Foodie finds on Devon’s Exe EstuaryDecember 28, 2017

A few years ago, if you’d tried to find a meal on Devon’s Exe Estuary you’d have been lucky to get anything more than fish and chips. Now, the shores of this magnificent finger of water south of Exeter offer everything from gourmet luxury at Michael Caines’ newly opened Lympstone Manor (pictured) to Red Ruby beef burgers served in a shack made from recycled pallets called The Pig & Pallet in Topsham. Other food stars include Exmouth-made Copper Frog gin, Dart’s Farmshop and, in the middle of the estuary, a floating restaurant-cafe called the River Exe Cafe where chef Chris Dayer dishes up whatever fish has just been plucked from the waters all around (pictured). Getting there in a small boat that bobs through the waves is part of the fun – you feel like one of the Famous Five on a nautical picnic.

Topsham, with its lanes of Georgian cottages and dreamy views over the estuary, has to be my favourite (It’s already gone onto my ever-growing list of lovely places I’d like to move to). For foodies, the draw is its high street of small independent shops (including the lovely Cooks Aweigh kitchen shop) which feels a world away from nearby chain-bound Exeter. Nip into The Café for homemade pistachio and lemon cake, or into Country Cheeses, one of a trio of cheesemongers originating in Tavistock. I nibbled some Sweet Charlotte, Country Cheeses’ own Emmental-style cow’s cheese. “Charlotte may be called sweet but she has quite a bite,” the woman serving warned me. She was right.

For places to lunch or dine, it’s hard to beat The Salutation Inn. Here, Michael Caines protégé Tom Williams-Hawkes produces top-notch fodder both for the coaching inn’s evening restaurant and its casual daytime Glass House cafe. When I visited, the great-value set lunch included a choice between Dart’s Farm Red Ruby beef and tarragon gnocchi, with crème brûlée and coffee ice cream (pictured) to round off proceedings.

Back on the waterside, there’s wood-fired pizza and wine on offer in the cellars of Pebblebed winery which began in 1999 as a half-acre community-run plot and now has 25 acres producing some seriously good bubblies. Sign up for a tasting and tapas in the cellars, or for a tour of the vineyard at nearby Clyst St George. In the season, you can even help harvest the grapes – a wonderful community shindig.

For a taste of the old Topsham, stop at the Bridge Inn, on the fringes of the town near Dart’s Farm (spot the Red Ruby beef cows which go in the Pig & Pallet’s burgers). The inn has scarcely been touched since the 18th century and is famous for hosting the queen’s first outing to a pub, in 1998. Its oak-panelled bar is decked with threadbare bunting celebrating the monarch’s coronation. Sadly though, no-one remembers exactly which monarch it was.

You can read about the food of the Exe Estuary, and of the rest of East Devon, in the latest issue of Olive magazine, just out.

Lympstone Manor © Clare Hargreaves

River Exe Cafe © Clare Hargreaves

River Exe Cafe. © Clare Hargreaves

Pannacotta with coffee ice-cream. The Salutation Inn, Topsham. © Clare Hargreaves

Topsham High St. © Clare Hargreaves

The Goods Shed, CanterburyDecember 21, 2017

Stressed out by the Christmas supermarket food shop? Fed up with the queues at the checkout? If you live in Canterbury, you can actually enjoy the experience – by heading toThe Goods Shed. This is a beautifully converted railway goods storehouse which now houses a foodhall where you’ll find everything from locally reared turkeys and game to fresh vegetables, cheeses made by Cheesemakers of Canterbury (pictured), and Kentish wines. Part of the fun is speaking with the stallholders and enjoying the magical atmosphere. It’s also satisfying knowing that you are getting the freshest produce while helping a range of small producers.

If you’ve done your shop, or want a break, head upstairs to the bare-floor-boarded restaurant, pictured, whose talented chef Rafael Lopez produces a fabulous range of seasonal dishes that draw on the ingredients downstairs. So you’re talking food yards, not miles. The focaccia is so good, it’s a meal in itself. Can’t wait to go back!

To find out more, read my review for Olive magazine here. And let me know when you visit, as I’d love to hear how you got on.

The Restaurant at The Goods Shed © Clare Hargreaves

Asparagus mousse with fresh langoustine © Clare Hargreaves

Cheesemakers of Canterbury © Clare Hargreaves

Tempura courgette flowers with herb salad © Clare Hargreaves

Backwell’s bountyDecember 4, 2017

When it comes to food, Backwell, to the southwest of Bristol, has been pretty much a backwater – until now. The gorgeous honey-stoned Georgian mansion that is Backwell House, is putting the village firmly on the regional food map, a welcome addition to Bristol’s burgeoning food scene.

The food, masterminded by chef Ross Hunter (previously at The Stone Mill in Monmouth and The Swan, Almondsbury) makes ample use of the vegetables grown in the nine-room hotel’s walled garden and is served in its deliciously stylish wooden-floored dining room (pictured). I tried the Pressed pork starter (pictured) from pigs that had been reared just down the road.

The dish that steals the show, though, is Ross’ Strawberry cannelloni dessert (pictured), tubes of Chantilly cream wrapped around with shiny red fruit jelly, served with Cheddar Valley strawberries and meringue – a take on Eton mess that’s fast becoming a signature dish.

It’s not just the food you come for though. This is a relaxed boutique hotel that oozes fun and contemporary style in much the same way as The Pig. Part of that fun comes from some deft upcycling – like the downstairs cloakroom sink fashioned from an old suitcase. Another highlight is the modern artwork on the walls (loaned from a Bristol gallery) which you can buy, and the funky bar that’s fashioned out of recycled floorboards from the old kitchens (try the Espresso Martini cocktails). The best feature of all in my opinion is the huge drawing room with its comfy chairs in which you can cuddle up in front of the fire under the deer antler chandeliers and enjoy its shabby chic vibes.

This is a great place to escape for the weekend – go while you can still get in. You can read more about it in my review for Olive magazine here.


Margate’s delicious revivalNovember 15, 2017

Margate, on Kent’s northeast coast, was once a fashionable bathing resort but after the war slipped into decline. But over the past decade it’s seen a revival, largely thanks to the opening in 2011 of its seafront Turner Contemporary gallery. “Merry Margate” is merry once again: vintage shops are breathing life into its pretty squares, decrepit boarding houses are being restored and opened as stylish places to stay (bag, if you can, one of the boutique B&B rooms at The Reading Rooms , and its Dreamland amusement park has been returned to its former glory. Margate is so cool, the trend-spotters are dubbing it Shoreditch-on-Sea.

Happily the resort’s revival extends to its cafes and restaurants, as I discovered while researching an On The Road feature about Kent’s northeast coast for Olive magazine. We’re not talking fancy Michelin places, but edgy eateries using local ingredients. One of my favourite finds was Bottega Caruso deli-cafe inside Margate’s Old Kent Market, whose homemade pasta you can see pictured here. Also fun is Hantverk & Found, a pocket-sized gallery-cum-cafe in the Old Town run by Hackney migrant Kate de Syllas; I loved her  Seafood pastilla, packed with local crab (pictured). For ethically-produced chicken and posh burgers (with sweet potato fries – pictured) Roost , opposite the old Lido, is the place, while for views of the harbour (pictured) you can do no better than visiting Cheesey Tiger, a diddy restaurant-takeaway specialising in cheese, located at the end of Margate’s Harbour Arm stone pier. My article is in the December issue of Olive, but you can also read it online here.

The Sportsman, SeasalterOctober 31, 2017

This year Stephen Harris celebrates 18 years at the stoves of The Sportsman at Seasalter near Whitstable in Kent, a pub whose rambling exterior and bleak location belies the exceedingly fine cooking that awaits within and now commands a cult following worldwide. Stephen has just published his first cookbook too, so you can find out some of the secrets behind his simple but stylish dishes. I tried the restaurant’s tasting menu while researching an On The Road feature on the northeast Kent coast for Olive magazine. The menu is supposedly a mere nine courses, but when you include all the initial bouche amusement (pictured) and delicacies with coffee it’s actually 12, including, hurrah, two puds. Given its proximity to Whitstable, which has farmed oysters since Roman times and even has an oyster festival , the molluscs kick off proceedings – natives au naturel if you come in winter when they’re in season but mine were poached (pictured). Other highlights were the firm-fleshed slip-sole in a foraged-seaweed butter and the stupendously good homemade breads and home-churned butter (rightly honoured as a course on their own). You round things off with a soufflé as light as the clouds scudding across the steely skies outside (pictured). My article is in the December issue of Olive, on sale now.

Stellar food in a Stark settingOctober 23, 2017

Stark, inside a terraced house in the centre of Broadstairs in northeast Kent, does not even have its own inside loo yet. But this broomcupboard-sized restaurant is already making serious culinary waves, thanks to the stellar cooking by its chef-owner Ben Crittenden, who formerly manned the stoves at Kent’s Michelin-starred West House in Biddenden. As the name suggests, you come here,  in Ben’s words, not for plush surroundings.  but for “good food, laid bare.” I tried the restaurant’s six-course evening tasting menu (currently its only offering) while researching an On The Road feature on the northeast Kent coast for Olive magazine. Highlights for me were the starter of mackerel, watermelon and beetroot, that looks like a Kandinsky painting (secret ingredient: watermelon jam), and the duck terrine with hazelnut and ginger biscuit and a duck and hazelnut parfait. The citrusy blobs of orange puree encircling it cut through the richness of the duck perfectly. Many thanks to a resident foodie who tipped me off about this place shortly after it opened. The Good Food Guide has now included it in its 2018 edition, so do visit while you can still get in – and before the Michelin inspectors discover it. My article is in the December issue of Olive, on sale now.

Bristol’s budding bakeriesJanuary 31, 2017

If you’ve not tried it yet, put Pinkman’s Bakery, on Park Street, on your gastronomic map of Bristol. One of a clutch of artisan bakeries to open in the city over the past few years, this attractively designed spot not only makes lovely breads and cakes, but also serves meals from breakfast through to dinner seven days a week. The array of sourdough breads is impressive, from a Country cob mixing wholemeal, spelt and white flours with a rye starter to a super Seeded sourdough and a Walnut boule. Wood-fired sourdough pizzas are also a speciality, but the absolute stars of the show for me are the sourdoughnuts whose fillings vary daily depending on what’s available at the market. Because they’re made from sourdough you can kid yourself they’re doing you good. A welcome addition to an area not generally known for its high gastronomy.

The Ivy opens in BristolSeptember 2, 2016

Covent Garden’s iconic showbiz haunt, The Ivy, has extended its tendrils to Bristol’s Clifton Village. The all-day food is similar to the comfort classics you’ll find at HQ, including its famous Shepherd’s Pie, but with some nice additions such as the Raw Market Salad and the Dairy free coconut panna cotta, pictured here. The afternoon tea, which promises to be popular, ranges from a standard cream, jam and scone affair to a Champagne blowout.

But what you really come for is the setting. The Ivy Clifton Brasserie is housed in the magnificent high-ceilinged Georgian edifice that since 1922 was a branch of the Nat West bank. It happens to be my bank actually, although when I was in there I’m afraid fears of being overdrawn  probably overshadowed any appreciation of its architectural merits. The old bank manager’s office in the back is now a super little private dining room, and some of the bank’s wooden till structures have been preserved in the bar area. Bizarrely, when I went to try out the brasserie, the woman on the table next to mine had worked there for 20 years!

The Martin Brudnizki Design Studio, which masterminded the building’s transformation, has put in beautiful blue and mustard floor tiles, with banquettes to match, and hung the ceilings with glamorous chandeliers. What I love most about the new Ivy offshoot, though, it its stunning collection of old prints and artwork, depicting Bristol’s industrial heritage – a reason in themselves to visit.

Food images by Clare Hargreaaves

Ivy Clifton Brasserie - PWF - 0071 P1700867P1700902P1700937

Epicure ExperienceJune 20, 2016

If you’ve wondered what lies within that vast building on the M4 that’s often rudely likened to Colditz, now you have the perfect excuse to drop in to find out.

This is Celtic Manor Hotel, and since February, Richard Davies has been heading up the kitchen at a new restaurant inside this edifice called Epicure Experience.  Some of you will remember Richard as the Michelin-starred head chef at The Manor House at Castle Combe, near Bath – or as the chef who cooked an Endangered Foods Feast in Bristol for Feast with a Chef two years ago.

Richard, who is originally from Bridgend, trained at the Michelin-starred Gordon Ramsay in London and has three times represented Wales on the BBC’s Great British Menu. I tried Richard’s tasting menu (5 courses for £55) which was absolutely outstanding. Kicking off with Foie Gras with apple and walnut, and a fish course of Turbot with Cepe, celeriac and pancetta, the main course was Lamb (Welsh of course) with onion and baby leek, pictured below.  The meal finished with a variation on Richard’s winning Great British Menu pud of ‘Strawberries and Cream’ which he served at the Royal Albert Hall in 2013, also pictured.

If you are Bristol based, it’s easy to pop over for lunch or dinner. Do go.

Celtic Manor Resort Chef Richard Davies

Gin-cured sea trout with apple and fennelMay 17, 2016

As you know we’re lucky enough to have had 2-Michelin-starred Nathan Outlaw cooking us a Cornish Seafood Feast in Bristol, celebrating the publication of his new book, Everyday Seafood (Quadrille). Here’s a recipe from the book to whet your appetite. It’s based around sea trout, a migratory fish whose arrival in spring is greeted by foodies with as much excitement as the first asparagus. Says Nathan: “Wild sea trout is, for me, a delicacy. I actually prefer it to salmon and find that it responds particularly well to curing.” Being a gin fan, I like the fact the trout is cured in gin too. “Using strong alcohol in the cure helps to achieve a pronounced flavour and the combination of gin, apple and fennel works well,” says Nathan. Picture by David Loftus.  

Gin-cured sea trout with apple and fennel

Serves 6 as a starter

1 very fresh side of wild sea trout, skinned and pin- boned

For the cure

250g sea salt

250g caster sugar

2 tbsp juniper berries, crushed 

150ml gin

For the salad and dressing

200ml olive oil

2 shallots, peeled and finely sliced

4 juniper berries, finely chopped

100ml cider vinegar

30ml gin

2 fennel bulbs, tough outer layer removed

3 eating apples, such as Braeburn

3 tsp finely sliced tarragon

For the cure, put the salt, sugar and crushed juniper berries into a food processor and blitz for 3 minutes.

Lay the sea trout on a tray and sprinkle evenly with the cure mixture. Turn the fish over in the cure a few times to ensure it is coated all over. Drizzle the gin evenly over the fish, then wrap the whole tray in cling film and place in the fridge to cure for 4 hours.

When the time is up, unwrap the fish and wash off the cure with cold water, then pat dry with kitchen paper. Wrap the fish tightly in fresh cling film and place back in the fridge for an hour to firm up. (At this stage you can freeze the fish for up to a month).

To make the dressing, put the olive oil, shallots and chopped juniper berries in a small pan over a medium heat until the oil just begins to bubble. Take the pan off the heat and add the cider vinegar and gin.

Slice the fennel on a mandoline as thinly as possible and place it in a bowl. Peel, core and grate the apples, then add to the fennel with the tarragon. Toss to combine and dress the salad with half of the dressing, keeping the rest to finish the dish.

Using a sharp knife and a clean board, slice the trout as thinly as possible. Lay it out on large individual plates and drizzle with the remaining dressing. Bring to room temperature before serving.