Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Devon Cafe Review: Babbini's Tearooms, Abbotskerswell

I went deliberately to this out of the way spot with my 2 friends, S and K.  We got a table in the middle of the fairly empty room.  A few minutes later the place was filled with a hiking group.  All hungry and needing sustenenance.  We ordered hot drinks and snacks.

I had a pleasant, but not outstanding cheese scone.  It was served with some chunks of cheese and a tiny bit of salad, plus butter.  The tea was lovely.

My friends had bacon sandwiches which they enjoyed.  There was a little dog who presumably lives there, greeting everyone and touring the room.We had a very nice morning stop there, but there was nothing that would make me return.  I would pop in if I was passing, but it's not so quirky or great that I would head there as a destination.

On the way back towards Newton Abbot, we met some cows in the lane that were being moved.  I suddenly realised quite how rural we were as we stopped in the car and let them go past.  It was great to see them in such a surprising fashion.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Review: Edward Scissorhands, Theatre Royal, Plymouth

The Theatre Royal, Plymouth is showing a brand new dance version of Edward Scissorhands directed and choreographed by the acclaimed Matthew Bourne, performed by the New Adventures troupe It is a dance, stage version of the Tim Burton film.

I took my 14 and 13 year olds along.  We sat in the stalls and really enjoyed the whole performance.  The direction, dancing, costumes, special effects were all fabulous and I would really recommend it to anyone from age 8.

Edward Scissorhands himself was a great character and the dancing made sense.  There was no dialogue but so much was conveyed by the choreography that words were not needed.  The moments where Edward danced with Kim were moving and well paced.  I should also mention the music - it was the original Danny Elfman score and it was magnificent.  Not played live, but through speakers and it sounded great.
My children really liked the costumes especially the 'topiary' ones.

The dance pieces where many couples danced together were well put together and gave a stunning visual effect.  There was a lot going on at all times and there was a standing ovation at the end.  The audience and the performers seemed to enjoy it all.

I won't give anything away, but this performance might make sense for a Christmas / winter treat.  It is going to be at 12 further venues after Plymouth.  I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Devon Restaurant Review: Bistrot Pierre, Torquay

I went to the new-ish Bistrot Pierre in Torquay last week.  The place was heaving on a Tuesday night and a reservation was needed.  The views from all tables of the fairy lights and sea were impressive as the windows are large.  Upstairs was buzzy, busy and had a good atmosphere.  

The food is French and delicious.  For starters, my husband and I decided to have a sharing platter (the assiette).  There was ample food on the assiette, although we did have to ask for some extra bread – very nice slices of baguette with a French butter called Lescure.  The mini chorizos cooked in honey had been recommended to me – they were good – but watch out, they do stop you talking for a few minutes!  The hummus, olives, sun dried tomatoes and brie were all good.  The tapenade tasted a little different to usual – I am not sure If they had added pesto or mayonnaise, but it seemed different to what I anticipated.

My husband had a rib eye steak with mushrooms, salad and fries which he enjoyed.  I had the Lamb Cassoulet which was served with wonderful Dauphinoise Potatoes, red cabbage, carrots and broccoli.  The cassoulet and the potatoes were outstanding.  The potatoes were served in a mini skillet with a small oven glove: a ‘handle glove’ The lamb was very tender and tasty.
I chose the CafĂ© Gourmand for dessert as I wanted to see how this restaurant performed for their sweet offerings.  I tried the following four (the restaurant chooses for you) and overall my fave was the Lemon Tart: Lemon Tart, Chocolate Fondant, Raspberry sorbet with crumbs, Tarte Tatin.  The apple tart was my least favourite, but that was just me being fussy.
 Downstairs, the ceiling is higher and there were fewer people and it had a calmer, quieter atmosphere.
The only problems were that I was a little chilly, we were sat by a closed window  – my husband was fine.  Plus it was noisy upstairs – some people might prefer the downstairs tables.  The wine list was OK but a bit unexciting.

There were also plenty of outdoor seats – I can imagine that brunch, or a morning coffee on the outdoor terrace in the sun would be amazing.  There is outdoor seating on the ground floor and first floor (balcony) level.    The location choices for this small chain of restaurants is interesting.  I think this Torquay branch is going to be deservedly popular.  High quality dishes, great service, buzzy atmosphere, sea views and very close to the Princess Theatre will all help make this place thrive.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Devon Cafe Review: Venus Cafe, Blackpool Sands, Dartmouth

I was a guest at Venus Cafe at Blackpool Sands near Dartmouth.  The location is stunning.  The privately owned beach is immaculate and the rather grey sky revealed some sunshine and blue sky.   The beach has been in the same family for 400 years and is a wonderful place.
The beach is golden, the sea is blue and the red cliffs are covered in trees and vegetation.  It is a great place to walk, laze, do water sports (surfing, sea kayaking, swimming...)
or eat....

The inside of the cafe at Blackpool Sands cafe is relaxed and large and has great views of the beach through the huge windows and doors.  This place is licensed for weddings - that would be incredible.  What a wonderful venue to get married: plenty of parking, space inside and outside, great food, and that view!
The food was plentiful and great tasting.  There was a huge emphasis on locally-caught fish, shellfish plus some delicious Eversfield steak too.  The owner, Michael, really respects the environment and has more than a vested interest in the whole venture - his wife owns the beach.  The magnificent beach.  Dogs are allowed on the beach from 1 November until late March.

The John Dory was served 'en papillote' and was very tasty.  I loved the delicately seasoned crab crostini and the crab bisque for starters.  The sticky toffee pudding was also delicious.
Venus also has takeaways scattered around the South Devon coast: Bigbury-on-Sea, East Portlemouth, Tolcarne and Watergate Bay in Cornwall.  There is also a Venus cafe at Dartington.  They are a 'small, local' chain that I thoroughly recommend.               

Monday, 6 October 2014

Devon Cafe Review: Lloyd's Kitchen Exeter

I met N from Bilby Bites and Bilby Marketing at Lloyd's Kitchen in central Exeter and we had a really good lunch.  And a great blogger meeting really.  She is the person to do your local Exeter marketing and restaurant reviews for sure.

This is the eponymous Lloyd, bending over to chat to a customer.

 There was a real variety of customers.  It was very busy and had that great atmosphere where everyone is enjoying themselves.
 I had the Allotment Breakfast: Halloumi cheese, toast, spinach,saute potatoes and grilled (fresh) plum tomatoes - delicious - for £7.65.
  N had the Halloumi Salad which was gluten free.  There were several items on the menu described as 'GF'.

They do 'All Day Breakfasts' (which looked very popular), daily specials and interesting salads.

This place is buzzing and busy.  They did not want to take reservations - you just have to turn up and hope.  I'm guessing that it's a breakfast / lunch venue.  It is open for evening meals.  Good value and a good place to take a breather in Exeter.  It's located in that rank of shops behind Dingles, the department store, and next to the large open air cafe.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

My Experience at the Devon Life Semi-Finals Cookery Competition at Ashburton Cookery School

I was lucky enough to be selected to take part in the semi finals of the Devon Life Home Cook of the Year 2014 cookery competition last weekend at Ashburton Cookery School.  They had good facilities and excellent helpers.
I had an hour to make one course - I chose to make a dessert and made the Devon Apple Cake, one of my staples, served with Devon clotted cream and handpicked blackberries.

I didn't go through to the next round, but I was up against some stiff competition in the form of a Goats Cheese and Asparagus Tart, Smoked Mackerel with a Poached Egg, Spinach and Sourdough and a Roast Meat + Veggie Roast.
It was an enjoyable whirlwind.  Cooking in a new, unfamiliar kitchen is tricky to say the least, despite there being nothing wrong with the Ashburton Cookery School kitchen, it wasn't my own kitchen so I had no idea where simple things were like a spoon, or a whisk.  The oven was stronger than my one at home.  Also cooking under time pressure (we had an hour) made the time whizz by and made me work very hard.

The finalists get to cook in the Ashbury Kitchen in Exeter and the overall winner will be announced on October at the Devon Life Food Awards.  The winner will receive a Kitchen Aid and other John Lewis goodies.

One of the highlights for me was having a very helpful lad to hand who did all my washing up - luxury!

My dish can just be seen at the bottom right of this photo:

Friday, 4 July 2014

Ode True Food wins a Catey Award - I love Ode Cafe, Shaldon

I happened to be at Cafe Ode yesterday morning when Tim Bouget showed me the bronze Catey
2014 award that Ode True Food has won for Sustainability.

An amazing achievement...and a heavy piece of real bronze.

The coffee in the cafe was as good as ever, the sun was shining and the company was great!

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Birthday Hedgehog Cake - Handmade by My Daughter

I asked my son what kind of cake he wanted to mark him becoming a teenager....and yet again, it was a hedgehog cake.  Luckily my daughter stepped in to make it (aged 14) and the results were impressive:

My own for comparison is here.  There is also a great Jane Asher Cabbage cake on that page - still makes me laugh.

Basically you bake 2 chocolate cakes and then loads of chocolate butter cream and sandwich them together, and use stuff to decorate it and turn it into a 'hedgehog'.

My daughter used Mint Imperials with black edible ink for the eyes, a lot of Cadbury flakes and a Chupa Chups lollipop for the nose!  I think her cake is better than mine.  Oh dear.  

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

I am a Devon Life Home Cook Semi-Finalist!

I have just been told that I am a Devon Life Home Cook Semi-Finalist.  Uh-oh, I watch Masterchef and can see the pressure the cooks are under.  I hope I can remain calm and collected when I have to perform.

The link to the competition is here and I might win one of these

plus £500 John Lewis vouchers.

Now I'm excited.....

Devon Life is a great publication by the way.  Of course, I'm not biased!

Friday, 6 June 2014

Cafe Review: Deli Shack Cafe, Bickleigh,

We visited the Deli Shack mid-week for lunch.  We made a reservation - I think that's wise, although not essential midweek, but it's one of those weather dependent venues.  I also think it gets busy at weekends.  We received a warm welcome from the owner (thanks, Lisa!) and two workers.

There was plenty of parking and it was located down a country lane, a little bit outside of Bickleigh, and has a more independent feel than Bickleigh Mill.  Diners can sit inside (I noticed the wood burner in the corner) or outside for fantastic views.  My top tip is to walk through the cafe and sit outside on one of the 5 tables out the back with that view of the Exe Valley.  There is a gazebo covering some of the tables to prevent rain, wind or sun damage!  In a car, you need to follow the signs to Yearlstone Vineyard.  I think it's probably the sort of place that a Sat Nav might be confused by.

The choices were on a blackboard.  I like blackboards - it generally means the food is fresh and homemade.  I am guessing that some are semi-permanent and others are more like specials.  Each day there are some meat, vegetarian and vegan options - what a great idea and it all seemed appealing. I shared the Deli Shack platter.

This was huge and consisted of olives, cheeses, meat, breads, pickles, crackers and was great for a lunch dish.  There were some yummy choices - a mixture of Devon and Continental produce (I really liked the duck, and the Cheddar was good too) on the plate and it felt like the right amount of food (large though it was!).

My companions had the duck and Coppa salad and the smoked salmon creamy pasta.  They both looked good.  Three desserts came to the table - two types of pancakes (with strawberries and chocolate...with banana and caramel) plus a very good lemon tart served with clotted cream.  I noticed some visitors left when they noticed there were no sandwiches on the menu - that was part of the appeal for me.  I get fed up with the number of Devon cafes offering panini.

We did that annoying thing of sitting inside for a coffee, then moving outside for the view and sunshine, then moving back in for dessert and to avoid a sudden shower.  The waiting staff were very obliging and helped us move.

Yearlstone Vineyard is attached and I think there was a wine tasting for a bargain £3.  The cafe had bottles of their wine for sale.  On another occasion we would have happily quaffed the wine and visited the vines, but there was chatting over good food to be done.

Dogs were welcome at the outside tables - and the parking is very close to the cafe.  We had a dog and baby with us who were greeted and treated well.  There are plenty of high chairs and the place seems very child-friendly.  I would say that this is a good recommendation for some home cooked food in a relaxed and beautiful environment.  The prices are good too.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Devon County Show May 2014, Exeter

I threw caution to the wind and headed to Westpoint to visit the first day (of 3, it's on until Sun 24 May) of the Devon County Show.  The weather worried me a little.  The forecast had been for heavy showers.

The Show was enjoyable.  The weather was typically English.  Heavy downpours (luckily, there is plenty of cover: marquees, trade tents etc) followed by glorious sunshine.  I should imagine there were almost pitched battles between the welly and ice cream sellers.

The atmosphere was good.  There were plenty of TV cameras and farmers in tweeds.  There were some children (not ours), many animals, some amusing shows, and wonderful food and some crafts on display too.

Plenty to do for families: it looks like there are some serious rides at the fairground, some crafts and competitions, plus many many animals to look at.  The size of some of the animals is awesome, and

 I particularly enjoyed the competition in the Young Farmers' section.  The decorated cubicles and buckets amused and inspired me.  The TV presenter trying his hand at being a shepherd to use a sheepdog to round up some ducks was also entertaining.

The food marquee seemed more appealing than the Exeter Food Festival (which I wrote a previous post about).  I think there was more space, plus the grass underfoot made it more authentic somehow.  The producers were not just (although largely) Devon based.  There were some from Cornwall, Somerset and Gloucestershire.  Perhaps this extension to the South West was attractive to me.  I sampled and bought some of this Cornish olive and pork salami.  It's delicious.

UPDATE: the show was closed on the Saturday due to flash flooding making the parking fields very muddy.  First time in many years.  I feel a lot of sympathy for the exhibitors, organisers and the frustrated visitors.

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