Tag Archives: Food

The HH Restaurant – Broadclyst – Exeter – Restaurant Review

This well known restaurant has been situated in the village of Broadclyst for many years, many more than I have been blessed with on this earth.  It has taken different names and themes over the years and changed with the times, but not always with great success.  Most recently it has been known as the “Coachman’s Rest” which was known for serving “international” based cuisine from old British favorites to the odd curry dish etc.  Although successful in its final days it did struggle with very little business, which from the location of this restaurant should not be a problem based directly in the centre of town and on a very busy through road.

The restaurant was then purchased by new owners with the intension of completely rebuilding and refurbishing the tired looking building, bringing life and freshness back into its history.  The refurbishment took from September until the restaurant opened at the end of November/Start of December, they had also decided of the name of the establishment which would be based on the owners surnames and hence the “HH Restaurant” was opened.

I had to hold back from rushing to the telephone upon opening as I do think no matter how experience head chef you have (Thiers coming from a well known back ground of “Jack in the Green – Exeter), it takes time to familiarise yourself with the menu and your new surroundings.  I decided to wait until they did a menu refresh as I thought this would give them enough time, and through the wonderful world of Twitter and speaking to Darren who is one of the owners he kindly informed me the menu would be updated on January 8th, so I quickly booked a table on the evening of 13th January at 7pm.

Upon arriving the external of the restaurant does have a very fresh look with clean white walls and a large dark brown sign indicated the name and details of the restaurant, the conveniently placed car park is right on the side of the building and saves the annoyance of hunting a car parking space on the small streets of the village.

Upon entering we were immediately greeted by the front of house team and with our coats taken shown to a small sitting area and menus provided, our drink orders were then quickly taken and served.  Darren was then kind enough to come over and chat for a small time about the refurbishment and general chit chat etc.  First impressions of the internals of the restaurant are good with clean white walls, dark brown and black leather chairs and small bits of structural wood placed around the area, which all make for a pleasing environment.

Looking through the menu which was presented in a very large and I must say unneeded wooden folder, it is a mix of traditional English with a slight French influence thrown in for good measure.  I was quite glad to see there was not an abundant use of different mousse’s/gels/foams etc which can show a chefs need to show off in this sort of place, gladly though each dish was described well.

After making our selections and a short wait we were then asked to the table, where we were then greeted by a young waitress.  Any long term readers of my blog will know there are 2 real loves of mine when it comes to dining out, 1 being the dessert (It is the best part…. Period), and the second would be the offerings of different flavour/types of bread.  Luckily the HH restaurant did not fail on the bread front with our young waitress presenting us with a large basket of bread rolls, of which there was 3 different types which were:

  • White Buttermilk Loaf
  • White Poppy Seed Loaf
  • Country Fennel Seed Loaf

These all looked great and were served lovely and warm, my first selection being the White Buttermilk roll which was in a shape of a spiral, which as you unwound it released large amounts of steam which and just emphasized how fresh it was.  Being the child like person I am I could not decide how to easily cut the roll as it being in a shape of a spiral it would have just fell apart, so I proceeded by carefully unwinding the bread which allowed me to lather it with ample amounts of butter, then I was easlier able to roll it back up into the original spiral shape, this made for one of the nicest pre-dinner bread eating’s I have had, with the bread being soft and flavoursome, the milk and butter flavours being strong and complimented well with the butter, unfortunately at this time I was so enticed by the now dripping roll filled with butter my camera seemed a distant thought.  Next was the fennel seed loaf which had a strong hard crust but being nice and firm on the inside, the fennel came through well but I found it lacked some flavor and some additional salt could be used here, but this was resolved easily due to the ample use of butter! Unfortunately I did not make it to the try the final bread offering as the small loafs were quite a large size.

Amuse Bouche – Celeriac and Truffle

Just after the bread was presented a small bowl of soup was given to us, this had a wonderful rich flavour with the sweet, creamy flavours of the celeriac coming through which mixed with the taste of truffle made for a very very good soup.  This was indeed very rich and a small portion is only needed.

Starter – Ham hock terrine with seared foie gras, apple gel and black mustard seed and turmeric dressing

When Darren brought me this dish and his first words were “Ah sorry need to move your cutlery due to the different sized plates your having this evening”, now I am all for having different styles of plates etc and do appreciated how these add to the impression of the food, however if you are going to do this, please make sure you have spaced your table settings appropriately as it gives a feeling that the meal no matter how well done is just pretentious.  Onto the food, the presentation was good with each of the elements spaced out on the plate, on first glance I was disappointed at the size of the serving of the terrine, but this turned out to be a lot thicker than I had expected and quite filling.  The flavour of the terrine was good with the strong flavours of pork coming through, and surprisingly this was not salty at all as is the case when using ham hock, it was nice to see a good selection of root vegetables packed densely into this square and made for pleasing textures.  The apple gel I found paired perfectly with the ham hock adding the sweet element which tied and partnered these 2 different items perfectly, there was just the correct amount as well of this to allow for the gel to be tasted with every bite of the terrine.  The foie gras was very very lightly seared and placed in a pool of oil which I found gave to abit of a overally slimy texture to the entire piece, and due to the very light searing and the already “soft” centre of the liver, I found this texture just to much and slightly dampened my enjoyment of this.  The mustard and turmeric dressing which was dotted around the plate did not add anything special to the dish at all, and due to the very little amount use was very hard to sample on the palette, in the end to try and get the taste I used my knife to sample this individually and although the flavour was good, it was just overpowered by everything else.  I would say the dressing is used as more of presentation item than a item of substance.

Main – Fillet of Aberdeen Angus beef with braised shin faggot, dauphinoise potato and baby carrots

This dish was presented in my opinion perfectly with a slightly rustic approach that this countryside retreat from the city of Exeter needs, there were gladly no small dots of jus or mousse’s etc, everything was plain to see and easy to identify.  The steak was obviously the first item I sampled and asking for the meat to the be “rare” this was cooked just to my liking, the meat was incredibly tender with a wonderful taste and good sear on the outside, the accompanying sauce also added a wonderful taste and balanced the seasoning perfectly.  The dauphinoise potatoes were very densly packed thin slices and had a dense texture, with the rich garlic and cream flavours given a great sensation, however it would have been nice if this was abit more moist with the addition of more cream.  The shin faggot on this plate though stole the show with such great strong flavours of beef, and a very rich binding sauce making for a wonderful item to try, I only wish there was more of this on my plate, the meat within the faggot casing was moist, tender and succulent without being too salty and the seasoning balance was wonderful.  I did really enjoy this main course and really approve of the slightly more rustic approach to the plating of the dish, the flavours all worked well and complimented each other, being not too overpowering and ending up fighting on your palette.

Dessert – Hot chocolate fondant with salted caramel and praline ice cream

Now don’t act surprised that I ordered the chocolate dessert, it was bound to happen.  When Darren took our order for this dessert he was kind enough to let us know it was fresh and that would take up to 20minutes to prepare, not being in a rush and having thoughts of gooey chocolate on my mind, I really did not mind the wait.  As the minutes slowly ticked by my tapping feet got faster and faster the dessert arrived, the plating of this was gorgeous with the simple pudding easy to identify, everything look fantastic, my only disappointed thought at this time was that surely the salted caramel was not this small scraping on the plate.  Moving on to the pudding through both myself and my dining partner held our breaths as we cut into the cake to see if this was a true “Hot Chocolate fondant”, needless to say I think a picture tells a 1000 words.

The inside was incredible with the chocolate being moist, gooey, liquidy, and very runny, the outer cake had a slight crust which combining the 2 different texture was brilliant.  At this point I will say this was the best chocolate fondant I have every tasted, with the rich dark chocolate working well on the palette, and when combining this with the praline ice cream which was surprising light and refreshing it just made for a fantastic combo.  I can safely say that if you order this dessert you will not be disappointed, it was that good!  Overall I loved this dessert (if you didn’t already get it… I really did like this), my only disappointed however came with the salted caramel, as sampling this on its own was amazing with the sweet taste of caramel offsetted with the strong salt flavour work well but where was the rest of it? There was such a small amount on the plated unless you actually made a point to only pick this item up alone on your fork you couldn’t get the taste with the other items.

Petite Fours – Home Made Fudge, Chocolate Ganache and a Chocolate filled cylinder

When coffee arrived these items were also presented, and again the question instantly comes into my head…. Why give 1 item of each to a table of 2 people? This means only 1 person is able to sample an item, we attempted to cut the chocolate ganache in 2, but this failed and resulted in a mound of disfigured chocolate.  All of these were good (except for the fudge which my partner sampled and I cannot comment on) with the chocolate cylinder having a good thick shell and having a great crack upon biting upon.

Service - This was brilliant and considering they are still learning the ropes of the restaurant everything went smoothly, with both the owners being present on the evening in question im sure everyone was trying to impress.  It gives a great impression though for the whole team and our young waitress really looked after us well, and supplied me with ample amounts of bread.

Overall – 7.5/10

I did really enjoy the food here on this visit, and would love to give a slightly higher score, but there are some small little things which im sure over time will be address by the team.  A slight disappointment of the evening was the price of the starter and main course being £8.95 and £21.95 respectively this is quite a high amount and certainly for the starter would have expected abit more.

Personally I would love if they kept their food plating and styling like the main course I sampled tonight, the location of the restaurant, decoration and warm interior gives for a great rustic clean feeling, I didn’t feel there was a great need for the different size and styling of plates and gave abit of a over pretentious feeling to the evening.

I will be returning in the Spring for sure, hopefully to sample a new menu when it is released and knowing that this place has only been open for a little under 2 months, im expecting fantastic things to come.  I think it would be good to see maybe a mid week 3 course dinner special with a set price of £30-35 as this im sure would tempt people to visit and sample the wonderful food.

I would recommend the “HH Restaurant” for a intimate gathering with a partner, or makes for a great first date sort of environment as its very open and gives a fresh feeling without being too overbearing and fussy.

 

Gemelli Restaurant – Torquay – Restaurant Review

This small establishment is based right in the Town Centre of Torquay, just above the main high street.  From the exterior it is minimalist styled and unless you were looking for it, you would pass it right by as the front is the same size as all the other shops/operations which are on this street.  They advertise them selves as an authentic Italian restaurant, for me this instantly gets shudders of fear in my bones as the thought of deep pan pizza’s, pasta which is saturated in sauce and watery minestrone soups instantly comes to mind.  The owners of Gemelli’s are a complete family team with Lorenzo being based in the kitchen and his wife as head front of house, this is then combined with the kids staying upstairs which im sure are the future chefs of the establishment.

The table booked was for Wednesday lunch time at 12:30, upon entering the restaurant I was slightly disappointed to see the place completely empty with no sign of life from owners/staff or diners.  I guessed this was due to the pre-christmas detoxes and everything else going on, however standing waiting in the room, still no life was to be found to show us to our table or anything, I decided to take a look around the the Deli counter which has a very good range of items.  The small glass windows shows various marinated olives and vegetables, a good range of meats and also a wide range of cheeses.  Now at this point over 3 minutes had gone by with no sign of life what so ever, 3 minutes on paper seems no time at all, but when you are waiting for something or in an awkward unknown location it can seem like a life time.  At about this time I thought that was going to be it, but then I noticed by the door entering the restaurant a small bell and upon banging the dong, the head of front of house immediately popped out and offered a very warm welcome.

She was very friendly and kind to talk to and made you feel immediately at ease and due to being the only ones in the restaurant this was needed, we were shown to our table at the front of the restaurant with the large windows allowing you to people watch and the goings on outside.  The tables are all cleanly dressed with white table cloths and glasses and cutlery placed, with small flower pots placed around.  The entire dining room is airy, bright and offers a lovely calm atmosphere even at this time with few people around.

Menus were then presented to us, being lunch time they normally offer a special lunch time offering which is :

Main course + soft drink / coffee £ 6.45

Starter + Main Course + soft drink / coffee £ 8.45

However on this occasion I really fancied having the goats cheese starter which was on the evening menu, Lorenzo was more than happy for my to not go off the lunch time menu and switch to the full evening menu instead.  The menu is a great mix of authentic pasta dishes combined with a mix of main courses which suit most tastes, also due to the nature of the chef/cooking he is happy to alter these dishes to suit other tastes or preferences.  There is also an extensive pizza menu here which has all that you would expect to find.

With orders taken a small pot of olives and marinated sun dried tomatoes was placed on our table with small tooth picks, these were lovely and fresh and offered a great light snack to prepare us for our meal.  I am always surprised when Italian restaurants provide you bread and oils as a pre starter, as most of the starters/mains are carb based pasta and with this added bread it is just so easy to fill up too quickly and become bloated.  So this was a nice alternative and allowed you to snack without the concern of being to full to get through your main.

Starter – Caprino con ortaggi grigliati (v)  Grilled vegetables with goat cheese on  toasted crostone

When presented with the dish I loved how it was very rustically styled on the plate, with the produce not trying to made into something that they shouldn’t be. Everything could immediately be identified on the plate and simply sampled without the need to go routing through the dish to find that certain flavour.  The toasted bread was lovely and had a light helping of oil, which was added to by the grilled vegetables which were lavishly coated in a very good olive oil.  The large disc of goats cheese atop of the stack of bread and vegetables was gloriously gooey and melted on the outer edges, with the centre still having a good texture to it.  The cheese was extremely rich and had a slight hint of salt at the end of the palette which I did enjoy, particularly pleasant was the use of the oil and pesto which was actually melted into the cheese and provided such a great mix of garlic and herb flavours infused into the entire slice.  With all the flavours combined of the stack this made for a fantastic dish with the oil providing just enough moisture to compliment the cheese.  The small added salad was used well to provide a slight crunch to the entire dish and lightened the dense cheese.

Main Course – Paglia e Fieno salsiccia e porcini White & Green tagliatelle with sausage & creamy porcini – Starter Portion

Now due to the fact in my past experience of Italian restaurants it seems no matter what you ask for when you order a dish of pasta, not only do you get an extremely large and deep bowl, this bowl is usually piled high with dense filling carbs which is one of my pet annoyances when it comes to UK italian restaurants as it is so just too filling for one person to eat.  So with this in mind I decided on asking for a starter portion for my main dish, knowing that this is normally what I consider a main dish size.  When Lorenzo brought this to the table I must admit, I let out a sigh of relief as not only was the portion perfect but it was served on a plate and not in a deep bowl.  The presentation again was very similar to the starter, being very rustic and having that home style cooking look, with all items being simply found and no frills added to the plate, the only addition being a slight sprinkling of parmesan cheese which had already started to melt into the pasta.  On first taste I was very found of the seasoning which was perfectly balanced with the salt levels being on a very even level, which with the use of Italian sausage I normally find is a little off in these types of dishes.  The sausages added a lovely element to the dish with a great taste and a different texture to the pasta which was tender but not to hard, I would describe it as just have a “bite” and I was still able to easily wrap it around my fork.  The main praise here however is the perfect portion of sauce used, there was no cream dripping from the stands of pasta yet it just coated it lightly and allowed for all the flavours to merge together without feeling like you were eating more of a stew than a pasta, which again I found it alot of Italian eateries the sauce is outweighing the actually pasta portion.  I loved this dish and found the whole mix of sausage, earthy and juicy mushrooms and the perfectly cooked pasta a fantastic combination.

Panettone Bread & Butter Pudding with Pistachio Ice Cream

Having now fooled my mind into thinking that i’ve only eating 2 small starters I immediately set my eyes on the lovely dessert menu.  Unfortunately Lorenzo informed me that he was still making his Tiramisu so this was off the menu, however upon seeing the words “bread pudding” the thought of this stodgy dessert had my excited.   Again Lorenzo was kind enough to bring this dish to the table him self, and it was a lovely portion size with the pudding being a good 2×4 inches.  When I started tucking into the dish my immediate surprise was a Brulée type topping with sugar which had been glazed/burnt ontop of the bread to form a sort of gorgeous crunchy topping, this provided a sublime change in texture from what this normally stodgy dessert provides.  The panettone was great quality with juicy raisins and different fruits place densely throughout the entire section, the desert was served quite hot but not steaming, this was a nice touch as this allowed for the ice cream to start to slowly melt and not just form a pool of liquid immediately.  The ice cream was very good and had a good flavour, however it would have been nice to actually find some ground pistachio pieces in the ice cream but this is of personal taste.  This has got to be one of my favorite puddings of recent, the whole rustic no frills serving style is brilliant and allowed you to enjoy exactly what you saw on the menu.

Overall – 8/10

I really enjoyed my lunch at this small Italian eatery, and have very very few complaints here.  The food was all sublime with everything cooked, tasting and feeling fresh and not pre-prepared, the flavours and combinations used provide for a great authentic Italian experience and the whole in house family team only add to this. The service was also very good with everyone being pleasant and talkative without being to in your face etc, also it was very good service to be able to have 3 freshly cooked courses in the space of 1.5hours and can only praise Lorenzo for this.

The value is excellent as well with my entire meal costing between 15-17 pounds with water, and considering if I did have a main instead of a 2 starter portions this would still be under £25 per head, I think this is good value for money.

My only mine gripe being here is the lack of welcome upon entering and it would be nice to see someone permanently outside in the main dining area to great you, or a sign next to the bell asking you to ring to get attention would be nice.

I would recommend this place for a relaxed lunch for families, or would be fantastic for a close romantic meal for couples.  I have since returned to this restaurant as I enjoyed it so much and I am ashamed to say had exact same dishes as previous, this in my opinion is only a praise for the cooking as I enjoyed it that much.

 

Papaji’s Restaurant – Clifton – Bristol – Restaurant Review

This restaurant has recently had a re-lunch in where they have introduced a new look and a new chef.  The place used to be well known for its bar and also its wide array of tea which they offer, this is a sort of speciality of the owner and his knowledge of tea seems to be vast.  This is also shown by the extensive 73 item Tea menu which has every combination of flavours one could ever imagine.  The cuisine is stated as European with Indian influence, which on first glance I was very intrigued to how the menu might play out and immediately got my hopes up for what was to come.

The restaurant has been refurbished with a new fresh look which includes warm woods with clean and simple wooden tables, finished with simple glasses and cutlery.  The entire place has a great fresh feeling and due to the upstairs being a mezzanine floor with an open balcony looking down onto the bar below, the entire atmosphere manages to flow right into the dining area making it very relaxed and even if you are the only diners you don’t feel alone.  The only complaint here is that due to the dining area being small, the tables are incredibly close together and if I was having a romantic meal I would find this very disconcerting as you most definitely be able to hear each others conversations.

Now having being handed out the menu and drinks served, the menu is certainly a mixed bag with most dishes starting off sounding quite standard but then quickly adding a fusion twist with a chutney or spice.  Nibbles are offered for the table such as “bread and oils” but these are an extra charge and I would like to see these offered as a complimentary appetiser as I feel it sets the mood for the meal.  There is most certainly a dish for everyones tastes, with each having either a large Indian influence or very subtle one.

Roasted beetroot, caramelized goat’s cheese, mixed leaves, autumn chutney, balsamic reduction

When this dish was presented I was quite surprised, as due to the modern style and updated theme I thought there would be abit more done with the presentation of this dish.  On first inspection I could see the goats cheese which had a lovely caramelized topping,  this was then melted down on top of various mixed leaves etc, but the rind of the cheese was left in a not too pleasing to look at way on the plate, and I do think more could be done in terms of presentation of the dish here .  However while looking through the leaves I could not see any form of beetroot which was the main advertisement of this dish, once I began moving the salad I found on the base of the plate a light scraping of the chutney which was promised, oh and surprise surprise 2 very very small cubes of beetroot, which was the only beetroot present.  I was rather shocked to find that while the dish is mainly promoted as a beetroot salad, it really only had 2 single cubes of beetroot….. this aside the salad was good with a good crunch to all the leaves, with the lack of dressing on the actual salad, it seemed that most of the balsamic reduction of on top of the goats cheese.  Due to the dressing being not on the leaves themselves, they relied on the chutney on the base of the plate but I found this was not enough and would have preferred a much larger serving of this to add some moisture to the dish as a whole.  The goats cheese was the dominant taste throughout this entire dish and was just to powerful for everything else, I found the dish quite a large disappointment really and was expecting a lovely light and tasty salad.

Tamarind Glazed Pork Belly, Masala Sauteed Jerusalem Artichoke, Shredded apple, Mango Chutney

Here I was more than impressed with the size of the portion which was presented and immediately it grabbed my other diners attention, the size of the pork belly cut was massive and I was slightly worried about being able to tackle such a mammoth bit of porkiness.  I was mainly worried that due to size I thought it would be 50% fat and the rest made up of pork, but once I started to cut into the meat I was very pleased to see it had been cooked excellently, with the fat rendered down suitably to avoid any claggy raw fat, and give the entire cut a great sweet flavour.  The tamarind glazed added a wonderful sourness to the top of the pork, however due to this being glazed and then not finished correctly the entire top “crackling”, lacked any sense of crispness and ended being a flappy piece of very nice tasting, but still soggy fat.  The artichokes beneath the pork, again were very well cooked with the texture being perfect and still having a slight bite in the middle but being soft enough to just push your fork into the outer edges, although sadly these had no heat or flavour of the masala what so ever and found them lacking on any flavour.  The mango chutney was more of a puree than that of a chutney with it decoratively sprayed across the side of the plate, but this was lacking in any sense of sweetness and although it added to the flavour of the pork it could have really done with some added sweetness to compliment the meat.  The apple was of such small quantity it is hardly worth mentioning and was literally as described, a raw cold grated eating apple, this didnt add anything to the dish and would have been better as a puree to compliment the pork.  Overall I did enjoy the dish, everything was cooked well with the pork belly being one of the tastiest I have sampled of late, in terms of pork flavour but this is where the dish ends. The flavours on paper should all work well together, however when tasting you are confronted with a serious lack of distinct flavours coming together, and some of them just not appearing at all on the palette, the individual elements really do need added work to allow them to work with each other as a whole.

Rice Pudding, Saffron, Green Cardamon & Pistachios, Banana Chutney (Served cold)

Here again the menu stated alot of different elements and again on paper they all seemed and meld with each other lovely, the chef must be praised here for stating that this is served cold on the menu, as I’m sure many people instantly think of rice pudding being a warm/hot desert and would be disappointed upon the dishes arrival.  On first tasting of the rice pudding you instantly get the sweet taste of your traditional creamy flavour, then at the end of the tasting on the back of your tongue you get a subtle hint of saffron which really compliments the sweetness well, I wasn’t initially sure how this combination of rice pudding and saffron would go but upon tasting it, I was very pleasantly surprised how nice this was.  The nuts which were placed on top of the pudding were just your standard nuts with nothing out of the ordinary done here, but disappointingly these were only placed on the top? No other sign of nuts were present throughout the entire dish, I was very saddened at this as they added such a great texture and taste to the palette when your mouthful contained one of the few nuts present.  The chutney was served in a surprising small quantity for the size of the rice pudding, and due to its subtle flavour it didn’t add anything at all to the dish, the first full bites had a subtle hint of banana which worked but once you got past these first few mouthfuls it was just undetectable on the palette.  The pudding overall was brilliantly cooked with the rice being just the right texture and to my liking with the main pudding being a brilliant marriage of creamy rice and saffron, but this is where the dish comes to a end in terms of excellence.  It needs some really added “umph” to lift the dish up in terms of flavours and due to it being served cold it does not have the creaminess of the rice to hide behind, and really needs to have a larger dose of banana and nuts to heighten this pudding.

The entire meal came to £22.75 for the food alone, which although is quite cheap I do feel the starter was slightly over priced for what this was, however the main course is a steel at £11.50.

Service was good throughout the night, but this was provided by a single waiter to the entire upstairs and because the food is required to be carried from the kitchen downstairs to the diners upstairs, we found he was not present enough to take further drink orders etc etc.  I do think he could do with extra help as towards the end of the evening when things started to become busy he looked more than stressed and flustered.

Overall – 5/10

At the end of the meal I found I was quite satisfied and full with the portions all being of a good size, but I couldn’t help but feel disappointed as the menu promised so much in terms of flavour and fusion which just didn’t show in the actual eating.  All the dishes were cooked well with some elements such as the pork belly really showing promise, but the other areas of the meal are just a complete let down and at this moment do not work.  I believe the chef is more than capable but is trying too hard with his insistence of Indian fusion, which I think could work but his actual execution of this needs major work.

I would like to return in a few months in hopes that the menu, chef and waiters have had time to settle in and adapt/improve.

P.S I have to also mention that a fellow diner had the most amazing and at the same time disgusting desert I’ve ever heard of…… “Deep Fried Chocolate Brownie”

This was described as batter with liquid hot chocolate inside by my fellow diner who loved it!! I will also mention that the waiter equally describe it as “the artery clogger”, this is the first time I’ve seen this offered in a fine dining environment and just had to show the picture.

 

The Sportsman – Seasalter – Whitstable – Restaurant Review

Ever since I started this journey of visiting as many different restaurants as I could and then writing my visits down on paper for others to read.  The first thing I did was to start to read as many other bloggers posts as I could, quickly I noticed a theme of the same few restaurants being reviewed by these blogs and constantly coming out with such amazing high praise.  The Sportsman was certainly one of these with it constantly getting very high praise from every person who I know has been there.  This being the case it quickly made it to the top of my long list of “Must Visit” restaurants, this list being made up of mostly local restaurants however a few special far distant establishments have made it to the top.

With my mind set on making this visit, I started to look at how I would even get to the restaurant being based in Devon and it being over 250miles away and 5 hours by car, I was not to keen on driving as I would most likely be falling to sleep in my lunch.  The train did seem like the best option but it would be an extremely long day with the itinerary being as follows -

  • 5:00am Wake Up
  • 6:15am Get Train @ Newton Abbot
  • 9:00am Arrive at Paddington
  • 9:20am Get Tube to Victoria Station
  • 9:35am Arrive at Victoria
  • 10:22am Get Train to Whitstable
  • 11:50am Arrive @ Whitstable
  • 12:15pm Arrive @ “The Sportsman” for Lunch booking at 12:15 via Taxi

The above would be the one way journey with the return journey being the same timing but in reverse, with me arriving back home around 11:30…. Needless to say this would be a long long day and would certainly be my self proclaimed “Pilgrimage to the Sportsman” a title I was hoping would soon be confirmed as acceptable, and earned.

With everything booked 2 months in advance via email the only thing left now was the long awaited day to come.

Finally the day arrived when I would soon be sampling the food which I had such high hopes for, oddly enough I was not sleepy at all when the alarm finally awoke me and jumped out of bed with a spring in my step.  I wont mention anything about the journey except that it all went without a hitch and arrived on time at whitstable station with no problems or delays.  As the Taxi started to leave the main town of Whitstable I still was finding it hard to believe such an amazing foodie establish lay somewhere on this beautiful stretch of beach, as the taxi driver proclaimed we had arrived I was even more amazed as we approached the large white building, which looked more like your regular local pub serving up Scampi and Chips than somewhere of fine dining.  However a small blackboard leaning against the window safely confirmed this was not your usual pub, with a note stating that it was fully booked for lunch which I doubt many places can say these days.

Walking in to the restaurant the first thing that strikes you is how bright, light, warm and airy everything is, with the bar directly infront of you. The staff immediately were great with such a warming greeting its almost like being greeted by family.  With warm log fires roaring and the large block wooden tables dotted around with a large space between each area it really does put you at ease, it is so far from being pretentious its hard to even explain it.  Everything in the main dining area welcomes you and puts you at ease, the waitresses and staff are all dressed in standard clothing, jeans with shirts or various other articles of plain clothing with not a single logo or mark showing staff in sight.

After talking with the staff for a few minutes and explaining the journey and them asking questions etc we were pointed to our table which was at the front of the restaurant and had a great view of the bar, and the lovely log burner.  The tables are very very chunky in construction and the chairs match this style, with the tables laid very plainly with your standard cutlery and small glasses, I was most impressed with the table decorations though with vegetables of various sizes and types and upon inspections was astonished to find these were real vegetables! these were a great decoration and gave great colour to the whole place.

With drinks served and our taster menu presented we awaiting the start of our meal, the menu was very plain and gave you no clue what so ever to what you would be receiving, as simple headings stated what the main influence would be such as “scallops” or “Roast Lamb” this immediately started to ring circles through my mind to what and how each of these elements would be served or how the presentation would even be.

Pork Scratchings, Apple and Mustard Sauce and Pickled Herring

So it begins…. this would be the first of appetisers which would start the meal, the presentation being clean and simple, having that rustic edge using the clean slate plates.   I had to sample the pork scratchings first and was very surprised upon picking my first up as these were not heavy at all and almost as light as a feather, to a point i’m sure if I was just to sneeze they would blow away, the taste was not your standard pork scratchings as well, they had a great light salty taste coming through which in the mouth almost melted onto your tongue and presented your taste buds with that fabulous pork taste, you almost didn’t even need to swallow as they melted away in your mouth.  The apple sauce added a great sweet taste to these and quickly, I found myself trying to find weird and wonderful ways of combining 1 or 2 separate pork scratchings to force even more sauce into my mouth with a slight heat of the mustard just coming to the palate at the end of the bite.  The pickled herring on first taste was very overpowering with the strong fish dominating the palate, however as I continued to chew and taste this small canape all the flavours started to come through and combined to produce something truly special, the soda bread added a great earthiness and with the sweetness of the pineapple, it all worked with the strong fish to make this my favorite item.

Whitstable Native Oysters with Apple Foam and Cured Ham

This would be my first ever experience of oysters as I have never been in a position before to sample this delicacy before.  The chef came out and presented these to us and gave a brief explanation of the dish and why he used these combinations, I loved this as it really does put you in the mind of the chef and gives you an idea of what he was trying to present and push across to his diners.  Being my first time sampling these my mother kindly passed on these being the not to adventurous type and I was only to glad to accept both of these to myself.  I decided to eat one down without chewing and the second to chew as this would then test the two different ways I keep being told one should eat these.  The first I held it my mouth to allow the flavours to develop and not knowing what to expect at all, I was immediately shocked by the strong salt flavour and the sort of creaminess which comes from the oyster luckily the apple foam quickly came through and added that sweet acidic touch which came through with the subtle hint of the meaty pork just developing at the end of the tasting, this was then swallowed without chewing.  The second consisted of chewing which although gave the same flavours, added a very creamy taste and texture which I found quickly I was not to fond of, however I now know for the future that I prefer to sample this type of shellfish in one go and not to chew.

Rosemary & Red Onion Focaccia bread, Wholewheat Soda Bread and White Flat Bread

As anyone whom reads my reviews regularly will know I am extremely fond of home made fresh bread and knowing this and reading other reviews of the Sportsman I couldn’t wait for this dish to come.  I was not disappointed at all with a large wooden block presented filled with delicious bread, these were all describe at the table and we were also told about the home made butter which is made at the establishment.  The Flat bread would be the first to be sampled, this had such a hard tough crust and not only the base but the top as well, with it being a great bread to tear chunks off and fill with butter, it such a great texture being light insides but the crust offsetting this completely.  The soda bread was the shocker as this is something i’m not normally to keen on as its very very dense, however here the taste was just amazing with the flavours developing throughout chewing and then the butter hitting with a great salty flavour towards the end, I only wish here I had a huge pot of strawberry jam to compliment this amazing bread!!  Finally the focaccia was to be sampled, this was very very soft and made for quite a challenge to butter however I quickly learned this is better without the butter and just letting the strong flavours of the rosemary and onion come through fully in the mouth, the crust had the whole strips of onions and sprigs of rosemary and added a great alternative texture.  The best bit of the entire selection was the base of the Focaccia bread which had collected all the olive oil used in the cooking, and almost had developed into a fried bread which was dripping in this amazing oil, tasting this I was blown away and munched my way through my entire slice within about 2 minutes…… Unfortunately for my dining partner a invisible individual took her base of the focaccia….. (Whistles) we still don’t know who took that…

Scallop carpaccio with Walnut Oil

This dish arrived about 5minutes after the bread was served, so I was still very busy tucking into the bread and butter and therefore left this dish to the side for a few minutes, but as this dish was cold I doubt this affected the it at all.  The chef again presented this to us and immediately asked if we were “sqeemish” before describing the dish, considering nothing really affects me he proceeded to describe how he actually slices the scallop while it’s still alive so it’s very fresh.  This was dressed with some walnut oil, and fresh seaweed sourced locally, on first taste I was immediately hit with the walnut oil flavour which was the dominant taste at first, then the sweetness and saltiness of the scallop and seaweed combined with the nutty touches proceed on the palette to make for a great combination.  This was also a good dish to serve while eating with the bread, due to the additional walnut oil left on the plate, as this allowed one to take a sneaky bit of bread to “mop” up the remaining oil and juices.

Pumpkin Soup with Scallop wrapped in Bacon

This was presented in a great unusual way with the scalloping being held by a skewer just above the soup, I have to mention that upon picking up the delicate spoon it is as light as a feather! Literally I thought I would break it, but it’s made of very light weight wood and both myself and my dining partner were shocked at how light it was.  The soup was extremely tasty with a very strong sweet pumpkin flavour, but was seasoned and balanced well with it not being over salty at all, this was extremely rich though and I can appreciate why such a small portion is provided.  I could easily understand if the same portion size was offered as a starter, as by the end I can safely say I had enough which in my eyes makes it the perfect small taster.  The scallop was amazing, being crisp on the outside with the bacon adding that porky salty edge and the creamy, sweet and perfectly cooked scallop being gorgeous to eat.  Due to it being on a skewer when combining this with the soup it was great with both the sweetness of the pumpkin and scallop complimenting each other perfectly.

Crab Risotto

With this dish I love how the chef has only used the brown/dark crab meat in the actual risotto and then utilises the lovely white meat on top of the risotto.  Originally I thought this was just for presentation but I soon learned this had a very important purpose, due to when I tasted the risotto it was extremely flavoursome with excellent seasoning, however the flavours were just abit too powerful for my palette with the richness just proving abit too much.  Though when combining the light and refreshing tasting white meat with the risotto it took the richness away slightly, this for me just made for the perfect combination and the flavours which marry to make this one of the best risottos I have sampled.

Seasalter Ham Cured in 2008

This dish was exactly how described on the menu and was simply cured ham, however a twist was here yet again when the chef describing it with  a brief description, but urged us to read the accompanying page of writing.  This page describes how this pork came to be and the story behind it and was fascinating to read, this was great as it gave such a great insight into how this was produced.  The pork it self didn’t have a great strong smell to it and didn’t really have any smell apart from a saltiness, however the taste was surprisingly not too salty and was delightful, the meat was quite dry but the fat which was plentiful added some moisture to the slice and was needed.

Turbot braised in Vin Jaune with Smoked Pork

The immediate smell of this dish was so intense I couldn’t believe it with smells of strong sherry, and then of smokey pork to finish it off, I couldn’t wait to tuck into this one.  The fish was perfectly cooked and the pristine white flesh which just pealed and fell away, it was perfectly seasoned with a smooth texture, the below greens had a little bite still left in them which allowed for a change of texture of the smooth fish and was a appreciated addition.  The star of this dish though was the sauce it was so good I don’t think I can even start to describe it, it had the texture and initial taste of Hollandaise but then towards the end of the taste it smacked your palette with a strong sherry hit with a hint of acid which was just incredible, it was not too overpowering that it destroyed the fish but complimented beautifully. The smoked pork atop the fish was the final item to be enjoyed and I can only describe this as a beautifully crisp item of smokey belly pork which just cracked and fell apart in your mouth.

Roast Lamb From Monkshill Farm (Item 1)

This item was again presented by the chef who explained this was just the first lamb item and the main would follow, he explained how he was trying to modernise this traditional English dish with some oriental elements.  The item was a cut of lamb which had then been coated thickly in breadcrumbs and deep fried, this was accompanied by a small pot of mint dipping sauce.  I first sampled the lamb without the sauce and my breath was just taken away by how utterly tender the meat was with it just peeling away in your mouth, the bread crumbs were crispy and not soft but internal initial layer of breadcrumbs were just packed full of the lamb juices and flavours.  Next I dipped my remaining lamb into the dipping sauce and it was just insane how tasty this item was, the lamb having the same great flavour but the mint sauce being just so fresh, I can only start to describe this as a memory of when I was a child and picking fresh mint leaves in my Nan’s garden, it had a freshness which I have not tasted before in this type of sauce.  The liquid again was not your standard vinegar and had a hint of white wine or sherry which just made for such a sweet addition to the mint and lamb, overall this was just fantastic with the combination of flavours being perfect together.  By the time I had finished my lamb slice, I found my self just dipping my finger into the sweet sauce as it was just that good.

Roast Lamb (Main 2)

When this dish was presented we were asked if we wanted more of the delicious mint sauce which came with the breaded lamb, to which I jumped at the chance, and I love how the restaurant encourages you to change the flavours of the dish to your own liking.  The first item sampled here had to be the most dominant on the plate which was the lamb chop, it was immensely tender which the knife just sliding through the pink meat, the taste which filled your mouth again was very flavoursome and was cooked to absolute perfection.  The gravy which is amazing has that great home cooked flavours which remind me of my mum’s roast dinners, it was very well seasoned and added a great compliment to the lamb and even better with the addition of the fresh tasting mind sauce.  The braised shoulder of lamb had a crispy top which I can only compare to belly pork, this would be the item your family would be fighting over when your leg of roast lamb is pulled from the oven at Sunday dinner, it was great tasting with a crisp crunch to the bite, the shoulder meat itself just fell apart with the slightest touch of the fork.  The vegetables were all great with the main vegetables being cooked well with a good bite to them at the centre but being soft on the outer edges, the greens which lay beneath the lamb chop were beautiful and full of butter which only complimented the tastes of the other elements.

Rose hip lolly with “Cake Milk”

I have to admit here this was one dish I was particularly looking forward to, due to the nature of it being such a great way to present and eat any form of food…. On a stick!!.  The main lolly was made of iced rose hip and had a nice suttle sweetness, this was presented already deeply immersed in the milk.  Now the milk is what the restaurant calls “Cake Milk”, I believe this is because it is actual cake which has been ground down into the milk, as it had a very sweet and strong vanilla taste also there was very small/fine grains throughout the liquid.  Once you had lifted the lolly out of the mixture and sucked off the milk, when you replaced your lolly back into the milk, I was amazed to find how quickly the milk quickly set around again to allow for a repeat performance.  The two difference elements made for a great combination with the subtle sweetness of the rose hip working with the strong vanilla flavours of the mixture, this is a dish I will remember for many years to come not only for the originality, but very good combination of flavours.

Iced Cream Cheese with Pear

With this dish I was surprised to see ice cream with cheese which had almost been melted over it, I don’t know how this was achieved but it made for great eye catching presentation.  The main ice cream was very good with a subtle sweetness and not that over bearing vanilla flavour normally held within ice cream, I like the flavour that cream cheese brought to this and thought it worked well.  The sweetness was to be found in the meringue and crumble topping which was lightly scattered across the entire dish, it presented your taste buds with such different flavours and textures it all worked very well with one another.  Once you added the pear into the above equation this just became the perfect dish with the pear being intensely refreshing and just brought the entire dish together in terms of sweetness,texture and being surprisingly refreshing.  I was very impressed by the portion on this dish, with normally tasting menus getting smaller towards desserts, but being the pudding lover I am was more than happy with this being a great size.

Apple Sorbet – Shortbread – Junket – Dark Chocolate Moose with Sea Salted Caramel

Here I decided that due to the Apple sorbet being the only item mentioned on the menu, this should be the item to be tasted first.  The sorbet was toped with a light cream and just under was a layer of popping candy/space dust which pop and sizzled on your tongue and was very surprising and unexpected, but not disliked.  The apple sorbet was so packed full of apple flavour i’m sure at one point I was eating simple pureed apple with the taste being gorgeous, and not being too acidic or too sweet.

Next was the shortbread which upon picking up, I discovered this was very very light and did not feel like your usual dense shortbread which I have become used to sampling, it had a very light taste with a subtle hint of butter which worked well, this was a welcome change to dense, clingy and brittle shortbread we are served all too often.

Junket was next, Ill say now that I have never tried this before so have nothing to base the flavour on, but the smooth and pristine white liquid on the base had a strong milk flavour with a hint of vanilla, which when combined with the taste of the compote and nuts on top made for a great flavour combination, the nuts did slightly over power the other tastes but I liked how this worked and provided a nutty edge to the dish.

Finally was the dish i’m sure i’ve dreamt up many times in my sweetest dreams, the moose was intensely packed full of dark chocolate flavour and was as light as a feather with air bubbles showing throughout the moose.  Beneath however lay what I can only describe as liquid gold, being the salty caramel mixture which was complete liquid and proved quite difficult to get onto the spoon, however the work was payed off with the intense sweetness of the caramel which was calmed slightly by the salty addition.  The combination of the slightly bitter dark chocolate combined with the very sweet caramel, made for a dish that should have a permanent place in the heaven of chocolate.

This brought a close to the tasting menu and my lunch on this day with the coffee’s served and the bill brought to the table.  The entire meal came to £136 with the tasting menu being £55 each and the rest being made up of the 10% service charge and drinks, I think for what was served this was great value with myself in the past paying double this for some tasting menus,only to leave still wanting something extra or not being full and contempt.  I was happy to not only pay the 10% standard service charge but also pay some extra with the service on this visit being absolutely fantastic, everyone was friendly, courteous and the fact the chef made the special effort not only to come and greet his diners, but also explained some of the dishes it made for a fantastic visit. We even found ourselves just standing and chatting with the waitresses at the end of the meal for a good 15minutes before leaving, they were so kind enough to point us in the direction of the great local walks around the area, across the beach etc and showed great concern about us getting lost, which shows the great personal care is taken by them all.

Overall – 10/10

Now this is the first 10/10 I have ever given on this blog, and i’m sure this is not something that will come around all too often.  The Sportsman for me is something that is such a rare thing in todays dining culture, the service was personal and polite without being too much with every single person being such a pleasure to talk too.  I can’t even put into words how un-pretentious the entire place was, the whole place makes you feel you can sit there in your sandy boots, with your jeans and hoody on, to only then be absolutely shocked by such amazing food and surprises which lie ahead to experience.  The food was mind blowing with combinations, local produce and flavours which i’ve never experienced before, and doubt I will experience again in the near future, with the food being such locally sauced I could see the farm from the window with the lambs still grazing.

The only adding thing I can do to put try and get my point to how nice and relaxed this environment was is this picture…….

Say hello to “Oliver” who was sat at the bar with his owner who had just come back from his walk and was more than happy to pose for the camera, I think his calm, happy, content  and eager  look on his face is exactly what this place represents.

Unforgettable and I now am already planning my next Pilgrimage.

Cary Arms – Torquay – Devon – Restaurant Review

The Cary Arms has been a firm establishment set in the history of Torquay for many years, it is set right on the beautiful beach of Babbacombe.  Years ago it was more known for a Summer drinking location which serves your standard pub grub, and would be a place to go for your sunday afternoon drink and then attempt to stumble up the HUGE! hill, which it has also become known for.  The restaurant was re-launched 18months-2 years ago, since then it has been becoming more and more known as a Gastro-Pub style restaurant serving fine dining in a calm and relaxed environment.  This has been shown only recently when at the start of November (2010) it was awarded “Gastro-Pub Newcomer of the Year” from the “Top 50 Gastro Pubs” association.

Having seen this award was given and hearing from a few people different reports, I had it set in my head that I must get down as soon as possible.  My chosen evening however they had a special event on, with the famous saxophonist “Greg Abate”  playing and a special set menu was to be served.  Considering that this would be a special event I thought this would be a great chance to get down and try out some of there offerings.

Unfortunately the Saturday evening turned out to be wet and absolutely freezing, and leaving the house to walk to the pub I was really questioning should I go……. However being brave I wrapped up and managed to get to the start of the long and STEEP hill down to the pub, at this time both myself and dining partner was questioning the worthiness of such a trek.

After much complaining and “sighs” we both started down the hill avoiding the extremely slippery drain covers, by the time we made it down we were both absolutely freezing.  Upon walking in to the pub we both have never been so delighted with the pub absolutely glowing with heat, the internal wood surfaces just giving that feeling of warmth.  Upon entering the pub it is very inviting with a good sized bar stretching right the way through the main restaurant,with seating located both around the bar and in the restaurant area.  The area is very relaxed and not pretentious at all, it puts you completely at ease with small sea-side nik-naks dotted around, the atmosphere it creates is very relaxed.

The waitresses are all young and dressed in relaxed clothing, with jeans and hoodies/sweaters with “The Inn On The Beach” printed on the back, again adding to that relaxed feeling.  Due to the dress and their mannerisms they are incredibly approachable, polite and create a chilled out atmosphere the pub is aiming for.

Having now being seated at the back of the restaurant, near a great wood burning fire crackling away, we were very happy to warm up from the walk down the hill earlier.  The tables were very solid wood, with wooden benches/chairs used.  I will not comment too much about the entertainment on the evening but suffice to say the band was incredible with Greg being a particular delight of the evening, the staff had managed to positioned all the tables to allow for everyone to get a great view as well which was a great plus.

The menu was then presented to us, which on this evening was a set menu priced at £38 and formed of 3 courses.  The menu had some really tempting choices and with only 3 starters and 4 mains, it took me a good time to finally come to my decision.  The style of cuisene was really pushed towards classic/modern british, with famous classics you would expect such as belly pork, chicken breast and the famous sticky toffee pudding.

The young lady waitress kindly took out orders and as the band began to play, I suddenly realised that no bread was insight and then it dawned on me that we had no bread plates……….. my heart suddenly skipped a few beats as this is normally what I look forward to the most in these gastro-pub style places.  I know they say simple things for simple people but something about that still steaming soft chewy homemade bread with lashings of butter just makes my spirit lift!  After 15mins myself and dining partner finally came to the conclusion that no bread or amuse bouche would be appearing tonight.

Starter : Pork, Ham and Smoked Bacon Terrine

Immediately this dish jumped out at me due to the stunning colours and how everything jumped off the plate, even the neutral colours of the Brioche and terrine blended so well with the great glossy dressed salad, and stunning blood red plum compote.  The brioche bread was lovely and soft with only the slightly of toasting on the outside of the slice but with a good crunch in the crust, it had a great sweet taste and this melded very well the other elements of the dish.  The salad was your standard mixed leaves with a light olive oil dressing, standard item really here but were fresh with a good bite and the olive oil added the needed texture to the item.  The terrine it self was excellent it was served ice cold, but was not too loose and allowed for a good slice to be cut away from it, due to the lovely amount of bacon rind  wrapped around this the flavour on the outside was gorgeous with a strong smokey flavour.  The ham in the terrine really did have a kick and could easily over power many items, however the plum compote worked so well with its sweet plums it added such a wonderful additional element and I just couldn’t get enough of this.  I really did enjoy this starter, to a point I would travel down the enormous hill just to pop in and grab this as a light lunch.

Main : Mushroom, Blue Vinny and Butternut Squash Wellington

I am still foolishly aiming to keep trying different out of my normal comfort zone dishes and avoid the usual selections I make, such as the Belly Pork or Duck etc etc.  When I saw this item on the menu I thought this would be a good chance to swing away my normal narrow minded selections and for once step into the dark dark corners of vegetarianism.  Again the dish was presented well with the wellington being not as I had expected.  In my head I envisioned a large cylinder of puff pastry, and inside would be many chopped mushrooms with tones of cheese, then a small touch of butternut squash, this would be served as a single slice on the plate.  However what was presented instead was a more refined dish with a large portobello, placed atop a thin slice of butternut squash and then a very small amount of blue vinny cheese placed on the mushroom, all wrapped in puff-pastry. The puff-pastry was the first element to be sampled, the top pastry was incredibly crisp and airy, with the layers all giving different flavours due to the mushroom and cheese leaking into the internal layers.  The base was very soft and soggy, but being the heathen I am….. I loved this as all the flavours had soaked/absorbed into the pastry and seemed to have the most intense flavour!  The mushroom provided a great earthiness when combined with the strong cheese and without this, the cheese would have just been too overpowering.  The whole wellington worked well apart from the butternut squash which I found the flavour didn’t really come through in the dish, this element was not missed though and if it was not named on the menu I would have said it was not needed.  The cranberry sauce was great with a really sharp acidic taste which complimented the wellington well, and worked well to lift the entire dish up in terms of strong flavours.  This dish was also served with your standard side dish of buttery vegtables.  The dish all worked well and every element from the internals of the wellington to the sauce and side veg, all seemed to blend exquisitely.

Dessert : Slow Baked Lemon and Lime Tart

Now comes the favorite part of any meal for myself…… dessert.  I was brave again here and resisted the urge to go for that good old favorite sticky toffee pudding and pushed those voices in my head aside and decided to go for the “heathy” option of a tart (I think I actually fooled my head into thinking this was healthy to get away from the pudding!).  I was immediately impressed when served the dish by the size of the slice with a large spoon of Chantilly cream with a raspberry coulis.  The tart it self consisted of the main filling being very well set and great to slice with the edge of the spoon, it had a great strong lemon flavour but being sweet at the same time with no element of sour at all.  The topping was a lime jelly with strips of lime rind spread throughout the topping, this added a very strong sour kick to the dish and would be slightly overpowering if it was not for the tart pastry being very sweet.  The pastry was great and crisp with your spoon snapping through to the base of the plate with a bang.  All three of these elements of the tart made for a great combination, however, with the addition of the cream and the slightest bit of coulis  just lifted the entire thing to the next level, you would need to ensure you did not over power the tart with the coulis as this was extremely sweet and took away the sour kick of the lime.  After consuming this I can safely say I was full, with this being a particularly filling dish, but being a perfect end to the three courses.

Finally served with the bill was a small sweet which was a slice of Devon “Rock”, which is a lovely sweet suckable sweet, it even had the name of the restaurant printed and was a great memento to take home.

Overall – 9/10

This was a particular favorite meal of mine, with all the elements just blending so well.  When thinking back to the meal, not a single dish jumps out at me, and for once they all do! with every dish being a delight to remember.  Everything from this evening was great from the relaxed service from the young (and very very attractive) waitresses, to the speed at which everything was served with a good break between the courses as I didnt find myself looking at my watch wondering how long since my last course.  The food here was a delight with the starter being the favourite dish of the evening and makes the whole trip of the steep hill worth it.  I would love to give this a mark of 10/10 (my first), however the only complaint that comes to mind was the lack of bread at the start of the meal, as this has become a real highlight of visiting Gastro-pubs and sampling some great home cooked bread.  I hope this would be changed in the future, and when I next visit would love to find this addition.

I would recommend the Cary Arms to my friends and family.  I cant wait to return to try their standard menu and will be interested to see how that fares compared to this special set menu.

Also for those watching their waistlines, just make sure to park at the top of the hill and not be temped to get a taxi up to the car, as the walk will really help burning off some of those consumed calories!!

The Crown Inn Restaurant – Amersham – Buckinghamshire

This restaurant has recently undergone a few changes, a main of these being the introduction of new head chef “Stephen Conway”.  Stephen comes from the restaurant held at “Stapleford Park Hotel/Spa” which holds a 2 AA Rosette.

The restaurant is situated in Old Amersham, and is not alone when it comes to fine dining establishments with various pub eateries, Pizza/american style restaurants and the well known “Artichoke” restaurant being only steps away across the road.  The Crown is pushing towards a fine dining experience, with a relaxed service and non pretentious food.  They want the ingredients to speak for themselves without the need for oddly shaped plates, and unneeded pretentious micro salad leaves dotted around the plate etc.

The cuisene type I would say is Modern English with a French influence, but steering away from the Gastro-type food which seems increasingly popular these days.  Anyway enough about the type of place and onto the visit.

Having driven into Amersham, arriving in the Evening the place is very oldy-worldy, with the little boutique stores and historical buildings scattered around.  The restaurant it self is held in a very very old building and is styled in the traditional Tudor style with the white walls with the large black timbers placed.  Walking in we were greeted by the manager and considering I was staying the night was shown to the room etc.

Moving onto the main event I was seated on a small table, in the corner of the restaurant.  The restaurant is very minimalist with bare wooden tables, with a small flower arrangements and large tall candles.  The lighting is very dark which adds to the atmosphere of the dining room, this would be a good place for a romantic meal, however the tables are placed quite close together.

The whole dining experience is trying to be a slightly stepped back fine dining approach, with the waiter placing a bottle of unopened bottle of water on our table, for myself to open and pour, which I do not mind, however opening the bottle could have been a nice touch.  The waiters were dressed in casual natural colours and are very young, which make them very approachable.  I think the staff here are still in the learning experience of the new chef and menu, as they seemed slightly not at ease with the serving etc.  Seeing however that the restaurant was only relaunched 2 weeks ago with the new chef, this is to be expected and time expected to be given to learn/experience the new chef dishes etc.

Looking through the menu, everything was as expected with items worded very simply and stating the main star of the dish followed by the accompaniment.  A few items also noted the local roots of the ingredients included beef from the local area.  Browsing through the starters I was leaning toward the beetroot salad, however noticing the large blackboard over in the corner of the dining room I immediately had chosen my starter selection.  Moving onto the mains I selected the pork cheeks, but I had noticed that this item did not mention any form of carb/starch which would be served with the meal.  When the waiter came to take the order I enquired about the lack of side with the dish, which he responded that the items are served exactly as worded and nothing else would be on the plate.  He suggested ordering a side which was listed, of which I chose the “buttered anya potatoes”.

Bread was then served cold and consited of, homemade white, with a wholemeal soda bread also.  This was presented with different cuts of the bread with triangles of butter placed atop.  The white roll was very good and airy to eat with the crust being extremely chewy, it had a strong salt flavour which is normally lacking in a plain white bread.  The brown soda bread was extremely dense but had a good crunchy crust and was my preference over the white selection.  It would have been more pleasant for this bread to be served slightly warm, however I believe this suits the whole rustic dining experience that the restaurant is aiming for well, being non-fussy food.

Starter : Smoked Duck & Celeriac Remoulade

When the dish was served, I was very pleased they kept to the style they were hoping for with no small micro leaves etc dotted around the place.  The presentation was exactly how described on the menu with thin slices of smoked ducked turned back on themselves, and rotated around some salad.  The duck was very rich with a good strong smoked flavour, it was tender to the cut and when paired with the peppery salad it worked very well.  Looking at the remoulade I was at first concerned that this could be too rich, due to there seeming to be an abundance of aioli/mayonnaise however when I first sampled this I was very pleased to find this was extremely light and not at all rich.  When paired with the rich smoked duck the flavours all blended and worked very well, with the celeriac provided a light tang/refreshing taste and earthing the very smoked duck.  I really liked the dish as a whole and found everything paired great, with the salad providing that little bit of pepperiness needed for the remoulade, the duck giving the strong background flavour of every bite.

Main: Cider Braised Pork Cheeks, Caramelized Apples

Now on first inspection with this dish, it was the complete opposite of the starter, with there being many elements I had no clue to what they were.  I was expected exactly what the menu had stated, however what was presented was cheeks placed upon a bed of spinach, and surrounded in a Kidney Bean/Beans/Barley(Or some other starch due to the breakdown of the actual object it was hard to identify) cider sauce.  I enquired with the waiter to what these additional items were on the plate and his reaction was more of surprise and not knowing what these items were, and oddly stated “Exactly what it states on the Menu”.  Anyway ignoring this I was extremely pleased that the waiter had forgot my side order of potatoes, but considering my dish had a huge pile of beans etc, I did not make a fuss.  Onto the food, well the style of the presentation was truly rustic and looked great to the eye, with the stewed apples placed a top the 3 chunks of pork cheek.  The base sauce was filled with all types of beans, barley and chopped bacon and was very good, provided a great sweet taste of cider which was cooked well and provided no sharp alcohol hit showing it had been successfully burnt off.  The pork cheeks were brilliant, and literally when pushing my fork into the meat it just fell apart in to beautifully sweet strands of meat, this was the absolute star of the dish.  The apple on top was very good and soft but had a good bite in the centre of the wedges, which I like as they give you a chance to change the amount of flavour kick each fork full gives.  Overall this dish I really did enjoy it was so rustic and had the taste of such great home cooking but with a fine dining “lift” in terms of flavour, and gladly was not overally salty with the combination of cheek and bacon.

Desert:  Chilled Lemon Tart & Ginger Ice Cream

I had originally selected the Pear and Almond Tart from the menu, but unfortunately they had ran out of this dish and it was replaced by a Lemon Tart.  I did not mind this being a fan of both types.  Again the dish was served extremely plainly with no frills or anything extra on the plate, and gave that rustic feel that was apparent throughout the meal.  The ice cream was good with large bits of Stem Ginger placed through out and when lucky enough to have a large chunk of ginger on my spoon, it provided that great ginger taste hitting the back of your throat.  The tart had great pastry, being very crisp and the base being not at all soft and giving a great crack when tackled with my spoon.  The tart filling had a strong lemon flavour but without having the slightest hint of sour coming through, it was a great flavour that lasted on the tongue and when combined with the slight heat of the ginger worked very well.  I really enjoyed this small tart and was nice to have a full ring of pastry instead of just a slice which is normally served.

The entire meal came to £36.50 including water, food and coffee, which I feel is very good value for the amount of food served, with the main and desert being well portioned.

Overall – 8/10

The food is where this restaurant shines with some true rustic dishes and flavours presented.  Everything was cooked well and I cannot find fault in any aspect of the cooking or food, I will be very interested to see how the chef continues to change/adapt the current menu to his way of doing things and sure things will only improve in terms of great traditional cooking.  The only let down of this establishment seems to be the service, with the front of house staff still needing some additional training, or maybe to sample the current menu, which they might have not had time yet to do.

I will be returning with excitement in a few weeks time im sure, to hopefully find the same great food but with matching service to really make for a fabulous evening and meal.

Rodean – Kenton – Near Exeter – Devon – Restaurant Review

I have heard about this establishment a few times from different circles, however nothing really came from it, it was always “Oh I know someone that went there” or “I have drove past that” and no one seemed to have firm reports.  Having noticed this trend I started looking around and found their website with a small sample menu, the website did seem very outdated.  Once I started digging around though I found an updated website, but finding this is no easy task, so to help anyone the address is:

http://www.rodeanrestaurant.co.uk/wordpress/

Having now found this site the sample menus were impressive with such dishes as

  • Darne Of Hake & Prawn Served On Roasted Bok Choi & Pommes Sautee
  • Duck Leg Confit Coated In A Cider And Apple Sauce

The food is mainly French based with small hints of modern English cuisene from the online sample menu.  Also looking through the website I immediately noted pictures of freshly made/baking bread in the oven, for me this immediately shows abit of class when a restaurant make the effort to serve home made bread.  This would need to be tested though, as previously seen in other high class establishment this can sometimes be a sin rather than a blessing with some of the poor samples I have experienced of late.

The restaurant is located in the small village of Kenton which is a 10minute drive from Exeter, and easily accessible from the M5, and is on one of the main roads leading to Dawlish.  I managed to book the table through their Twitter page, this is becoming more and more common at the moment and is such a easy way to book etc and I do encourage other restaurants to get on Twitter asap to spread updates etc.

From the externals, I would immediately pass this due to thinking it was your local “Ale House”, however just turning around the corner from the main road you notice a large glass window showing the internals of the restaurant and dining area.  Parking is very easily found with on street and pay and display just opposite the restaurant.

Luckily enough arriving at 7:15pm I found parking directly outside the front door which was brilliant as it was extremely cold and frost already starting to form.  When entering we were immediately greeted by “lizzie” who is head of front of house, and Matthew Tilt’s (head chef) partner.  We were asked if we would like to sit in a small lounge/bar area before going through to our table, we declined the offer of a pre-meal drink due to one of my other dining partners needing to be up early the next morning.  We were then led through the dining area, which is extremely dim lit with only a few small wall lights providing a subtle background and the use of candles everywhere.  Unfortunately this is a bloggers nightmare as no matter how much you play with camera settings you will get that awful orange tint unless you use artificial lighting and the flash, which I refuse to do in a restaurant, due to other people.  So I do apologise now for the poor picture quality which I doubt does do the food justice, however my nice new DSL c/w Macro lens its winging its way on Santa’s Sled so not long to go.

Lizzie was very talkative and instantly put you at ease considering we were the only diners in the main restaurant area, and had a good chat about general life.  During chatting the other out of house waitress brought to our table a small pot of olives and took our drink orders.  Within minutes our drinks were placed onto the table and menus handed out.  The small olives which were slightly different than you average fare, were black and already pitted and soaking in what seemed a very sweet chutney/oil based chutney.  These were lovely and soft and extremely sweet with a light kick of chilli towards the end, and a great way to start the meal.

Looking through the menu’s you are offered the “House” menu which had offers such as “3 courses for £19” which on first glance seemed great value for money.  Having seen the A La Carte though we all decided to go for this choice, having such great diversity and different combinations on offer.  I noticed on the base on the menu that the chef is also advertising the restaurants twitter account, which I hope means in the future they will have some great offers and maybe some theme nights coming up.

Lizzie soon returned to take our orders and again was a great highlight to the calm dining room which at this time only had 1 other couple who had now been seated.  With starters and mains ordered, soon appeared a small “Amuse Bouche” of Broccoli and Blue Cheese Soup, this was extremely thick and for the more lady like diners, maybe a spoon could be a useful addition.  This had a deep strong flavour of blue cheese, but this was not overpowering due to the subtle flavours of the broccoli calming the flavour, and with the use of good seasoning was a brilliant start to the meal.

The table was then quickly cleared, the front of house are very good at being out of sight yet still knowing everything that is happening within the room, they stay within the bar area but are forever keeping a keen eye on the diners through the small walkway, this works well and due to the small area if they were based in the room it would be abit too much.

A few moments went by and a sense of worry was quickly dawning that no bread was in sight!, now having followed the head chef on twitter for a while, I was always very amazed by the large amount of different bread he is constantly baking and posting photos etc and was getting more and more worried that this would not appear….. However these worries were short lived as the waitress then appeared with a wonderful basket of homemade bread complete with a small plate of butters.  A large sigh was released when these did appear and I was thankful I had built my hopes up regarding this.

We were served 1 slice of bread which was cut from a small loaf for each diner of each flavour of which there was 3.  The three breads on offer were:

Granary – Lovely and served warm this bread very dense and had a great chew yet still being light to eat and not like a heavy stone hitting your stomach, the crust were not crusty and instead chewy which I love for my granary bread.

Pesto – This lightly green tinted bread was sampled next, again this was so fresh and warm it was excellent with the pesto flavour being subtle but still evident.

Sun Brushed Tomato – This was the star of the offering with the crust being crunchy to eat and a particular highlight, this red tinted bread was the best on offer with the strong tomato flavours exploding in your mouth and partnering lovely with the butter.

The above went brilliantly with the selections of butters which three were your standard fare, but the other three balls of rolled butter were each rolled in separate items which were -

Poppy Seeds

Sesame Seeds

Chopped Chives

I found the chopped chives worked brilliantly with the granary and I quickly used the whole amount of this one on my single slice and was brilliant.  If I could base the score of this meal on the bread alone it be an instant 11/10, and the bread is easily on par with the “Walnut and Raisin” bread I sampled at “The Square – London” a few months back.  I only wish Matthew Tilt could mail order this stuff as I would be first in Line.

Unfortunately however I will note that when the bread was served the starters were then served, within the next 2 minutes so myself and my other diners had not enough chance to even butter our first slice by the time our starters were served.  This made for the bread experience to be abit downgraded as the flavours of these beautiful loafs need to shine for them selves and would have liked abit more time between this course.

Starter – Warm Goats Cheese & Hollandaise Sauce, Resting on balsamic roasted vegetables.

Normally I will very rarely go for a starter which does not have a meat element, I do not know why this is but I will always tend to go for a duck/pork starter for no apparent reason other than my brain being lured by crispy cracking etc.  This evening though I went with a firm purpose of trying something different to start with and I can happily say I will be doing this again!.  The dish looked great with the pale goats cheese which was a large stacked portion, which was smothered in sauce and resting on a small toasted piece of bread with the vegetables placed around.  The goats cheese was great and smooth to cut, and when placed in the mouth it was just warm and incredibly dense, at first I was slightly worried about the richness of this, however due to the acid in the balsamic vegetables and the hollandaise sauce having a strong base of lemon, it worked brilliant to cut through this rich cheese and was some of the best I have sampled.  The vegetables were a mix of onions and aubergine and still had a good crunch, which combined with the good crunch of the bread on the base added a great change of texture which the clogging cheese can cause.  This dish however was incredibly filling but was worth it as the flavours were brilliant and strong.

Main – English Beef Fillet & Beef Bourguignon with Lavender scented creme potato with Pancetta & Morels.

The presentation of this dish was superb with the large fillet placed on a small mound of creamed potato with the beef bourguignon placed around the sides.  Firstly I sampled the brilliant and crisp pancetta which was so brittle it was hard to pick up, this had a lovely salty taste and provided an almost crackling flavour with the hint of dense fat.  The beef fillet itself was large and sliced directly through the centre horizontally which when moved showed the lovely perfectly cooked rare meat, this was very tender and provided good taste.  The creamed potato was slightly disappointing due to the lack of flavour however this was due to the incredibly strong powered bourguignon, which had an incredible flavour with chunks of beef that just melted on the tongue.  Due to the use of Pancetta/bacon again this did have a very strong salt flavour which unless paired with the potato would have been overpowering.  This was a great dish with everything cooked excellent and I truly find it hard to find fault with any element, the only thing that comes to mind is the dish which it was served in made for cutting the meat quite difficult and a slightly shallower bowl would have been more convenient, however this is really trying to find fault.

Also vegetables and more starch was served in a side dish if the potato on the plate was not enough!.  The vegetables were great with good flavour and although I didnt sample the new potato’s and sweet potato was told by my other diners were great.

Dessert – Chocolate Two Ways, Chocolate Pyramid filled with a dark chocolate mousse, with Homemade chocolate ice cream.

When this dish was served this is one of the most dramatic use of sugar art ive seen and when the waitress was walking to the table, it instantly caught everyone eyes with small whispers are aspiration at this stunning looking dish.  When placed in front of me I was stunned with just not knowing where to start with everything looking pristine on the plate, the sugar art globe which was made from 2 half’s I quickly dismantled and sampled, it had a lovely toffee apple taste which will bring back your child hood memories.  The ice cream which lay below was sitting on a small base of shortbread/biscuit and had a great texture with small lumps of biscuit spread throughout, this had a great flavour, however the chocolate didn’t come through as strong as I had thought but when looking at the pyramid placed next to it I think I can understand the reason for a subtle flavour.  The pyramid which at first glance I thought was just a moose with alot of gelatin used to allow such a wonderful mould, I was soon impressed to find this was a true solid chocolate pyramid which upon cracking revealed a thick chocolate moose.  The pyramid it self had a very strong flavour due to the dark chocolate used and complimented great with the ice cream and sugar.  The moose it self I think was a mix of Milk and Dark as the flavour had a great sweetness to it and lacked the bitter tastes normally found in high percentage dark chocolate.  Overall this is the most striking dish visually ive sampled of late and was a great end to the meal.

Coffee and Petit Fours were then served which were the form of -

1No. Lemon Tart

2No. Chocolate Truffles

1No. Caramel Tart

Now unfortunately due to being 3 diners I could not sample the lemon tart due to diner A quickly taking that, diner B being quite full settled for the chocolate truffle and allowed me to sample the remainder and the caramel tart.  The chocolate was great with a crisp external and deep chocolate truffle ganache inside.  The caramel was also good with a good base of pastry and small biscuit shards placed on top.  I would like to see 3 of each petit four’s served as this would allow all diners the chance to sample them, and this is normally what I would expect.

The bill was then provided which came to £102.00 with no automatic service charge added.  I think for an A La Carte menu selection complete with drinks, 3 courses for 3 and coffee is great value for the standard on offer

Overall – 9/10

This was a great meal with some excellent service, brilliant food and set in a great location for a good price.  I was pleasantly surprised with this as I was not expecting such high class food from such an unheard of place.  It is difficult to find any major faults at all, with only small niggles remaining such as the lack of time to sample the bread and the serving of only 4 petit fours between 3 people not allowing us all to sample.  These are such minor things though and don’t detract at all from the overall experience.

I would recommend this place for anyone who wishes to spend a lovely evening with their partner in a romantic environment and also for any celebration.  If you can try and sneak out a loaf of bread when you go as I wish I did!!! (Yes I did think the bread was that good!!).

Hopefully I will be returning for one of their 5 course dinner nights shortly.

Rosemarino – Clifton – Bristol – Restaurant Review

This is a small restaurant located off from the busy “Triangle” situated on the corner of “York Street”.  This is a recently opened Italian theme establishment and on my day of visit had only been open for less than 48 hours.  The restaurant is open for breakfast until dinner and serves all meal times between including brunch and the owners are trying to push an Italian habit of drinks/coffee and a snack/cakes between 5-6pm after finishing work (Just because us English already dont eat enough!!).

The restaurant inside is very nicely decorated to a modern feel, with bright colours throughout and is very bright upstairs due to the large windows.  Downstairs there is a mix of industrial styles with 1 entire wall being unfinished concrete with a few frames hung on the wall with chalk wrote specials wrote directly on the wall.  The floor again is bright with beach wood paneling used and light pale blue colours throughout.  The tables are very cleanly decorated with no table clothes used, exposing the light beach wood, with small and neat folded napkins placed and individual flowers placed in the centre in small metal buckets.

We were eating for Lunch at this time and at 1:30pm the restaurant was already packed with only 1 spare table.  Upon being seated our drinks order were quickly taken and we were handed menu’s which are printed on A4 paper, which as this restaurant is pushing local/seasonal produce im assuming this makes for changing the menu’s daily/seasonally much easier.  The menu consists of traditional Italian favorites such as lasagna and a large Antipasti selection, also there are various sandwiches/bruschetta with different toppings they also offer the ability to customise this selection with any extra toppings.

I decided to go with a small Lasagna Al Forno, after eyeing the Tiramisu or Bread and Butter pudding for dessert.  After placing the order the food took approx 20-25mins to be served, however this was at an extremely busy time so normally I would expect the wait to be abit shorter, also you need to expect a small wait due to fresh food prepared etc.

Lasagna Al Forno – This was served in a lovely rustic looking style and looked lovely to the eye, with the fresh salad adding great colour to the dish.  The lasagna it self was obviously home made as the flavour was brilliant, with good hints of garlic and cheese throughout.  Between the sheets of perfectly cooked pasta their consisted large pieces of meat which is normally what is missing from lasagna I find.  There was also the white cheese sauce which was not overpowering to the dish and was not provided in a large quantity allowing the tomato and meat flavours to come through, the cheese on top added a nice crunch also.  The salad was excellent with the crisp salad leaves, and strips of carrot added good crunch to the dish, there was a dressing also which had a strong taste of garlic and was an excellent marriage to the salad.  The bread provided was your standard baguette style, but was good and fresh. This was a very good dish with good flavours and for £3.95 I couldn’t believe the value.  My only minor complaint being is that I think it could have been served slightly hotter, it was hot but normally I would like to see it still very hot and cheese slightly bubbling.

Chocolate Panetone bread & butter pudding with vanilla ice cream – Being a big fan of traditional English puddings I was interested to see how the Panetone would work in this pudding.  My first bite was of the crisp outer edge and immediately I was surprised by the sweetness the Panteone bread provided and also the abundance of fruit within the bread, this was all sorts of dry fruit and rind. The pudding was excellently cooked with the outer edges being firmer and having a slight crust, but the middle being extremely gooey and the custard being only just set.  This was served just warm which was excellent as it allowed the ice cream just to slightly melt, the ice cream again was beautiful being packed full of vanilla seeds and had a strong flavour and was a lovely accompaniment.  Normally I would have liked to have custard with this pudding but with the use of the Panetone bread this was not required and the pudding was sweet enough.

Value – The value was incredible with the total meal came to £10 with tip, and I really cant complain at this cost.  The lasagne was a particular great value dish at only £3.95 I would return for this everyday if I could.

Service – The service was excellent with the different waiters being extremely polite and good with taking orders etc.  The waiter who took over our table towards the end of our lunch however needs a particular mention, he was extremely chatty and had a great attitude towards the customer and provided great light humour to the service.

Overall – 9/10

This is an excellent small up and coming establishment, and if they can keep standards at what they are at the moment I can see this place going from strength to strength.  They offer excellent fresh food and from my experience very good service with a laugh/chat provided as well.

Cant wait to return to try their dinner menu.

 

Jack In the Green – Exeter – Restaurant Review

Having read in the recent “Good Food Guide 2011” about the this small pub/restaurant I was eager to pay a visit.  At first glance the online sample menu is a mix of Modern English with some Gastro-Pub elements, they also have a “Bar Menu” which is the old traditional pub fare.  This restaurant again is going with the local produce approach and shows alot of willingness to use the most seasonal produce with a changing menu etc.  The establishment in recent years are really moving up the ladder in terms of food, with various awards being awarded and the most recent change, being moved from 80th place to 52nd place in the top 100UK restaurants.  The chefs individually also won various awards with chef “Matthew Downing” being awarded “South West Chef of the Year”.

Also within recent months they have added a Tasting Menu, I believe this shows the amount of effort these chefs are showing, in a attempt to move up the ladder of restaurants and really make this a well known place.

Here is an example of the tasting menu taking from November 2010.

Tasting Menu

Appetiser
*****
Confit Duck Leg, Spiced Plum Chutney and Smoked Duck Salad
*****
Shellfish Bisque
*****
Saddle of Venison with Slow Braised Shoulder, Smoked Bacon
Risotto, White Onion Puree, Chicory Jam and Liquorice
*****
A plate of our favourite regional Cheeses
*****
Jasmine and Green Tea Delice with Pistachio and Lime
*****
Coffee and Petit Fours
*****
£39.50 per person

The restaurant is located on the outskirts of Exeter and is very convenient for travelers using the M5, as it is only 5minutes from the main Exeter turn off.  It is not in a built up area and is placed in a green belt of lovely fields, guessing this is where the “in the Green” comes from in the name.  From the external the building is what you would expect for any traditional country pub, with large signs and good located lighting.

Upon entering you immediately walk into the pub/bar area, where a member of staff who is behind the bar greets you and shows you to available seats within the bar area.  Drink orders are then taken and menus provided, this is a welcoming area to sit and relax while browsing through the menu with a good atmosphere.

Usually if a tasting menu is offered this is the direction I would always go, however looking through the menu I noticed “Sticky Toffee Pudding” from the A la Carte.  Immediately I had my mind made up that I would be sampled this dish no matter what, so the tasting menu was moved to one side for the A la Carte.  They offer a “Totally Devon” deal at the moment where they have highlighted items within the menu which if you combine these they form a deal of £25.00, unfortunately my main/dessert selections this evening were not on this offer.

Within a few minutes our waitress returned and took our orders for the meal, she was extremely polite and well mannered, also when ordering our main she did well to enquire how we were happy with the meat cooked.  After another 10minutes we were then invited into the main dining area, which is through some narrow passages and is decorated in much of the same way, with photos dotted around the walls and tables spaced well apart, but not to far apart to make a lacking of atmosphere.

The bread and butter was already awaiting on the table.  Bread on offer was standard white roll slices, with similar wholemeal granary slices, these were both good with excellent texture but nothing really jumped out to the flavour.  Butter on offer was extremely thick and creamy and cooled to a good room texture.

An Amuse Bouche was then served of “Chicken in a Thai Broth”, this was presented well with the chicken being on a small cocktail skewer.  The chicken was moist and succulent and just fell apart when bitten into, the broth was also extremely flavoursome with excellent oriental flavours and abit of chilli kick on the back of the throat.

The starter was then served of “Confit Duck Leg, Spiced Plum Chutney and Smoked Duck Salad”, however when presented with the dish I was rather surprised and had to even re-read the wording of the menu.  The “Confit Duck Leg” was more of a terrine which had been wrapped in thin bacon/Parma ham, and had an extremely strong and good flavour, however this was not what I was expecting and was confused not to see crisp confit leg.  Also the “Smoked Duck Salad” element was thinly sliced duck breast which lay beneath the terrine with the salad being your standard micro-leafs placed on the side.  The final element being the “Spiced Plum Chutney” again was very small dots placed around the plate.  Overall I was left quite disappointed with the dish, not because of the lack in flavours from the duck as this was strong on both accounts, I found myself disappointed due to the chutney being more of a thin sauce and dotted around making it almost impossible to get any flavour.  If the chutney was served in a side pot to allow a good quantity to be used I think this could be a very pleasing dish.

The main of “Kenniford Farm Pork ‘Three Ways’” was then served, this was presented very well and looked pleasing to the eye with vegetables served in a side dish.  The first style of Pork served was a croquette, which I am assumed Ham Hock however unfortunately the waitress did not know, this had a brilliant flavour with a good crisp breadcrumb outer coating.  The second cut was a pork loin which was served pink and again was extremely tasty, and very tender to cut.  The final cut was the belly pork, which was the biggest disappointment as the fat was not rendered down enough, and was left soft and rubbery with what should be a crackling topping, this was not a good taste at all with the abundance of still white/un-rendered fat.  Unfortunately the sauce provided placed beneath the loin, was a thin apple sauce, again this was only provided in the smallest of volume and this would have been nice to have more to get the true pork/apple flavour as the dish did seem to lack some sweetness.  The mix vegetables provided were extremely well cooked with a good bite to them, and a good mix provided.  Overall I was left disappointed with the dish mainly due to the belly pork, however I found the croquette extremely good.

Dessert was then served of “Sticky Toffee Pudding with Butterscotch sauce and Clotted Cream “ I was immediately shocked by the size of dish, however this was not a disappointment as a large smile drew across my face.  The sponge it self was lovely and dense, but without being too stodgy/clingy within the mouth and had a lightness about it, it was well formed and fully packed with lovely sweet and chewy dates.  The butterscotch sauce may be one of the best I have ever tasted, it was not thin and could easily coat the back of a spoon, with the deep butterscotch smells/flavours radiating throughout.  The large thick scoop of clotted cream also was brilliant, and had just started to melt and ooze down the side of the pudding when served.

Coffee and Petit Fours were then served, my black coffee was deep and strong with a great flavour.  The Petit Fours of Turkish delight, Ice Cream Coconut Chocolate, Vanilla Fudge and Strawberry Macaroon were all very good with the Macaroon being light as a feather and a small piece of strawberry jam/jelly placed in the centre.

Service was very good for the entire evening with the meals being served with a good amount of time between, and also plates cleared accordingly.  The staff were all very polite and worked well and not once did I a single one stop to chat to one another etc.  A very welcoming addition as well which is rare to see in these times is a large jug of tap water already placed on the table without request.

The total cost of the meal came to £69.58, which I believe to be slightly higher than what I would have liked to paid considering the above thoughts.

Overall – 6/10

I was slightly shocked to see at the end of the evening quite a low score on the bottom of my pad, as I had expecting this establish to score highly.  I think due to the disappointment with the wording of the starter, which led my immediate disappointment when presented with it.  Then followed by the main course which was also a slight let down with the pork being not cooked with a good crisp topping etc and the lack of flavour coming from the sauce etc.  The highlight of the meal was dessert with a very well done pudding.

I expected abit more from such a fast rising restaurant within the UK restaurant scene, with maybe just abit of “Wow” factor needed.  I left the restaurant feeling full but underwhelmed, I would return however I will wait until a new season menu is produced to see if the worded is slightly more detailed.

Pizza Cafe – Newton Abbot – Devon – Review

Having read about “Pizza Cafe” based in Newton Abbot (Devon) several times, throughout many different local food providers, it has been a place that has been on my list to review for a while.

Any establishment I feel that cares and takes pride in the fact, that it goes that little bit extra and shows willingness to find and source the most local produce it can, is a great way to show what a quality establishment it is.  On the Pizza Cafe website it is full of mentions of different suppliers from where they source Dairy to where their smoked salmon is sort from.

The pizza cafe does not seem like your regular local pizza eatery, from there website they pride them selves on quality, and take pride in that they are a family business, which also sponsor many different charities/appeals such as the “Helen Foundation”.  The restaurant is located on the main street of Newton Abbot, but luckily in the part which has parking local to it, and even directly outside.  The building is painted in not the brightest of colours, however the pizza cafe logo is enough to make it standout.

Upon entering the establishment you are presented with a light and airy dining area, with nice wooden tables and laid out well.  We were greeted by a young waitress, who showed us to a table.  The waitresses here are all quite young and dressed in smart black shirts and trousers, and are well suited to the restaurant.  Upon being seated we were then shown the menus and drinks were ordered.

Looking through the menu, I was immediately surprised at the size and some of the dishes here.  Most of the normal pizza place fare is on offer, however some very different things such as “Prawn and Crayfish Salad”, “Peking Duck Wrap” and “Moroccan Tagine”, there are many different elements of the menu with Jacket Potatoes, Pasta, Wraps, Tex Mex, Salad and a host of different starters and then on top of this the Pizza selection, it really is a vast menu.

Having scanned through we decided to go for a starter of “The Pizza Cafe Combo”, followed by a “Big Trouble in Little China – Snack Pizza – Plum Sauce, peking duck, spring onions and pineapple” and a “Porky’s – Sanck Pizza – Westcountry pineapple and onion chutney, slow roasted westcountry pork, caramelised onions, crispy bacon, chorizo and fire roasted yellow peppers” with the idea on splitting each pizza and sharing.  My choice immediately was the “Porky” having such local produce on offer, and from the wording on the menu they make the pizza sound like a work of art.  With my mouth water just at the thought of what was to come.

They offer 3 different sizes here 7” (Snack), 9” Regular, 12” Large.  These sizes are good however it would be good to have a size board on the wall somewhere, just to give customers an idea of size of what they are ordering.  Being an engineer by day I had a good idea of the size and 7” seemed good, however the table next to us at the time ordered regulars each and half of these were taken away in pizza boxes.  However this is a good time to note that you are allowed and encouraged by staff to take home doggy bags etc, this should be shown more willingness to do in restaurants and is a good thing.

The restaurant at the time of entering was quite empty with only 3 tables taken, however by the time our food arrived, within about 15minutes the restaurant was now full with the exception of around 4 tables, which is impressive for a Monday night.  This shows the popularity of the place.

The first dish arrived, which we immediately divided between us and ill break the dish down here.  The chicken wings, were beautifully cooked and spiced well with a small after taste of heat, the chicken was really succulent and tasty.  The Criss Cross fries, had a great flavour and had a small hint of cheese, they were not crispy however had some small pieces which the taste was amazing (Crispy Bits).  Onion Rings, these were pretty standard and im not sure if 100% fresh but again your standard fare on this one, but good non the less.  The only real let down of dish for me was the potato skins which were just as describe, skins with about 4mm of potato, and nothing else as the menu stated, however I feel a small bit of melted cheese of maybe abit of tomato added would give these the edge.  My sharing partner however thought they were perfect and just used alot of dip. The dips added well to the whole event with the BBQ being sweet and not a spicy sauce by any means, however good flavour and quite a musky aftertaste.  The Garlic Mayo, was great and really thick, not watery and had a strong garlic taste, needless to say I quickly stole this pot to myself.

Now onto the Pizza’s

“Big Trouble in Little China”

The pizza arrived and I was very pleased we ordered the 7” versions.  Immediately I was impressed how the pizza based was nice and thick around the edges, but surprisingly the centre of the disk was incredibly thin and had a good crisp bottom.  The filling was certainly PACKED full, and the plum sauce was very sweet and not the traditional chinese, however it worked very well with the base.  The duck was incredible, and if I didnt know better this was from a chinese shop somewhere, the skin was so crisp and crunched in the mouth.  The spring onions had a good slight crisp, and the pineapple added a good sweet element but all this was all brought down to earth with the good base and deep taste of chinese duck.

(Camera decided to Corrupt this, Will get on next visit and update).

“Porky”

Now first I have to try and just describe the smell form this, it was a cross of amazingly crisp pork, mixed with the sweet smell of sugar coated onions and sweet cooked pineapple.  Again the base was well risen around the edges and had even more filling on top than the previous, with the base coated with what must be spoons full of chutney.  The chutney which was incredibly sweet and moorish was the star of the pizza, and I will certainly be asking them for where they source this from in Devon as it was AMAZING!.  The chorizo added a new element to the pizza with a strong taste but mixed so well with the pork and cheese topping.  Overall I could describe very moist, succulent and crispy parts of different pork elements, but I am so far just making my Mouth Water again.  Overall this has to be one my top pizza’s ive had and has even taken the place of which once was the top of the list “Domino’s BBQ Texas pizza”, but this is the new favourite.  The locally sourced and quality of ingredients really did show on this, and I really cant describe how nice it was.

By the time I had eaten above I was needless to say stuffed, and just couldnt eat anymore if I wanted to.  I had my heart set on the amazing “Sin City – Folded sweet pizza with nutella and mascapone, served with vanilla and chocolate ice cream”, however I just couldnt and will need to save this for my next visit.

The service here on this evening was brilliant the waitresses are polite, charming and do their jobs well and dress for a small restaurant very well, and is where the restaurant shines with good personal service.

Overall – 8/10

This is the first meal in a while which has not been at a fine dining establishment, and for once it is a nice change to see a menu which has good hearty food without foams/mouses/foie Gras (Even though I love it so!).  This was a brilliant meal with some truly great local food, the service was great and shows what a good small establishment can do.

The bill came to a respectable £31.00 with drinks 2 Starters, 2 Snack pizzas and a Regular Pizza (Not mentioned about as was not allowed to sample these), this was without service and I payed £36.00 believing that this was very much deserved.

I will definitely be returning to this restaurant, and in a way im glad my camera decided to corrupt the photo as its a great excuse to return quickly.  The only criticism of the evening being the small disappointed with the potato skins but this is nothing to go on about and overall was a great dish.

Look forward to returning.