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East Devon Restaurant News

Written by Nick Local Expert on Wednesday, 21 November 2012. Posted in Local Food, Blog

News from the Holt:

Perfect Foodie Christmas presents at the Holt, Honiton

Already stuck for ideas for a Christmas present for your beloved local foodie? 
The Holt in Honiton will be hosting whole-day bread making classes on Mon 23rd January and Monday 25th February.
They also have an evening smoking class (that’s smoking food, of course) planned for 23rd January.
Phone Joe at the Holt for more information (01404 47707).

Holt chefs Honiton

The Holt are delighted to have recently won their 2nd AA Rosette for service and culinary excellence. This accolade is a true reflection of the quality of the experience at this wonderful town gastropub, with a contemporary yet homely feel.

Over Christmas week the Holt will be hosting live music every night of the week.

Congratulations to the Railway!

More food news from Honiton, where Jean-Baptiste of the Railway is ‘proud and humbled’ by their official entry in the Michelin guide 2013. JB sends his thanks to local suppliers, clients, and his hardworking team.

What’s on at Oliva?

Oliva Restaurant in Topsham have a varied and good value weekly program:

  • Tuesday night is Paella Night – paella for two and two glasses of house wine for £19.95
  • Tuesday – Saturday evenings 3 courses for £19.95.
  • Wednesday to Saturday lunches are outstanding value, with two courses for £10.

Oliva would be a fantastic venue for your Christmas party (for one to seventy people!) See the Oliva Christmas menu here – local seasonal food with a distinctly original Mediterranean twist.

I'm Dreaming of a (Jack in the) Green Christmas

Having started 2012 with a top 5 finish in the UK’s Best Gastropubs, the Jack in the Green will be celebrating Christmas with the finest seasonal West Country produce.
See the Jack in the Green Christmas lunch menu here, and
The Jack in the Green Christmas dinner menu here.

The award winning restaurant in Rockbeare (just outside Exeter) is now in its 21st year.

November Local Food News

Written by Nick Local Expert on Tuesday, 06 November 2012. Posted in Local Food, Blog

News from some of our favourite Devon food outlets and restaurants

Real Food Exeter (store and cafe) are finalists for R4 ‘Best Local Retailer’.

Outstanding Contribution Award for Exeter restaurant @Angelas

New additions to the OurLocalExpert listings of recommended, quality, independent restaurants.

Tuesday Wine Tasting programme at Smith’s Fabulous Wines and Spirits, Magdalen Road, Exeter.

Other food news – from La Petite Maison (Topsham), the Holt (Honiton)



Real Food Exeter (store and cafe) are finalists for R4 ‘Best Local Retailer’.

Congratulations and good luck to the inspirational Real Food Exeter (store and cafe), who have made it to the final 3 of Radio 4’s ‘Best Local Retailer’.  Judges Arthur Potts Dawson of the People's Supermarket and Simon Parkes of Radio 4's Food Programme have been to the store to find out what Real Food Exeter are all about.  What they are all about is LOCAL FOOD, seasonal, and good value – providing a positive shopping alternative in central Exeter.  Winners will be announced on 28th November.
Due to popular demand The Real Food Cafe is extending opening hours to 9.30am -  5pm Monday to Saturday at the very least up until Christmas.  Great coffee, light meals made with seasonal produce, cakes and snacks, changing gallery space for local artists, and free wi-fi too.
The store is also now open every Thursday until 8pm for late night shopping in the run up to Christmas.  Don’t just get your own weekly groceries there, how about making a local hamper of Devon Foods as a present for friends and family?

Outstanding Contribution Award for Exeter restaurant @Angelas

Angela Exeter Restaurant Award
Photo: Angela Valder of @Angelas proudly displaying her award
Exeter restaurant @Angelas on New Bridge Street have just won Devon Food and Drink’s ‘Outstanding Contribution’ accolade.  Angela Valder’s 'outstanding service' set her apart from others. Located in the heart of Exeter, the restaurant is passionate about their food and how it should be experienced. The judges found the service to be 'fabulous' and credited the restaurant for its very good use of Devon products.
@Angelas extended to 40 covers in May – taking over the shop next door.  The restaurant has lost none of its intimate charm.

Recent new additions to Our Local Expert’s recommended restaurants include:

Tasting Tuesdays at Smiths Fabulous Wines and Spirits, Exeter

Iain Smith Wines Exeter

PHOTO: Iain Smith – Our Local Wine Expert
Iain Smith will be hosting some intimate wine tastings at his wine shop (in Magdalen Road, Exeter) over the next 6 weeks.  To be held on Tuesday nights, starting at 7.30pm, with the aim of giving people the opportunity to try wines from around the world.
Each event is limited to 10 people only and will include some very nice nibbles to enjoy with the wine. Each evening will be themed and offer a range of styles flavours and price points and will therefore be priced accordingly to cover the wines on tasting.
Places are sure to go quickly, so call Iain quickly on 01392 426550 to register your interest.

  • Tuesday 6th November £15 per person - France
  • Tuesday 13th November £15 per person - Italy
  • Tuesday 20th November £12.50 per person - Spain (in conjunction with Codorniu)
  • Tuesday 27th November £17.50 per person - The Americas
  • Tuesday 4th December £15.00 per person - The Antipodes
  • Tuesday 11th December £25.00 per person - Fizz  [I’m not quite sure which country ‘Fizz’ is, but I think I’d like to go there.]

Other Local Food News

Doug Pestell of La Petite Maison in Topsham is delighted to be in the Good Food Guide again this year, but of course he should be there – here he is celebrating.
Topsham Restaurant Bub
YOU could win a meal at La Petite Maison, Topsham by recommending local independent businesses that you use and trust in our annual reader competition.

Our East Devon competition winners last year enjoyed their meal at the Holt, Honiton so much that they’ve already returned!  The Holt is Otter Brewery’s first dining pub, and it’s an award winning venue!
Honiton Resaurant Review
Here’s prizewinner Yehudi Levine – you can see in front of him three tasting glasses – as he couldn’t decide which Otter to enjoy with his meal.  Read Yehudi’s excellent review of the Holt.

The Escape

Written by Nick Local Expert on Sunday, 29 April 2012. Posted in Local Food, Blog

What it's really like to eat at Combe House Hotel

The first 3 kids were delivered to school by Mum as usual – all done on foot by 9am.

I’d been working feverishly from home since 7:45, trying to clear as much as I could before our deadline to leave – 11am.

As per usual, 11am arrives and there’s still more to do.  Just one little task, should only take 5 minutes...which means 15.  All the same it’s done, and we leave.

Round to Nana’s to drop off baby Buster.  Nana’s nervous that Buster won’t be able to cope without Mummy for the afternoon, but we’re sure he’ll be fine.  He has to be fine.  We’ve got this appointment that’s just too good to miss.  A guided tour, then lunch, at Combe House Hotel.

Ever been?  It’s the stuff of legends round our way, and rightly so.

We wiggle down country lanes that make our car feel so BIG, it’s terrified of meeting a tractor or speeding postman.  Thankfully all we need to avoid is a stray chicken and a couple of pheasants.

Combe House is well hidden, but thankfully it’s also well signposted.  Every turning and tree seems to have a sign to help us find our way.  We haven’t got time to view the pretty fudge-box-cover that is Gittisham Village (just outside Honiton) – we need to make our 12 o’clock appointment.  We enter the Estate and it’s impossible to speed around the luxurious winding single-track path which takes us to the door of Combe House.  We slow down from our already slow pace, to allow for a couple of horse riders.  Closer to the house and there’s wild horses roaming aplenty – apparently they’re of Arab descent and pretty special.  The huge house looms out of the Devon fog – it must have stunning views on a clearer day. We park and approach the old mansion... we wonder if we’re underdressed...I fumble for my invitation.....but there’s absolutely no need for that.  The door is opened for us, and we are met with broad smiles, and welcomed by our first names. I thought that only happened in my village pub.  We are immediately at ease.

Combe House Hotel Honiton Restaurant

Relaxed hotel guests and diners alike sit comfortably around the choice of lounges – each room seems to boast a huge roaring fire.  Outside it was a cold, damp, late winter’s day – inside it’s like Christmas Day today, and I guess it is like that every day at this time of year.

The cheerful Manager Mark Lovell welcomes us warmly, and we soon find we are chatting like old friends.  He introduces us to Ruth Hunt, the owner, who proudly shows us around the House and Hotel, the renovation of which has clearly been a massive undertaking.  There are up to three choices of venues for a wedding, and these must be memorable weddings.  One huge room is flanked by Oak panels and huge portraits – showing family members that used to own this historic house.  We pass through a sleek modern bar which wouldn’t feel out of place in an exclusive nightclub.


We are taken into the old staff quarters, where we see a wonderful old kitchen – complete with flag stone floor and one massive central table.  The end wall of this huge room is spanned by a single metal stove which must be over 12ft long.  The stove is warmed by jumbo logs (all sourced from within the estate, of course).  There is no electricity in this old kitchen, so lighting is by candle chandeliers. I understand that this room is used for intimate family meals the night preceding a wedding, it must be incredible.

Honiton_Accommodation          Luxury_Devon_Accommodation

Upstairs we get a glimpse of what it’s like to stay here.  Most suites seem to overlook the wonderful estate, and all are impeccably decorated with a wonderful range of styles to choose between.  From traditional elegance to modern and understated.  If you want you can even hire the private thatched cottage with its own private walled garden.

Outside, there must be as many gardens as there are rooms.  The enormous croquet lawn doubles up as the marquee site for weddings.  The back garden leads us to the recently restored vegetable garden which provides 40% of the restaurant’s food.  Rows and rows of carefully co-ordinated planting ripens on a weekly basis to keep fresh supplies coming to the kitchen.  There isn’t too much veg on show at the moment as we eagerly await Spring, but there is more parsley than I’ve ever seen in my life.

On the way back to the house we do a double-take, as we pass an outdoor bath under a thatched roof.  Rainwater is harvested then heated in a water tank over an outdoor wood fire. This is plumbed into the hot tap of the al fresco bath. Honestly.


As we enter the house again, we enjoy the same wonderful welcome we did when we first arrived.  By now we recognise half of the staff, as we’ve been introduced to each one as we’ve passed.  They’ve all greeted us with genuine, welcoming smiles, which make us feel close to Royalty.

There are more incredible function rooms and guest rooms – each with their own identity and history.  We are speechless.  As well as the history of the hotel and its different rooms, we learn of the history of Ruth and Ken the managers.  They have worked throughout the world running and marketing the finest hotels (and the finest chains of hotels).  At Combe House Hotel they have pooled their experience to create one single, independent masterpiece.  Guests to the hotel aren’t just from well-heeled corners of London.  The hotel is also incredibly popular with locals from within Devon seeking the same escape that we are enjoying this afternoon.

We enjoy aperitifs beside a roaring fire, and choose from an astounding menu.  We are not in a hurry, and we are not hurried.  It’s like Christmas Day with someone else cooking.  And the people cooking happen to be Master Chefs of Great Britain.

From the menu alone it’s clear that the food is local. Game and fish are well represented, as are seasonal vegetables (from the back garden).  We make our selections and enjoy our canapés, still beside the crackling fire.  We are then invited through to our table – inside a bay window overlooking the grounds (and roaming horses).   We are given a selection of homemade bread, all exquisite, and an extra introductory course.

The luxury is overwhelming us, and the real world is creeping back into our consciousness.  Go away real world, let us relax and enjoy this, we deserve this!  We work so hard - at work and at home with our four children -please give us an afternoon off!  We should have planned better.  We should have taken the whole afternoon off.  But who’s going to take Daisy to dancing?  Who’s going to take Alfie and Soren swimming?  Nana can’t cope with baby Buster all afternoon, she was terrified of a couple of hours to begin with.

Starters arrive and the real world recedes.  Starters are amazing.  We don’t get out much, but when we do it’s never like this.  We try to eat quality local food at home but we never serve it like this.  We don’t think to put this with that.  This is outstanding.  Portion sizes are perfect – not too generous but not too mean.  We are able to stop and appreciate each mouthful.  We’d love to ask what each element of each dish is, but we just enjoy the incredible flavours.  I’m enjoying the taste of the food so much that I barely remember to sip my delicious wine, and that never usually happens.  We start to relax into this incredible escape we’re enjoying.


Service is impeccably timed, friendly and unobtrusive.  Mains arrive and mine surpasses my incredible starter.  I’d love to make a description like a judge on MasterChef, but I wouldn’t do the food justice and I’d sound stupid.  My main course looks and tastes incredible.  Unfortunately the real world is now catching up with us and we need to check the time.  Could anyone else pick up the kids if we were to let this adventure continue a little longer?  Probably not.  It’s our fault, we’re the ones who chose to have four children.  We have to pick up the pace on our main courses, which is a crime to my pork belly on sour cabbage, to my black pudding croquettes and braised onion.  I’ve stopped to reminisce about it again, now as I write this, my mouth is watering.

The unwelcome intrusion of my wife’s mobile phone allows Plan B to come together, which buys us an extra 10 minutes, allowing us to take dessert.  Now this is really good.  If desserts were always like this, I’d have desserts more often.  My favourite part of my dessert is the Griottine cherries.  Right now they taste better than a glass of the finest dessert wine.  I stopped at my first glass of wine because the real world will need to be faced again soon, and drunken Dads aren’t usually that rational or patient.

As we said our thankyous and left, it felt like we were leaving our host family from a cultural exchange, or that we were leaving our rented holiday home.  My wife was even given a complementary goody bag of sumptuous Combe Estate preserves – a wonderful touch.  We’d been there for less than 3 hours, but Combe House Hotel was already a wonderful memory within my life story, an escape that was over so soon after it had begun.

...and then it hit me, we were home, the adventure was over.  That same saddening feeling you get when you return from a holiday and realise that it’ll be a long time until the next one.  We will return, we already yearn to.  Lunch was extravagant but not unaffordable – in fact good value for a treat which will last for a long time in the memory.  We know we could even just call in for a relaxing morning or afternoon tea or coffee, which will encourage us to show off our new favourite place to visiting guests from ‘upcountry’, as they say in Devon...but the only problem with doing this is that it might show up the service at our own home as not quite as welcoming as that at Combe House. 

An Ode, An Ode, to Magdalen Road

Written by Nick Local Expert on Wednesday, 19 October 2011. Posted in Local Food, Blog

Last year Exeter slipped from No.1 to No.2 in the 'generic cities of England' – town centres sporting brands that make one city look like the next.  Please help keep Magdalen Road the thriving, independent hotbed of quality local food for which it is famous.  Support those wonderful, original shops.

This poem is bound to help:

An ode to Magdalen Road, Exeter

I hear that there’s a new Waitrose
Well I ain’t gonna be the one who goes
Deserting all that expertise
Of the food shops who really like to please

I love the shops who source locally
Who really care about qual-i-ty

Gibsons Plaice puts a smile on my face
Don’t need to twist my arm to visit Pipers Farm

I call into Bon Gout, and Hills Veg and Fruit
To fill up on provisions for the best foodie missions

To miss Iain Smith’s Wines would be such a crime
And I haven’t yet seen the cafe called Bell Green

And even if a superstore
Offers to deliver at your door
Ask on Magdalen Road and you just might find
That their service ain’t so far behind.

They’re organised and they’re perfectly able
To deliver food to your home for your table.

Magdalen Road, Exet-er
I love yer

Why Buy Local Food?

on Monday, 03 January 2011. Posted in Local Food, Blog


Supermarkets tend to buy varieties of fruit and vegetables that travel well, don’t bruise easily, last well, and keep ‘looking good’ – irrespective of flavour.  Obviously this can be further enhanced with preservatives, waxes and other treatments.
Local food in Devon farm shops doesn’t need to get shipped to foreign countries to be washed, graded or packaged, so you can buy tastier varieties which don’t need to be able to ‘bounce’ or have a long shelf life.


As local food hasn’t been travelling around the globe before arriving in your farm shop – chances are that it’s been picked more recently – so will have higher levels of nutrients and vitamins.  For example, vitamin C is well known to reduce over time.
Research has suggested the modified-atmosphere packaging used for pre-packed salad (to increases the shelf life of the leaves) might also destroy many of the vital nutrients in the salad.  And there was I thinking I was enjoying a healthy salad in December!

Budleigh Farm

Pynes Farm shop near Budleigh Salterton have a simple philosophy – when they run out of this season’s crop (on the shelves of their farm shop), they go and pick some more produce from the adjoining fields.


Supermarkets enable us to eat whatever we want, whenever we want – by shipping in all fruit and vegetables known whatever the season.  The foods that are most out-of-season at home will be the ones which have to travel the furthest – whose nutrient and vitamin content will decrease the most given the time required for transportation.

Our bodies thrive on eating this season’s food this season!  Think about it – summer fruits have a high fluid content when we are likely to be hot, dehydrated and most need it.  Winter vegetables don’t just provide warming comfort food.  Carrots and sweet potatoes are rich in Vitamin C; kale eases lung congestion and is healthy to the immune system. Seasonal eating also ensures a variety of food is eaten throughout the year, rather than getting stuck in the rut of the same old 2 veg.  This widens the variety of nutrients introduced to your body – increasing your resistance to illness, and lessening the risks of food allergies and intolerances.  If winter root vegetables don’t inspire you, try adding the often overlooked celeriac into your mashed potato, or roasting some swede with added parmesan.


Exmouth Farm

Buying food from local farmers means that you know where your money is going – to local people who will then spend that money locally.

Supermarkets now have such huge purchasing power that they can often dictate the prices they pay from suppliers – squeezing every last penny from suppliers to help themselves make more profit.  If imported foreign food isn’t badged as ‘fair trade’ do you imagine that it is fair trade?  Unfair trade can mean child labour, it can mean workers being paid less than a fair wage, and being displaced from their homes and families for the only work available.  Instead of feeding us at a loss to themselves, foreign farms should be supplying their own people, at a fair price.


 Exeter Fishmonger Gibsons Plaice

This isn’t just about meeting and understanding the perspective of your local farmer / butcher / fishmonger – you can benefit from their experience to learn how you should cook the food they are offering.  Why not use their experience to expand your boundaries – ‘I’ve never seen that vegetable – what is it and what would it go well with?’ ‘I know I like plaice, so what other fish do you think I might try?  And how would I cook that?’  Even Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall turned to Exeter fishmonger Richard Beynon (Gibson’s Plaice) for advice.
Certainly more fun than getting trolley-rage, or talking to a supermarket shelf before buying the same-old same-old.


Farm Shop Sidmouth

If Devon farmers make a fair return on their work, they will be able to afford to keep farming, and the glorious Devon countryside we all love so much (fields full of crops, hedgerows and roaming herds) will be preserved.  There is even an argument that local crops themselves counter the carbon produced by local vehicles and industry.


Supermarket food can be shipped from literally the other side of the world (New Zealand Lamb, New Zealand apples), and sometimes it then suffers a second trip to be processed (washed/waxed/’dressed’) and packaged to make it look more appealing to the customer.  How much unnecessary transport do you need? Buying local means that your food may have travelled a shorter distance than you have, to buy it.  Remember to take your own bags and empty egg boxes to the farm shop when you visit.


Our Local Expert believes in supporting local food, and many of our recommended suppliers offer readers like you special offers.  Pynes Farm Shop (near Budleigh Salterton) have a weekly changing special offer for our readers, Gibsons Plaice Fishmongers in Exeter offer a 10% discount on fresh fish to readers of Our Local Expert.  We often have special offers to promote from local independent restaurants.

To see all special offers to our readers see East Devon Special Offers, and Exeter Special Offers.

Many thanks to the wonderful Pynes Farm Shop (between Otterton and Budleigh Salterton) for their help with the above article.  Pynes is a great place to buy local produce, as they try to have every food item you may need available to you in one place, almost all of it local!