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.

 

Advertisements

Dinner and Overnight Stay with John Burton-Race at The Grosvenor, Torquay – by Lauren Heath

Being ex-hospitality, I find it interesting to watch certain reality series like Four in a Bed and Kitchen Nightmares – having been there, done that, you wander how on earth people can get it so wrong. Another entertaining fly-on-the-wall show was The Hotel on Channel 4. The Hotel itself was The Grosvenor in Torquay, which was owned and run by Mark Jenkins – a haphazard yet entertaining guy who, bless him, always tried his very best. But with little money in the pot and micro managing everyone around him including some larger than life characters, this big hotel with even bigger potential just seemed to fall at every hurdle. We had even passed this hotel on a day out, and in sheer nosiness, popped in for a quick browse mid-fame.

Fast forward a couple of years and my, how things have changed. The hotel has since been purchased by the Richardson Hotel Group, a privately owned business with Keith Richardson still very much at the forefront. Along with The Grosvenor, they own 6 seafront hotels in Devon and Cornwall including The Grand in Torquay, and then The Fowey, The Falmouth and The Metropole Hotels in Cornwall.

Since purchasing the hotel, it was recently closed for a short period of time to push its refurbishment plans through as well as completely renovating the kitchen for it’s new michelin starred captain at the helm: John Burton-Race.

Some of you may or may not know who John is but one thing that precedes him is his feisty reputation. Saying that, JBR, who has had recipe books published, cookery tv shows and his own restaurants under his belt has been living a much calmer Devon life for quite a few years and it seems fitting that he is the one bringing order to this once chaotic establishment.

jbr
John Burton-Race – image provided by PR company

Interestingly nearly 9 years to the day, I met John Burton-Race whilst being a guest on set of Market Kitchen in London, where John cooked brown shrimp for us, so I was intrigued by the news of his appointment.

So with this combination of life stories and events, I was delighted to have been invited for an overnight stay to test out the accommodation and food offering in this fairly local seaside town.

The front of the hotel has been treated to a good facelift to freshen things up as has the interior. We were checked in promptly and advised on the location of our room so off we toddled, wheelie bag in hand ready for a proper nosey.

Our room was enormous! Large bed, very high ceilings, tall windows to match. There was plenty of storage for those longer stays, and a nice pair of chairs with coffee table for relaxing. There was even a fridge which was great for a few treats we had brought with, and it wasn’t a noisy ‘buzz all night’ type of fridge. We had seen this room before on the telly, and it was tired and a bit wasted – but now it was fresh and clean. It was not what I would call luxurious – but it didn’t need to be, this is not a boutique hotel – it is comfortable and gives value for money, and they understand the price point of the guests they are likely to welcome here and have not over egged it.

We enjoyed the pool and jacuzzi facilities; a slightly roman-inspired area with its curves and decor. There is also a sauna to use if you wish to sweat anything off. After our relaxation, we then returned to the room to refresh ourselves for dinner.

Prior to dinner, we were sat in the lounge area to peruse the menus – the a la carte menu with individually priced items and the 6 course tasting menu priced at a very affordable £50 per head. If you have booked Dinner, B and B it includes the a la carte and if you really fancy the tasting menu you can pay a small fee to ‘upgrade’. We ordered our drinks with hubby being well advised on a good gin to go for, to fulfill his current drinking fad.

The restaurant tables were well spread out, private enough for your own conversation yet filled enough that there was a lovely buzz in the room from other tables. The lighting was right, the service smooth and effortless and it was non-intrusive. James the maitre’d, really had it; that irish charm goes a long way but he exuded genuine customer care and the right amount of humour. I had my ear out listening to him with other diners and he could certainly read his customer which is a much needed talent amonst a good front of house position.

Dinner really was sublime. I have mentioned before how chef hubby, Steve, is hard to please or impress but he had a wonderful evening, as did I.

It all started with an amouse bouche of seafood raviolo, with crispy fish skin and an asian salad. For starters Steve chose the Salad of Beef Rib served with truffled potato, watercress, hazelnuts, and sour dough crouton. I had my eye on the lobster ravioli in lobster bisque as seen on Twitter and thankfully it was still on the menu. Both starters were just beautiful, each element singing through and packed with flavour. My ravioli was bursting with a hunk of tender and meaty, sweet lobster.

For mains Steve flew for the Roast Devon Quail, herb purée, beetroot, quail jus, and tarragon gnocchi and I leapt at Roast Chump of Lamb, jerusalem artichoke, purple sprouting broccoli & tapenade jus. All the meat was cooked to perfection – juicy, tasty and well taken care of. Steve loved his gnocchi and I must say the Jerusalem artichoke puree was an eye opener for me and a flavour triumph – earthy yet sweet.

For dessert I couldn’t decide (what’s new) but was recommended one and thought why not, sounds interesting. It was Sweetcorn Custard, toffee popcorn, quince sauce, and popcorn ice-cream. It was a set custard, not sweet or savoury – somewhere in between but the accompaniments added the dimension and enhancement.  Being me, I could have done with something sweeter but it was tasty and something I’ve never seen before.

Steve opted for a selection of the cheeses which included Ossau-Iraty, Glastonbury Cheddar, Raclette, Sharpham’s Elmhirst, Crottin de Chevre Melusine, Morbier, Langres, Fourme d’Ambert. He was very impressed that these were stored in the dining room at room temperature, cut to order and was a very satisfied customer once he’d munched his way through.

Pleasantly full we headed back to our room for a good sleep. The bed was very comfortable and the room a good temperature.

Morning came and we ventured for breakfast in the same dining room, only with her morning wear on, with lots of homemade pastries, local yoghurts and such items on the central table with a breakfast menu to choose from as you would expect.

Breakfast was good; the only thing that really let it down was the coffee – or lack there of. It was filter coffee in the coffee plunger but it was either weak coffee granules or whoever is making it doesn’t know how it tastes as a finished product and therefore isn’t spooning enough in – it wasn’t good. I suggest they invest in a filter coffee machine or coffee shop type instrument – perhaps this is on the shopping list, as I really can’t start the day without a good cup of java.

We were sat on the higher glass extension end of the restaurant and so had a view out on to the garden and it was light and bright. I ordered the eggs benedict and Steve ordered the smoked haddock. Both very tasty but the haddock could have been a bit more generous in size or at least with a muffin for sustenance. We saw other diners enjoying the Full English and it looked to be of great quality and a good portion. Overall we were satisfied and the service was very good.

So with full bellies for the second time in just under 12 hours, it was time to venture back out to the real world. The hotel’s refurbishment is stylish and comfortable with many more things to come in the entertainment spaces. There is also an outdoor pool with plenty of potential for the summer months if the weather is kind to Torquay and it’s visitors. The hotel is perfect for families and couples alike, and I think the upcoming refurbishment will include family friendly dining to accompany the Michelin star level offering.

For a stay in Torquay, The Grosvenor is like a caterpillar, finally becoming the butterfly it so deserves to be; perfectly formed for its purpose. As for the restaurant and dining experience, well you need to try it for yourself; a warm glow at the belly of the beast, albeit a much calmer beast, with outstanding dishes showcasing the best the South West has to offer.

To add a bit of adventure to your lunch or dinner outing and allow you to enjoy a tipple from the vast choices on offer, why not catch the train down from Exeter? The hotel is only a 5 minute walk from the train station, and would really add to the whole experience. If you can’t manage a stay, once contently filled with your delicious dinner, perhaps a nap on the train home will have to do.

With John having experienced French living back in the day, I hope the English Riviera will now satisfy, where he can add his je nais se quoi to Torquay and The Grosvenor for the foreseeable future.

ee-recommends_zpsgsj7cdqh.png

The Grosvenor Hotel, Belgrave Road, Torquay, TQ2 5HG

Website: www.grosvenorhoteltorquay.co.uk

Twitter: @GrosvenorTQ

 

 

Artizan Gallery – Soft Coffee Cafe, Lucius St, Torquay

7 Lucius Street Torquay TQ2 5UW

Ph: 01803 428626
Email: juliebrandon@artizangallery.co.uk

Torquay is one of my favourite parts of Devon. It has palm trees, beaches, lots of quirky independent shops, strange parking regulations and an even stranger one-way system.  It does have a distinctive Bohemian side that is often underrated and a burgeoning arts culture that makes me feel quite at home.

As a performance poet in my other life, I’ve spent a lot of time trekking between Exeter and Torbay on the train or driving down, enjoying such cafes as The Blue Walnut Cafe in Chelston with its tiny cinema and the various spoken word events that have taken place there over the years and The Epicentre Cafe in Paignton that closed a few years ago.

My new favourite cafe in Torquay that isn’t The Blue Walnut is The Artizan Gallery’s Soft Coffee Cafe in Lucius Street, a quirky gem that sits behind The Artizan Gallery.

IMG_20160822_191113

In Exeter we have The Glorious Art House, a fantastic independent cafe that caters for those craving a bit of boho in the most bohemian part of Exeter.  Torquay has The Artizan, a venue to events such as Stanza Extravaganza that happens every month on a Monday night.

Coffee is great value using Maisies Devon Roasted coffee, and a small range of locally produced cakes are on offer too.  The garden is a small space of serenity under the awning of an old sail, there are works of art scattered across the wall spaces, all for sale and produced by local artists.

The energy (I don’t often use this as a gauge of quality in reviews) of calm that this place eminates is quite infectious.  The hustle and busyness of Lucius Street fades in to the background once you step in to the gallery, but the cafe takes you even further in to this bubble of peace.

The range of food is relatively small, but you’re welcome to purchase items from the local bakery and bring them back if you want something beyond one of the lovely cakes.

Las Iguanas, Abbey Sands, Torquay

I am genuinely happy to report that Las Iguanas has landed in Torquay; you can read the review for the Exeter branch here. We were invited down to see the latest addition to the Las Iguanas family which is housed in the new Abbey Sands building that has appeared on the seafront. This new build is the resort’s latest move to gentrify itself, smarten up some of the crumbly bits and put it in line to being THE British resort to go to.

And this also includes introducing a 24 hour charging period on the car parking along the seafront which, to be honest, is absolutely insane.  Thanks Torbay Council *slow clap*, thanks.  After driving around in circles and realising that there is a helpful and handy car park right behind Las Iguanas that we had driven past three times, it didn’t seem that bad after all.

The modern exterior of Abbey Sands is reminiscent of a luxury resort, somewhere nice like Monte Carlo or possibly Barbados. Not being an expert on Coastal Resort Architecture of the early 21st century, whether Monte Carlo has a Costa Coffee is a mystery so don’t quote this article.

The restaurant sits at the end of the row of some smart eateries, its glass front exterior lets light flood in. It is crisp, colourfu and airy, allowing a panoramic view of Torbay.  You can see right over to Brixham on a clear day, and during the sunset the horizon is transformed in to a blaze of orange and reds as it hits the buildings across the bay.

Las Iguanas has redesigned its menu since I last visited.  New dishes have appeared (these are handily shown on the menu by the big letters that say ‘new’) which increases the esoteric nature of the selection of food and drinks.  They still have the Happy Hour cocktails, there are still things on the menu that I really liked in the Exeter Las Iguanas and I am happy to say that there are still a huge range of drinks too.

The restaurant was busy. It was a Friday night, there is a light samba soundtrack floating in amongst the laughter and jive of the Friday night revellers.  For some, this is just a meal out and then possibly a drink afterwards and for others this was the embarking point of an epic night of alcohol, frolics and partying.  That is the one thing that appeals to me about Las Iguanas, it can be many different things to different people. It is a party, it is also a lively meal out, it doesn’t fit a narrow stereotype.

We kicked our meal off with a couple of Corona’s, coming with a lime (needed and expected!) we decided to try the new Quesadilla starters.  Tortilla, filled, folded, pan-fried & served with tomato salsa.  You can go for garlicky mushroom, chilli, thyme & cheese or spicy chicken, peppers, onion & cheese both for £4.90.  I liked the idea of this as a starter, definitely could have done with more filling though, but then I have an appetite of a small buffalo.  My able assistant found them a perfect portion.

The main course wasn’t a hard choice for me being the massive burger fan that I am.  I went for the South American Dream, a new addition to their menu.  Lightly spiced beef patty in a toasted bun stacked with fresh herb chimichurri, slaw, sliced beef tomato, baby gem and a creamy tomato & gherkin sauce.  It was a good patty, very dense.  Interestingly I couldn’t tell whether this was a ‘handmade’ burger and I would question whether it was, but then this isn’t a burger bar, its Latin American restaurant and I’m not marking anyone down for this fact.

The chimichurri and the sauce worked together really nicely and yes…I had curly fries. And this leads me on to one thing I admire about Las Iguanas.  They make what could be a really exotic menu quite accessible to the British public, yes you can have curly fries with your flame grilled Latin American burger.  The Brazil and Beyond section has names that you would not find on a pub menu, but the Mexican menu has favourites like Nachos, Burritos, Tortillas, things which would not be out of place in the usual ‘British-ness’ of our collective national psyche.  The balance between the exotic and the familiar is one that could be either too much or too safe, and I think Las Iguanas has a good balance in that respect.

So lets talk dessert.  Again nothing too exotic for me, nothing beyond the Creamy Caramel Cake. I enjoyed it so much last time I was at a Las Iguanas it was perfectly accompanied by two coffees and further fantastic service from Jodie our waitress.

I genuinely like Las Iguanas a lot. This is ‘casual dining’ and it can be as expensive or cheap as you make it.  They have branches across the UK and there are more than likely going to be more in the future appearing, and its easy to see why they have a bit of a cult following too.  With the the happy hour cocktail offer and various other offers that they run, it is definitely Mexican/Latin American with a friendly and accessible twist.

Scroll down for photos of the meal and the new restaurant!

4 Abbey Sands
Abbey Crescent
Torbay Road
Torquay
TQ2 5FB

Tel: 01803 297 053
torquay@iguanas.co.uk

Special Dispatch: Scoff’s, Paignton (4/5)

Paignton has a strange attraction, it is a splat in between the sizable populous mass of Torquay to the north and the beautiful harbour of Brixham.  There are a few words that you could use to describe Paignton, and depending on who you ask will depend what sort of words they end up being.  True, the town has its problems and suffers from a lack of investment but its charm and cheesyness is the thing that brings me back to this slightly strange town time and time again.

The town has ample supply of cafe’s and restaurants aimed at visitors and locals alike.  There are so many arcades, cheap tat shops and charity shops you might end up getting lost in a bizarre world of childhood nostalgia and vintage re-runs of Coronation Street that will scar your brain forever.
The choices are endless, and despite the fact there is a Costa and the obligatory chain outlets, it is full of strange independent cafes and take-aways and for me, that is too much to resist.  And, despite a previous visit I am here at Scoffs in Torbay Road again.

scoffs

Scoffs has no website.  It has no online presence at all, apart from a slightly scarce Facebook page with little on it apart from a comment about chips.  It has no twitter account, at least nothing that is visable from a Google search.
When you do a Google search you get ample amounts of Tripadvisor reviews and only then do you realise what a dichotomy exists between the people that LOVE this place and the slightly lesser amount of people who don’t like it at all.  Luckily I can put myself in to the camp of people who do love this cafe, with my couple of visits being both very happy experiences.

Scoffs stands out because of its claim to be the home of the Yorkshire Chip.  What exactly is the Yorkshire Chip? A quick google search brought back nothing of any use, and I wonder if this is something that is truly unique to Paignton.  The Yorkshire Chip is from what I can see, their special variation on the traditional chip.  Coated in something that resembles batter, the chips are coated in a light sprinkling of this special ingredient which gives them a bright orange glow and a very crispy-on-outside-soft-inside end result.

pieIt was the end of a busy Saturday.  We had been around to pretty much every arcade, looked around every charity shop and been to see my friend Bryce over at Epicentre Cafe.  The one thing I had set my heart on was some Scoffs chips.
To the right you see the Pie and Chips (£5.50) that my companion had, bad photo was because I took it on my iPod as I forgot my usual camera.

The one thing that left a positive impression with us was the service.  As soon as we came in we were greeted by a lovely long-haired waiter who found us a seat and said that he’d be with us shortly.  So we sat down and waited, and it wasn’t long until the waiter (who we found out was called Stuart), took our order.  He knelt beside the table so we were able to make eye-contact with him, we actually had what could loosely be called a conversation.  Throughout our short visit, he was attentive and polite, near perfect service and certainly the best I had ever come across in a cafe of this type.

Scoffs has a charm which I am yet to pin down.  It has laminated menus that have been photocopied time and time and time again, and the ambient noise seems to be a blonde haired lady who shouts a lot.  During out visit, despite our best attempts we couldn’t quite work out what she was shouting about.  Was it at customers? Was she the manager? or just mad.  Either way it is something you generally have to accept when the chefs are front-of-house.  Upscale restaurants have theatre kitchens, but the humble chippy has been doing the ‘theatric dining expereince’ for generations.  Cooks/chefs shout.

menu

The decor is average chippy decor, but it was clean and looked hygenic which is up on many cafes I have been to over the years.  Very quickly Stuart brought over our food, me with a battered sausage and chips and my companion had. Whole thing including drinks was shy of £12.

The sausage was well battered with an even coating, well cooked and not overdone.  The chips were generally perfectly cooked, although the large portions that they serve are terrific value but the coating can be quite heavy on the stomach.
My companion’s pie was very nice, with a rich sauce and generous chunks of steak which were cooked well and not overdone.  A very satisfying hole-filling meal.

True, Scoffs isn’t exactly Michelin star quality and the Yorkshire Chip is an delicious oddity with many other local variations (they have something similiar in Exmouth) . And you can read through Tripadvisor and see that the service hasn’t always been very good to some people, but the portion size to the price paid ratio is high.  The value is quite amazing in that sense, but it depends if you can eat it all.

Scoffs is food to fill a hole with, the experience of dining in was for us a really good one which I am happy to recommend to anyone.

Pros: Excellent service, fantastic value for money, amazing chips, proper cafe grub with no pretensions.
Cons: Shouting lady, located in Paignton which for some might be bad. Chips are ‘too much’ depending on appetite.  Inconsistent experiences from other diners.

23 Torbay Road, Paignton TQ4 6AA, 01803 529 584

Special Dispatch: Seaview Diner, Teignmouth (4/5)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Eating Exeter likes to push boundaries sometimes, and we really have this time.  We’ve been to Teignmouth.  The heart of the bit between Torquay and Exeter.

Due to failing finances and the urge to get out of Exeter we ran away for an afternoon by the seaside in order to inhale some sea air and go for a bit of a walk to observe the tracksuit clad wildlife and to watch trains roll by as they traverse the sea wall, before diving into the first of five tunnels that Brunel built when he constructed the Great Western back in ’em Victorian times.

Teignmouth is a small town with a port and a lovely Georgian seafront.  It has a train station, a port and it was officially the last place in England that was invaded.  During the 1600s some French troops whilst moored in Torbay sailed up the coast and had a bit of fun by plundering, looting, vandalising and generally causing mayhem.  Eager to find out more about Teignmouth’s history we headed straight for the museum  which was shut.  In fact a lot of Teignmouth seemed to be shut, which was odd for a Saturday.

And so we plodded along the seafront and plodded back, by which time it was time for my obligatory afternoon cup of tea.  Phased by the sheer number of choices that we had for a place to grab a cuppa, we ended up in SE4 Lite Bites just next to Courtenays Theatre.  Perfect Clipper Tea and lovely coffee was the order of the day here, and I will write a separate little review for this cafe itself as it was truly a delight to dip in to.  Friendly service, great value with a quirkyness all of its own.
After feeling thoroughly revived with went to peer at the Estuary and soon enough we were hungry.  Earlier in the day I had set out with the need to eat Fish and Chips, so it had to be one of Teignmouth’s many Fish n Chip shops which would satisfy the gaping hole in my stomach this time.

Central Fish Cafe seemed the first place we were drawn to, adorned with Pukka Pie adverts and a nice smell from outside we wanted to eat inside.  The welcome from the staff was subdued to say the least and the cafe was dark and completely empty.  The smell, the feeling and the whole atmosphere led us to quickly run away and instead we ended up in the originally titled Seaview Diner.

Seaview Diner

The Seaview Diner has no website or twitter account, and like many of these small places there doesn’t seem to be any back history to when it was started and who owns it now.  But what I can say is that the current owners are friendly, Chinese and have a good idea on how to run a restaurant.  Give the diners an incredibly cheap menu which caters to a large variety of tastes, put them in small seats designed for Chinese proportioned people and watch the diners come.
When we walked past earlier in the day, we had earmarked it as a potential place to return to as it was full to the brim with people.  Even when we were running away from the Central Fish Cafe the cafe was still quite busy.

Online the diner has only got three reviews on Google and Qype, and they are all five stars.  This diner has a charm to it, which must be the same sort of charm that 6 All Day has and I can’t quite place it.   So what adds to this charm, what exactly is its attraction?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I have made this pretty clear.  The prices are incredible.  Yes yes, I know its a small cafe in a small town but it is still something you don’t see very often.  Certainly not in the sprawling metropolis of Exeter.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The most expensive thing on the menu was the Mixed Grill at £8.90, it would be easy to come in here and have a lunch for two with drinks for under a £10.  And I nearly did, but I wanted Fish and Chips, I was at the seaside and you cannot come to the seaside without having Fish and Chips as it is quite literally the law.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And this is what appeared. With a mug of tea as well, a very filling meal for under £6.  The surprising thing was that you also got a salad AND peas, in many cafe’s it would be one or the other.  The portion size for the price paid was incredible value for money, given this whole plate cost just over £5.

The fish was clearly over-cooked but it was not dry as such, it looked very much like a frozen bit of fish you’d get from a supermarket but it was very tasty.  Although it was cooked to an inch of its life, it crumbled and melted beautifully.  The chips were freshly cooked and although the peas were hard (across the table her peas were lovely, typical), the whole thing was incredibly satisfying.

The decor of the place was an interesting one as the walls are adorned with the menu, but no prices.  Just empty pound signs.  Apart from that the entire cafe is surrounded by windows which means maximum light and ideal for watching the world go by.  It was the standard ‘Fish and Chip Cafe Blue’ which never gets boring.  There were a few standard sea ornaments and the usual sort of thing adorning the wall, shells etc.

The service was pretty non-existent however, being served by what seemed like a sullen Chinese teenager who didn’t say anything apart from the necessary statements of  ‘can I help you?’ and ‘is that everything?’ after we had ordered our food.  When she brought out the food it was quite literally plonked in front of us without even telling us where the knives or forks were.
The feeling of powerful resentment against being made to work on a Saturday seemed to ooze from her, and unfortunately this really ruined the general ‘experience’ of our visit. But it was salvaged by the friendly chef who upon clearing away our plates accidentally cleared away a half finished can of coke.  When we realised I headed to the counter to retrieve it.
Peering down the long corridor to the back office, I spied an elderly Chinese gentleman who clearly couldn’t speak any English.  He beckoned the young man to come out front, and when he appeared and I told him he had cleared away the can he gladly gave us another one for free and off we toddled on our way, feeling quite satisfied.

I shall return to this place of wonder and delight, only hoping that the waitress is having a better day and that I have lost enough weight to sit at the seats without wearing the table.

Crosby’s, The Strand, Torquay. (4/5)

Eating Exeter spills out to other places around Devon sometimes, and this time we head to Torquay.  Torquay is a hotch-potch of little suburbs and villages, out of town retail complexes and a whole load of other attachments too including Paignton, Brixham and Babbacombe to name a few.  To anyone unfamiliar with Torquay, there is a diverse range of eating establishments that can bewilder and bemuse, but I am going to give you a good starting point.  Crosby’s is set in a very central part of Torquay, at 1 The Strand.  It is a TQ1 postcode and is at the bottom of Fleet Street, looking over the Marina and the Fleet Walk shopping centre, it is unmissable should you find yourself in the centre of Torquay.

I find Crosby’s very hard to write about as there is a lot about it that I would normally moan about.  The interior, the garish promotional signage, the palm trees and excessive interior foliage.  But I can’t.  When writing about a restaurant or cafe, or anywhere that involves reflecting on the ‘experience’ of eating in a place I can happily say that everytime I have been to Crosby’s I have had a wonderful experience despite its flaws.

Upon first glance, Crosby’s really isn’t anything special to behold. The green sign with the uninspiring lettering is, well, functional if anything.  It does the job and makes it slightly more obvious then it would have been without any signage.  The metal framed double glazed window beholds palmed pot plants and an interior decor that does look like it hasn’t changed substantially since the early nineties.  But there is a vague sense of familiarity that this sort of interior brings, it is almost comforting.

When myself and my beloved visited on a Saturday lunch time, it was bustling with the usual Saturday lunchtime clientele.  Old ladies meeting for lunch, shoppers taking refuge from the insanity outside and a few kids behaving themselves with tired looking parents relieved for a sit down.  But it didn’t feel out of control, the pace was gentle and this was much to do with the professionalism of the waiters as they took orders, brought out food and maintained calm and control.

The service was incredibly friendly and very attentive.  When one of our party dropped a knife, from the other side of the restaurant, the waitress called over and said, “I’ll get you another one!”  The coffee’s and the tea’s were very quick, and those of us that had coffee were impressed as it was Illy Coffee.  The menu promises a ‘£9.95 Steak Special’ and a ‘Two meals for a tenner’ offer too amongst the traditional fare of greasey spoon choices and healthy options too.  There was a good fish menu, and from previous experiences I can safely say that the Fish & Chips is a meal that will have you coming away satisfied.

I ordered a ‘Gut Buster Burger’ (£5.75) with a portion of chips (£1.50) (which upon reflection, I didn’t need the chips!) and the rest of the party had three portions of Fish & Chips.  The fish was well cooked with a crispy light batter coating it.  The chips were perfect, with a crispy outside and the standard hot and soft inside that every good chip should be.  My burger was a bit singed around the edges, however this only added extra strength to the chargrilled nature of the burger.  The cheese was perfect and there were generous amounts of bacon and onion rings within the burger itself.
The perfect burger in everyway, apart from the singed bits.  The meat was tasty and not overdone and the burger maintained its shape whilst I tried to eat it with my hands (a task that was considered impossible by everyone witnessing it.  I proved them right).

The bill came to £33.50 for four of us, that included drinks.  It was fantastic value with some of the friendliest service that you are likely to receive in the area, upon reflection it occurs to me that this might be the best place to eat in Torquay but recommendations are gratefully received, see the comments section below the article.

Overall, a small restaurant with dated interior.  But this is made up for with the friendly staff and stunning food.  Excellent value, prepared to feel satisfied!