few cocktails throughout the launch evening, but there were a couple really stood out!
The Ceylon Julep was a lovely experience. It had a strong savoury element to it, including a carrot and coriander syrup, topped off with curry leaves. Weird? No it works so well together, it felt like an alcoholic carrot shake but with an elegance put in its place with the gin and bitters. All presented in a beautiful copper goblet.
I was also taken with one of the cocktails Lauren had – the impressively presented Iolanthes Latern which uses Apricot Infused Hayman’s Old Tom, Amontillado Sherry, Creame D’Apricot and Peach bitters all presented in a vast and wonderful hanging lantern. A tart, strong cocktail that has a grand taste and an even grander presentation!
The Baobab Daisy made from Pineapple Rum, Bitters and Lime Sherbert to mention a few of the ingredients had a wonderful tropical flavour with bitter notes. It felt like a concoction one might have in a hot country next to a nice beach, meeting an African Queen and securing a trade deal. The only thing that was lacking was a bug-eyed Monkey!
I think the overall favourite for all of us was The Tales of Space and Thyme. This was a delicate cocktail. The rim of the glass was lined with salt and thyme which created an amazing flavour upon drinking. Made with Tanquery and Pamplemousse Rose to name a few of the ingredients, it had strong overtones of grapefruit and with the bitterness of the gin, the whole thing created a lasting complex tone on the tongue. The little UFO on top was a fantastic finish!
I finished the night with the Aardvark. Unfortunately my photographic skills had declined somewhat and my phone is rubbish (wish I’d brought along the big camera!) so it is not a great representation. But the stunning photography in the journal really do the cocktails justice!
Inspired from a recipe in The American Bartender by W.H. Laid (1866) this fantastic little drink contains Flor De Cana (South American rum), Seedlip (gin), Kafir lime and lemongrass syrup and edible ants to name a few of its components.
This Dr Ink’s story is one of my favourites. Finding himself persued by a lion, he manages to escape by sacrificing his horse. He takes refuge in a termite mound and makes friends with an Anteater; he finds a bunch of gemstones that the anteater has dug up and is rescued by his companions. Of course the actual story is much better, but it makes you realise the amount of time and hard work that goes in to creating the Dr Ink’s experience.
The team are constantly experimenting and researching new drinks and this second journal is a testament to the passion and unerring devotion that these guys have to cocktails.
Down at the bottom of the garden, amongst the birds and the bees, is a hub of activity, and no it’s not the Poddington Peas…
…It’s Devon’s very own 2 Michelin starred chef Michael Caines MBE. The Exeter-based chef, who left Gidleigh Park at the beginning of 2016 after 18 years, sowed the seeds of his vision a few years ago during his notice period, as he sunk his heart, soul and many great British pounds into what once was Courtlands House. This elegant Grade II listed Georgian mansion, that was a wedding and event venue, was in need of much love and life injecting into it to bring a slightly ugly duckling to its full potential as a graceful swan…and my oh my, he has done it.
I was thrilled to be invited along as part of a bijou group for a local press lunch and tour on what became a splendidly sunny Tuesday. After parking in the car park, with no building in sight, I meandered awkwardly in my heels along a wood chip path. From the moment you emerge from the forest path, which is peppered with stone art work for your enjoyment and seasonal bluebells, the positioning of Lympstone Manor really comes into it’s own – the view that opens up to the right is SPECTACULAR.
As you enter into the spacious foyer the furniture, décor, details and warmth hit you from every corner; it took me a moment to soak it all up and I’m sure reception will get used to guests entering and not even realising they are straight ahead of them as the arriving guest breathes everything in.
With sitting areas to the left and right, and a bar area right back leading onto the beautiful verandah with such detailed archways that run the length of the main building. Sit here with a coffee or a glass of something and just soak that view up.
If it’s a bit chilly and you can’t face the outdoors, the comfy and well filled lounge areas will keep you warm. I found it to be really well decorated, nothing was cold, bare or chintzy, just filled with warmth, comfort and exuding elegance and individual quirky seating in places.
The theme and colour palette of the bedrooms is in keeping the blue calm of the Exe estuary along with rooms named after local birdlife and hand painted by local artist Rachael Toll.
Prices start at approx. £230 per night, 5 of the 21 bedrooms having views to the rear of the property, but fear not as the interiors will make you enjoy your indoor surroundings. Plump cushions, fluffy carpets underfoot, accents of gold, complimentary Williams Chase laden gin trays, Nespresso coffee machines. L’Occitane toiletries (and the all essential GHD’s for the ladies) await you. Rooms also contain local Devon made beds from Enchanted House Beds and plush duvets from Devon Duvets.
The majority of the rooms have garden or estuary views; ranging in size, one suite even has double gold roll top baths whilst other suites boast glass fronted balconies, outdoor patios areas with fire pits, outdoor soak tubs and even private garden entrance.
For locals who don’t need an overnight expedition in the cosiness and exclusiveness of Lympstone Manor’s rooms, then the dining is where it’s at, with menus to tempt your budget when you are looking for something special. Three dining rooms – Berry Head, Powderham and Mamhead, all with their own personalities and possibilities, adorned with Kurt Jackson artwork, are perfect for couples dining, groups celebrating or business deals over dinner. There’s even a wine room that will be available for wine tasting too, what’s not to like?
And now to the food – as Michael quotes, “after love, there is only cuisine”…
We were very lucky to be treated to canapes on the veranda before indulging in 5 courses with matching wines.
Canapés of tuna tartare, a carrot creation and breaded quails egg with the essential runny yolk.
Beautifully made selection of breads to start before diving into the first course of Pipers Farm Chicken Terrine with truffle, hazelnuts and green bean salad.
Stephanie of Exploring Exeter was impressed with the vegetarian second course of Goat Cheese Mousse with jasmin raisins, apple and candied walnuts whilst I was delighted with Warm Salad of Cornish Lobster with mango and cardamom vinaigrette and curried mayonnaise.
Third course included Fillet of Darts Farm Beef, braised cheek, horseradish and shallot confit, celeriac, mushroom puree and red wine sauce whilst the vegetarian option was a Slow Cooked Duck Egg surrounded by peas, jersey royals, asparagus and black truffle.
Pre-dessert was a beautiful Apple Mousse, with green apple sorbet and vanilla foam followed by the main dessert of Poached Rhubarb with Hibiscus, lemon sponge, lemon curd and rhubarb sorbet.
All of the courses were beautiful in texture and flavour and all tasted absolutely divine. I was even allowed into Michael’s domain to see him plate up the desserts and, having worked in kitchens myself, I was impressed by the space with plenty of room for a growing brigade.
So if you are done salivating or I’ve got your tummy rumbling….shall I remind you of the view?
I must admit I was a little sad to leave, although I did so with a smile on my face.
After lounging around like lady (or man) of the manor, perhaps you’ll find the energy to explore part of the 28 acres, soon to be vineyard (with this spot being in the top 5% of suitability due to ideal conditions), or even escape on one of the Pashley bicycles available – with private access to the public cycle trail you could dip your toes in the estuary that makes this view and venue mouth-wateringly priceless. Unique, sumptuous, delectable – and it’s right here on our doorstep.
You know those days, between the seasons, where there’s just enough warmth yet still a chill in the air? There’s the lure of a country walk to inhale fresh air and appreciate nature as she removes her winter layer or gets ready to batten down the hatches.
That feeling seems to envoke the need to find a resting place so as to reward yourself for said walk, or cosy up to comfort yourself if the rain fell. A perfect place to fulfil any such need or even just as an excuse to get out of the house if the walk had not been possible at all, is The Swan at Bampton.
Situated just outside Tiverton, The Swan at Bampton is owned and run by Paul and Donna for what is now their 10th anniversary year, it has been rewarded with many accolades including Top 50 Gastro Pubs and 2 AA Rosettes. The website informs you that ‘The Swan, being the oldest pub in Bampton, was originally lodgings to accommodate the masons and other craftsmen who were hired to enlarge the church in 1450. St Michaels church can be seen from the terrace just behind the pub.’
It still holds a sense of history with its beams and stoney walls, but has had a beautifully tasteful and modern refurbishment, whilst still keeping warmth and charm.
Having engaged with Paul on social media for some time due to my drooling over his food images, I finally found the perfect excuse to visit – Mothers Day. I didn’t want anything fancy, just a blimmin’ good roast and with his ethos of local meat, and comforting yet modern food, I had no doubt it would be good.
After enjoying a stroll in the sunshine along the Tiverton Canal, we arrived at 4:30 so as to enjoy Linner or Lupper (somehow not the same ring to it as brunch…I’ll fetch my coat!) We settled down at a table near the bar. There was evidence it had been very busy but nonetheless we were welcomed with smiles and served with ease, even Paul gets involved in ensuring his customers are happy (both Paul and Donna cook as well). With no official children’s menu, the younger ones are encouraged to choose from the mains and they are happy to serve a smaller portion ensuring the children eat just as well as their parents and none of this chicken nugget malarkey. (Don’t get me wrong, they have their place..but when you eat out, eat fresh).
So both my hubby and I settled quickly on roast beef and my son wanted the roast pork. There were plenty of main menu items nearly seducing us but I hadn’t had a pub roast in forever, and for once this ensured I didn’t dawdle over my choice.
The pub has its bar placed well in the middle of the ground floor with around 10 tables to the front left and right, fireplaces on either side for those colder days, and a small more cosy dining area set back upstairs with 4 or 5 tables.
Locals surrounded the bar area enjoying a catch up, with roast potatoes on deck for a thirst inducing snack. The bar includes the usual suspects with regards to drinks along with some great local beers and ales. We enjoyed a lager called Curious Brew, brewed using the champange method, it was refreshing and slightly fizzy, a clean and refreshing partner for the impending meat feast.
What arrived was fantastic; beautiful meat, on a bed of crispy roast potatoes, yorkshire pudding and a sticky and sweet oven roasted red onion. My son’s child portion arrived looking very similar and he was delighted to see a bit of fat (how he stays skinny, I’ll never know!). What followed was even more pleasing; not just a bountiful offering of vegetables but a jug of meaty gravy and a jug of cheese sauce! It was all just gorgeous, and these jugs were an extra I wouldn’t expect to receive but it just shows how Paul and The Swan know what their customers want. The veg consisted of leeks, heritage carrots, broccoli, cauliflower and a wonderful pot of sweet potato mash. All this for £11.95, this was a roast with the most and for a greedy gravy guzzler like me, it was nice not to have to ask for more!
My son completely cleared his plate which was a sure sign of enjoyment as he has a tendency to get distracted, it goes cold and he leaves some aside…but no dithering here. At £6.50 for a child portion, it includes a bowl of ice cream to satisfy the mini-me’s sweet tooth requirements. He gave it a big thumbs up and 100 out of 100!
For us bigger kids, the normally savoury husband found one of his favourite puds was on the menu, and went for it – treacle tart with vanilla ice cream. I struggled to choose from the great options but the mini egg ice cream that accompanied the chocolate brownie somehow swung it for me…boy it was good. Gooey, cakey, crispy, warm, chocolatey, bitter chocolate balanced with sweet with honeycomb bits for extra texture….delicious indeed. Hubby was super happy and impressed with his choice – a crisp pastry bottom, with a gooey layer then tasty treacle top, best he has had in a long time.
Well it was time to go, and be drawn out into the evening with the church bells a ringing amid the clear skies.
Want great pub food, that surpasses your expectations but doesn’t break the bank, best flap your wings and swan over to Bampton. If you’re too full to leave, there are some tastefully appointed rooms above to sleep it off.
The Swan, Station Road, Bampton, Devon EX16 9NG. Telephone: 01398 332248.
For any restaurant or café, quality of output is incredibly important. British diners are a very picky lot, and because we’re not very good at complaining restaurants don’t often get to read about a bad burger or an over-cooked steak until they see it on TripAdvisor.
One of Exeter’s best loved restaurants is Lloyd’s Kitchen in Catherine Street, in the dominating shadow of the House of Fraser building. We were invited along to one of their feedback evenings which are held before a new menu is rolled out. At this point, the new menu isn’t completely public and it gives those attending a sneak preview to what the new menu might look like; it gives the chefs a chance to refine, tweak and adjust.
As Lauren and myself were both invited along to this event, we’ll both give our two cents about what we had and the evening itself.
Lloyd’s Kitchen is another indie restaurant that has gone from strength to strength on the back of a firm reputation for quality and attention to detail. There is a strong local ethos with ingredients and an eye for detail with each dish that has seen them excel despite fierce competition from local chain restaurants; despite the devastating fire that ripped the beating heart out of our beloved city taking place just a matter of metres away from their door, they are one of the top names on our dining scene.
This feedback evening was a chance for us to gather together with Lloyd and his family and a few other foodies/bloggers and sample the epic delights of their new menu.
I had opted for a ‘no preference’ option which meant I was going to be treated to some unknown dishes. The element of surprise was enticing.
Unfortunately the evening seemed to start earlier than planned so I missed the starter.
I was lucky to be sampling the
Chargrilled Lamb Rump – Lamb Kofta, Pomegranate & Mint Cous Cous, Red Pepper Jam, Confit Tomato & Shallot Sauce.
White Chocolate & Blueberry Cheesecake
The lamb was beautifully cooked. I will start off by saying that I am not the biggest fan of lamb at the best of times, but I am always impressed at how succulent and tender it can be if it is cooked and treated properly.
The balance of flavours worked together wonderfully. It felt like a Moroccan inspired dish with a flavour palette that was homely and sensible, the sweetness of the pomegranet and the sharpness of the Red Pepper Jam worked well with the Kofta and the lamb itself.
Then we had the cheesecake. The cheesecake. Oh my!!
British restaurants are terrible at desserts in my opinion. Often relying too heavily on pre-packaged stuff out of a freezer, or dressing up ice-cream beyond what it really is. But Lloyd’s Kitchen and their White Chocolate and Blueberry Cheesecake is one thing that would change my mind if every restaurant did something like this.
Creamy, sour, sweet, colourful and delightful – I was blown away by this dish. My only criticism is that there wasn’t more of it. I know that is a cliched thing to say but, damn it was good.
Settling into Lloyd’s for this very organised set-up, I initially felt it a bit staged at first but the family were there as well and were incredibly welcoming. They insisted on wanting honest feedback in order to improve dishes and know what to choose for the upcoming menu change. Lloyd himself, still young in the eyes of restaurant ownership ensured he greeted all his guests and made us comfortable right from the off.
Even with only a dozen of us in the space on this evening, this lovely restaurant did not feel empty and exuded a cosy glow; the lighting and decor is stylish yet warm, hanging lights, white wall tiles for said light to bounce off and even a patio heater to enjoy the glass front area, that can be opened to enable an al fresco option in the summer and allow plenty of people watching!
So down to business. I had already chosen my food choices earlier in the week to ensure that all the potential menu items were going to be tasted by the group.
Tempura Monkfish Cheeks, Mango, Chilli & Avocado, Harissa Sauce – a meaty yet light starter in an even lighter crispy batter!
Confit Duck Leg & Rare Breast, Potato & Rosemary Rosti, Seasonal Greens, & Honey Grazed Baby Carrots – the meat just pulled away on this dish and as a rosti connoisseur at home I can’t put into words how good theirs was! Seasoned to perfection too.
Lemon Tart with Raspberry Sorbet – a good tart but I tell you that sorbet sang!
The food, overall, was delicious; well balanced in flavours and textures and equally well presented. It’s not flashy; it’s just stylish and comforting – exactly like the decor. My scoring and feedback will remain confidential of course but a few constructive comments were thrown in, otherwise the purpose of the event would not have been fulfilled. Plenty of good comments were given too – they are certainly doing something right as I only ever hear good things about Lloyds Kitchen.
I found the idea totally refreshing and I look forward to seeing what is chosen for the upcoming menu and how our comments have affected the final product, enabling you – the paying customer – to enjoy your dinner and a positive experience whilst spending your hard earned cash on tasty food in one of Exeter’s great independents.
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.
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.
The Grosvenor Hotel, Belgrave Road, Torquay, TQ2 5HG
We visited Dr Ink’s a few weeks ago after an event and although it was only a brief visit, I’ve been eager to write something about this lovely establishment for a while.
There are quite a few places in Exeter that do cocktails now. They range from the pre-made stuff in cartons, to fine concoctions made by men with beards. A good cocktail is easy to come by in Exeter these days but an exceptional one is even harder.
I could name a number of places that are ‘must-go’ and you must go, because the cocktail landscape of Exeter is a varied and complex thing. Nuances, differences, things done in a slightly different way in one bar and not in another, quirks.
But here is Doctor Ink’s Curiosities on the Quayside, tucked in behind the Customs House it makes little impression on the Quay from outside. But step inside and you are presented with a classic styled cocktail bar with a wall of brightly lit spirits and lots of red velvet.
This is the quirkiest of them all, this is just theatre.
Doctor Ink’s isn’t the cheapest place in town but you’re not coming here for special offers – There is a lot of pride taken in the stories behind each drink and the authenticity of the ingredients used. The menu is presented in a hardback book and there is, when they are quieter, a table service.
Proudly independent, their cocktails each have a story. They are created with an attention to detail which only goes to show the passion that their mixologists put in to every drink.
Circa 1924 is already one of my favourites out of all the chains and independents. I have enjoyed their Express Lunch a few times (see my review here), taking friends with to show my ‘secret’ off. But this place should be far from a secret – it deserves to be found and filled with both diners and drinkers.
On this occasion I was invited for dinner; the interior has recently had a slight refurb to make the downstairs more diner focussed by removing the bar area, with upstairs fulfilling that part of the business with live music sessions every Friday. The upstairs is beautiful, with apex beamed ceilings, it’s cool yet cosy and a great place for a date or group gathering.
On a chilly Saturday night, we ventured out on the bus with our 6 year old son, so that we could enjoy a drink or two.
I always struggle to choose what to eat here; I would eat it all – it all sounds so delicious and there is a nice selection of meat, fish and vegetarian options. Of course, as important as the food is the drinks offering, which is extensive too – wines, soft drinks, craft beers and cocktails.I had no hesitation in choosing my favourite Espresso Martini and Steve made a special request for a Margherita.
So on to the food!
Whilst deciding, and due to having an ever -hungry child, we had some bread to start. It was lovely selection with some high quality butter and ewas consumed with gusto.
For starters I opted for Cured Loin Of Local Venison with Västerbotten cheese, wild mushrooms & lingonberry coulis whilst Steve chose the Crispy Softshell Crab with spring onion, house sweet chilli & wasabi. As ever, I had trouble choosing between the venison and the bisque so ‘blow it’, we order the Brixham Crab Bisque with butter poached king prawns & homemade bread as well to share.
The venison was soft and tasty, with a tang from the cheese and sweetness from the coulis. The softshell crab was beautifully crisp, texturally soft inside and sweet – really yummy. The bisque had a good amount of depth to it with two very plump and sweet prawns. A delightful start to our meal.
For mains I went for the Rump Of Local Lamb with roasted garlic purée,buckwheat pancakes & sour cream and Steve had his name on the Local Fillet Of Beef served with potato muffin, tenderstem broccoli & red wine jus. Our son enjoyed the starter softshell crab along with a side of skin on fries which he rated highly!
Both meats were cooked perfectly, were soft and full of flavour with no chewy bits in sight. Muffins and pancakes were light and all the elements worked well together. We were also enticed by the option of adding surf to our turf and enjoyed two fried oysters, which were absolutely delightful – something I have always wanted to try.
Last but certainly not least, it was dessert time! I opted for the Dark Chocolate Truffle Torte, vanilla-coffee mascarpone, honeycomb & blackberry coulis whilst savoury Steve was delighted by the chance to have Selection of Three Cheeses which came with a fantastic variety of crackers and crisp bread. My pud was rich dark chocolate, lots of crunchy textures, blobs of creamy loveliness and coulis for a bit of sharpness – and it was a work of art.
I may sound like a stuck record, but I do love the food here. It’s tasty, flavoursome, interesting, local, an independent and beautfully presented. The feel is casual and comfortable yet attentive. It’s ideal for groups or even a special evening.
My only small suggestion would be that, with the mains, perhaps a bit more starch is included as I was dining with a hungry man – yes you can order some extra sides but I guess at this price point you may not want to spend more on sides. The plus side to the food here is that is just so fresh, light and pleasing so you can manage 3 courses and you don’t go away feeling awfully stuffed.
Having written this after visiting a more premium restaurant further afield, at a similar price point, the quality of the food and cooking was very close and I do hope Circa 1924 achieves some recognition in future. But more important than any awards is that the locals (and visitors) support the restaurant and vote with their feet…and eat! Until next time Circa; this restaurant is firmly on my recommendation shortlist!
I am in my mid-thirties, despite the beard and the wrinkles which make me look well in to my forties (I’ve stopped playing Guess My Age as it is just depressing) I am thirty-five. I am old enough to remember Boxes & Boogies Nightclub, The Hothouse, The Thirsty Camel, The Turk’s Head, Mambo… the list goes on.
The Hole In The Wall (THITW) is one of the names that I remember from my youth. Unlike all of those that I mentioned, this pub is still going strong and is diversifying in the ever changable and turbulent economic environment that we live in.
A couple of years ago THITW suffered a devastating fire that caused extensive damage to the interior. The owners rebuilt and refurbished, and now the interior feels fresh and lighter than it ever did before. The pool tables are still there, and punters still come here to drink before heading over to Timepiece or downstairs to the not-so-private Private Cocktail lounge on the ground floor.
In the memories of many Exonians THITW is still a drinking pub, a place to get blotted rather than to grab some food. But this is going to change after the recent appointment of Ben Corcutt to Head Chef. Ben has worked for years with Adam Little (Exeter Golf & Country Club) and has now ventured out on his own with a fantastic menu that is going to make THITW a strong contender on the dining scene here in Exeter.
Ben invited us over to play some pool and sample some of the delights of his new offering, a menu inspired by slow-cooking and smokehouses.
The drink offerings are largely the big names. Estrella, Carlsberg etc.I don’t think the demographic who come here are not overly interested in the Craft’s? although there is a bit more variety through the bottled options, THITW caters for sports fans with matches being shown during tournaments. But don’t let the fact this pub shows sports put you off.
During our visit the rugby was playing and it was fascinating to see the men, the ball, the running and the throwing and the large periods of inactivity and walking around that happens whilst they decide who had the ball last and where they should throw it from. That’s how it works? Right?… Football is much easier to follow, and there is much more melodrama too
The menu is split in to sections – Lighter Bites, Something Larger, Burgers and of course Pizzas! I went for the Beef Brisket French Dip (£12) and Tori went for The Hole In The Wall Burger (£10). Both come with a generous portion of skin-on chips.
The first thing that struck us was the generous portion size, the burger was big and thick with lashings of topping.
The cheese dribbled nicely out of the sides and the bacon was crispy bacon with fresh greens encapsulated in a fresh bun. The whole combination had a fantastic taste, the meat was well seasoned and juicy.
With both of our meals there were beautifully cooked chips with no skimping on the amounts.
The Beef Brisket French Dip came with a lovely large pot of gravy for dipping. The beef was beautifully tender and well seasoned, combined with the cheese and the freshly baked sub; dipping bread and beef in to gravy has always been a naughty thing I would do after a roast dinner, mopping up the gravy with a bit of left over meat in a sandwich.
The strong taste of the gravy worked wonders with the beautifully tender beef as it soaked in to the fresh bread.
Now here was an entire meal based on that delightful combination. And with some lush chips to boot and a pint of Estrella. Bliss.
We finished off our meal with a game of pool. I haven’t played pool in, literally, years and for my first game which I ACTUALLY WON was brilliant. Then the second game, well, it took us 20 minutes to pot the balls and I expect we did that in the wrong order. It took me back to my days as a student, strangely I played pool much better if I was drunk.
The Hole In The Wall has changed dramatically from my days of youth. It has an air of sophistication to its look, the interior is light and refreshed and the menu is something to behold. On food alone I would recommend this place to anyone, on booze then maybe to a certain type of person who didn’t mind the lack of funny craft ales that many pubs seem to have these days. But this is made up for by the cocktail lounge on the ground floor that we got a sneak peek at before we left (available for private hire and parties by the way…).
Ben’s new menu is a fantastic example of how slow-cooked SHOULD be done. The fad of slow-cooked meats is frequently replicated but rarely given justice, so to find a place that is doing it properly in Exeter makes me very happy.
urbanburger is launching a new URBAN DELIVERY service in Exeter on Friday, 24th February 2017. Their mission is to deliver high quality food straight to their customers’ homes, by delivery drivers on motor bikes.
Simply download the app at https://urbanburger.app4food.co.uk and place your order for delivery. You can even pre-order a delivery for a specific time. And you can also book a table at urbanburger via the app.
URBAN DELIVERY is available on Fridays and Saturdays, from 5pm to 10pm and on Sundays from 5pm to 9pm.
Areas covered include Exeter City Centre, Exwick, St Thomas, Alphington, St David’s, Duryard & St James, Newtown, Pennsylvania, St Leonards, Mincing Lake & Whipton, Pinhoe, Heavitree, Priory and St Loyes.
Owner, Garth Pearse, says, “We’re very excited about our new URBAN DELIVERY service. As well as our delicious burgers, customers can order a large selection of both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks to be delivered straight to their front door.”
All URBAN DELIVERY orders will receive a 10% discount until 31st March 2017.
The moment everyone in Exeter has been waiting for, the highly anticipated BierKeller is now open and the pre-launch party well and truly set the pace! The invite-only event saw hundreds of Exeter locals come together for an exclusive first look at Exeter’s first Bavarian bar.
The drinks were flowing and the resident Oompah band, the Bavarian Strollers helped to create a fun-filled atmosphere.
The band entertained the crowd, encouraging revellers to take their dancing up on to the thick wooden tables and dishing out free drinks to those willing to get involved! As well as traditional Bavarian music, the band played plenty of modern tunes with a little twist.
The BierKeller team were dressed for the occasion, clad in traditional Lederhosen but it wasn’t just them; a few enthusiastic party people donned the Apres ski wear and lederhosen in pursuit of the promised half priced steins.
BierKeller is all about having fun and if the pre-launch party is anything to go by, that’s exactly what it will be.
Harry Wild – Michael Caines, Nick Hook – Devon Food Hour & Lauren Heath – Eating Exeter
For burger fans in Exeter, we lost one of the best Burger joints in Exeter as Ruby Modern Diner closed the doors on its Queen St restaurant. But the saving grace to the story was that it wasn’t the end, in fact it was just the beginning of a new chapter in the story of Ruby Burgers.
For burger fans in Exeter, we lost one of the best Burger joints in Exeter as Ruby Modern Diner closed the doors on its Queen St restaurant. But the saving grace to the story was that it wasn’t the end, in fact it was just the beginning of a new chapter in the story of Ruby Burgers.
We were lucky enough to be invited over to visit The Grapevine Brewhouse in Exmouth to welcome in their new kitchen-in-residence.
Whilst in Queen Street they won Taste Of The West Gold for three years running along with a host of other awards. So what made Dicky and Erin Harrison want to move operations to Exmouth?
Erin Harrison, co-owner – “The opportunity for a kitchen residence came up at the Grapevine and was too good to miss! Its a fantastic pub and Exmouth has a great vibe and plenty of independent restaurants and bars, we thought Ruby would be a great fit. Also we were unsure of the impact of the Guildhall and other new developments in the centre of Exeter and felt that Exmouth would be a better home for us.”
For Burgerlad (one of the UK’s foremost burger bloggers) Ruby Modern Diner had been recommended to him countless times on Twitter and when he visited them in Queen Street it lived up to his expectations. Every time we visited we were always full and very happy with every visit.
The Grapevine Brewhouse is a fantastic independent establishment owned by Oliver and Demelza Bainbridge. It is also home to Ollie’s brewing operations named Crossed Anchors, which brews its product on-site. The perfect combination – local beer and local burgers, and throw in some regular live music events along with a vast selection of guest ales and continental beers, and you have a winning combination.
Erin says “The pub hosts great bands every week and is really busy and buzzy and of course I have to say the BEER! Crossed Anchors is the on site brewery and they are creating some awesome craft beer and ales. Ollie also stocks a huge range of international beers – so there is something for everyone and of course their beer is the perfect match for our burgers”
With the wood paneled walls, shelves adorned with decorative paraphernalia there is a cosiness to this pub that invites you in from the cold. The warmth of lamps and the low lighting makes this an inviting sight on a cold winter night and on the food tables are the all too familiar mustard and ketchup. Just like it was in Exeter.
Ruby have changed their menu to adapt to their new home. All Burgers come with fries, home-made ‘slaw and a pickle. Before these were items that you could add separately and the prices reflect this change, but the classic names are still on the menu.
The Bad Man, Piggy, Blue, Scorchio are all names I’ve missed! But here they are, as good as they were and back in my life. Luckily for Ruby, the two Head Chefs who steered the boat in Exeter (excuse the pun) are still at the healm! Erin added “We’re lucky and proud to say our two head chefs from Exeter, Rob and Mark made the move with us and are really happy in their new home. they’ve worked really hard to bring Ruby to the Grapevine and we think our burgers are better than ever.”
Ruby are still using local suppliers and their local ethos is still at the heart of what they do. Roger The Farmer from Copplestone provides their beef, Exploding Bakery in Exeter provides brownies, Darts Fresh provides veg, Hawkridge from Crediton still provides cheeses etc.
It is a testament to a restaurant when you get chatting to a regular who sing the praises of the pub and Ruby Burgers. As I was taking photos I got in to a bit of banter with some gentlemen sat by the iconic Ruby Burgers hatch who praised the consistency and quality of the food.
Our burgers for tonight would be the Blue 7oz beef patty, chestnut mushrooms, caramelised onions and Devon Blue cheese (£12.50) and the Piggy 7oz beef patty, home smoked pulled pork, smoked Applewood cheddar, smoked streaky bacon, Ruby sauce (£13.50).
My Blue Burger was a delight to eat. Chestnut mushrooms and the tang of the blue cheese made the burger feel more steak-like; it contrasted well with the sweetness of the caramelised onions. The fries were, naturally, fresh and hot and it was presented on that iconic Ruby logo paper. The bun was intact throughout the meal and not a soggy bottom in sight.
Tori’s was Piggy was quite a burger to behold as it was packed generously with pulled pork and bacon – it was brimming! So much that half way through taking photos, it lurched to the side and suffered from the burger-topple effect.
But this was no barrier to the taste. It was a charming and delightful burger with a sweet smokiness throughout. The home smoked pulled pork was a winning combination with the tasteful Devon Ruby beef.
The beer at The Grapevine Brewhouse is extensive in choice. One of the region’s best selections of international beers coupled with their own delectable in-house brewed beers and ales make it an absolute mecca for local beer lovers. As we sipped our pint of C.S.H (stands for Cascading Smash Hopburst) which was a spritely hoppy blonde ale at 3.8%ABV, I imagined afternoons cycling down to Exmouth and having a few pints and a burger at The Grapevine before hopping back on a train feeling slightly merry and full.
There is something quite epic about the combination of a beautifully crafted local beer and a burger made from ingredients from this wonderful county. And although we’ve lost a fantastic Exeter name on our restaurant scene, we have given it to Exmouth and they love it.
Ruby Burgers has been open since October and in that short space of time it feels like they’ve imprinted themselves in to the fabric of the town; the partnership between The Grapevine Brewhouse and Ruby Kitchen seems so natural. Not just because beer and burgers go so well together, but because here are two businesses that are already doing great things
In January, Exeter’s popular Pizza Stein restaurant will evolve into two distinct venues, BierKeller and PS Conscious Kitchen. Pizza Stein will close on the 2nd January and re-open in April, in a brand new restaurant-only site as PS Conscious Kitchen. The current venue will close throughout January for a refurbishment before re-opening as BierKeller Exeter.
The decision comes after the restaurant owners identified the opportunity to grow two separate brands in Exeter. It means that they are able to offer a wider variety to customers, while maintaining their personality and continuing to celebrate their core values.
BierKeller will bring to Exeter a true Bavarian beer hall featuring thick long wooden benches, a fun and friendly atmosphere and a fantastic choice of drinks served in traditional ‘steins’; 16 draught beers and ciders along with 3 cask ales and over 20 bottled beers.
PS Conscious Kitchen will continue to celebrate authentic pizzas and great quality ingredients, sticking to the true Napoli rules. The menu however will be re-designed to cater to vegans, those with a gluten intolerance and other allergies, as well as offering more sustainable options. Ultimately the restaurant will maintain Pizza Stein’s ethos of good ingredients cooked in a clean way.
Director, Paul Matthews comments:
“It’s a big change for us but we’re excited by the possibilities! We didn’t expect the popularity and diversity between the two brands so we feel that the opportunity to split and grow them should not be ignored.
We can finally offer a wider variety of food and challenge the chefs to find the best organic, sustainable ingredients to maintain the core values of the original Pizza Stein. We think this is the beginning of two bigger and better venues and another great independent offering for our city!”
Pizza Stein are encouraging customers to head to the restaurant which is located on the quay, to enjoy their last ‘true’ pizza for 3 months!’
We were fortunate enough to be invited to a tasting evening at Chococo’s lovely shop in Gandy St before Christmas. It was a rare opportunity to experience chocolate under the expert guidance of Chococo co-founder and Chocolatier Claire Burnet who imparted her vast weath of knowledge and passion, taking us lucky bloggers on a whistle-stop tour of the chocolate landscape.
At the beginning of the evening, I started as a complete chocolate dunce. This is a position that I feel most UK consumers are in, it is one of our favourite food stuffs but we don’t really know the ins-and-outs of how it is the way it is, and where things come from etc. How many Joe Bloggs might know what makes American Chocolate different from European Chocolate? How many might know the different sorts of beans? and what variety of beans goes in to different sorts of chocolate?
I do hope Chococo start doing this sort of evening for the general public, it was a rare opportunity to talk to someone who has passion and enthusiasm for their art.
If you’re in to chocolate, visit their café and browse the wonderful selection of products in their shop.
Old Timer’s Wine Bar and Restaurant is one of Exeter’s hidden gems, of which we seem to have many! An independent establishment that is owned by the same names that own The Timepiece Nightclub and Hole In The Wall, it has been one of the highlights on the dining scene in Exeter for many years. This is one of the most anticipated reviews for me – given its great reputation with its Sunday roasts – this restaurant delivers excellent value with big portions.
Finding Old Timers is a little bit like trying to find a large restaurant-sized needle in a city-sized haystack if you don’t know Exeter well. Set well away from the bustle and mania of the High Street, it sits on a wide alleyway that leads up to The Timepiece Nightclub.
On entering the interior feels a lot like a vintage emporium. It is dark and dimly lit; I don’t know when it was last decorated but there is a timeless quality that has never left since the last time I was here about 10 years ago. Is it how I remember? I think so… For me the highlights included the model B52 bomber and the whiskey boxes adorning the wall.
There were five of us, we had booked in advance, but there was no need to really as there was only a light smattering of punters at various tables around the restaurant. It was 5:30pm and we were definitely the calm before the storm.
Old Timer’s has got the right idea by providing a small yet well rounded menu, covering British classics along with Pizzas, Burgers. There isn’t many bells & whistles, but I was chuffed to see that most mains were around the £10 mark, with steaks being slightly more expensive as you’d expect. The food isn’t sophisticated and the interior is quite rough around the edges, but when our meals appeared the generous portion sizes made us all do a double-take.
I went for the Cajun Chicken Burger; served with Onion Rings, Salad and Home-made Chips. The chip portion was a little measly in proportion to the rest of the meal (but at the end of the meal I was glad that I hadn’t had MORE chips as with everything else it was a good size) but they were tasty and clearly made of actual potatoes. The chicken was moist and well cooked with a tasty Cajun finish all encompassed in a soft fresh white bun.
To top this meal, they were selling pints of Exeter Brewery’s Avocet Ale for £3.00 a pint which was a perfect accompaniment for what was one satisfying meal!
A long term favourite of mine has to be On The Waterfront; a restaurant based in the old ship buildings down on the Quay, it is well known for its ‘dustbin lid’ pizzas as well as a great drinking venue for the summer with punters spilling out on the riverside cobbles.
Long boatrooms with sloped ceilings, small and large tables able to cater for all party types, for young and old alike.
Large 16″ pizzas served in a wicker pizza tray – many try, some succeed and others fail. If you don’t succeed, you get to take it home and have round 2 the next day – so you don’t lose really.
I’ve been here as a couple, a family get together, group of friends and a large work outing with my most recent visit being a group family dinner for my Dad’s birthday. It was the perfect venue; a menu of fish, burgers and pizzas I knew it would satisfy the easy going one, the fussy one, the seafood lover (not least my 6 year old!) and the very hungry one in my family.
Due to the lighting my photos probably don’t do it justice, all I can say is that everyone was satisfied and it is excellent value and never disappoints.
Dustbin lid pizza’s can be enjoyed as a ‘half and half’ enabling you to indulge in two of their exciting toppings and they certainly don’t scrimp!
Among the items that were devoured were half and half Fiesta Mexicana and No Meat Aloud, a half and half Fully Loaded and Fiesta Mexican, the Fiery Inferno, a half and half Tikka Chicken special and Fully Loaded as well as two bowls of Fruits de Mer which were served with chunky ciabatta fingers – great for soaking up the sauce.
Puddings included Elderflower Pannacotta with Peppered Strawberries, Salted Caramel Chocolate Brownie and Chocolate filled Spanish Churros Fritters with Baileys Cream.
You hungry yet? You won’t be when you leave! Grab some family or friends and get down there pronto…you may need a walk around the canal to burn it off.
Since I’ve been writing this blog one restaurant has been steady and consistent in quality. That restaurant is Harry’s. If you want to read about our other visits, head here and here. My last review was The Oddfellows which is just up the road; on the theme of fantastic independent restaurants, here is another one of my much-loved haunts.
Harry’s is an institution in Exeter that goes beyond being just a ‘restaurant’. Established in 1993, there are classic favourite items on the menu that would cause uproar if you took them off (Nachos, The Harry’s Heart-attack etc.) but there are always new dishes being added depending on season and availability of ingredients. Using local suppliers where possible, the kitchen is a hive of activity and is manned by Owner-Chef Sam Pounds and her dedicated team.
86 Longbrook Street was purpose built for a successful businessman named Harry Hems, who ran a church fitting business from the premises. Hems had made a name for himself with his carvings and ornamentation which had gained international reputation for its quality. The workshop was built in the 1880s and designed by R Medley Fulford.
It remained a workshop until 1938 when his son Wilfred and business partner retired. It subsequently became a leather workshop, wine-sellers and later Harry’s Restaurant in 1993. For a full history head to Exeter Memories.
We were invited over to have a look at some new items that have appeared on their menu and give some feed-back. The lovely Amy (we are both big fans of Amy) was running things at the front of house, and as ever the service was friendly, attentive and knowledgeable about their food.
Among some of the favourites that I’ve seen before are some new dishes which we were eager to try. We went for two starters, two mains and one pudding accompanied with a glass of wine.
For starters Tori went for Seasonal Soup Of The Day (£5.00), served with croutons and garnished with colourful edible flowers. The soup today was Cauliflower which is, in my experience, a comforting dish that sits well on a cold evening. It was creamy and seasoned well, the consistency was perfect not being too thick but not too watery either.
My starter was Popcorn Shrimp (£6.00) served with garlic mayo. Battering anything is an art form and there are so many places we’ve been to that have ruined a perfectly good piece of fish by messing up the batter. But Harry’s expertly battered shrimp, served with a lovely garlic mayo was a pleasure to eat; crisp and light batter around large juicy shrimp was the perfect entry to our meal.
When we eat out I tend to head more towards fish options as we don’t really cook it at home. Tonight I chose a Shoreline from Lyme Bay Winery, Axe Valley, Devon. “Uber-dry & refreshing local wine. Complex notes of rose petal, lemon, nettle and grapefruit. Fab with all things fishy”
I went for the Seared Tuna Steak (£15) served with chimichurri, roast cherry tomatoes, avocado, and rocket. A plump slab of tuna cooked brilliantly and contrasting nicely with the savoury palette of the chimichurri. I was particularly taken with the Rocket which mixed with the lemon juices and the olive oil to create a delicious side. The avacado/tuna steak combo isn’t something I have tried before and it worked so well together!
Tori went for the special of the day that could very well appear on the Harry’s Christmas menu. Pork Belly with Mash in Apple Jus which created many nice noises from her side of the table. Pork Belly is, in her experience, very hard to get right and Harrys really got it right. The smoothness of the mash and the apple jus made it for Tori, and we both thought this would be a delightful addition to the menu if they bring it out for Christmas.
For me the dessert was an easy choice. For Tori it was a harder decision as she was quite full by this point so she decided to duck out of dessert after all. But I was still game for something sweet.
Harry’s is the home of the ‘Harry’s Heart Attack (£10)‘, a legendary dessert with the tagline ‘Two will struggle, one will fail’. On a previous visit to Harry’s earlier in the year we tried it out and yes…we had two between us and it was a struggle! But there were allsorts of things, so many different sweets, brownie, ice cream, whipped cream, it was epic!
But on this occasion I was more than happy to have the Peanut Butter & Oreo Cheesecake (£6) with peanut brittle and chocolate ice cream.
The infamous Harry’s Heart Attack we had on a previous visit…
The best way to eat this is to dip the cheesecake in the Peanut Brittle and then scoop a bit of ice cream with it. This method is called the ‘Dip and Scoop’, and it was this method that made me fall in love with this gorgeous dessert.
Harry’s Restaurant has soul. It is family run, completely independent and the staff here are, it seems, like a family in themselves. They are always attentive and on the occasions that I’ve eaten here before, the welcome has always been incredibly warm.
I would happily rate this restaurant as one of my top-spots for a meal out!
Just off the bustle of the High Street, under the shadow of John Lewis lies a small pub that has made a big impression on Exeter’s dining scene in recent years. Nestled between houses and office blocks; it backs on to the historic wall of red sandstone that surrounds Exeter Castle in one of the older parts of Exeter.
You might remember we visited The Oddfellows a couple of years ago to taste the wonder of their burger nights, and we loved it. The burgers are still to this day some of the nicest that we’ve tasted from a none-burger restaurant.
Exeter has become a foodie hub in recent years and with the Queen St Dining quarter steadily opening their numerous restaurants – both large and small scale chain operations – gastro-pubs/restaurants like The Oddfellows offer Exeter diners a locally-sourced independent option.
The Oddfellows has gone from strength to strength since Yvan & Faye Williams opened their doors ten years ago. They have since opened a sister pub in Exmouth, bringing their locally-sourced British cuisine to the people of this local seaside town.
I was honoured to be invited to their ten year celebration a couple of weeks ago; it is so heartwarming to know that an independent restaurant like The Oddfellows is going strong.
We were invited along to see what they did best, to enjoy the comfort of this lovely pub-restaurant and to raise a glass to ten more fabulous years.
The menu here is seasonal, it changes regularly using the best local suppliers in their well engineered menus.
When it comes to food, we’re definitely two course people; but the lovely looking dessert menu meant we had to go for all three. So we shared a starter and dessert!
Tori wanted to experience a cocktail which The Oddfellow’s mixologist produced expertly. The Speakeasy is The Oddfellow’s very own cocktail bar and is located upstairs above the main bar area.
With its vintage surroundings, it makes you feel you are propping up the bar in a genuine depression-era saloon! Cocktails are definitely one of The Oddfellows specialties. I grabbed a Rhubarb Collins from The Oddfellows mobile Cocktail Bar at the Beer & Bacon Festival back in September – it was refreshing and delightful. I digress, but here are some photos from that event.
Our starter tonight was going to be a Pork, Apple, Pistachio Terrine with Apricot Jam, Spiced Pork Quavers and toasted Brioche (£5.75). An enticing combination which worked together beautifully. I washed the whole thing down with a pint of Theakston’s Barista Stout.
The chunky terrine was lovely, with the smokiness of the brioche and the fresh butter, it was the perfect aperitif to our main courses.
For our mains we chose two wonderful dishes: For Tori – Westcountry steak: 8oz Rump with caramelised shallots, roasted on-vine tomatoes, beef dripping triple coked chips, smoked bacon and thyme butter.(£16)
Tori commented on how nicely the steak was cooked, and with the triple cooked chips done in beef dripping being some of the best chips eaten on that side of the table, the smoky bacon and rosemary butter on top added flavour – the generous amount of vine tomatoes was a generous and tasty addition.
And for me – Chicken breast stuffed with a black pudding mousse, chorizo croquettes, roasted cauliflower and puree, crispy chicken skin and chicken sauce (£14).
I’m definitely converted to Black Pudding mousse; it was served inside the chicken which was cooked perfectly and served with a delightful gravy. The chorizo croquettes were mind-blowing, losing the journalistic sensibility I have to say anything more intelligent, I seriously considered putting some in my pocket to smuggle home.
We finished our meal off with a Chocolate and Orange delice with coffee mousse, brandy snap biscuit (£5.50)
The chocolate had this saltiness which really worked, wonderfully sweet yet salty with the bitterness of the coffee mousse. An amazing end to a lovely meal.
I really enjoy good food and when you get a restaurant doing things like The Oddfellows, it makes you realise how good food should be done. I will happily sing the praises of this restaurant with its ethos and the enthusiasm that both owners share for good food and supporting everything local.
The food was lovely, the service with faultless and I will definitely be returning for more.
Topsham is one of my favourite places. It sits on a peninsular of land between the River Exe and the River Clyst, both opening out in to the magnificent Exe Estuary. From Topsham Quay you can see right down to Exmouth with some of the nicest views in the area experienced from The Goatwalk or Bowling Green marsh. It is dominated by the sea, its history as a port is evident everywhere.
This nauticality (I know it isn’t a word!) seems to infuse itself in to the way of life in Topsham. Little reminders that the sea was one of the principle sources of income for many who lived and worked in the town, the bricks of the Dutch houses that line the riverside are made from bricks brought over as ballast in vessels from Holland, the numerous wharfs and quays used to house shipbuilders and rope makers, sail lofts and other trades related to shipbuilding were prevalent in Topsham’s hey-day.
And as you might imagine, there were a significant number of pubs for a town that had such large number of sailors. Although the pubs have dwindled – the infamous Topsham Ten pub crawl is now moreso the Topsham Seven – one of these pubs got a new lease of life three years ago when it was taken over and renovated by Chef Tom Williams and his family.
Tom’s grandfather had owned Deller’s Cafe, a popular destination in pre-war Exeter known for its high-tea and music acts. His parents used to run The Imperial Hotel before it became a Wetherspoon’s; and now The Salutation Inn continues this family tradition with this independent establishment showcasing fine accommodation and exquisite food
This was recognised when The Salutation Inn won Best Bed and Breakfast at the Food and Travel Reader Awards 2016 that took place on the 12th September in London!
Tom attended Exeter College as a chef trainee for three years graduating as Top Student then to Gordon Ramsey at Hospital Road in Chelsea. After that he took up position at Petrus under Marcus Waring before returning to Devon and working his way up to Sous Chef at Gidleigh for Michael Caines. During the refurbishment of Gidleigh Tom had a spell in France for the Rothschilds and immediately prior to The Salutation Inn Tom was at Abode in Exeter as Executive Chef for three years.
The Salutation Inn, a Grade 2 listed property, was previously a bit of an old man pub – there was a lot wrong with it. It was owned by Punch Taverns and provided a rather sedate pub menu with a range of ‘the usual’ beers on draught. It wasn’t particularly memorable. When the Tom’s family bought the Inn on new years eve 2010, the long process of turning an empty shell into a fine dining 30 cover fine dining restaurant with accommodation and 45 cover glass atrium began in earnest.
A lot of hard graft went in to getting what it looks like today. Working with English Heritage, the Salutation Inn’s unique features have been sensitively preserved; this includes their porte cochère’ (carriage porch) which has been described by English Heritage as, one of the largest single leaf doors in the country.
I have been eager to dine here since it opened so when were were invited along to see The Salutation Inn for ourselves, I was over the moon!
Our tasting menu tonight had been carefully put together by Tom and cooked by himself personally – it was a showcase of this chef’s talent and exacting nature with the dishes that leave the Salutation’s kitchen.
Arriving through the historic single leaf door, we were greeted by Amelia (Tom’s partner & Hotel Manager) and her team. Taking a comfortable seat in the modern and tasteful drawing room, we selected our wine on recommendation, which was a delightful 2014 Banfi, Toscana San Angelo Pinot Grigio which was the perfect accompaniment to our meal.
Before our meal though were three delicious canapes, perfectly balanced morsels presented tastefully on slate.
The duck liver parfait and celeriac was presented in a tiny jar with an even tinier spoon to scoop. Both being fans of parfait and small spoons, we were excited when we were presented with this lovely selection.
With our parfait we also had a Cheese Choux Gougere and Tomato & Basil Arancini as well, both delicate and quite delectable.
Our table ready, we were moved into the main restaurant for the first course in our tasting menu. The restaurant is tasteful, modern and relaxing without too much distraction from the main pieces of artwork that were plate-based. The seats were particularly comfortable, the cutlery was clean and the glasses shone. The attention to detail is not just reflected in the food.
On route to the restaurant, Tori had remembered how much she loved Tom’s scallops having had them previously at an event last year. Two things she loves is scallops and peashoots so imagine the joy when the apperitif appeared.
Just as we had both remembered, the scallops had a soft silkiness to them and with the earthiness of the peas and the savory palette of the bacon; it came together. Having never had a seafood item with bacon, this is something I would love to try again.
Our next course was a Beetroot Salmon Gravadlax with Horseradish Ice Cream. A colourful cacophony visually and in its taste. Gravadlax is cured Salmon; typically buried in salt, sugar and dill – this is a Scandinavian method of curing fish which I’ve never tried before – which was delicious. The River Exe salmon that The Salutation Inn serves is one of the few places in Exeter serve this rarity, given the fishing of these fish are controlled so strictly. During the season Tom’s father, Ed Willams-Hawkes catches the fish and walks them up to the restaurant freshly caught.
Lightly curried Monkfish, mussel and apricot cannelloni served with leeks and saffron sauce was our first main. Perfectly presented, the saffron sauce and monkfish worked together with the earthiness of the mussels. The mussels were silky and expertly cooked.
Our final main was Brixham turbot, lobster, asparagus and wild mushrooms. A beautiful buttery sauce and the richness of the lobster certainly had me. We had previously seen Tom cook a lobster at the Food & Design Festival at Sapphire Spaces last year, so this was a definite highlight of the meal. Lobster is tender and sweet, a meat that can take a bit of getting used to if you’re new to it, but very rich in taste and not ‘fishy’ like some seafood can be.
After such a variety of dishes we finished off the meal with a White Chocolate Granny Smith, white chocolate ice-cream with a wall of apple crumble lining the perimeter.
After the meal diners can retire to the drawing room for tea and coffee. We received Petit Fours as compliments from the chef, which included macarons, fudge and a wonderfully refreshing iced mint glace.
This is what The Salutation Inn is all about. Luxury, local produce in a menu that changes dependent on season and ingredients cooked by a talented chef who healms one of the most desirable places to stay in the UK…
After our petit fours I caught up with Tom and his talented team including Ethan (right) and Jack Sharland who is going to be competing in South West Chef of The Year semi-finals in October (Good luck Jack!). Their passion and expertise is evident just talking to these guys.
The Salutation Inn is a local benchmark for fine dining for me. Steered by a select team whose passion for what they do is evident in conversation and in a much deserved award.
If you fancy experiencing it for yourself, there is a special evening coming up hosted by Liam Stevenson called
“A journey through the Languedoc-Roussillon… with a Master of Wine”
So the city’s newest addition is a welcome one I’d say. You can find many types of restaurants in Exeter – French, English, Italian, Spanish, Asian – mostly varieties of either meat or vegetarian, but very few restaurants specialise in seafood. Enter The Rum and Crab shack! With ‘crab from here and rum from over there’, this St Ives born restaurant is the brain child of Chris McGuire and Neythan Hayes who have had their Cornwall shack established since 2012. Like any good idea, it was decided over a drink – rum, funnily enough! In the midst of the St Ives building work, and not quite being ready over the New Year, they instead opened a pop-up rum bar over the long weekend – and a ‘marriage’ was born.
Exeter’s The Rum and Crab Shack can be found at the rear of House of Fraser, by the Almshouse ruins, in place of The Milkmaid.
I was invited along in their first week to try out some dishes at lunch time. I will admit, I am picky with crab but the menu boasts prawn and lobster items so I was happy to oblige. Of course, the test with anything you are a bit fussy about is to try it and if it is good they must be doing something right.
The building is essentilly of two halves, almost identical in layout to their St Ives first-born, so Chris and Neythan knew it was the right building for them. It is naturally split into a restaurant area, with a few tables outside and then the bar area. The decor is industrial seaside. Not in your face or full of nautical stripes, boats and seagulls (we have enough of those blighters in the city thanks) but nice leather seated booths with dark wooden tables, a mix of colourful metal and wooden chairs, heavy seafaring rope lighting, exposed brick walls and metal bar frontage. All that is missing is the sea view – but you can’t have it all!
I spoke with co-owner Chris, who is currently overseeing their 2nd baby here in Exeter. He was really passionate about their business and aims and, once settled, would be looking to source the seafood from Devon suppliers for the Exeter branch if possible.
The rums on offer have origins including Venezuela, Canary Islands, Mauritius, Cuba and Australia to name a few. One rum out of their huge selection is made by them – Dead Man’s Fingers; using an imported base rum, they distill it fairly quickly and store it for a few months before it is ready to serve and it boasts flavours of orange, cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla. They are already supplying Eden Project with their small batch house rum and St Austell are in the process of stocking it in some of their bars. The Dead Man’s Finger cocktail was recommended to me as a must-try so I ‘bit their fingers off’ and said let’s go for it! I must admit, it was delicious and I would definitely have it again; it was smooth with all the flavours singing in harmony.
So…a menu full of seafood options put in front of an indecisive seafood lover who struggles to decide even at the sandwich counter (I can’t help it, I love ALL food)! In the end I opted for the Rum and Crab Soup – fresh crab and tomato bisque finished with their favourite rum (£4.95), the Popcorn Shrimp served with a Creole dipping sauce (£5.95) and then a Crab Taco served with a coriander salsa (£9.95).
The soup was smooth, a deep maroon colour and tasted sweet and rich, almost with a marzipan hue (odd as that sounds, it’s the only flavour I could think of that described what I was tasting; it was delicious!). It was served with some lovely fresh bread and was a great size.
The prawns were clearly breadcrumbed in house in what looked like panko style breadcrumbs, scattered with herbs and deep fried. They were the plumpest prawns I have had in a while. I added a little tobasco to the dip to liven it up even more as I do love a bit of heat.
The crab taco was a great size serving. If, like me, you were struggling to decide what to have, you could certainly share this dish. The taco’s were sat on a clever taco rack, and on top of the lettuce base it was filled with beautifully sweet crab meat laced with coriander, topped with chilli’s, spring onion, cucumber, rasish and sweetcorn and some sort of dressing. It was very fresh, with plenty of crunch. I ate it as a whole, as well as forking some of the crab out to enjoy it on its own – it was so soft and sweet, as it should be and I felt the quantity of crab was certainly fair.
A great first impression; I look forward to returning en famille for the rest of my seafood loving clan to put the menu to the test. Other options include soft shell crab burger, crab or lobster mac ‘n cheese, steamed mussels and jambalaya. For meat fans, there are Dead Man’s Finger coated ribs, spatchcock chicken and fillet steak. There are childrens options and some gluten free options too.
And if you are not a seafood fan then perhaps pop in for an evening drink from their wine, mocktail, cocktail or rum menu. Even with the great options already in the city, The Rum and Crab Shack has added another string to city’s bow – look at all those rums…taxi!
I have been big fan of tabletop/board games since I was properly introduced to them by my good friend Julien a couple of years ago. The board game has experienced a resurgence in recent years, and this has led to a small but steady emergence in cafes that specialise in catering for board gamers.
The South West now has its own permanent game cafe which opened earlier this year, and I couldn’t wait to get down South Street to see this game changing cafe in full play.
Board is a little different to a regular cafe. Firstly you pay an admission fee; this gives you a chance to play the games on offer, have some tuition from one of their Game Gurus and order food & drink too to have whilst you play.
Our visit was last bank holiday. It was quiet-ish, with only a few other tables being used. Although we had eaten, our gaming companions had not which gave me a chance to see the food on offer.
A straight forward menu that compliments any gaming session. Hot drinks, grilled sandwiches, burgers and fries freshly cooked to order (I think?).
You’re not left in the dark about how Board works; there is a handy board up by the till which details prices and how the cafe works. Then once you’re clear about what the deal is, you can take your place at a double-deck gaming table, either in the window or in one of the booths that line the length of the cafe.
The games for rent are at the back of the shop, there must be nearly 100 games on offer ranging from epic-RPG games to smaller quicker games like Zombie Dice which we played at the end of our session.