This New Year saw the Dinner at the Manor crew and friends descend upon north Devon for a relaxing retreat and some foodie treats!
The second supperclub event we held back in Nov 2011 was themed around the Original River Cottage Cookbook to mark its 10 year anniversary. We love Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s ethos of eating seasonal, ethical, local produce and we love his hearty, robust flavours.
Aside from its HQ, which runs an array of cookery courses, River Cottage also has two canteens in the South West – Plymouth and Axminster. We were slap bang in between the two locations, about 50 miles from each, but closer than the usual 270 miles! We chose to go to the Axminster branch in the end.
Head Chef Tim Maddams (the one who used to have sideburns and smiles a lot on the TV shows) runs this canteen and we were wondering whether we would get a glimpse of him in the kitchen, which we did indeed!
Now I will warn you now that we had every intention of taking some wonderful photos but as usual our greed got the better of us, so all you lovely readers will see are slightly blurry photos of half eaten food!
The Canteen itself is divided into deli shop, which you enter first. It’s full of fantastic local produce, much of which is showcased on the menu. Through the deli you walk past the kitchen pass and then on into the restaurant – a converted barn room with rustic charm.
After perusing the menu blackboard, which changes daily depending on available produce. In fact, a couple of dishes in the menu were promptly scrubbed off and replaced whilst we were there. Whilst we debated over what to have, a wooden board of artisan bread topped with sunflower seeds was brought the the table. I’m pretty sure it was a sourdough, with a nice, soft chewy texture to it.
For starters, Dan and I chose the mussels in bacon and cider, Richard the beetroot soup with spiced cumin and Nick went for butternut squash, mushroom and blue cheese salad. Drinks wise, the majority of the table went for local ciders, mine and Dan’s poison of choice being Sheppy’s Kingston Black and Nick went for Black Fox.
The mussels were soft silky and divine! Literally barely cooked and tasted so fresh too. The salty, acidic creamy sauce was mopped up with more bread. The rest of the team seemed more than satisfied with their choices too.
As for the main event, we chose pheasant with lentils, 12 hour braised beef with mash and crab and spelt risotto.
The pheasant was tender and gamey and the lentils added an earthiness to the whole dish. Warming and filling, it was totally what I needed on a cold winter’s day. The risotto still had a nice bite to it and the spelt gave an overall nuttiness which didn’t overtake the crab. Extra richness was added by a seafood oil which must have been made with the crab shells. The beef was meltingly tender and the sauce rich. Definite comfort food at its best!
The final flourish was desert and we chose chocolate brownie with salted caramel, lemon posset with shortbread and ice cream sundae. I have be honest when I say that I thought they were the weakest of the 3 courses. Whilst they were super tasty and made well made, I thought that consideration is given to seasonality for the starters and mains, this is lacking in the puddings. However, we did visit immediately after the Christmas bank holiday break so this may not always be the case.
Service wise, the staff were friendly and knowledgeable – we did feel that once the canteen got busier the staff did seem overstretched. We had to ask the waitress for the drinks menu a couple of times which she never brought – so we had to ask another member of staff. Our waitress then came over to apologise about this but then never came back to take the further drinks order, so we didn’t bother in the end!
A nice touch was that with the bill a feedback card was given to the table – we were very honest and all the points I have written about were listed on the card.
Overall this was a very enjoyable evening, good food and a nice atmosphere. The total bill came to about £32 per head, for 3 courses, one drink and a tip for the staff – a bargain if you will. If we’re ever back in the Devon area, we’ll take the time to go again.