A small opinion piece I have published in my personal blog Gower The Gourmand
This post appeared originally on Gower The Gourmand on the 5th February 2012. It might have got better since then? I have edited it as the whole experience wasn’t a great one, but then I am my own worst critic sometimes.
Bella Italia sits in the heart of Exeter opposite Oggy Oggy on the end of a row of nice eateries and shops at the top of Queen Street in Exeter. It is another chain Italian restaurant which serves a nice range of interesting meals in quirky surroundings. A large group of us decided to choose Bella Italia as the destination for a reunion meal, and this was the outcome.
Strada and ASK have all fed me well in the past and I haven’t felt terrible for parting with my money as they do good food at sensible civilised prices. Strada and Bella Italia are owned by the Tragus Group, (here is a video) who also own Cafe Rouge. However, the value of the meal overall was quite disappointing given my previous experiences with Strada and ASK.
Bella Italia is a new one for me, the food does seem to be a very loose take on Italian. We had a waiter with the Italian accent who was very nice indeed, (swift service especially for a large party like ours), the names of the food was written in Italian and we really felt for about three seconds that we could be in Italy. But the image shattered when the food came.
I ordered the Fritto Misto:
Lightly battered king prawns, cod, calamari and courgettes. Served with fries and a herb, lemon & caper dip
a small bowl of deep fried seafood and some large chips.
It had a lovely lemony herby dip, that didn’t strike me as actually having capers in them, a rather disappointing selection of deep fried oddments and some half cold chips.
The cod pieces were dry, the calamari was chewy but the courgette managed to save this meal despite the fact I only got a few titbits of it. This would be easier to overlook had it been 4.99 but it wasn’t it was 10GBP.
This left me feeling somewhat annoyed, hoping the dessert would be better. It was better, The Cholocate Lava Cake was delightful but still a fiver for, well not much in volume. The taste however, saved the day as it was heavenly.
By the end of it, I did feel that I had finally found a bit of value.
My wife had some sort of pasta dish that mostly consisted of peppers and ccreamy chicken, it was sickly and watery and although there was enough taste to be able to distinguish it, the peppers overpowered the taste of the chicken and the cream.
Bella Italia seems to have high expectations of itself which do not match the end product. If you do go, maybe stick to the staple pizza option or spag bol, and leave the exotic items to the poor fools like us who will then moan to their friends or write strange reviews on sites and blogs. The service was great though, polite and attentive to a large group and generally professional. I shall return one day to see if it has improved, you never know…
La Petit Maison, fine dining in a small house. Chef Douglas Pestell has a fine pedigree, and took over the restaurant in 2000 finally realising his dream to run his own restaurant. With a background in four and five star establishments, including Gleneagles in Scotland, he brings his philosophy and exquisite cuisine to the people of Exeter.
On Eating Exeter, we intend to put out the occasional recipe. Some of them are, like this one, tried and tested and others just sound nice.
Before you proceed though, have a look at this article with some good do’s and don’ts for Baking Camembert.
Here is a recipe for the cook-shy amongst you. It has to be the easiest culinary method to follow, and most probably the most satisfying. The hot crispy texture of the fresh bread, with the gooey cheese-ness of the hot Camembert with the fragrance of the Rosemary and the Garlic is the ultimate Valentines Day ‘night in’ treat.
Camembert is a fascinating cheese. It is a little like Brie on steroids. It has a stronger taste and is much more odourful than Brie and it comes from a different part of France too, Normandy to be precise. It is traditionally made from unpasteurised cows milk, but mass produced stuff is made from pasteurised milk these days. Interestingly the cheese was first made by a farmer on the advice of a priest from Brie. The cheese was issued to soldiers during the First World War, which helped seal its popularity in French culture. (Thanks Wikipedia!)The sort of Camembert you use is personal choice. This was bought from a well-known supermarket, but you need the sort that comes in the box as this is quite important to the whole process.
A Box of Camembert
Clove of Garlic
Sprig of Rosemary
Bread – bought fresh, preferably French bread.
1. Take the Camembert and unwrap it. Put it back in its box (peel off any paper labels stuck on to it!) and stab it a few times. Insert the garlic (peeled and chopped) in to the holes, squeeze in the rosemary too if desired.
2. Bake in an oven (in the box) for about 180C to 200C for 20 minutes or until it starts leaking.
3. Serve with fresh bread and enjoy 🙂
If you don’t fancy this quick and dirty recipe there are a whole host of variations on a theme. Richard Phillips has one offering on the BBC website and Jamie Oliver has his version as well. It is so simple it is easily to adapt it to whatever your tastes might be. Nigel Slater also has his version too on the Guardian website which involves wine somewhere in the process too.
Enjoy cooking this, it takes a few goes to get it perfect despite its simplicity.
http://www.olivarestaurant.co.uk/ 01392 877878
6 – 7 Fore St Topsham Devon
If you want an award-winning place to eat, look no further. This place has won more awards than you could wave a deliciously coated stick at. Located in the heart of Topsham, the posh annexe of Exeter, it has won Devon Life Chef of the Year and Restaurant Of The Year multiple times, and is opentable.com’s Diner’s Choice winner 2011.
http://www.harrys-exeter.co.uk 01392 202234
86 Longbrook Street
Harrys Restaurant is an interesting red-brick oddity on Longbrook Street. Named after Harry Hems, a master carver who occupied the premises following its design and construction by the architect Robert Medley Fulford in 1882. The whole restaurant is very much a family affair, with the third generation of the Pounds family working for the business.
The website says
“Quality, tasty food at affordable prices; a varied menu with something for everyone and a relaxed, fun, friendly environment for staff and customers. Harry’s uses locally sourced produce wherever possible and coming from a farming background, Sam ensures that Harry’s meat comes from farms with high standards of animal welfare.”
The Magdalen Chapter is set in a beautiful building that was formerly the Devon Eye Hospital. After it was a hospital it became the Hotel Barcelona. And now, a new chapter in its existence sees it as The Magdalen Chapter. Spot the pun?
“Head Chef Ben Bulger and his team are guided by good cook and best-selling author Simon Hopkinson. Led by Simon’s philosophy of thoughtfully prepared food, the dishes are created to be as simple as they are delicious – and all the better for that.” says the website.
This is fine dining, so be prepared to pay for the brilliant cuisine and the floating light features. Photo taken off the website.
According to the website Ben Bulger has recently won Devon Life Chef Of The Year
The beautiful Georgian quarter of Exeter’s Southernhay hides many hidden gems. Including this one, Southernhay House. Reviewed in the Telegraph, it got a fairly good review. But all food critics are ultimately wrong until proven right, so ignore the star rating.
This is a definite fine dining restaurant so be prepared to pay over £100 for two people if you have the whole nine yards. The Restaurant’s sister establishment, Burgh Island, is notoriously lovely to eat at so be prepared to have a brilliant dining experience.
South Street in Exeter is mostly filled with estate agent’s, low-rent restaurants and The George’s Meeting House, the better Wetherspoons pub in Exeter by far. Such other delights include a couple of churches, a KFC and some ruins. It is the average bit of Exeter which, every Thursday transforms itself with the Farmer’s Market.
For foodies are quite spoilt for choice in Exeter. Darts Farm lies just outside Exeter, and within easy driving distance there is a whole load of organic farm shops and nice place to buy nice things. But for those who can’t get out to the sticks, the Farmer’s Market showcases some of the best local produce that you can grab with your foody mits.
When I popped down for a nose around a couple of weeks ago, I bumped in to an old family friend. Vic who runs Random Cottage remembered me and with this I couldn’t help by a large chunk of Random Cottage’s Afterburner Cheese.
So here is a list of producers who appear at the Exeter Farmers’s Market either weekly or occasionally.
- Sweetland’s – pies and pasties from Honiton
- Higher Hacknell – organic meats from Umberleigh
- Bread of Devon – from Exeter
- Linscombe Farm – organic vegetables from Sandford, Crediton
- The Old Watch House – fishmonger from Lyme Regis
- Blackaller Apiary – honey from Bovey Tracey
- Sue’s Home Baking from Okehampton
- Farmhouse Pies & Pasties from Silverton
- SB Stanbury – venison & game from Tedburn St Mary
- Random Cottage – local cheeses
- Milltop Orchard – apple juice and fresh fruit from Chudleigh
- Nourish –
- Gratton & Oldridge – preserves and chutneys from Chulmleigh
- Poole Farm – producers of pork products
- Otter Valley Poultry – chicken, duck and seasonal turkey from Honiton
- Random Cottage – fresh eggs are sourced from Rosamondford Farm, Perkins Village, Exeter
- Norsworthy Dairy Goats – hard and soft goats cheese.
- South Ham Lamb from Sandford
- Maia Moss – Middle Eastern Deli
- Annie’s Cakes – Cupcakes
- Gardners Delight – fresh fruit from Bude
- Bocaddon Farm Veal – welfare friendly
- Moonbeams – rare breed Gloucester old spot pork from Wellington
- Gara Barton – Farmed venison
- Emma’s Bread – from Shillingford Abbot
- Shillingford Organics – Organic Fruit & Veg from Shillingford Abbot
- Exeter Brewery – from Exminster
A couple of months ago, I received a bit of an unusual tweet. It was from the owners of Ruby Burgers inviting me to a press night at their lovely looking establishment that has just opened their doors, on Queen St in Exeter. It was nice that they were holding such a night in the first place (to be honest why would they not?) but to invite little old me too? Well that is just the height of niceness. So Polly Addison and myself went along to see what all the fuss was about, and to take full advantage of their offerings and experience the natural charm of this landmark location.
Queen St. is becoming one of the hot areas for eating-out in Exeter with the likes of Devon Coffee and Urban Burgers recently opening along its half a kilometre of nice buildings and students. And there are a lot of students. Exeter College has two premises on Queen Street and the University is a mere hop, skip and a jump away. This is a very busy street throughout the day, and is the perfect place for fast tasty food.
74 Queen St has for a number of years lay dormant after it was sold when its previous owners (Effings) pulled out of Exeter to focus on their other shop. But stuff started happening, things started appearing inside the building and then slowly but surely Ruby Burgers have appeared from out of the ashes. Ruby Burgers has a blog, http://www.secretgriddle.com showing the stages of progression. It is a fascinating journey and reading it gives you a glimpse in to the ethos and vision of the restaurant and the company behind it.
Ruby Burgers was started by Erin Allgrove and Dicky Harrison, photographed here by the talented Mr Matt Austin. How could you summarise the ethos and direction of Ruby in one sentence? Erin does it well by stating “The Modern Diner concept combines the heritage of the American diner with the best produce the region has to offer.”
The word ‘Ruby’ comes from the type of beef that goes in to making the burgers. Just to prove to the world that they source local ingredients you can see a list of their suppliers on their website. A veritable portfolio of local goodness. The meat comes from Mid-Devon (Copplestone Barton Farm to be precise) from a herd especially sired for Ruby Burgers. And yes the coffee comes from Bristol but thats good enough for me.
So as Ruby Burgers classes itself as a ‘modern diner’, (this being Modern Diners ltd. first flagship restaurant) and with this phrase in our heads we headed over to the restaurant to say hello and sample the delights of this brand new eatery.
What does one do on a press night? Well we earnestly got our notepads out and started writing notes down, looking like we were studiously examining the walls and savouring the food. For the first few minutes, I did this but then realised that we seemed to be the only ones actually doing anything vaguely ‘press like’. So after a while I realised that my role on this journey was to be the one to hold the camera and take unflattering photos of Polly and myself. After a couple of glasses of Prosecco the ability to write was lost and I settled in to tasting wine and enjoying the pleasure of nosing around and trying to guess who was famous and who wasn’t, Ben Bradshaw was there and a few other people of notable standing.
I like the concept. The subtle Americana that sticks in the mind as you look at the photo wall and the large wooden benches. The subtle quirkiness of some of the furnishings, the phrases in the menu (to ‘go dirty’ sticks in my mind). The first thing that really strikes you when you walk in to the space is the interior design. One thing I was really happy about was that they kept the mezzanine floor. And here I introduce Polly:
The wall beside the rustic, canteen-like wooden benches on the mezzanine floor of Ruby Burgers is covered in an array of photos depicting moments in a version of an American landscape, one in which ‘mac n cheese’, pancakes with syrup and of course, burgers of every variety, reign supreme. Neon road signs, a desolate crossroads, lurid red plastic booths all feature, perhaps as a reminder of the roots of what Ruby now calls the ‘Modern Diner’.
However, on first impression, Ruby bears little resemblance to its apparent heritage -certainly it pays more homage to the ‘Modern’ than the ‘Diner’, stylistically at least.
With painted white clapboard, soft reds and brown leather, the interiors of Ruby owe more to Martha’s Vineyard than Route 66 but nevertheless retain a suitably ‘truck stop’ edge.
Fresh, bright and spacious, it has a relaxed elegance with industrial touches and fits effortlessly into the lofty Grade II listed building which houses it.
The menu is online here. And boy is it a menu. I managed to taste a bite-size version of the pulled pork, a gorgeous succulent bit of meat in a soft bun. It was a stunning sample of a this lip-slapping array of offerings that they have available.
I like the fact that it is not JUST a restaurant but there are take-out options as well. They do breakfast options with bagel’s (how Amercian!) and hot drinks to go. Again I will let Polly take over here:
Kitsch, such an intrinsic quality in our minds when we think ‘diner’ is underplayed at Ruby. The booths and one neon sign above the bar add an easy, playful edge, but the addition of a menu item called ‘Not Ya Mama’s Slaw’ and the invitation to ‘Go Dirty’ with the addition of sliced processed cheese, feel a little incongruous in such determinedly tasteful surroundings. After all, when you can order a glass of Prosecco with your ‘Boom’ burger, you know you’re not in Kansas anymore. What you are in, is one of many current examples of ‘gourmet fast food’ establishments, bringing a little more refinement, but no less flavour, to gut-buster style eating.
The prices are average for location and type of food served. n the context of producing delicious food from local ingredients; you pay for what you get.
Starting at £5.50 you can get the classic burger which comes with a variety of dressings. For the same price as the ‘Plain Jane’ burger in Urban Burger. The prices then go steadily up to £10 for ‘The One’ burger which sounds immense. Two hamburgers, Hawkridge Cheddar, bacon and Ruby’s own sauce.
I got to taste some ‘Proper Chips’ which cost £3. Cooked in beef dripping these little calorific morsels were close to the nicest chips I had tasted in a very long time. Sides and Chips start at £2.50 for fries and are nearly all £3.
As this article is just a preview, it is moreso a report on the evening rather than a recommendation or otherwise. I never review a restaurant or eating place within the first three months of opening, its not fair. So I am now counting down the days to go in and write a review.
My final thoughts is simply this. I can’t wait to review this place properly. I have anticipation of my first burger, and if it is anything like the pork that I tasted, its going to be epic.
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Eating Exeter isn’t just about fine dining and nice nosh, we go to places you might not necessarily think are worth writing about, and that includes in-store cafe restaurants. I am personally fascinated at how different in-store cafe’s can alternate so wildly in the way they are managed and the varying degrees of success that you experience depending on where you go. From the in-store cafe of John Lewis where a member of staff can be found organising the queue at busy times, to the unbridled chaos of Sainsbury’s in-store cafes where it is easy for your order to be forgotten (write-ups to follow).
I find the general experience of in-store cafe’s to be one that borders on the traumatic sometimes. People don’t tend to travel distance just to go to the cafe, its not a destination moreso an ‘add-on’ to the shopping experience. It is a convenience more than anything else, so the whole experience is often measured not on customer satisfaction but how many bums can fit on so many seats, with the feelings of the customer strangely lost in the midsts of screaming children and tepid tea.
So with my pre-loaded prejudices, we walked in to the cafe in Tesco Exe Vale with food on our mind. It was Sunday, it wasn’t overly busy and I don’t like carvery.
Tesco outsources their cafes to Compass, an external company who come across as the ‘hidden McDonalds‘. They are a huge company that look after all sorts of cafe services from Tesco’s to hospitals and staff canteens. And unfortunately that is exactly what you get on first impressions. The whole cafe seems to feel like a canteen, its functional, cold and bland in decor looking out over the tops of the shelves of the non-food section from a large mezzanine level. This cafe is ‘proud to serve Costa’ coffee by the apparent logo’s spread over the walls; the evil of Costa and its brand of coroporate coffee crappiness knows no bounds. There is NO NATURAL LIGHT, I mean what exactly does the outside look like?
After half an hour in here I had forgotten that the outside world existed, I forgot my name and decided to that the fish was my friend.
So, down to business.
Hot food was laid out in a carvery style, the pre-cooked nature of the carvery is something to be expected but quite literally it seemed everything hot seems to be cooked and ready to be served. This, in my opinion, is bad and what was worse was that this included the battered fish. The only thing that I wanted however, was the fish, I wanted Fish n Chips served with Tartar sauce at £4.95. My other half wanted Liver and Bacon for £4.
The gentleman behind the counter could not have been more friendly and ready to help, in fact the service throughout the whole experience could not have been faulted. I decided to give the fish a go regardless of the fact it had been lying around for hours/day/months under a hot lamp. With this there is an option of peas or beans, and to be honest the peas were snot coloured and looked dry, beans are always a good bet because beans are hard to get wrong. Thankfully Compass didn’t get the beans too wrong but they were stodgy and overcooked. The chips were actually better than those I had at Wetherspoons, crunchy and soft inside with a good colour.
The lady at the till was polite, slightly stressed but was able to banter and have a laugh. We had a cup of tea, and a Lucozade which came to just shy of £12 for the whole thing. As we already had the food, there was no wait, we just tucked in.
If you have ever had the pleasure of living in a halls of residence that is catered, this wonderful thing pictured took me straight back. Mass catering, no personal touch, soggy batter, stodgy beans and the taste that you would imagine. But stop right there, The chips had a soft inside texture and a nice dry coating, and the fish was moist and taste which despite the miserable soggy batter, it was not a bad bit of fish.
The report from across the table was that the Liver and Bacon was acceptable but the accompanying mash was flavourful and delicious, better than Morrison’s cafe’s similar offering.
The whole experience was what I had expected. Like sitting in a canteen, the glare of the flourescent lights made you realise that you might as well be eating your food in a warehouse filled with neurotic children and a herd of randy cattle. Had the food and the staff been transported from the sea of uncomfortable chairs and badly coloured tables, it would have scored higher in my estimation but the surroundings really didn’t work for me.
To give credit to Costa coffee, despite their corporate ambition to take over the entire world’s caffeine supply, the coffee has got better since my first disastrous visit all those years ago, and the tea isn’t half bad. Had Tesco’s cafe been serving their own coffee? Who knows what it would have been like. Go for coffee, go for a slice of cake, spend your money but don’t go for lunch.
It has been a number of years since I have been to a ‘greasy spoon‘ type cafe. What makes a cafe a greasy spoon? Well I would say surroundings is a start. Let’s Do Cafe in Fore Street, is my benchmark for these types of cafe. Mostly because they do a damn good job at doing what they do, but also they are reasonably priced for the location and the ingredients are as local as you can get. Take Let’s Do Cafe and put it in the middle of Marsh Barton, you would get something similar to the Matford Diner.
As I sit here and tap away, I find it hard to say anything inspiring about the Matford Diner’s appearance. The whole experience is pretty average, the decor looks tired and interestingly like they’ve been on a splurge at Steptoes which is just next door. There seems to be a lot of random things in picture frames hanging with no particular emphasis on anything apart from breaking up the greasy wall space. One picture frame contains lots of text, you look closer and realise that it is a list of collective nouns for different types of animals, fascinating but quite random.
When you walk in, the insides are deceptively large. Its like a Tardis Cafe, there is so much space inside. So many seats in fact, that there is a whole section cordoned off, segregated in darkness away from the rest of the tables. The counter to the left of the room is large and oddly enough a stack of current Argos catalogues sit ready for anyone to take away.
The service is friendly and efficient, the waitress took our orders at the counter and we sat down at a table and within 10 minutes we were eating. I went for the Bumper Breakfast that cost £5.20 and a mug of tea for £1. My wife had a ‘Small’ breakfast, which really wasn’t that small. A cursory look over the menu can be seen in the pictures, the prices are incredibly reasonable and take-away options are also available.
The Bumper Breakfast was an absolute bargain. Had this been in any other cafe, it would have been at least a couple of quid more and I would have been looking at £10 for the whole thing. This was an amazing bit of value, and there is not time limit on breakfasts, they are truly ‘all-day’ breakfasts.
The eggs were pefectly cooked, as was the hash browns and the bacon. The sausages were standard mass produced types, the bacon was thick and well cooked and the beans tasted like beans.
It was an incredibly satisfying experience in a location and surroundings that might say otherwise.
Pros: value is amazing, food was delicious, speedy service
Cons: location especially on Saturdays!, decor is random and off-putting.
10 Trusham Road,
The George’s Meeting House is located in South Street in Exeter. Occupying an old Presbyterian Meeting House built in 1760, it was named after George III hence George’s Meeting House. It was opened as Exeter’s first non-smoking pub in 2005, and Wetherspoon’s second pub in Exeter. Tim Martin, JD Wetherspoon founder and CEO lives around the corner so I hear, so this Wetherspoons is special. This ‘Spoons is, I like to think, the flagship. The benchmark.
When writing about a ‘Spoons you have to remember that the whole experience is very, well, um.. chaotic. For the George’s Meeting House in particular, the number of people crammed in to a fairly large space, the height of the ceiling and the acoustics mean that the noise goes up in to roofspace and reverberates terribly. It is just noise. Noise. Noise. Noise.
The fact that this location used to be an old chapel is very evident, and I like it. The old pulpit still looks out over the sea of sinners and heathen as they worship their WKD’s, in the back area the wall plaques can still be seen and read, old memorials to pious teetotallers being read or ignored by their drunken forbears gives the whole place is very ironic feeling.
There is one thing that has to be said for Wetherspoons Real Ale and Conservation and these are the two main things that keep me feeling positive as I wrestle my way to the bar.
CAMRA has a presence in ‘Spoons psyche and it is good to see their Ale festivals with the vast array of local micro/mini brewery produced offerings and even better, they have real ale even when there isn’t an Ale festival. Last night I had a glorious pint of Janus, courtesy of the Dorset Brewing Company, a “full-bodied, walnut brown session ale, slightly nutty with a hint of zesty fruit on the palate”, which I mostly agree with. Only 3.7 percent, it was perfect with food, not being too strong or overpowering.
We had been hobbing and nobbing at the Ruby Burgers press night beforehand, drinking Prosecco, wine tasting and eating nibbles of nice food, and feeling very special. Given it was payday and we had been tempted with burgers, what better way to satisfy our hunger by going to the other end of the spectrum.
Who are Ruby Burgers going to be competing with? Well one of the places will be ‘Spoons and their Beer n Burger offer which despite the prospect of a triple dip recession, is still going. Admittedly prices are a little higher (£5.09 for a Beer n Burger, £4.09 for soft drink and burger) than they had been a few years ago but that is to be expected.
Wetherspoons has a new menu (new layout too!), and thankfully they have managed to keep some of the classics. Ham, Egg and Chips is still there and a new addition to the Gourmet Burger range is the Brunch Burger (pictured above). The actual menu itself has been redone too, looking quite sophisticated being just black and white on one A3 double sided sheet.
I went for the Brunch Burger because I was already slightly drunk and I just wanted something packed with Umami and fat. My other half went for the 8oz Rump Steak and a pint of Carlsberg (cos she’s so ladylike), but she was sad to see that the option to have Jacket Potato and Salad with your steak had been taken away in the new menu.
So, we ordered at the Bar, nothing special here. Sat and waited for about 15 minutes and like clockwork the food arrived. My Brunch Burger did look like it’d been thrown together, with the egg missing the rest of the burger spectacularly. The Burger was a bit overdone, but then I like it that way so I was happy enough, the rest of the sandwich was relying a little too much on the skewer to hold it in place but tasted good, it was exactly what I had in my head and satisfied the gaping hole in my stomach. The chips were slightly anaemic but still tasty and the average portion of Onion Rings was crispy and moist inside.
Report from across the table (stole that phrase from Vegging Out, go visit its good and written by my friend Helen Terry) was that the steak was perfectly cooked. 8oz rump steak at £9.69 with free drink? Pub value.
So to conclude. Its a Wetherspoons, get over it. Often people who moan about how terrible Wetherspoons pubs are, still go in and eat there. If you don’t like it, don’t go and eat there. Simple.
If you do like it, then you know what to expect. Overworked bar staff, irritating punters, NOISE and cheap booze. I gave it 4/5 as I felt satisfied, I would go again and recommend the burger to others as it did taste nice. Lost marks on presentation though.
Pros: Cheap food, Real Ale, nice surroundings.
Cons: Wetherspoons is considered evil by some, Noise (take ear protectors).
Nudged between Subway and Cafe Nero in the upper part of Queen Street is a new independent cafe called Devon Coffee, opened four months ago with little fanfare or announcement. My first suspicion that something had changed, was a new hand painted pavement sign advertising Bacon Sandwiches for £3. So was this just another coffee shop trying to muscle in with the big boys? What made them different in a city saturated with coffee shops and franchises?
The caffeinated alchemy that goes on in this little cafe is tended and owned by the previous owners of Percolapps, the mobile coffee van business that used to appear in and
around Exeter. Although my conversation with the owner was brief, he said that he had wanted to open a cafe for a long time, given serving quality coffee in the outdoors was
For me as a writer, first impressions are important and the very first thing that hit me was the aroma of coffee.
The second thing that hit me was the size as the cafe is tiny, I counted 11 places for bottoms including the two stools on the side wall. I was informed that in fact, quite soon they were to rearrange the seating and fit in 8 extra seats.
The third thing that hit me was the décor, an expanse of original wood paneling adorn the
walls, the deep browns and the natural grains of the wood made the place look like some
sort of coffee grotto, a secret coffee lair that you can only find if you’re not looking for it.
Although there was a bit of wait (the counter was a one-man-band), this allowed me some time to observe the friendly and personal nature of the service and admire the wood, all that wood that had been covered by the cladding, now exposed for customers to admire.
I also oggled the array of cakes in the window and peered at the menus; an effectively simple cafe menu presented on hand-written menu boards showing that this was a place that you could get Toasties, Teapig and Miles tea, baguettes and an array of coffee styles roasted by Origin Coffee from Cornwall, (at the moment) they are using a Brazilian brand of bean (which I believe was Fazenda Mariano, although I might be wrong) which was pumping out some delightful aromas when I visited.
The prices are reasonable given the emphasis on quality. The milk the coffee is made with was from Ashclyst Dairy, less than 10 miles away and the whole thing was presented and poured beautifully. The taste of the coffee was balanced, with a smooth yet bitter after-taste. For me, this coffee was lovely and in my opinion the coffee was officially nailed. Although a tad strong for a latte, I am a coffee wuss but then it is good to be able to actually taste coffee and bloody lovely coffee at that.
This little coffee shop had been included in the ’50 best coffee shops’ as decided by The Independent. And given this privileged position, surely they should have been more expensive? The Toastie was delightful, cooked perfectly with crisp bread and a generous filling of creamy Brie and lots of bacon. I didn’t ask about the source of the ingredients as I was frankly enjoying the whole thing far too much.
The entry in The Independent is quite short, as they all are.
“A classic independent coffee shop in the centre of Exeter, says Max. “High quality coffee and bites delivered with warm and friendly service.”
And I couldn’t agree more.
As I left the cafe I was able to say to the owners how delicious my toastie was and I was given an impromptu business card and left the coffee shop with a bright satisfied feeling. I had got perfect value with perfect coffee.
Opening hours: 8am – 6pm Monday to Saturday, Sunday 10am – 4pm
Website: www.devoncoffee.co.uk (events)
All Day Six is now called Wok 7.
You can’t miss it, no matter how you try and avoid its orange glow at the bottom of Palace Gate in Exeter. The bright and shiny beacon of tangeriney paint hits you like a visual nuclear warhead. As I like the colour orange, this was genuinely the only reason why I chose to eat here one night a couple of years ago and I have never really thought about why I go or why I shouldn’t, I just like going. So it only dawned on me recently that I really should write about it. But writing about a place that I like is harder than going on the first or second visit, because I am biased by love. So here goes, an objective review about a place I know I like.
After a quick scoot through the moaning and whining of Trip Advisor diners who either loved it or hated it, one thing becomes clear to me about this place, you get what you pay for. There are no frills, there is no real reason why you would go apart to eat; the decor is shabby and the general atmosphere can be like a frenzied bird feeding session if you go at the wrong times.
A couple of nights ago, a good friend of mine dubbed it a ‘chavvy scoff and trough’. We were deciding where we wanted to eat and surprisingly I found that not everyone liked the cheap functionality of this orange temple of buffet goodness. I then realised that there was quite a lot wrong with 6 All Day if you compared it to other restaurants in Exeter. But you have to put it in its own class, because after all you are only paying £6 for, well everything. So what class would you put it in to? Well, if Easyjet opened a Chinese Restaurant?
So let us start with the important stuff.
The food is left out in large metal troughs, as is standard in all buffet restaurants. Since we have started coming here, the choice of food hasn’t really changed at all, in fact it got to the point where we came here so often I actually got bored of the food. The curries and sauce based choices do seem to be swimming in grease, the noodles are very nice though and the ‘random fried things’ such as chicken skewers, spring rolls etc are palatable but nothing to write home about.
But then there is hygiene, the food is sat about for ages and lots of customers are unaware of the concept of using tongs or washing their hands, so you have to accept this as an occupational hazard when you come to a place like this.
At busy times they will run out of stuff too, and it is not always a quick turnover when it comes to putting out food. But again this depends on when you visit, I have visited after work on a weekday quite often and I have never found this an issue.
The deserts verge on party food, with free-for-all ice cream scoops and a random selection of fruit in bowls, cheesecake in bowls and Bakewell Tarts, you can create some bizarre final courses if you really put your mind to it. Bakewell Tart on a bed of tinned fruit garnished with strawberry flavour ice-cream sauce anyone?
Reasonably priced, in fact compared to some places that I have dined in, you are paying LESS than you would in a pub for some items. Last time I looked a pint of Carlsberg Export was £3.30 and a bottle of semi-decent wine was under a tenner. This is actually a big positive, with some really competitively priced items on the drinks menu when compared to the way that Strada or ASK price their alcohol.
Have a gander at Trip Advisor and there are some reports of some quite bad service. I have never found the service here to be awe-inspiring but they are generally polite and useful.
They are polite and friendly; I am not sure how good their English is but I have never found them to be particularly rude. One thing that shocked me a bit on Trip Advisor was the report that a lady who had taken her severely autistic son to the restaurant who felt discriminated against as her son was ‘excitable’, as the waiter described him. There doesn’t seem to be any disabled access to the upper floors either, which might pose a problem for wheelchair access.
6 All Day has a rather unfortunate position in Exeter. Palace Gate has limited parking on the road outside, and further up towards the Cathedral is clamper territory, having caught out many an unwise diner I expect.
The Quay multistory car park is at the bottom of the hill and the Corn Exchange car park is nearby too, but parking close to the restaurant is always a bit of a pain. But this is just Exeter in general with the City Council‘s further attempts to make life painful for car owners.
The atmosphere isn’t bad, however as the policy of the restaurant is ‘bums on seats’ it can be quite noisy especially when you get large hen parties or parties of teenagers on the upper floors. As there is no partitioning, you are very exposed to hear and be heard whilst having a conversation. This lack of privacy makes you think twice before telling your dining companions about that dream you had with the nun and the nylon rope.
Best times to visit? Between 5pm and 7pm on a weekday. Worst time? Saturday/Sunday evenings. They throw in a free soft drink if you visit before 5pm, but you can get away with having a glass of water with your meal if you’re counting pennies.
This sort of restaurant seems to attract lots of different sorts of people. Teenagers, students, mums, dads, business men, contractors staying overnight, weirdos, OAPs and well, all sorts. And yes, it can be a bit ‘chavvy’ at times but then so can Burger King or McDonalds or anywhere else that dishes out cheap grub. The decor is a lot to be desired and I am sure that the tree growing out of the wall outside is going to cause a lot of damage eventually, but for functional food and a cheap value for money grub, it is very hard to beat. Over the road in The White Hart, they are doing two meals for £10 but there is a limited choice. Buffet City up the road in South Street is more expensive, similar concept but strange pricing structure. Here you know that you are getting a meal for £6 whatever time of day.
The simplicity of the experience is quite satisfying, as you get what you pay for. But then the dining experience is compromised by the decor, the noise and the atmosphere that can be hectic at times. The food is often tasty, but can be inconsistent in quality if you go regularly. It is either a very addictive place to come, or you hate it.
Some of the more astute of you will remember a few years ago I wrote a review of Starz Bar and Restaurant in String Beans/Veget8 which you can read here. Initially I was quite scathing about the lack of vegetarian options, the oppressive surroundings and well pretty much all of it. In fact I was so scathing I felt guilty and decided to withdraw it on the basis that I would one day revisit it.
I did revisit it on Friday and I am glad that I did to be honest, the overall experience of all in my party was positive, but there are a few things to pick up on.
Starz Bar is an American Themed restaurant with creatively titled American Dishes and American sized portions. A flip through the menu will show you that this place isn’t cheap in the slightest, the cheapest main on the menu was the burger at £7.20 but this was incredible value given the amount of food on the plate (see right).
Before the meal.
Booking a table at Starz is relatively easy although I was annoyed at the online form on their website, having tried to use it a few times it crashed. I assumed that my booking had gone through but three days afterwards I had not received a confirmation so I rang up but to find out that it hadn’t been received. OK, *deep breathe* so I spoke to a really nice guy who booked the table and explained about having to pre-order our meals given there were over 10 in the party. Go to the website, download a form, get everyone’s orders and fill it out. Simple.
After getting everyone to choose what they were going to eat on the night, I took in the form and handed it to someone at the bar. He explained that if there was anything that needed changing it would be fine to either order it on the evening or let them know before we arrived. This was reassuring, as some of the guests were still unconfirmed.
The big night
Starz is located in what used to be an old brewery on one of the ground floors. Starz also owns an award winning cocktail bar on the very bottom floor which we went to after the meal. Disabled access is really good when entering the bar but once you’re inside the tables are incredibly close together, should one of our party had mobility issues we would have been shafted. After telling us where our table was, and a worrying moment when I was convinced the waiter I was talking to was not going to find our booking, we sat and waited for our drink orders to be taken. And we waited a little longer, until one of the brighter and more soberer sparks amongst our party realised that here, the drinks are ordered at the bar. This was a good idea, alas it would have been better had someone actually told us.
So we carried on, ordered drinks and sat and squeezed ourselves amongst at least three other large parties over 10 people. The feeling was that the money was really being squeezed (quite literally) out of the punters in that room.
The starters came out first, and here we realised that the non-existent service and the initimate surroundings were worth it after all. Those in the party that had starters were very happy with the quality of the food and the portions. So far so good.
Service appeared, whisked away the food and out came the main courses, and boy were they MAIN courses. They all came out on time, at the same time and all the meals (twelve in all) were very warmly received. I had an 8oz chicken burger with chips and twirls and added bacon and Monterrey jack cheese with some salad. The chicken was dry but not inedible, the fries were perfect and the portion was immense. The value for money (VFM) ratio was pretty high, and if I could rate it purely on this factor I would say this is the best restaurant I have ever been to, purely on VFM.
On the right, you will see Polly’s portion of American Ribs. Quite literally half a cow covered in BBQ sauce. This was reportedly really nice, but alas Pol didn’t finish all of it!
After the meal everyone felt thoroughly stuffed, we paid and went down to the lovely cocktail bar. The bill was for a party of 12 £168.50. Given the service was speedy but mostly non-existent we felt we could only give a meagre tip.
The cocktail bar was generally nice, however the point where I went to order a Cosmopolitan cocktail, I was presented with an Italian (who is actually Greek I have found out! Sorry!!) barman who was nattering with another Greek and a blonde lady who was quite obviously learning the trade. This was fine, although coming from a customer servicebackground and suffering this lack of service really put me off coming here again, the lady behind the bar however produced a really lovely cocktail.
On the website, the banner is large and obvious. It says Exeter‘s Number One Celebration Destination. That is what it is, they are there to accommodate parties and celebrations. They are not in it for fine dining, but they are there for good tasty portions and damn good steaks. Every member of my party that had a steak said it was one of the best they had tasted.
My own food was great and the value for money was staggering, but, the whole experience was let down by the surroundings. Too many bodies crammed in to a small venue, friendly yet scant service and expensive drinks make Starz a place to go occasionally but not regularly.
(Please read the comments left by Christo Archer, General Manager for Starz in the comments section)
If I was in to fluffing out my review titles with a tagline, I would say that it was ‘A little bit of London in Exeter‘. The atmosphere, the bustle and professionalism of the service felt like something that was more akin to central London fine-dining than an Exeter cafe.
Tori and I met some friends who we’d not met in person before on Saturday afternoon, the whole experience was a very positive one and this was (not just because they were lovely people) helped immensely by the fact that we went somewhere that was so nice.
We met them outside The Royal Clarence hotel and after a bit of debate we said that we’d head up to the Giraffe Cafe in Princesshay which I had not been to in years, and I was feeling up for a revisit review.
But after a few steps up towards Princesshay along Catherine Street our curiosity got the better of us and we had a quick look at Lloyds menu and I was tempted immediately by their Olympic Breakfast. Something that heralded back to my youth when I would go to the Haldon Little Chef with my grandmother to eat very traditional English cafe food, and the Olympic Breakfast that was a signature dish of the Little Chefs.
So Lloyds is quite a new addition to Exeter’s already brimming portfolio of places that serve food. In terms of cafe’s Exeter doesn’t have many traditional cafes as I have lamented in previous reviews. The centre of Exeter has the Milk Maid and Gourmandine and now Lloyds Cafe and Bistro.
What makes this establishment stand out though is that Lloyd’s can turn itself in to a restaurant in the evening, continuing the service beyond the realms of the cafe’s next door.
The prices are about average for such a central location. They might be a bit more pricey than a few other places but you pay for the experience.
I think the ultimate test to any service is trying to get a table when it is at its busiest. It was a Saturday lunchtime when we visited, so by definition it was busy, really really busy. There was a queue to get in, I don’t think I have ever queued to get in to a place apart from the odd occasion in London when you wait to get in to some of the more popular restaurants, but a queue to get in? This place must be either good or very small.
It is not a small establishment, there is a fair number of covers but I was reassured when I counted five service staff (including the manager) too whizzing around. Not panicked or flapping but calmly and professionally. As you can imagine, when it gets this busy there is no encouragement to sit and chat after you have finished your meal, the manager was assuring those trying to get a table how long they would have to wait, normally between five or ten minutes at the most.
We were lucky and were able to sneak in and get a table for four relatively quickly. The table was cleaned before we sat down and we were handed our menu’s. We ordered drinks, mine as usual was a cup of tea at £1.75 for an almighty mug, not in a pot which was a nice change.
The service was quick to bring our drink orders and take our food orders. We had to ask the waitress to come back as we were not finished deciding which she did very willingly. A couple of minutes later another waitress came back and we had to say that we hadn’t made up our minds just yet (we were being very indecisve). So again another waitress came back after this, and we were ready to give the orders. In a classic comedy of miscommunication the waitress misheard Ryan when he said ‘I’m sorry I will just have to have…’ she thought that he was about to say ‘I’m sorry we’ll need to have another minute’ and she stomped off to deal with another customer just as Ryan said what he wanted to order. We were all stunned that she had just walked off, but laughed about the fact it was only more evidence to further prove that Ryan scares off waitresses.
The fourth visit by a waitress finally got our food orders down on paper, we did mention this comedy moment to the waitress who took our orders, and she was quite apologetic and a bit stunned, although we felt it was a bit rude for the other waitress to assume what was about to be said it didn’t necessarily impact on the whole experience.
Our food orders were very quick. They all came out at the same time, and they were hot. The presentation was consistent, there were two Olympic breakfasts on our table and they both looked relatively the same. Portions were fair and equally laid out.
Although you would go to other places and find that you would get maybe slightly more for your money in terms of quantity the quality of the food was very good. The sausages were evenly cooked and flavorsome, the bacon was crisp but not incinerated. The poached eggs were well-done, the mushrooms were moist but not greasy and the tomato wasn’t cooked to oblivion. It was a very well cooked meal with minimal grease on the plate. The bread was toasted to perfection and the whole thing just felt like it had been done by a chef, not a cook.
After we finished our meal, the service was quick and the bill came at lightening speed. As I was eating my meal, I had noticed that the queue had diminished but then come back at various points, clearly Saturday was a day not to come if you were averse to waiting for a table but then I am averse to waiting for a table. I hate waiting, but the service was so professional I didn’t mind as I knew how long I would have to wait and that when I got there, I would be taken care of.
My concluding thoughts are positive. A well cooked meal, although higher in price than I might choose to normally pay, was reaffirmed by the professional and competent service. The bustle and standard of this cafe is really a little bit of London in a small pocket of Exeter. A lovely Cafe & Bistro with an appealing Brunch menu which is still affordable. If you want to keep in touch with Lloyds Cafe then they have a website which seems to be under construction at the moment, but they are on Twitter https://twitter.com/#!/eat_Lloydscafe here.
I have to admit that this post has been a little delayed, but the reputation of this place has stuck in my head as the benchmark for ‘how a cafe should be’.
Lets Do Cafe has been in Fore St since 2001 and ever since it started, it has had an ethos that it only uses locally sourced ingredients and passes them on to their customers at an affordable price. This ethos has given the cafe a reputation for using good ingredients and makes the experience much more delightful. The breakfasts in this establishment are formidable to say the least. But they are truly ‘all-day breakfasts’, and if I am right in thinking there are very few places inExeter certainly in the centre that provide a similar offering.
If you have read my previous posts and cafe reviews, you’ll know that I do go on about this place. It is my benchmark, so I thought it a good time to come back and see if they were still doing what they did best. And I am glad to say they were.
Lets Do Cafe is very orange, it is a prominent thing that you notice when you enter the cafe. The walls and much of the decor is either red or orange, which is nice if you like the colour but not if you don’t. I happen to love orange to I won’t complain too much about the decor and the interior. There are not many tables in the cafe, and this is one of the downsides to their location in Fore St. However their small size ensures that the kitchen can cope with the orders and keeps costs down which adds to the romance of this funny little place. There were at least three or four parties who came and poked their head around the door and went away again when they saw that all the tables were taken.
The menu is pretty average in terms of prices. Given the way it is sourced locally and the overheads that, I imagine have to be covered, the prices are reasonable on some things but more on others. The coffee was reasonably priced, but the tea was more expensive than I was used to but, take a closer look as they only serve loose leaf tea blended in Devon. And it was a fantastic cuppa!
The quality and taste of the food was amazing, the sausage was thick and dense and full of flavour, the eggs although overly runny for my liking were delicious and the whole thing just went amazingly together. Others in my party had similar things from the menu, all varying in price and size but the one thing that we all took away was that the food tasted wonderful. Great things about the food, the service was however a little flakey but all is explained and this didn’t seem to be a ‘typical’ day.
Our party of four was served by a girl who was very pleasant in manner but a little short on pleasantries and patience. When Tori and I sat down to wait for the other two (who were late!) she seemed quite insistent that we order our drinks sooner than later, this wasn’t verbally communicated but through her body language we could perceive that waiting to order our drinks as soon as the others in our party arrived, was not something she wanted to do. This did put us on edge somewhat so we ordered what we wanted to drink and relatively quickly our drinks arrived.
As soon as the other two of our party arrived, she asked if we wanted to order food. Slightly astonished (given they’d not even looked at the menu) we had to insist we were given more time. The service from then on was absolutely fine, although one of our party had ordered fried potatoes which were forgotten from the order. The chef was very good as he said that as they had been forgotten he wouldn’t charge us for them. When they did come out, the lady serving us didn’t even say a word of apology which was highly unusual. We later found out she was helping out and she hadn’t really done this sort of work before, which to be fair, admonished any annoyance that I had felt up to that point.
My concluding thoughts are that, despite the slightly flakey service, this was not something that I will look at as a black mark against this wonderful little cafe. The food is simply lovely and I will be returning again and again for as long as my arteries will take it, and I urge my readers to also experience what a proper cafe should feel like when it is done properly.
They have a website too, http://www.letsdocafe.com where you can find background info and their menu too. See for yourself, experience it too!
New restaurants seem to open in Exeter pretty frequently, but none of them have seemed to have generated so much buzz as Bill’s Restaurant in recent times. Bills, which sits behind Tescos in Gandy Street has transformed the grim surroundings with its hip and cosmopolitan presence. For more information about how the first Bill’s Restaurant started, head over to their website and have a look. Its a romantic story full of floods and vegetables, and certainly gives you an idea where they started from.
So what makes them different? When you walk in to the store, I mean, restaurant there is a large portion of my psyche that wants to go up to the shelves and peruse the many different items that are all for sale. But at the same time I would feel bad shoving my elbow in some poor persons Chocolate Brownie Milkshake, or clambering over a diner trying to enjoy the Bill’s take on the Fish-finger Sandwich. Is it a shop, or a restaurant? On our visit the waitress saw that I had picked up a copy of the produce leaflet and chirpily said that “she or any other member of staff could get a product from the shelves” should we wish to purchase anything. Nice!
The dining experience seems to be at the heart of their ethos and that is apparent in the carefully designed chaos that seems to adorn the walls and ceilings of the restaurant. Hand-written black boards with the names and blurbs of products hang from the ceiling and writing is scrawled on the walls, giving the place the feeling of casualness that other restaurants in Exeter don’t really do. (apart from Boston Tea Party? kind of?…) Candle holders made of used jars, mismatched furniture and that ‘just-put-together-out-of-the-remnants-that-people-gave-to-us’ feel is carefully designed to put you at ease. This is not the sort of place you NEED to dress up for, even though its nice to wear a shirt, but if you came in scruffy-chic mode you wouldn’t be turned away.
Colette Bernhardt, Times Magazine, is quoted on the Bill’s Website saying “Having won us over with his relaxed take on café culture, Bill Collison is bringing his easy, no-nonsense cooking style into our homes”in regards to the produce and the retail side of things, but the relaxed take is not just on ‘cafe culture’ but also ‘dining culture’. The food comes across as restaurant style food, but served and experienced in a completely relaxed manner.
So we know what Bill’s is about, we’ve looked at the website, what exactly is this place like to eat in? Booking a table is pretty easy, either phone or pop in to see them. I personally like popping in to a restaurant to book the table in person because even a small interaction can be an interesting insight in to the atmosphere of the restaurant.
When I popped in on Monday lunchtime, the place was packed. The waiter I spoke to was very polite, even when he couldn’t find his pen to write down my booking, he maintained calm under incredible pressure. As I stood there momentarily I immediately took in the surroundings. The bare bricked walls, concrete ceiling and the upper level eating area which could be seen through a large and strategically placed hole through the ceiling (which hadn’t been there when it was a shop, years ago).
We arrived at 19:30, the table choosing was pretty informal and we had the choice of a few spaces but wanted one with a comfy sofa. It was right near the bar/service area which gave me a good view of the way the service was organised. We were left in relative peace to talk and order drinks and choose our food, there didn’t seem to be any insistence that we order NOW NOW NOW, which has been the case in places that I have eaten before.
So lets talk prices. Cheapest drink on the menu seemed to be a pot of tea at £1.85, Beers were not on draught as is the case in many restaurants, which meant alcohol was on average £3.50 upwards for glasses/bottles of the usual alcoholic fare. Interesting drink menu option was Elderflower cordial which came either hot or cold (you got more for your money if you had it cold) but warm Elderflower cordial? It was divine, served with chopped citrus fruits and strawberries served in a glass mug, well worth the £2.25.
Mains started at around the £8.50 mark and went upwards. Our table opted for the Bill’s Hamburgers, all with varying degrees of options (added cheese was £1.20, bacon was £1.50 etc.) so with the Hamburger costing £9.95 to start with, it ended up being just over £12 for the main course. We ordered our Hamburger’s medium-rare done, and left it at that. The food seemed to arrive quickly and it was presented well. The skinny chips were presented in an enamel red cup and the burger was presented on a wooden board. Swish.
The chips were perfectly cooked, the burgers tasted juicy and flame cooked, the bacon was dry cured and the cheese was gorgeous. The whole thing stank of good, wholesome and tasty ingredients.
We all agreed that for a medium-rare burger, it was not quite done enough. It was airing more so on the side of rare which was a little surprising to say the least given the reputation of Bill’s. At the end of the meal, I mentioned it to the waiter who asked the manager to come over to talk to us. The ultimate test of any restaurant is how they deal with a complaint, although this wasn’t an official foot-stomping-angry sort of complaint, more feedback to be taken for future reference and despite the offer of free coffee’s and some desserts we felt appeased by the attention, and happy that this wasn’t something that would put us off coming again. The manager was, I felt, slightly surprised that we didn’t want to take a free coffee but the call of a pint of Yellow Hammer from The City Gate Hotel was ringing strongly in my ears.
We left contented that we’d come again and I felt happy that good dining (even if it’d been cooked for 13 seconds longer) in a casual atmosphere had finally arrived in Exeter, and not only that arrived in my part of Exeter (Queen St. and St Davids area). It is nice that posh-yet-relaxed nosh is not JUST in Princesshay. It is also nice that Bill’s does what it does best, and although a tad pricey you leave with a warm glow. The service was quite brilliant and the surroundings were chaotic but vintage-shabby chic. Altogether a really nice dining experience that look forward to acquainting myself with again soon.
- Wendy’s testing a ‘pretzel burger’ (miamiherald.com)
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- (Casual) First-date dining ideas (utsandiego.com)