Paschoe House by Lauren Heath

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paschoe House, Bow, Crediton, EX17 6JT

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10 Questions with John Burton Race – by Lauren Heath

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fishing, walking, riding and shooting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JBR (27 of 53)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Occasionally. Possibly.

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

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

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

*Photos courtesy of Richardson Hotel Group.

 

The South West leads the way with competition to champion young chefs and home cooks

The 2017 prestigious South West Chef of the Year competition is open for applications. The highly anticipated culinary contest is the only one in the UK with the aim to find the very best regional talent from not one but five categories including professional and young professional chefs, students and apprentices, junior cooks under 16 years and home cooks. The South West’s culinary reputation has long been lauded, shaped by its bountiful lands and coastline that create outstanding produce and in turn inspire an increasingly long list of home grown Michelin starred chefs. The peninsula’s passion for delicious and sustainably sourced food and drink is recognised and nurtured by the South West Chef of the Year as it aims once again to find the region’s hottest talent.

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Lead judge, Michael Caines MBE of Lympstone Manor who has championed the competition since 2004 said: “South West Chef of the Year has always aimed to not only provide a spring board for the region’s emerging chefs but also to inspire home cooks of all ages and to help young people to make cooking a career choice. I have always said that the South West is home to some of the best food in the world but the industry always needs new blood and I invite all those with a passion for cooking, for wonderful ingredients and the produce we have in abundance here in the region to enter South West Chef of the Year. It’s an amazing opportunity to learn, to improve and be challenged.”

Michael will be joined by an impressive list of judges from the region’s most esteemed venues, including Michael Wignall of Gidleigh Park and Chris and James Tanner of Barbican Kitchen and Kentish Hare. The judges will be looking for competitors who display the highest standards of cooking as well as flair and creativity. The competition is renowned for its mentorship of contestants with those entering the final rounds receiving invaluable feedback in a supportive environment.

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Entry to the first round of the competition opened on 1 June with four of the five categories now taking online applications until 31 July at www.southwestchef.co.uk. Those interested in applying should devise and submit a two-course menu that includes the compulsory ingredients set for their category.

The Professional Chefs category includes those working as a sous chef, pastry chef or above. Menus submitted for this category should include saddle of lamb (on the bone) and pollack and mussels. Young Professional Chefs entering the competition includes those working in any position up to and including junior sous chef and aged 19 to 24 years. Their compulsory ingredients are pork tenderloin and red mullet.

Student and apprentice chefs are those at college or in an apprenticeship and aged 16 to 19 years; their menus should include beef sirloin (untrimmed) and John Dory and clams or cockles. Finally those entering the home cooks class (those who have never worked or trained in the catering industry aged from 16 years) must create a menu that includes a main course of best end of lamb or sea bass and a dessert with fruits of the autumn (apples, pears, quince, berries).

Those selected by the judges to go through to the next round will be asked to recreate their menus at semi-finals and finals taking place in September and October.

Photos courtesy of OneVoice media apart from Featured Image which is copyright Eating Exeter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

South West Chef of the Year 2015: The Grand Final

I was invited to attend the first part of the Grand Final of The South West Chef Of The Year 2015 last Thursday.  Upon reflection I most probably could have done some interviewing too, but I was a fly-on-the-wall, an observer with a camera.

This is an experience that foodies don’t often get to be a part of.  In fact, apart from the members of the press that were wandering around observing too and Steve Haywood the pro photographer, I think I was the only blogger (as far as I knew) who had been invited along to this prestigious event.  No pressure.

South West Chef of the Year is a competition like few others.  Helmed by Exeter’s very own culinary guru Michael Caines, whose alma mater is Exeter College (Michael also sits on the Board of Governors and has the exemplary Michael Caines Academy based at the college too) the grand finals were the end of the a long road for the competitors involved and Eating Exeter was there to be a fly-on-the-wall to watch the kitchen mastery of three different classes.

The Competitors:

In the Professional Class:

Dale McIntosh – Chef Patron of Merchant’s Manor in Falmouth

David Kelman – Executive Head Chef, Ellenborough Park Hotel, Cheltenham

Jamie Coleman – Head Chef, Saunton Sands Hotel, Saunton

Jamie Rogers – Head Chef, Langdon Court, Down Thomas

In the Young Professional Class:

Alexander Brownrigg – Chef De Partie, Manor House Hotel, Castle Combe.

James Mason – Sous Chef, The Salutation Inn, Topsham

Steffan Davies – Commis Chef, Gidleigh Park, Chagford.

Joshua Martin – Senior Chef De Partie, Deer Park Country House Hotel, Honiton.

Student/Apprentice Class

Jack Sharland – Apprentice Chef, The Salutation Inn, Topsham

Jamaar House – City of Bristol College

Samantha Smith – St Katherine’s College, Somerset

Stepping in to the kitchen was quite an honour.  Here were eight chefs who were all there to prove that they were the best chefs in the South West, the South West’s finest culinary talent in one vast kitchen.

Competitors were presented with their ingredients.  From these ingredients they would have half an hour to compose a three course meal, that celebrated the the finest produce the South West had to offer.  To quote the website:

“[Competitors] are asked to prepare a three course meal for three people using two compulsory protein elements and a choice of dessert ingredients announced one week before the final.  All other ingredients will be provided in a mystery box on the day.

Upon receiving their mystery boxes, finalists will have 30 minutes to draw up their three course menu before the competition begins.  Basic reference recipes can be referred to during the 30 minutes of preparation time.”

The day started for the Professionals and Young Professionals at 8:30am, they had an hour to get themselves set up, then a Judges Briefing.  Then the fun started.  Ingredient boxes were presented to the chefs, then they had thirty minutes to think of something to cook.  During this time, press were not allowed to disturb of hassle them taking photos, this was a moment of zen that they needed in order to use all their experience and creativity to bring together something that would impress the judges.

So who was doing the judging?  I saw numerous people floating about with clip boards including the following:

Peter Gorton – Gorton’s

Neil Haydock – Watergate Bay Hotel

Paul Ainsworth – Paul Ainsworth at Number 6

And of course Mr Caines himself was MC’ing the event (excuse the pun) keeping the chefs motivated and even taking time to chat to the students that were helping with conveying the dishes to the judging room.

At first, the tension in the room was palpable.  Most of the chefs were involved in basic prep, chopping blanching etc. Timing was critical at each and every stage, and as observers we had to stay as far out of the way as possible.

I was lucky enough to meet Lucy Munday from the Express & Echo and Katie Pathiaki from The Staff Canteen website, who both kept me company as I pottered around the kitchen awkwardly.

Each chef moved in a slightly different way, it was almost like a dance, between chopping, wrapping, refrigerating, cooking, back to chopping, over to the ingredients table, trying to stay completely out of the way was at times a little tricky but generally I managed this relatively well.

The competitors would have to produce three plates of each course.  Two for the judges and one for Steve to photograph and which was taken out to display on the table in the restaurant for display.  In the restaurant anxious partners, parents and friends of the chefs waited to see their loved one come out of the kitchen.

The tension rose as soon as the plating up started.  The chefs moved faster, the calm focus that had been there before turned up a notch or three.  There were no dramas, no disasters, no one spilled anything, the professionalism of all competitors was unshakable.

The judging was done in secret with the results being announced at a fantastic dinner laid on at the Exeter Golf and Country Club in the evening.  The full list of winners can be found here.

The winners were:

South West Chef Of The Year: Overall AND South West Professional Chef Of The Year
Jamie Rogers – Head Chef, Langdon Court, Down Thomas, Plymouth, Devon

South West Young Professional Of The Year
James Mason – Sous Chef, Salutation Inn, Topsham, Devon

South West Student Chef of the Year
Jack Sharland – Exeter College and Salutation Inn, Topsham, Devon

If you would like to use some of the photographs seen here, please contact me via the Contact page and I can provide access to the full library.  These photos can be used but credit must be given to www.eatingexeter.co.uk

EXETER COOKERY SCHOOL TO OPEN ON HISTORIC QUAYSIDE

The brainchild of Jim and Lucy Fisher, Exeter Cookery School is set to open its doors this coming autumn in a Grade II Listed building on the city’s historic Quayside, which is currently the focus of an Exeter City Council-led regeneration strategy. Fresh from running a successful residential cookery school in the Dordogne, and having scoured the country for the ideal venue, the couple have returned to their roots in Exeter, where they first met almost 35 years ago.

Heading up the cooking, Jim was first inspired to cook in his early teens by watching 70s food icon Margueritte Patten, so much so that he created a three-course meal for his family at the age of just 13. Following 18 years working for the Metropolitan Police, Jim re-ignited his culinary flame and entered Masterchef in 1997, making it through to the semi-finals. Inspired by this, Jim then entered and won a Rick Stein seafood competition. Following this, his life as a professional chef was set and he went on to train with Rick at his Seafood Restaurant, but also spent time working with Tony Tobin and Alistair Little before deciding to up sticks and launch their own cookery school dream in France, complete with teenage daughter, Jenny, in tow. Following 14 successful years running Cook in France, they have returned to Exeter to set up the Exeter Cookery School.

Offering a host of exciting culinary courses – each packed with cheffy tips, tricks and techniques honed in busy restaurant kitchens, but adapted to use in your home and designed to make cooking for family and friends easy and stress-free – Jim and Lucy want to inject a large helping of fun into the mix and help people to cook the way they’ve always dreamed. They are also looking to work with guest chefs to offer a variety of food-related topics from wine matching to specialist baking masterclasses.

Having identified Exeter as the ideal location for their new cookery school, the couple looked at several sites in the city before choosing 60 Haven Road. Set on the ground floor of the property opposite the Quay Climbing Centre and alongside AS Watersports, Jim and Lucy have ambitious plans to transform the derelict site into a hive of culinary creations with a New York loft-style interior coupled with the latest kitchen equipment.

Jim comments: “We fell in love with the venue the first time we set eyes on it. The building has just the right combination of history and character, but also provides us with a blank canvas to truly put our mark on. We are still in the planning stages, but are champing at the bit to get started, as we have big ideas to bring our unique sense of drama and flair, backed up with good, old-fashioned cooking knowhow, to the already booming food industry here. We have been keenly attending all the local food festivals and markets, including the vibrant night markets taking place on Piazza Terracina once a month.”

Exeter Cookery School hopes to attract a diverse range of participants of all ages and abilities, from local food-lovers looking to hone their cooking techniques to visitors wishing to combine a city break with learning a new skill. Jim and Lucy also hope to entice office workers searching for a lunchtime or evening escape and corporate groups for a spot of teambuilding with fun firmly on the menu.

Having been identified by Exeter City Council as a prime area for regeneration, including the potential for an exciting new destination theatre courtesy of The Bike Shed, Exeter’s historic Quayside is the perfect location for what promises to be the city’s, if not the South West’s, hottest new cookery school.

Rob Dawe’s Pop-Up Restaurant at The Heart of Oak, Pinhoe

In writing this blog, I have met some people and eaten some food that I might not have been able to even consider.  I’ve been given some ‘awesome food moments’ for me to write about and remember for years to come, and certainly the Pop-up restaurants that I have reviewed have given me plenty of material to digest and photograph.  They are special, one-time menus that you might never experience again cooked by chefs with vision and experience.

On Tuesday night we were invited to Rob Dawe’s Pop-up Restaurant which was taking place at The Heart of Oak in Pinhoe; I can happily add this evening to my list of ‘awesome food moments’ and it makes me reaffirm why I write this blog with my spare time.

Rob Dawe (formerly senior sous chef at the RAC Club Pall Mall and Head Chef at The Puffing Billy) is a chef tutor at the prestigous Ashburton Cookery School and now he is adding to his many strung bow, by putting on pop-up restaurants in select restaurant locations in and around the Exeter area.  Each evening of his Pop-up restaurants have been a sell-out so far, and Rob is now looking at adding members to his exclusive mailing list which you can do by reading to the bottom of this review.

The Pop-up Restaurant scene has really taken off in Exeter and Devon over the last two years with Chefs such as Josh McDonald-Johnson (Pickle Shack) and Jonny Jefferies (Jonny Does Dinner) doing regular events throughout the county. Tim Maddams, of River Cottage Fame started a Pop-up event using Village Halls as the main locations for his pop-ups, through his Hall and Hearty evenings and I expect there are others too.  But Rob’s Pop-up Restaurants stand out for me as they are mostly in Exeter, and so far they are all in established restaurants.

The recently refurbished Heart Of Oak in Pinhoe was a fantastic setting for the evening, which saw diners treated to a 6 course tasting menu.  The Heart of Oak itself is a pub which has undergone quite a transformation recently.  The clean, modern interior was comfortable, and I hope I’ll be able to do a review of the food here at some point soon.  The menu was a well balanced exploration of tastes, ingredients and presentations which was accessible yet perfectly executed.  As we sat at our table, we were presented with Spicy Duck Canapes to mull over as we inspected the menu.

Rob kicked off the evening with a Sweet Potato, Ginger and Coconut Veloute (generally a soup thickened with either butter, egg yolks and cream).  This was accompanied by artisan garlic bread which warmed up the taste buds.  I loved the coconut and sweet potato combination.

Our next course was a first for both myself and my able assistant, as we are not overly fond of seafood.  Black Bream with a Mussel, Butternut Squash and Fennel Fricasse.  Yes, here is someone who writes about food who doesn’t like seafood and has no desire to eat things with shells.  But that feeling of accomplishment and discovery that we both really quite enjoyed the Mussels both shelled and in the beautiful Fennel Fricasse was overriding. Unfortunately my benchmark of Mussels are now set pretty high, whether I will ever have mussels that good again is unlikely.  But thank you Rob, for introducing me to Mussels.

After the fishy feast, what better way to clear the palette than a Gin & Tonic Sorbet presented in frosted glasses.  This refreshed the palette and got it ready for what I personally saw as the highlight of the evening.

Sous Vide Rump of Beef with a Horseradish Mash, Honey Glazed Carrots and a Port and Thyme Jus was a massive highlight for me and my love of meat.  Sous-vide is a method of cooking using airtight bags with increased cooking times, which results in a beautiful tender texture.

Next out was a Lemon Posset and vanilla shortbread which was beautifully presented.  The ‘topping’ was a layer of raspberry which worked with the tangy zestyness of the lemon.  Add in the shortbread, and it presented the palette with a crumbly, buttery, lemony spectrum of flavours that had me scraping the last few bits out with my spoon.

And then from tangy and creamy, was the glorious taste of salted caramel in the shape of Chocolate and Salted Caramel Tart with Honeycomb Ice Cream.  The consistency and texture of the chocolate was literally like slicing through velvet.  Up to this point we had been having a quiet conversation about this and that, narrating the food, talking about what we were eating but at this point our table fell silent and we were quite overcome with the amazing taste.


The menu was rounded off with Coffee and Homemade Pistachio Macarons.


The evening was, for us, a resounding delight.  The service (hand picked by Rob) was excellent and really attentive, food came out quickly and drinks (although not BYOB) were served speedily and elegantly.
The combination of location and the quality of the food would be for any foody, a memorable food moment. For the prices that Rob charges, for instance our night was £35 per head, you are unlikely to get such good value for a tasting menu as well put together. Had we paid £70 per head, then it would have been a true reflection on our evening.

If I could make this the next culinary sensation that everyone talks about in Exeter, I would.  But that is up to whether you put your name on the mailing list for the latest news and dates.
At the moment Rob’s mailing list and word-of-mouth is the only advert for dates of future Pop-ups.

There are two more coming up at The Salty Pigeon on Sunday 1st March and Monday 2nd March. If you would like to book a place, please text Rob on 07745438481.  Drinks are BYO.

There are plans for a website and a greater social media presence.  You can follow Rob on Twitter as well @RobertdaweRob

To join the mailing list, email Rob at chefrobdawe@gmail.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Breakfast

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

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

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

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

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

Gardens Break in Devon

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

Low Season – £259

Mid-Season – £319

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

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

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

Email: welcome@highbullen.co.uk 

T 01769 540561
F 01769 540492

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