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.



Local Exeter Food Producer Eat The Smoke Makes it into South West Morrisons Stores

Earlier this year the supermarket Morrisons put out a call for ‘The Nations Local Foodmakers’, a mission to find local producers to stock in their stores within each region or city so that customers can buy more British and local. If successful at application stage, the food or drink producer would have the chance to meet their buyers, local store colleagues and customers at one of four regional events that were held, where a final decision would be made.

The mission stated: ‘At Morrisons, we want to feed the nation with a bigger portion of food and drink that is sourced from local suppliers. That’s why we’re now starting a fresh search for a new crop of foodmakers – who we hope can grow with Morrisons and maybe even become household names in their own right.

When it comes to finding local suppliers, we go further. We’re already doing lots to help regional food and drink suppliers ‘make it’ at Morrisons. And now we’re doing even more to meet local tastes – with our search to find The Nation’s Local Foodmakers, and products that are grown or made ‘just down the road’ from their local communities.’

Now we all have our views on shopping local or which supermarket is best, but this is a great initiative to get the deserving small producers in front of more customers and be able to grow more successfully.

One such producer that has been successful is Exmouth-based Eat The Smoke, owned by Christian Sculpher, who produces a variety of BBQ rubs, nuts and sauces.  Now in his 4th year of business, Devon-born Christian has been an avid BBQ’er for 20 years, smoking for 6 and left his stressful 9-5 job to pursue his passion.


He is already well known on the food festival circuit, and has his products stocked in local farm shops, London distribution in place and they are available to buy on his online shop. His products have also won various Gold and Silver Taste of the West awards 2016 and he was a Devon Life Food and Drink Winner 2016 in the Best Food Product of the Year category. His range includes five BBQ rubs, two varieties of smoked nuts and two BBQ sauces – all made with natural ingredients, are gluten free and can be used for outdoor cooking as well as indoors and the BBQ sauce works amazingly as a ‘ketchup’ too.

Out of this great product range, two rubs, BBQ Hot Rub and Buffalo Hot Wings and Poultry Rub, will be stocked in South West branches of Morrisons from Bristol down to Cornwall.

Although buying direct from him or a local farm shop may seem the more obvious way to buy your goods, if you buy from Morrisons it could result in a better return for Eat The Smoke on the whole as, the more sold in store the greater the possibility of Morrisons stocking more of his range of products both locally and possibly even further afield.

If you’d like to find out more about this awesome local producer and his products, read our write up and Q&A from last year here. Otherwise – pop to Morrisons and vote with your basket, and help the small guy make it big as he so deserves.

Find Eat the Smoke on:

Twitter          Facebook          Website

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.


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.


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.*





British Leeks are in Season: Beef Wellington with Leek Mousseline Recipe Review – by Lauren Heath

Once again, thanks to the power of the internet, I randomly came across British Leeks’ mission of trying to get more people cooking and eating leeks.

At their best from November to April, these winter veggies are in season right now and can be used in a whole host of ways, kept fairly crunchy or cooked right down. A good choice during the ‘vegetable shortage’ the shops are claiming is upon. If you can, remember to buy local and seasonal, and you’ll find plenty of veg in abundance.

They have quite a host of inspiring recipes on their website including Leek and Butterbean Soup, Pan Roasted Chicken with Leeks, Cider and Chorizo and even Hot Smoked Salmon and Leek Chowder to name just a few.

I eventually settled on one of my favouritre meals –  Beef Wellington. Yes it’s not strictly a fully fledged leek-based recipe, but instead of the usual mushroom duxelle or pâté coating, it contains leeks and horseradish which sounded great. So the lovely people at British Leeks kindly sent me some goodies to knock up a fabulous meal for myself and some guests! I am generally more of a freestyle cook, so it was good to have some inspiration, and I usually have wellington made for me so for once I was going to make it; to add to my pressure, I was cooking this straight after work on a Friday evening and for some foodie guests.

Here’s the recipe, with my some of my own tips below it:

Individual Beef Wellington with Leek Mousseline

Prime fillet of beef topped with a leek and horseradish mousseline, wrapped in Parma ham and puff pastry. This is a special occasion dish and an ideal choice for the festive table.

Serves 4 – Prep 30 minutes – Cook 15 – 20 mins – Oven Temp 220ºC / Gas Mark 7


500g Leeks, finely chopped
1 Bay leaf
25g Butter
4x 15ml tbsp Water
2 x 15ml tbsp Creamed horseradish
Generous pinch Ground black pepper

4 Slices Parma ham
500g Tail end fillet of beef
500g Puff pastry
1 Egg for glazing


Gently sweat the shredded leek and bay leaf in the butter for about 5 minutes to soften. Add the water, cover and cook gently for a further 2 — 3 minutes. Stir in the horseradish and pepper and whiz in a processor until smooth. Set aside until cold.


Divide beef fillet into 4 even pieces. Spread the cooled leek mixture onto the Parma ham slices and wrap one around each beef fillet.

Divide pastry into four. Roll each out into an oblong about 2 times the size of the beef fillet. Brush with egg glaze and bring pastry up over the beef and seal neatly into a parcel. Place sealed side downwards onto a baking sheet lined with baking parchment. Chill for 30 minutes. Cook 15 – 20 mins – Oven Temp 220ºC / Gas Mark 7

It is a fairly simple yet indulgent meal to make actually, and whilst the leeks are sweating down you can cut your beef, sear it, and roll your pastry out (searing seals in the juices). To speed up the cooling of the leek mixture, I popped it into the freezer for 10 minutes or so. Make sure your pastry isn’t too warm as when you are sealing up the wellington, it can ‘melt’ and slide off a bit. If this happens to you, cut a slither of the pastry from the edges and use as a glue/join on top. I also laid the parma ham and leek mixture onto the pastry then folded over the meat.


It was absolutely delicious and I was so pleased! Definitely give it a go for a Valentine’s meal this February, or for a treat with friends. You could prepare this the day before, and keep it in the fridge ready to cook; just bring it out to room temperature before cooking in the oven.  I managed to make it within an hour of getting home and guests arriving.

The leeks and the horsereadish gave a lovely sweet and tangy flvour together. I loved it and I don’t eat horseradish (apparently I do now)!

British Leeks – Healthy Facts

The Ancient Greeks, Romans and Egyptions valued leeks for their therapeutic properties and Roman Emperor Nero ate large quantities to improve his voice. From soothing sore throats to helping keep gout and kidney stones at bay, leeks are packed full of health benefits and are commonly used in traditional medicine to treat a variety of ailments. Easier to digest than onions, leeks have laxative, antiseptic, diuretic and anti-arthritic properties.  And, if eaten regularly, here are some of the ways leeks can help you to stay healthy:

Efficient functioning of the kidneys

Containing the equivalent of one eighth of an adult’s daily potassium requirement, leeks encourage the efficient functioning of kidneys and are effective as a diuretic.

Leeks for a healthy heart

Eating lots of leeks has been shown to reduce ‘bad’ cholesterol – and at the same time increase levels of ‘good’ cholesterol.  This is important for preventing the build up of blood vessel plaques that are found in some types of heart disease.  If the plaques grow too large or rupture, they can cause a heart attack or stroke.

Allium vegetables including leeks can also help to lower high blood pressure – another factor that can contribute to heart attacks and strokes.

Leeks for combating cancer

Research has shown that eating leeks regularly can help protect against cancer, particularly, prostate, colon and stomach cancer.  Quercetin, an antioxidant present in the Allium family, is recognised as a cancer-blocking compound.

Leeks for stabilising blood sugar

Leeks are a very good source of manganese and vitamin B6, vitamin C, folate and iron.  These nutrients all work together in the body to stabilise blood sugar by slowing down the absorption of sugars from the intestinal tract.

 Leeks for expectant mothers

Leeks are a good source of the B vitamin folate, containing between 15% and 49% of the RNI for an adult.  Folate is important for pregnant women as it can help reduce the risk of neural tube defects like spina bifida.   One portion of cooked leeks contains almost a third of an adult’s recommended daily intake.

Leeks for a healthy diet

Leeks are a great choice for those following a healthy diet as they are very low in calories and packed full of vitamins and minerals.

An average serving of leeks (80g or 1 leek) contains:

  • 17 calories
  • 1g protein
  • 0.6g fat
  • 2.1g carbohydrate
  • 1.4g fibre

Leeks are also a good source of Iron, Vitamin C and Folate.

Get cooking, in season and it’s good for you!

You can follow British Leeks on Twitter and Facebook

OPINION: Vote for the restaurants you want to see in The Guildhall Dining Quarter

Just had to stick my oar in with this one.  The Express and Echo have put this up on their website and I can’t resist having my two cents about some of the options.  You don’t have to agree with me, please comment in the comments box, it’d be nice to have a bit of debate going.

(image mercilessly stolen from The Express and Echo)

“Guildhall Shopping Centre is remaining tight lipped about which eateries will open in its new restaurant quarter – but that doesn’t mean we can’t have a guess.

As part of the £7m plans the existing Higher Market Ambulatory arcade and the former Poundland store will be converted into 13 restaurants of varying sizes, including a rooftop bar.

Those behind the scheme hope to attract a mix of national restaurateurs and “local food heroes” serving everything from breakfast to fine dining.”


But if there is any truth in this list, then here are the definitive reasons why you should, or should not, vote for the following restaurants.

TGI Fridays – Started in 1965 to help Alan Stillman meet women, it has a long history mostly made up of franchises and the usual things that chain restaurants get up to. Plymouth has one. Says it all really.  Focuses on an American themed casual dining menu with an emphasis on alcohol.  Was the first to have ladies nights.  Menu contains gluten free options though…

Frankie and Benny’s – No one truly knows who Franky is.  Some believe him to be a mystical figure from Sicily who appeared to travellers on stormy nights, others believe that it is the name of the dog of the CEO who feeds him on Lasagne’s and Pastrami.  One thing we know is that this chain of restaurants is as generic as you can get; we’re already getting one in Marsh Barton. Deep joy…

Pieminister – The grapevine has brought good words about Pieminister to my ears.  Read their story here  which in itself is quite entertaining.  They have won so many awards their shelves have buckled and they are currently stacked on a coffee table.  With a Bristol heritage, they are a success story the South West can be proud of.  Plus they sell pies out of a van too.. that is so cool!  They have strong ethics and support charities with their sales.  Would be very happy to have a Pieminister opening in Exeter.

Pret A Manger – I’ve always managed to avoid them if I’m in London after a few disappointing experiences.  One of my favourite blogs The London Review of Sandwiches has this entertaining post about an experience in a Pret. It doesn’t make me want one, its a faceless chain that started with good intentions but just seems like another sandwich shop.  Unfortunately Pret just doesn’t do it for me.

Chipotle – Gourmet Burrito anyone? With 6 branches in the UK already, could Exeter be the first place in the UK outside of London to have a Chipotle restaurant?  Personally I am a fan of Mexican food, so I would be quite happy welcoming one of these in to our fair city.  We need more Mexican/Latin food choice.

LEON – “We opened Leon because we wanted to prove that it was possible to serve food that both tastes good and does you good. We want to make it easy for people to eat well on the high street. We want to do this in every major city in the world” – Need I say more? http://www.leonrestaurants.co.uk

Aberdeen Angus Steak House – Forgive me for being a little scathing here, but my one time in an Aberdeen Angus Steak House involved a protracted argument with the manager who tried to convince me that tough steak was good steak.  I liked this quote from Wikipedia “In 2011, actor and comedian David Mitchell championed the cause of Aberdeen Angus Steak Houses in his Guardian opinion column, proposing that they be a nominee for a British World Heritage bid, citing them as being “unique to British culture” because of their “proud heritage of serving shoe leather with Béarnaise sauce to neon-addled out-of-towners.”

Spud-U-Like – Some of you might remember that Exeter used to have a Spud-U-Like in South Street years ago.  Spuds with stuff on, basic and cheap food which filled you.  Haven’t been to one in years, so can’t say if its cheap anymore.  Fun fact: Spud-U-Like was taken over by the British School of Motoring who expanded its franchise business.  Spud-U-Like is still going because people are driven mad for baked potatoes…haha.  I would quite like to see one open in Exeter, again, Like LEON, it provides a healthy alternative to High Street food.

Krispy Kreme – Specializing in early death and morbid obesity, Krispy Kreme donuts are expensive and over priced glazed donuts with interesting fillings and stupid price tags.  They are addictive and delicious and it is only after you’ve eaten them all you realise you spent £5 on clogging your arteries with a few bits of dough.

Gourmet Burger Kitchen – Go away… we have four burger restaurants already.

Wimpy – I remember Burger King before it was Burger King on our High St.  It was a Wimpy as far as I can remember and I can still remember the Beefeater cartoon mascot that would often come over and terrorize small children.  Great fun.
There is a great degree of nostalgia for this brand.  Now owned by a South African company, they have gone back to using the logo and colour scheme that was used in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. The menu is basic, the decor is unoffensive and its quite cheap.  It is a British classic, like the Mini Cooper and drinking tea.

Strada – Pseudo Italian average corporate committee created menus. No thanks. It closed for a reason.

So there you have it, I’ve had my two cents worth.

I still hope that we will have a balanced range of eateries in the new Dining Quarter.  It would be unrealistic to expect the whole quarter to be taken up with purely independent establishments all using organic locally produced food.  But if we are faced with the prospect of 13 more chain eateries without giving the little guy a chance, it will be a disappointing result for what I believe is one of the most exciting developments on the Exeter food scene in years.

Watch “Toast: Inside San Francisco’s Controversial Bread…” on YouTube

Toast: Inside San Francisco’s Controversial Bread…: http://youtu.be/DhPrWm-vKSY

This is a strange one…such an innocuous food stuff is now fashionable in San Francisco, might possibly end up in Exeter like this one day?

Express Review: Subway Breakfast Sub £2

It sounded so promising and looked so delicious as they always do on the boards outside.  For £2 you get a Bacon Sub and a cup of Coffee, or a hot drink of your choosing.  And for one who is coming up to the poor-end of payday, it seemed like a value option that was worth a try.

In my many years of eating terrible fast food and through my many successful attempts at ignoring health warnings about eating fast food, Subway has always come quite far up on the scale of places that you should visit when you are very drunk and insistent that you really need a delicious, salt packed dietary cataclysm.  And normally you regret it the next morning as you realize what you have been eating didn’t help with the resulting hangover from hell.

bad bacon buttySo an early morning trip to Subway was going to be a novel experience which, I have to say now, will never be repeated.

I got given a leaflet that said you could get a Bacon Sub and Coffee for £2.  Yes, ladies and gentlemen, £2.  The low price is a bit suspect because ultimately you have to wonder where the profit margin is, and I suspect its pretty close to a place that would make most executives uncomfortable.
I am not even going to comment on the service in Subway because its a little like complaining that your leg hurts, after you have broken it.  Don’t complain as you know what you’re getting.  But I was suprised that the man behind the counter didn’t quite get the concept that I did not want a foot long sub, nor wanted three ingredients… No really, I don’t.

No brown sauce, no smile, no ‘thank you’.

I didn’t want a coffee either, I wanted a cup of tea.  So I got my cup of tea.  It had no milk, and there was no milk anywhere in the shop.  I was sent off with a tiny little sub, a cup of milkless tea and that distinct feeling that I have just been conned out of £2.  The sub was alright though, I had 9-grain bread and I got one slice of dry bacon and a thing that had at one point in its life been an egg.

So dear reader. Proceed with caution, take your own milk and brown sauce.

Just Eat: The online take away experience

Just Eat is a newish system of ordering Take Away food from local providers. It is perfect for those who fancy curry or chinese for instance, without having to ring up and talk to a human being. Bloody humans.

Login to the website http://www.justeat.co.uk and you go through some options, find the ideal take away, then go through an online menu. The relative ease of use means you can do this on a tablet if you wish or on a laptop, or even use a bit of dark magic should you want to.

In theory you get an estimated time of delivery, and then that’s it. So craving a curry after a day of interview prep, we decided to give it a go.

The first thing you realise is that a lot of the takeaways have limits to what they’ll deliver for. Some have lower limits than others. Also when you have decided what you want, and you go through to pay there is a 50p card charge which justeat.co.uk keep very quiet about, despite the fact it is the only way that you can pay.

Secondly once the payment has been accepted, you have to wait for the take-away to accept your order. This means staying on the page rather than getting bored and redoing it.

It gives you an estimated time, in our case it was 20:15. 10 minutes over but near enough.


Curry is delicious. Generally happy with the whole experience.

Ignore the crap picture! I had a Pista Masala that was very nice for a milder curry and my other half had a Korma.  The whole thing was quite reasonable, the taste was brilliant.  Spice Magic really has lived up to its reputation of being one of the best places for curry in Exeter.

But unfortunately I am not writing about the curry itself, rather the experience of ordering it through a third party.  The curry review will come later, with better photos!

I found it easy to use.  Disappointing that we had to pay a 50p card charge (but then how much money do they make from the restaurants themselves?).  But really the whole point of JustEat.co.uk is a little pointless when you can easily ring up a curry house and get it delivered.  But its point is all about convenience and making take-aways more accessible, amongst other things.

The Ash Restaurant, Inverness: A lesson in online reputation management?

20th July 2013 – Scroll down for an update.

Willie has Down Syndrome. He likes fish fingers and he can only manage small portions, so tends to have kids meals when he eats out. Alledgedly the Ash Restaurant didn’t want to serve Willie his fish fingers and now this act of supposed blatent discrimination is now the fuel for a social media sh1tstorm that has massacred the Ash Restaurant’s reputation on TripAdvisor and, who can tell how this will effect its future? This one bad incident might have cost the Ash Restaurant more than just its future?

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...
Image via CrunchBase

The Ash Restaurant describes itself on Trip Advisor as ” a lively bistro and bar within the stately Royal Highland Hotel. The pale green walls and gilt-framed oil paintings of the Victorian dining room are freshened by tartan table runners and bright flowers, creating a bright contemporary elegance.” It seems by anyone’s standards to be quite a nice place. Have a rummage through TA and there are quite a few differing experiences without the discrimination related comments. But I felt compelled to write about this incident because it is a lesson as to the power of social networking, and why it is good to be savvy.

The Ash Restaurant saga was first brought to my attention on Facebook when I saw a picture of a very happy looking Down’s Syndrome chap on a bouncy red springy playground insect thing, and my first thought was less what the post was about, but because he looked so happy. I came back to the post later, and read through and realised that this happy looking chap was very much the instrument of anger, a pawn in a fight for justice and a reminder that bad things still happen in restaurants. The Sun is reporting the story tomorrow and it appears that the Regional Manager for the hotel chain has been on television to answer for the misgivings of the staff involved in the incident and he issued an apology (not for the discrimination though) on the Royal Highland Hotel’s Facebook page

But what exactly happened? Well here is the post.

“Today for lunch we went to ASH RESTAURANT INVERNESS beside the train station during our holidays & as soon we went in the door the staff were giving us dirty looks and tried to put us off by saying that it would be a 20minuet wait for food even though the place was dead! We were obviously not there clientele little did we know it was because of my Down syndrome uncle!! We never got offered drinks and after 10 – 15mins someone finally came over to take our order, we order for my uncle willie (in the picture) fish fingers off the kids menu as that’s all he can eat is small portions and every where we go he has always had it! But they then turned round and said no he can not have that then for a supervisor to come over to say they CAN NOT SERVE MY UNCLE TODAY. This is clear DISCRIMINATION and I want to make every one knows what a horrible place that is. That staff were rude from the word go! We made our opinion clear to the staff as we walked out. Noone should be told what they can and can’t eat especially when it’s a treat for them. Please LIKE AND SHARE so that everyone can hear what this “award winning restaurant” is really like!”

The whole thing is a testament to what people believe on Facebook. And as a restaurant owner, your reputation is the most precious thing. Something like this would be a nightmare for anyone whose business relied on people thinking ‘nice things’. No matter how much of this was truthful, it is up to the owners to react in the right way.

The family cannot be helped in reacting the way they did.  Willie is clearly a loved and cherished member of their family.  Their anger is natural, and the desire for justice (like any diner’s) is one that you, as the manager, would have to live up to or negotiate.  The hotel have offered an apology, but what else are they going to do?  They don’t have a Twitter account or a Facebook account, so immediately life is made harder by not being able to publicly tackle any bad press.  But given the voluminous extent of the feedback, should you even try?

Take a trip through Twitter and see what sort of things people are saying, could you react to each and every one?

“Absolute disgrace. ASH RESTAURANT INVERNESS refused to serve a family because the uncle has Down’s Syndrome. My… http://fb.me/2Tq9eJkUo”

“ASH RESTAURANT INVERNESS you ought tobe ashamed of yourselfs discrimination of disabled person is disgusting”

“ASH RESTAURANT in Inverness. An apology needed. Shame on you! http://fb.me/AO2bMhna”

Social Media is a very powerful tool. Piss off a punter in this day and age, and the perfect storm can bring your bad service/bad food/casual Disability Discrimination to the attention of the national media.

So what should the Ash Restaurant do now?

Jon Barker over at JoinedUpNetworking has this really good advice for saving your online reputation.

“Be listening: Set up relevant searches for your brand on Twitter, and Google alerts, watch out for anything potentially damaging online. This allows you to manage your reputation, even if you’re not otherwise active on Social Media.

Deal with it, quickly: If you discover something negative don’t avoid dealing with it! If you do, people will assume you’re guilty! Address the issue publicly; show you’re interested, listening and that you care.

Accept responsibility: If it’s your fault, own up! The best of us can make mistakes once in a while. Shows you’re human and more importantly that client satisfaction is important to you. Have you ever been unhappy with service you were given? I suspect non acceptance, a defensive attitude or being secretive would have made it worse.

Apologise: A genuine apology makes the world of difference. No excuses; thank them for bringing it to your attention. Show the world that you want to make things right. Solve the Problem and get offline: If it’s easily resolved, offer the resolution and say you will call them. If you can’t solve it easily, make a clear public statement that you want to call them to solve the issue. Reaching out and attempting to make things right gets noticed by others who are watching the exchange. Once it is offline then deal with it properly and fully, as I’m sure you would do normally. –

I am going to be interested in seeing how the Ash Restaurant deals with the storm that has brewed around Willie and his Fish Fingers. The next week or so will be crucial to how they deal with the bad press, and what they offer to do to repay their mistake, if they have actually done anything wrong in the first place.

The punter has more power now in the form of Trip Advisor and other online forums not to mention Twitter and Facebook, and it is now harder than ever for the concerned restaurant owner to stay on top of all of the comments from all avenues. Not everyone believes everything they read, but enough people do for social media not to be ignored or underused.  The case here is a lesson though, that the mob will punish you if you make a massive cock-up as The Ash Restaurant did. The important part is how to deal with it and recover from it.

Social Media Alba has this excellent advice for any business.

“Our advice for any company using Social Media is that they should have a Social Media strategy in place, and they should have a policy in place which guides them in addressing how the organisation and its staff uses Social Media.

Failure to have a strategy in place can result in bad public relations. A good strategy and relevant policies can help limit any potential damage.”

Update – 20th July 2013

It appears that Trip Advisor have either been asked, or have noticed that there are a large volume of reviews about this incident and have removed it them.  This is interesting because it gives us a more ‘accurate’ picture of what the Ash Restaurant is like (69 Terrible Reviews versus 26 Excellent Reviews).  Ultimately Trip Advisor gives a ballpark view about any eating place.  But head over to Google Reviews and low and behold the vocal anger of Willy’s case are still in plain view.  Will Google remove them? Will they remove if asked? Who knows. .

Eating Exeter visits the Exeter Food Festival 2013

A long time has been spent writing this post.  In fact this post started off life as a post in a third-party piece of blogging software that got added to over the week and then managed to become the victim of a mistimed OS upgrade, thankfully the photos were saved but the text is now long gone, historical bits lost to the God of Unsaved Work that we have all sacrificed bytes of bits and data to at some point in our computer using lives.

A week later, the festival is gone and the organisers are taking a well-earned break and us foodies are left with the taste for food festivals and a summer full of good food.  We want more!  We are also left with the memories of one of the busiest and bustling years for the Food Festival and certainly a very successful wake of punters left behind.

So Eating Exeter being the website that deals with eating everything in Exeter (good and bad), decided to pay a visit on the Saturday to the festival. Which, really, wasn’t a great idea as it was so so so busy.  Record numbers through the gates meant that even getting to see a table or talking to one of the exhibitors was a monumental challenge.

But locally crafted Ale is a great thing, and The Festival Bar is an even better thing.  With some liquid courage and the fact the day was getting on and most people were going home, we were about to hit the stalls with some vigour and really enjoyed every minute of it.

We took lots of photos, so a big thanks to Tori Dee of Tori Dee Illustration  for being cameraman.


After passing through the gates, £7.50 lighter for it too, we realised we had to eat.  The problem with food festivals with which you have an entrance fee, is that on top of the entrance fee you also have to buy food as well so the whole thing does start to become very expensive.  But you do pay for the demonstrations, the venue and toilets etc. Once you realise the economics of setting up and running a festival like this, you realise that a fee is necessary to cater for stuff.

Somerset Ducks produce the most amazing Duck Burger which we had with a rich plum sauce.  After we managed to grab one of these, it was a quick run to The Festival Bar to sample some of the many local ales on offer.  My personal favourite was Hunters Brewery’s Crispy Pig with a light freshing Apple and Honey nose, this was a really refreshing light ale which lends itself to roast pork.  Interestingly it was brewed especially for the Crispy Pig Hog Roasters, hence the name and the apple theme.

I spoke to so many people, tasted so many things and really enjoyed the whole experience. I was going to attempt to list everyone I spoke to, but given there are certain things I remember about the day and they have stuck, I am going to focus on the main highlights.  First Highlight was Blueberry Brothers and their brownies.

Blueberry Bros Borwnies
Tori bought one of these from their stall and both of us were blown away.  The texture was perfect and the blueberry chocolate combination was inspired.

Second highlight was South Devon Chilli Farm’s Bhut Jolokia.


Without a shadow of a doubt, the hottest thing you are likely to pass in to your mouth. The little card next to this said, ‘Go Steady’.  I didn’t.  I wish I had.


The third highlight was The Cherry Tree. We bought a jar of their Spicey Red Onion Marmalade which we have been enjoying most of the week with the block of Vintage Reserve Cheddar that we also bought from them.  Some of the offerings on hand were absolutely delicious including my personal favourite, Chilli and Pineapple Chutney.

madebymoo Then finally we had Handmade by Moo.  More chutney/jam/relishes, but I love them so!  This time I bought a mini-jar of Spicey Red Pepper Relish.  Perfect size for endulging oneself.

The afternoon was finished off with a half pint of Avocet and a long sunny soak on the grass watching the crowds sink away.

Exeter Food Festival is an event which we are lucky to have in Exeter.  It needs supporting, it needs to be promoted and local producers, growers, sellers and farmers all need our support.  Supermarket’s do not need our support, although convenience means they do naturally when you have no other choice.  I don’t give to charity regularly, but I do make sure I can buy at least something from a local producer now and again.

Soap Box Moment
Today (5th MAY 2013) The BBC reported that nearly one in five families are buying food on credit.  This means there is a considerable chunk of the populous who are cutting their food bills back, drawing in the strings and making changes.  It is unlikely that most of these people will be able to pay that little more for a locally produced item, and if the rest of the population start looking at seriously making cutbacks as economic hard-times get worse and worse, we could see things get even harder for local produce and independent producers. So events like the Food Festival act as a good reminder that there are people out there slaving away making a living from producing high-quality goods in a tough climate. Support support support.

Opinion: Killing in The Name Of…Comic Relief?

This isn’t really the avenue, area or arena for me to start blowing my personal trumpet at food related issues that are happening nationwide, but this was something that I thought needed attention.  As this food blog is strictly neutral, and is ran by more than one person I have to put this disclaimer and say that this is purely my personal opinion.

There are two things that go really well together in comedy, death and laughter.  However slaughtering animals and Comic Relief are two things that really be kept separate.  Lily Allen however disagrees and has “asked her followers whether they wanted to save or kill one of her pigs.”

I am sure most foodies here reading this will agree that we all love a bit of free-range pork, some nice sausages made from a pig that has walked around and enjoyed a happy life eating, sleeping, oinking and pooping, which I hear they do in great quantity.  But there is something inherently wrong with putting the life of an animal in the hands of Twitter followers, and for the name of a great charity event such as Comic Relief.

The details are not fully out there though, was this a pig that was going to be slaughtered anyway? Is it sick? How many has she got? But despite what the details are, this 21st century-gladiatorial-arena way of doing things is really inhumane especially in the name of Comic Relief which is meant to be funny, killing things isn’t generally. Not even vaguely humorous.

I don’t believe this to be an overreaction but there are quite a few people who are getting quite annoyed about this and I would urge everyone to email and complain.  The complaint email address is complaints@comicrelief.com

As an update of sorts, her Twitter page has put an apology on it.  Thanks to Helen at Vegging Out Exeter for the heads up!

  1. ps, our pigs are kept in lovely conditions and live happy piggy lives.

  2. i genuinely just want to help a good cause. sorry if i have offended anyone, but i have never claimed to be a vegitarian.

  3. just want to clear something up, i am NOT slaughtering a pig for charity, our pigs were always going to be slaughtered, and eaten.