Click on the link below to view a short, but highly entertaining video about this great event I was privileged to take part in. Video courtesy of Fly Monkeys Limited and Julia Amies-Green Photography. Enjoy!
Little Switzerland, well that’s what they call it anyway. I am of course referring to Lynton and Lynmouth, which sit happily on the North Devon Coast looking out towards the coast of South Wales. At somewhat of a loose end, I decided to park up in Lynton, and walk down the precipitous coast path to Lynmouth below. I have to say it is a fairly steep path all the way down (the ache in my thighs testify to this fact), but well worth it.
Lynmouth was buzzing as you would expect in the height of the summer break, with the August bank holiday just round the corner. I decided to make for the Rock House Hotel, accessed by a pedestrian bridge across the now united East and West Lyn Rivers. Here I was rewarded with a glass of chilled Elderflower Cider which was suitably refreshing in warm August sunshine.
There are in fact plenty of places in both Lynton and Lynmouth where you can not only enjoy something to eat and drink, but spectacular views of this dramatic coastline are virtually guaranteed. A word of warning though; the climb back up to Lynton is not for the fainthearted as it constitutes a good cardiovascular workout! If however, that all seems too much for you, then I would encourage you to take the cliff railway back up to the top. The single fare is £2.80 and worth every penny for the experience.
Effortlessly turning out mouthwatering specialties like Pork Faggot, surrounded by seasonal vegetables and capped with a golden brown potato rosti, and then Grilled Cornish Mackerel with char-grilled vegetables and a French sauce vierge, it’s little wonder that business was so brisk.
Mind you, offering two courses for £10 and three courses for £15, this is surely a chance to eat some top tucker for an insanely low price. If you have not participated yet, there are still two more days left of the Exmoor Food Festival.
Click on this link for more details: http://www.thecafeporlockweir.co.uk/the-menu/our-suppiers
The Combe, set within West Somerset College in Minehead, trains post 16 students in the fine art of catering and hospitality.
At the helm of this enterprising venture for over 4 years is Werner Hartholt, a Dutch / Indonesian chef who moved to the UK some 20 years ago.
Werner Hartholt, 41, was born in The Netherlands and lived in Groot-Ammers, east of Rotterdam on the Lek river. He was born of mixed parentage, having “an Indonesian mother and a Dutch Father.”
It was in Holland that Werner discovered his love of cooking. By the age of 20 he had become a chef, having qualified through college and 3 separate restaurant apprenticeships, and then went to Spain for a year.
Not really giving any particular reason as to why he chose that country, Werner said that he went to Spain, “because I was young and because I could.” It was here that he met an English girl and before long, the UK was inevitably calling, arriving in 1995.
Werner did try a couple of non-catering jobs, but by the age of 26, he had firmly decided on a career as a chef. He remembers a conversation with a friend who had asked him, “What would you do if you won the lottery?”
Werner knew immediately and responded, “well, buy my own restaurant.” His friend replied that he clearly and obviously wanted to be a chef. Werner added, “Actually, it made me realise it’s what I want.” And so the die was cast and a course was set for a life in catering.
Initially working in some pubs in Kent that were not really on the quality end of the spectrum, he promised himself to aim higher and move to the South West of England. “I will only do proper, very good cooking which is what I started off with and that’s what I did.”
Werner arrived in the South West in 2001, living in Taunton and working in the Blackdown Hills which straddle the Devon and Somerset border. Moving on from there, Werner settled at The Blue Ball in rural Triscombe, adding “We won lots of awards there.”
Eventually, the owner sold up and set his sights on Dulverton, the gateway to Exmoor. Werner said, “He bought an empty property, and I came with him and we started Woods.” Still today, Woods Bar & Restaurant is a thriving business.
Sometime later, Werner started working as the Head Chef at the Dragon House Hotel in Bilbrook. He said, “That was my full time job, and I saw an advert for a one day a week ‘Chef-Lecturer’ job… so I applied.”
After “rigorous interviewing,” Werner was selected and started work at West Somerset College as Chef-Lecturer, taking supervision of The Combe training kitchen, teaching post-sixteen students who wanted to become chefs.
Despite still being head chef at the Dragon House, Werner relates: “I kept the kitchen going here one day a week, and after about nine months that turned into three days, and then after a year it became full time.”
Explaining to me the rationale and function of The Combe, he told me, “We are a training restaurant within a college; so we are a licenced restaurant like any other business. The only difference is that all the food is cooked by students and served by students under supervision of lecturers obviously.”
Werner added, “We open two days a week generally for lunch and occasionally for dinners, and this is to give the students as real an experience as possible.”
Students are also in the kitchen for one day a week doing all the Mise en place (prep) for the two days that the restaurant is open. “One day a week they do all their theory and then also one day a week has been allocated for work experience outside of college.”
Werner told me that the lunchtime menu provides lots of choice to make it as realistic as possible. “We do some fine dining and we do some brasserie type cooking.” Werner explained that brasserie cooking is basically, “high end lighter meals that are a bit less intricate. It is not
quite fine dining but it is on the cusp.”
Undeniably, these students are gaining an impressive and thorough training at The Combe in Minehead, under Werner’s experienced hand. I have no doubt that this training restaurant will go from strength to strength, as they seek to produce quality chefs for Britain’s burgeoning restaurant industry.
For Alan Boddington, the Poltimore Inn at North Molton has been a labour of love. Resurrected from almost certain commercial & culinary death, Alan has worked tirelessly to produce a beautiful venue to eat and drink in that is entirely fit for purpose.
The moment you walk into this delightful country pub, nestling as it does on the fringes of Exmoor National Park, you at once feel at home. Although the Poltimore Inn has been refurbished to a very high standard, that doesn’t detract from its warm welcome in any way at all.
My daughter Sophie and I were looking forward to this review immensely, as the Poltimore has in more recent times gained a somewhat loyal and faithful following. Having met with Alan and taken a tour of the lovely B&B rooms upstairs and the beautiful, self-contained flat downstairs, we were ushered into the restaurant to sample what was on offer that night.
The restaurant itself is notable in that through the large, gaping windows, it commands an excellent view of the valley and rolling landscape beyond, that is so North Devon. Having settled in for the night, glass of Westcountry cloudy cider in hand, our eyes were soon drawn to the interesting and varied menu.
Whilst Sophie opted for the Warm breads and Balsamic vinegar to begin with, I was irresistibly drawn to the Crispy Pig Cheeks (much nicer than it sounds!), accompanied by Fennel Mayo, Pickled Fennel, Rocket, Crackling and Salad. I have to say that this was just delicious and an appetising gateway to the rest of the night’s proceedings.
Conversely, Sophie’s trio of breads, including a wedge of Focaccia with rosemary & caramelised onions was an equally tasty treat. Chefs Tom Allbrook, Lynda Festa and their team in the kitchen were certainly on a winning track tonight.
Moving on, we both opted for typical pub fare, unpretentious but flavoursome. Sophie chose without hesitation the Polti Loaded Burger. I think ‘loaded’ in this instance was entirely justified, for upon this man-size chunk of homemade beefburger were Crispy Smoked Bacon, Caramelised Onion, Swiss Cheese and Coleslaw, served in between the comforting layers of a gourmet burger bun.
This was attended by the curiously named Duck Fat Chips, which were the lovely, hand cut skin-on variety, which received a dutiful dusting of rock salt to bring out the flavour. Well Gary Rhodes, erstwhile celebrity chef, always said that food is all about the flavour, and he was definitely right on that score. Interestingly, this meal came with chef’s own homemade Smoked Chilli, Ginger and Tomato Ketchup. Great.
Me? Well I went for something different, yet similar. I selected, after not too much thought I have to concede, the intriguing Texas Brisket, glazed with homemade Sticky Bourbon BBQ Sauce. This came sandwiched in a Brioche Roll, along with those appetising Duck Fat Chips again, and served in a trendy mini-metal pail (that’s a bucket for the likes of you and me).
The Brisket & BBQ sauce combo was unusual treat. Delightfully meaty, sweet and smoky and oh-so-tender. Tom tells me that he Brisket is marinated overnight (in his own dry rub), then smoked at length and slow cooked during the course of the next day. It’s a painstaking process but worth the effort. If you fancy something a little different, go for this option.
I should interject at this point that once the glass of cloudy cider was drained to its dregs, I managed to quaff a few mouthfuls of a rich & velvety Sangiovese, from the Emilia-Romagna region of Northern Italy. And since I am going on holiday there later in the year with my other daughter, it was of special interest. I was not in the least disappointed with my choice of this excellent wine on offer.
Now reaching the summit of our culinary adventures, I felt the call of the Chocolate Brownie, with Vanilla Ice Cream and Warm Chocolate Sauce speaking to me loudly from the menu card. The Brownie was homemade, and if all that sounds like a mouth-watering feast of texture and flavour, you’d be right on the money. It was fantastic, and that is not an overstatement for the cynical amongst you!
Pretty picturesque Porlock Weir is not really where you expect to find a takeaway / restaurant full of Eastern Promise, but walk far enough down to the quaint old harbour, and that’s exactly what you will get. Ziang’s has to be about the most surprising find yet I have discovered on Exmoor.
Run by Michael Taylor and his mother Choo, the family hail originally from Brunei in South East Asia. They actually serve good old fish and chips (well we are beside the seaside aren’t we?), but their piste De resistance is their brand of Far Eastern Food – and for what you get in the bowl, it’s actually great value for money.
Its modus operandi is basically a complete meal in a bowl, and it certainly is that.
I opted for the Duck Rice which came with a fried egg on top – Michael obviously picked up in the incredulous and mystified expression on my face and immediately reassured me that this is how it is done in the far East – forget your standard egg fried rice from your local chinese, a fried egg placed on top is how it is done if you want it authentic.
My daughter Becky opted for the Porlock Chow Mein, but I went for the chefs recommendation – Duck Rice. He eats this dish every day apparently. Well, as soon as it arrived , I could see why! As soon as I tucked into it my mouth was hot with a glorious flavour explosion that my taste buds are not likely to forget any time soon.
Now I could fish around for all kinds of Superlatives to describe the aforementioned dish but let me just say simply this: it was delicious. Lots of juicy, insanely tasty duck, mouth-watering fried vegetables on a bed of perfectly cooked white rice. And to complement the whole dish, a fried egg on top – of course.
Seating? Well that’s an interesting one because there isn’t masses. There’s room for 2 or 3 inside, there’s some comfortable seating and a table right outside the hatchway or there are a couple of benches just across the way right by that ancient harbourside that is Porlock Weir.
This was actually a really nice experience, enjoying far eastern delights on fine summer evening right by the harbour side – what could be better?? The combined elements of the West Somerset Coast, exotic food and a warm welcome are factors hard to beat.
Not much more to say except you should definitely check it out if you fancy a bit of Far Eastern cuisine, right in the heart of beautiful West Somerset. The menu is extensive, drawing influence from Brunei, Thailand and Indonesia.
Go and pay Michael and Choo a visit. If you like your food with an Oriental twist within a beautiful setting, you’ll love it I guarantee.
Occupying a prime position on Dunster High Street within a stone’s throw of the historic Yarn Market, you will find a most excellent eatery, Reeves Restaurant. Owned and managed by Justin & Claire Reeves, they have built for themselves an enviable reputation. Before I turned up for the review, I asked a few locals what they thought. They all with one accord sang most excellent praises about this popular restaurant: a relaxed atmosphere, amazing food and a warm and friendly welcome.
Well, I have to say that was the experience of our night. It was a fine summer’s evening and we were ushered out to the rear garden to relax whilst our table was being prepared. Enjoying the still, tranquil summer air, we were served drinks and olives as we sat by the shrubs and scented flower beds in anticipation.
It wasn’t long before Claire Reeves emerged to take our order. There was no scribing on a waitress order pad but instead, she effortlessly committed the exact details of our order to memory and relayed the pertinent details to her husband and Head Chef Justin, in the kitchen.
Once our table was ready, we re-entered the restaurant and sat down at our cosy, corner table. From here we could rather interestingly observe the eating habits of our fellow diners. Well you need to do something to while away the time don’t you? Homemade bread and a large, beautifully crafted butter rosette were placed on the table. This kicked the evening’s dining off to an excellent start.
Our wine of choice for the night was a favourite of mine: Argentinian Malbec at a whopping 13.5%. For those of you out there that are still drinking the Merlot and Shiraz, I implore you to try this little gem from South America. I don’t think you will be disappointed. Laden with mouth-watering flavour and aromas, it is everything a red wine should be: full bodied and satisfying.
It wasn’t long before my astounding seafood starter made an appearance. I’d ordered the Fritto Misto (fried seafood and vegetables) of sea bass, squid, crab cake, tiger prawns and scallop… served with a trio of dips. Talking of which, the dips were stylishly served in something akin to white ceramic teaspoons. This gathering of seafood not only set the taste buds alight, but the plate was truly a picture! Justin’s creative flair was truly something to savour – literally.
The main dish was the sumptuous Garlic and rosemary and lamb rump with root vegetable crisps, fennel puree and a redcurrant and mint jus. Now I really adore the taste of lamb and I can tell you that this did not disappoint. Succulent and loaded with flavour; all the additions on the plate just complemented the dish perfectly. I was now beginning to understand why Reeves has got such a solid local reputation.
It is at this point that I should add that Justin cannot take all the credit for the amazing food being churned out of the kitchen of Reeves Restaurant. Working alongside him is the very young, but talented Abbie Smith. During the attainment of her NVQ catering qualification with Barbara Hancock of West Somerset College, Minehead, she has recently won both the Eat Exmoor and Eat Somerset cookery competitions. For her efforts, Abbie scooped the coveted ‘Chef of the Year’ for the West Somerset region.
We moved inexorably towards dessert and it was at this point, rather interestingly, we were offered a drinks menu containing whiskeys, liqueurs, coffees and… pudding wine. What a great idea (other restaurants please take note)! It is so rare that you are offered dessert wine, and this was fabulous surprise. After some quick deliberations, I opted for the enchanting and mysterious Elysium dark Muscat.
The Grand finale came in the truly lovely form of the Date and apple sticky toffee pudding, clotted cream and salted caramel sauce. Well I chose this because I love to try different sticky toffee puddings, clotted cream is a must as a long time Devonian, and for me salted caramel is the big must do flavour invading our shores from across the Atlantic currently. I have to say that the Muscat was a perfect accompaniment and I enjoyed and savoured every last drop…
All in all, the entire experience was virtually faultless from start to finish and one I hope to repeat in the not too distant future. The Somerset village of Dunster is replete with great places to eat but Reeves Restaurant is an absolute must. And I think, like the loyal locals, you’ll be returning again and again.
Originally posted to DevonLife.co.uk July 2014
Between the villages of Trentishoe and Martinhoe not far from the North Devon coast, you will find a quintessential English pub called The Hunter’s Inn. Encompassed by the lush, wooded slopes of the Heddon Valley, this lovely characterful pub enjoys a beautiful & idyllic setting.
This time, my youngest daughter and I were invited by Landlord David Orton and Head Chef Justin Dunn to participate in the ‘Venison 5 days 5 ways’ week. So on Friday 13th (not unlucky for us), we dutifully arrived for a wonderful, climactic Exmoor feast.
We were swiftly escorted to our table, situated next to impressive eight feet high bay windows that provide you with a commanding view of the neatly cut lawn and wooded garden beyond. This lovely, picturesque view was a fantastic, added bonus to what was going to be a great night.
After much consideration of the carefully, and thoughtfully constructed menu I chose the Marinated Crispy Chilli Beef served with a Mixed Salad to begin with. Sophie on the other handed opted for the Venison Carpaccio served with Watercress, Parmesan and Balsamic oil. Both of these dishes were really superb and tasted as good as they sounded.
Biting into the succulent strips of chilli beef, your mouth experiences an explosion of flavour accompanied by a pleasant sweet, heat. The leafy salad underneath was also coated with a delightful combo of sweet chilli and the signature, mustard based French dressing. Sophie and I couldn’t resist stealing some food from each other’s plates, and we were both in agreement about the quality and appeal of both of these dishes.
Sampling the Venison Carpaccio, I was similarly pleased. 7 lovely, tender slices of Venison gracefully sprinkled with Parmesan cheese, with watercress on the side and a ramekin of Balsamic oil. It was hard to find fault with such a lovely, well presented dish that really did look the business. Surely this is what great cooking is all about.
The main dishes soon arrived after that. Being ‘Venison 5 days 5 ways’ week, I could hardly choose anything but the ‘Char Grilled Local Fillet of Venison served with Wild Mushrooms, Wilted Coz Lettuce, Minted New Potatoes and Creamy Peppercorn Sauce.’ Sophie on the other hand decided on the more uncomplicated, yet eminently inviting ‘Eight Ounce Hunters Inn Beef Burger with Bacon, Cheese, Chunky Chips & Mixed Salad.’
The Char Grilled Venison was succulent, juicy and simply bursting with flavour. The Wild Mushrooms (nine different varieties) that lay underneath, must surely rank as some of the strangest food I have ever eaten, but were nonetheless a great addition to my delicious, chunk of Exmoor Venison. The creamy, peppery sauce tastefully complimented the dish, as did the beautifully soft minted potatoes.
Sophie’s burger itself was homemade and satisfying. It would be no exaggeration to say that this burger, lovingly made in the Kitchen at The Hunter’s Inn, was a simple monument to juicy, scrumptious beefiness. Utterly delicious in every way, I could even go as far to say that it was the beefiest Beef burger I have ever tasted. And I’ve eaten a lot of burgers in my life… The chunky chips, light and fluffy on the inside and brown and crispy on the outside, were of course the perfect match for the dish.
My final destination on this leg of my gastronomic journey was the colourful and creamy Trio of Lovington’s Ice Cream,
sourced from across the border in neighbouring Somerset. Sat on a brandy snap basket, it was a real sweet treat that is so evocative of all that is good and great about Westcountry produce.
Sophie elected for the Lemon Tart served with Strawberries and Clotted Cream. Looking rather good on the plate, the taste and experience of the dish matched the appearance completely! Having lived in Devon for most of my life, I’m somewhat a sucker for clotted cream and the accompanying Wild Berry Compote made with Blackcurrant Cassis was just heavenly.
Both desserts were a perfect end to a really fabulous night. Both David and Justin can be proud of the food, service and ambience found here at The Hunters Inn. Why not pop in sometime soon and find out for yourself?
It is not often that you can walk into a restaurant, and then walk out later totally satisfied in every way. Now I am fairly hard to please and it takes a lot to keep me really happy. However The Black Venus Inn at Challacombe managed, miraculously in my view, to tick all of my many and varied boxes.
Marc & Liz Birch are at the helm of this family run business, with daughter Louise & her mum running front of house. Darren their son is the culinary genius leading his small, but talented team in the kitchen behind the scenes. This classic English character pub is cosy, busy and warm and is situated in a gentle dip amongst the rolling hills, a mere stone’s throw from the Somerset border.
First thing you need to realise when entering the Black Venus is that there are no menus. Well there are, but they are just not on the table. In fact, the entire range of dishes on offer are to be found on various blackboards dotted about the premises. And it was to these that my eldest daughter & I went to choose our meals for the night.
I commenced my culinary journey with the Special Chefs Starter, ‘The Black Pudding Stack’, layered with leeks and bacon with a wholegrain mustard sauce. If that sounds rather delicious then you would be on the money. It was without doubt a delightful and mouth-watering treat.
The lovely salty taste of the bacon woven in amongst the juicy, tender leeks made a fabulous addition to the star of this dish. Attended by a flavoursome lake of wholegrain mustard sauce and lovingly decorated with red mustard frills, this starter was a real treat. Who would have thought that Black Pudding could have looked so beautiful?
My daughter Becky, on the other hand elected for the Seared Scallops, again served with black pudding and the delightful addition of a carrot puree. Her verdict on that dish was that the Scallops were ‘very light and soft and cooked to perfection.’
Part two for me came in the form of Chicken breast stuffed with brie, wrapped in bacon with a wholegrain mustard sauce (my choice, and worth repeating). In my opinion, the chicken was tender, and perfectly cooked. Again, the bacon wrap was a great accompaniment, cleverly complimenting the warm, soft brie core of this main offering.
The bed of buttery, slightly salted crushed new potatoes was seasoned with black pepper. This combination of basic but important flavours was really tasty and delicious and completely hit the mark. The neatly arranged broccoli also received the thumbs up from me, as it was neither under or over-cooked.
Across the table, Becky’s Duck Breast with a Port & Thyme Jus was akin to a work of art on a plate, describing it as ‘succulent and tender with a beautiful, crusty edge.’ Hmmm, sounds great to me! It was attended by perfectly cooked green beans, and the dish was a simple masterpiece in terms of taste and appearance.
The finale came in the form of a homemade chocolate torte. I was not in any way disappointed. The torte was a luxuriant, chocolate sensation – and very moreish. It was accompanied by locally sourced ice cream, sitting on a bed of broken wafers. A smattering of icing sugar and a rich chocolate sauce completed this superb dessert.
Becky’s Lemon cheesecake was a lovely, tangy foil for all the preceding richness of the evening, guaranteed to cleanse the palette in the best way possible. Created by Darren and his team, it made a refreshing change on the pub dessert landscape.
Marc, Liz, Darren & Louise really are running a tidy ship here and fully deserve recognition on the culinary scene. In my opinion, and I don’t think this is overstating the case, but the food served that night was near perfect. It was tasty, plentiful, hot, well presented, good value for money and came with great service. And the simple English pub, homey atmosphere of The Black Venus is just great.