First up, on the evening of my actual birthday, was the local Port Royal Inn, on the Exe. I had the mussels, in a creamy white wine, Pernod and tarragon sauce. Really beautiful dish, not overfussy but a very generous portion. A well balanced sauce as well as with a cream based one you have to be careful it's not too cloying and heavy. My companion went for the scallops which he proclaimed to be very tasty and enjoyable; with the chorizo adding that extra 'juzsh'. The pub's friendly and welcoming and serves the local Otter Ale as well as the ever popular Yellowhammer from O'Hanlon's. Staff are friendly too and an interesting mix from all over the place judging by the accents. :-)
Second find was more of an accident, though I suppose if we'd actually thought about it we'd have realised that trying to find somewhere serving food at 4pm on a Sunday afternoon in an English seaside town is setting yourself somewhat of a challenge! Having traipsed around Teignmouth [a very nice place for a traipse incidentally] we spied somewhere seeming to offer pizzas. But no - hopes were dashed as the barlady informed us food had finished and commenced again at 6pm. A swift look at the clock however newly informed us that 6 was a mere 10 minutes away (ok - we did have a beer or 2 in between searching for food all afternoon) so after a swift perusal of the evening menu we repaired to a nearby pub for a game of pool before returning ravenous to the aptly named former cinema - Take 2. Well - what a gem! We had an absolutely top evening; fantastic food, great staff and an impressive venue. The chef is Masterchef Barney Mason and he certainly delivers top eatings. We had the marinated olives, flatbread and tapenade to share to pick at as we chose our mains then both went for pasta; myself ordering the linguine with crab and my dining compadre in esurience going for the clam option. They were divine, each very different in style and flavours but packed with both. The crab was creamy with the flavours gently caressing your tastebuds as they took it in turns to come forth to prominence. Very generous with the crabmeat this was a dish to truly savour. It's a rich one so make sure you're hungry or do as we did and share 2 contrasting options.
The clam linguine was a very different creature with the chilli and garlic feisty and upfront in your mouth but still well balanced and not swamping the clams themselves. Now although it sounds odd these 2 very different dishes actually complimented each other rather well we thought; with the chilli cutting through the creaminess of the crab dish every so often as we alternated. [Actually I found a little of the crab linguine stirred in the chilli sauce worked great too but don't tell the chef! ;-) ] Although fairly stuffed by this point I was easily led by my companion into the idea of sharing a cheesboard for afters - come on - it's cheese right?! This came with 4 generous hunks of lovely cheese (cheddar, camembert, stilton and another blue I annoyingly forgot the name of but which was gorgeous), handmade herby crackers, grapes and quince jelly. We ordered port and as they had sold out they rather brilliantly gave us dessert wine for free - what stars! This was the personable portugese front of house chap who made sure we were ok but didn't intrude or make us feel rushed at any point. There was nothing stuffy about the place. All in all I think I have a new fave place - can't recommend it enough - go visit!
The last in the trio of foodery trips was to *HFC's River Cottage Canteen in Axminster. I've wanted to visit and see what it's like for a while so this seemed the ideal excuse to meet up with my ma and sis. Bigger than it looks from the outside the canteen goes back behind the shop frontage quite a way. (There's also a deli in the front section with a good variety of cheese and some cured meats.) The menu is written up on a couple of huge blackboards lowered on some sort of pulley arrangement to be updated each day. Much to my delight there was a Pike and Parsly Soup available as a starter - having watched HFC espouse it's virtues for months I've been itching to try pike. Brilliant green in colour on delivery to the table (thanks to the parsley) this was a smooth soup with added chunks of pike in it. I was much pleased by this as it meant I could try the fish properly; on it's own, as it were. Well - pike is definitely a very flavourful fish but I liked it greatly. It had no 'muddy' tones to it that I could discern and which I think are many people's main concern. A strong tasting fish but a nice one I'd say. Sis agreed with me and even started with the 'I must get some' when I pointed out that I think you're not going to get it in the fishmongers but rather have to catch your own. Ma however wasn't a fan and she does love fish so I guess it's not to everyone's taste but it's always worth trying new things. [I get ever so agitated by people that will calmly stand there going 'eurgh' at some food or drink but then reveal they've never once tried it themselves. How on earth do they think I am going to give any credence whatsoever to their totally uninformed viewpoint?! Imbeciles! Ha - mini rant there!] Next up I had the Smollack Rarebit with chips and cabbage on the side for all to share and the rels both had venison & pork burger. They reported theirs as delish and they looked the part; fat, obviously home-made and bursting from their buns. (The burgers not the rels!) The Smollack Rarebit (=smoked pollack) was v. good. Generous in both size and flavours it was the inspiration for me finally trying rarebit at home as mentioned in my last post. The chips were chunky handcut wedges and the buttered cabbage could have been a meal on it's on such was the size of the portion! All in all we had a thoroughly lovely meal in the informal canteen setting and for a resonable cost too. I had clocked that the menu on the River Cottage site had no prices on which always makes me a little suspicious but it was reasonable at about 5ish quid for the soup and 6-7 for the mains we had. The wine list was however rather steeper but we stuck with the Badger and Otter beers on offer. Good friendly service rounded off the day. You can even browse [and buy] HFC's books on the way out. :-)
A rather longer post than I intended, this one. I'm afraid I failed on the pic front as well being far too busy scoffing than to think to photograph the culinary delights placed before me. Hope you've enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed the eating for it; as I mentioned at the start it was a true hardship...
*HFC = Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall