4 fab places to dine in Devon
- Credit: The River Shack
Editor ANDY COOPER reveals his latest pick of great food and drink spots in Devon
The big thing I love about this job, even to this day, is driving down a Devon lane I have never traversed before and coming across something completely unexpected and special. It never ceases to amaze me how I can still happen upon fresh delights, even after all these years.
And if Being Unexpected and Special were to be newly anointed as an Olympic sport, then the River Shack in Stoke Gabriel would be a very strong contender to represent Team GB. Of course, to many who have already found their way down the winding lane to the riverside spot where the shack sits, the ‘unexpected’ element of my statement is simply not the case. They already know they are onto a good thing. But the specialness is also clearly what draws them back time after time. And it’s already on my list for a return ASAP.
Owners Faye and Will Franklin find themselves at the River Shack via a circuitous route in which they have picked up heaps of hospitality and life experience both here and abroad. Now in their fourth season (after two rather hectic covid years), they run this restaurant-cum-cafe in a manner which offers something for everyone.
On one side they have ‘The Little Shack’ selling crabbing equipment, ice creams and toasties to keep the little ones happy, and on the other, overlooking the serene Mill Pond, is the restaurant. Paddle boarders glide up to the door for lunch with the tide from Dartmouth, and boats moor up from further afield on the deep-water pontoon and spend the whole day sipping wine in the sunshine.
In the peak of the summer, it is a hub of activity, everyone on a different mission and it is a wonderfully fun place to be. In the winter there is a calmer feel to the place and you will find families huddled over their hot chocolates warming themselves by our log burner in the waterside marquee.
On the sunny spring day we visited it wasn’t quite warm enough just to sit outdoors and eat but, no matter, Will ushered us to a lovely space in the marquee, with a woodburner lit adjacent to our superbly-sited table looking straight back down the creek. A bottle of Sharpham Dart Valley Reserve duly ordered, we tried to avert our gaze from the amazing views to at least give the menu half a chance.
It was very much deserving of that chance because it featured such delights as grilled Cornish sardines with salsa verde, lemon or toasted sourdough or baked eggs with tarragon cream, shallots, spinach and parmesan. Service is friendly and efficient and with a healthy mix of families and couples, you get the impression this spot would be popular whatever the size or make-up of your party.
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Stay for dinner - and if they’d let you then you would probably laze in your seat after lunch and wait – and you can expect delights such as seafood bisque, spiced root fritters and tabbouleh or pan-fried Brixham cuttlefish. Provenance and sourcing are clearly important here, as demonstrated in a menu which reflects the waterside surroundings.
Add in the fact that the River Shack does a pick ’n’ mix menu which offers something for everyone and from April-September sells wood-fired pizzas from its outdoor kitchen, plus there is a selection of locally-made cakes on offer every day and you truly have a spot which covers all bases...and then some.
As we walked back to the car via a lovely diversion along the pathway to the side of the creek and an amble through the pretty village, we were already plotting a return – this time with the paddleboards in tow to work up an appetite!
Eating like Kings...
Is the North Devon village of Georgeham on Exmoor? Is March 20 in February? The answer is definitely no to the latter and probably likewise on the former too, but frankly who cares if they were to my benefit when I visited the Kings Arms?
This popular, buzzy North Devon pub had just participated in the Exmoor Food Festival when we visited and although the month-long February event had long since passed, the celebration menu was still on offer. And so we did the decent thing and ordered from it. It meant our choice was broadened further when, actually, the standard menu is pretty spectacular.
There’s nothing standard about dishes such as cumin tomato and coriander-infused lamb skewers or smoked Applewood, shitake mushroom and leek rarebit, or, for that matter, Brixham crab and crevette orzo pasta with a crab bisque cream, harissa and parmesan crumb, Braunton asparagus, roasted cherry tomatoes and garden salad.
No wonder the place was packed out with a healthy mix of locals and visitors alike. A great pub run by proper publicans whose renaissance in recent years makes me wish it had been as good when I lived in Georgeham some 25 years ago.
Bigger means better...
I have marvelled at Margoux in Exeter many a time, to the point where I was probably boring people about how good it was. However, I now have a fresh reason to extoll its virtues as it has moved into new premises across the city and, having recently visited for dinner, I can confidently state they can add ‘bigger and better’ to their marketing material.
Now housed in the unit in Princesshay which was once home to the ill-fated Jamie’s Italian, Margoux has used the extra space to maximum advantage by adding a spectacular cocktail lounge on the first floor, together with a delightful outdoor terrace with fantastic views over the city.
Downstairs the magical Margoux menu of old is still in full effect, bringing a fantastic mix of fish and meats with an elegant twist. And the legendary Sunday lunches are still on offer too. The change of venue means breakfast is now served as well and we took the opportunity to return ASAP for brunch which is a fabulous addition to an already amazing venue. Worth it for the Mimosa of Veuve Clicquot, orange and blood orange alone!
All back to our plaice...
Drive around the south of Devon and you will never be far from a Rockfish. Which is officially A Good Thing. Mitch Tonks’ chain of fish restaurants is such a fantastic ambassador for the benefits of cooking all types of fresh fish in just the right way and then serving it simply to customers that we are truly blessed to have it on our doorsteps.
But if you don’t have one local to you, or fancy treating yourself chez nous then why not try the new home delivery service which is an easy way to enjoy all the joy of the restaurant recipes coupled with the latest catch from our oceans?
The available fish is updated daily and if you are a little afraid of how to cook fish or what to serve it with, then Mitch and the team provide easy instructions and suggestions for accompaniments from the superb Rockfish range.
Can there be anything better than when it comes to fish than logging on to discover the latest catch and having it delivered to your home ready to go the very next day, all the whole knowing it has been caught in the most sustainable fashion?