Grand Hotel, Torquay by Chris Gower

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grand6

Grand4

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

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

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

Grand8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advertisements

Exeter Food Festival: A quick round-up by Chris Gower

The Exeter Food Festival is a massive part of the culinary calendar for foodies in this wonderful city.  Each year Eating Exeter has written about it and attended dutifully, watched the demos, tweeted and blogged about the experience enjoying the wealth of talented producers and chefs that our region produce.

This year myself and Steve Heath (Chilli Head Chef) had the honour of being part of the action in more ways than one.  Not only was I part of the Question and Answer panel in the BBC Radio Devon Tent, but I was an ‘official’ (ish) photographer and Steve took co-hosted a demo with South Devon Chilli Farm in the Dart’s Farm Teepee.

The festival started off with a photo-call where we were able to snap some newspaper worthy photos in the presence of the great MC himself.

MC and Producers.JPG

It was a very informal meeting, where Michael proved that having an Otter Valley ice-cream for breakfast was part of living the dream!

MC eating an icecream.JPG

Neither Lauren or I could make the Saturday, but we definitely had Sunday and Monday covered!  This wasn’t the only thing that was covered, because it was a good thing the majority of the food festival was covered as it rained pretty much solidly on both these days.

2017-04-30 11.15.38 3.jpg

But across the board, this was the only dampener on a fantastic event that constantly draws a large and eclectic array of people from across the region.  The Northernhay Gardens is Britain’s oldest public space having been laid out originally in 1612, the gardens curve around the base of Exeter Castle which makes this the ideal space for holding an event like this, and with the inclusion of the Castle as part of the Festival too, not only can festival-goers experience the best food and drink, they are treated to a walk through history at the same time.

I genuinely love this festival.  The structured program of events, the vast range of activities and goings on, the producers, the after-dark parties and the sheer number of organisations and businesses make me proud to be in a county that takes as much pride in its food & drink as ours does.

Now know that this post is completely bias.  It is also mostly made up of photos so please scroll down for more images of the Sunday that I attended.

2017-04-30 10.35.01 1.jpg

The first stop for us was the Beer Tent.  I had pre-radio nerves and needed some liquid assistance.  As usual I go for Otter Brewery Otter Bright and Tori went for her Dartmoor Ale favourite Jail Ale which was very much needed.

IMG_0197 (1).JPG

Being invited to speak on the radio was a great honour.  I was lucky enough to share the stage with my foodie friends Tara (Tara’s Busy Kitchen) and Harry who was standing in for Nick Hook who is Mr Devon Food Hour.

Thirty minutes passed like five, and before you know it, its over.  We had a blast talking about writing a food blog and the fun that it can be, also how easy it is just to start writing.

In no-time at all we were sat waiting for the highlight of the day in the Question Tent, Paul Ainsworth, Michael Caines, Tom Kerridge and Michael Wignall answering questions.

IMG_0252_DxOFP.JPG

It was fascinating to see into the minds of these great chefs, what a rare opportunity to have four of the UK’s best in one place!

Then it was time to hot-foot it down to the Cookery Theatre to see the mighty Tom Kerridge demo a classic British favourite.

But before that, we were lucky to catch Michael Caines and Adam Little’s demo.  Adam is a fantastic chef and is Head Chef at the Exeter Golf and Country Club that we reviewed a while back; it was great to see Adam taking the stage even though he was going back later for evening service!

After Adam and Michael’s demonstration finished, the crowd swelled in readiness for the main event.  Tom Kerridge, chef-owner of the Hands and Flowers which has two Michelin Stars demonstrated essentially Steak and Chips, a perfect accompaniment to the Otter Ale that was being served at the VIP guest table.

It was quite awe-inspiring to see the master at work, and even more of an honour given the photos that I ended up taking were some of the best (imho) of my dubious photography career.

I was also thrilled see the legendary Paul Ainsworth’s demo towards the end of the day as well, I have never seen a man handle a lime with so much ease and grace!  Joking aside, I really enjoyed his demonstration – he explained everything carefully and really engaged the room.

The come-down from seeing these demos needed food and by the time we had got our fill of chefs doing magical things with meat, we needed food badly.

I had my eye on a couple of vendors but I was particularly taken with The Guildable Manor, a fresh import from Borough Market in London and we met the lovely affable Dan who introduced us to his lovely sausage-kebab creations with his scratch made sauces and fresh baguettes.

By the end of the day we had run out of time, so we didn’t really get to look at the producers this year.  We did enjoy a small glass of Crispy Pig before we left, but our day was tiring and it was definitely time to go home.

Had we made it to Monday as well we would have seen one of my favourite food bloggers, who coincidentally happens to also be the husband of Co-Editor Lauren, the Chilli Head Chef Steve Heath take part in a demo with South Devon Chilli Farm along with another one of my favourite food bloggers, Mr Marcus Bawdon (in the Hawaiian shirt)!

Steve co-hosted with Phil of SDCF and answered questions from the public.  Steve also helped out with the chilli sauce eating competition with James Dart of Dart’s Farm compering, and Marcus cooked some meat in one of SDCF’s newest sauces.

Exeter Food Festival will always be my favourite food festival.  We are lucky enough to live in a county with a reputation for exquisite and epic food producers and culinary creators, and the festival is a gleaming example of how to celebrate this.  Next year the fun repeats with big names and awesome events  – Exeter Festival of South West Food & Drink returns for its 15th year on 5th, 6th and 7th May – the early May Bank Holiday 2018.

http://www.exeterfoodanddrinkfestival.co.uk/ 

Live Love Eat Awards 2014

Thursday 26th February was a bit of a special day for me, as it was the inaugural 2014 Live Love Eat awards and I had been invited along to take part in a grand celebration of locally produced food and drink, in an awards ceremony organised by Vicki Sargent and the Live Love Eat team.  It took place in the Deer Park Hotel (set in 80 acres of parkland) near Honiton.

Some of the best local food producers and foodies came together to celebrate those lucky enough to have gathered enough votes to earn themselves a place in one of the twelves categories.

So here I am writing about an event that happened nearly three weeks ago! Unfortunately life has a strange habit of getting in the way and I’ve only been able to sit down and write it up now. Despite the fact it was nearly three weeks ago, it was one of those experiences I am unlikely to forget.


The awards was kicked off with a really nice breakfast for delegates, an amazing plethora of local produce and items fresh from Deer Parks own kitchens.  We got a chance to network and have a chat but unfortunately the weather was against us so we were unable to tour the house.

I had the honour of sitting with Maurice from Hogs Bottom Delights who was providing the Marmalade and Jams as part of the breakfast, and who also won the Platinum Award for Devon in the Condiments & Jams section.


Head over to the Live Love Eat website for a full list of winners and take some time to go and see what Live Love Eat is all about.

Started 18 months ago by Vicki, a farmer’s daughter and 32 year-old mother-of-two, who has a distinct passion about the food and drink industry.  This comes from her parents who bought a farm in Hatherleigh when Vicki was 17.  They converted in into an award winning organic farm and butchery.

The organisation and love that went in to the organisation of the day really shone through.  It was a brief morning but it left me feeling humbled and lucky that we have such amazing food producers in the South West and certainly here in Devon.

http://www.liveloveeat.co.uk

Follow on Twitter @liveloveeat
Like on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/liveloveeatltd
Follow in Pinterest https://www.pinterest.com/liveloveeatweet/