Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Cranks, Dartington: Tasty New Winter Menu

I went to Dartington shops last week (near Totnes in South Devon) and whilst there went to Cranks.  It is a vegetarian restaurant (I am fully carnivorous) but I like the fact that this cafe is dependable, reasonably-priced, homely and comfortable. Oh and it's warm.  I like a place that I don't have to keep my coat on!

They have got a new winter menu, which is very appealing and we sampled two items from that.  There was a very tempting parsnip, apple and cashew nut burger but I went for the lasagne.

My companion had the Seasonal (Leek and Cheese) Tart (with salad) (£8.35) and I had the Vegetable Lasagne (£8.35) with loads of different homemade salads.  I particularly liked the fact that none of these contained mayonnaise.  Mayonnaise is a pet hate of mine.  My companion said that the tart was very tasty - it certainly looked good.  The lasagne was really good too - the accompanying salad was fresh and there was lots of it. I liked the fact there was a mixture of salad, beans, grains and a fresh coleslaw.  A large salad on its own is £6.10.

There is a self-service bar which you slide your tray along, where you can see the food - I realise that the food is made earlier in the day, and is not cooked to order, but sometimes it is nice to be able to see something that you fancy and order it.  Yes, it is rude to point, but sometimes it gets you something really tasty!  Similarly with the accompanying salads - there were several of them in big dishes and it was possible to ask the serving staff for a 'mixture of all of them' as I did, or you could pick and choose as you preferred.

Overall, the service was very good, the food was excellent and we enjoyed our lunch very much.  My only quibbles would be that the pasta in the lasagne was very soft - my personal preference is for it to be a bit firmer, but that's just me.  It is a great place to take a well-earned break from the shopping, but it is a good enough place that you could go
there as a destination in its own right.  I have been there many times for lunch and never been disappointed.  I've also had their cream tea which was scrummy!  I must also point out their website with some really good recipes - I once made their homity pie using Devon blue cheese, broccoli and chives and it was very good.

Friday, 13 November 2015

The Old Java Coffee House, Teignmouth

We had a very good meal at the newly revamped New Quay Inn on the Back Beach, Teignmouth.  I barely recognised the place- and the food was good.  Then we were on the prowl for tea and cake....and I suddenly thought of the Old Java Coffee House.  It is a cafe that is well-known in Teignmouth.

It was just right.  One table remaining.  We were just in the market for tea and cake (instead of pudding!).  The place was full of people - it was just after lunch.  The serving staff were pleasant and the food and drink were yummy.

I had the citrus gluten-free cake that was moist and delicious.  My mother had toasted crumpets with butter and jam - they took a little longer to appear.  The only thing I would say is that my mother commented that it was served with little sealed portions of jam - it was a shame they didn't offer homemade jam - there is so much of it produced around here.  My father had the apple and cinnamon flapjack that was large and a bit soggy, but good nevertheless.

Overall we were satisfied by the price, location, food and drink, service and atmosphere.  A good place to pop into when you are in Teignmouth.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Taste of the Teign Festival - Dr Paul Cleave at the Oystercatchers Cafe

This was the second event for the inaugural Taste of the Teign festival.  The earlier Crab Cracking Workshop at The Crab Shack, Teignmouth was a big success.

Dr Paul Cleave from Exeter University honoured us with his presence in the Oystercatchers Cafe, Teignmouth.

We learnt much about the historic importance of food and tourism in South Devon.  The area  has a long history of food production.  The diet varied in different parts of Devon, but overall simple dishes used to be served: some regions were known for barley, others for fish.  Seafood such as lobsters was often viewed as 'poisonous'!

Dr Cleave talked of the Shaldon women fishing for salmon in the very beautiful river - the men were more likely piloting ships or labouring in the fisheries.  Apparently the hopes and disappointments of these women would have provided an excellent subject for a sketch!  Shaldon was described in the 1936 book, Come to Devon, as a 'delectable spot' and ideal for staying for a few weeks at The Roundhouse Hotel.  The Teign Estuary was described as being 'unmatched in beauty'.

Doctors used to promote visits to the seaside for their bathing, sunshine, food and clean air.  Teignmouth in the late 18th century was described as a great place for hospitality, food, bathing, and walks with an interesting landscape and had a 'sufficient' theatre.

Of course the 1860s brought the railway to Teignmouth, with lots more tourism.  This area of the Teign Estuary provided scientific appeal (geology) and wildlife (dolphins were frequently seen at Teignmouth and once a whale).  The sealife has always been very good and there were many edible fish. The apple orchards were good for eating apples, the production of cider and to create an attractive landscape.  

In the 1950s there were 28 varieties of cheese in Devon.  I'm not sure there are that many any longer.  Celia Fiennes, a late 17th century / early 18th century traveller was very complimentary about 'clotted cream served with an open apple tart with custard'.  NB Custard AND clotted cream.  Until 1952, clotted cream was illegal and now it's one of our local delights.

Overall the talk was really interesting, (there were quotations from several old books that Dr Cleave had kindly brought along) particularly the parts about the fishing and the clotted cream!  Lastly Dr Cleave opened his hamper and let us taste some barley bread (rather like wholemeal scones) with clotted cream and homemade jam.

There are many more Taste of the Teign events this week (from now until Sunday 27 Sept 2015).  I am going to several more (the quiz this evening at the Oystercatchers, the lunchtime talk at the Cockhaven Manor, the tour of Shute Fruit, the preparation of fish at Alice Cross Centre and a browse of the markets at the weekend).  For more information on the events, consult the Facebook page. The events are informative for people interested in local food and delicious when there are samples!

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Circa 1924, Exeter: Restaurant Review

Circa 1924 is in Exeter and is directly behind Boots near John Lewis.

We went there on a Thursday evening and it was fabulous!  We parked right outside and had a non-alcoholic cocktail and a beer (Bath Gem) in the very comfortable bar.  The barman obviously knows his stuff.  My non-alcoholic cocktail was delicious and mango-flavoured - I think I necked it within a few minutes rather than sipped it daintily! The waiting staff were all very welcoming, friendly and cheerful.

We browsed the menu whilst drinking our aperitifs in the comfy bar area.

We were taken upstairs to eat the food.  Downstairs the bar area seemed 'new shabby' (if you know what I mean) whereas the upstairs was more inviting: dark and gleaming.  I did wonder why there was a single standard lamp at the far end of the room.

For starters, I had the crab bisque and my husband had the scallop ceviche.  Both were very good but my bisque was tasty, creamy and very good.  The ceviche was fresh tasting and tangy but my bisque was better!(You can see it in the distance in the photo below.)

There were a few other tables seated and enjoying their meals.  We found it the right level of busy-ness.  Not so quiet that you felt like a fool eating there; not so busy that the next table can eavesdrop on your conversation.

Moving on to the main courses, I had the Duck with Pak Choi and Macaroni Cheese (as it was such an unusual combination and I had never even heard of it) and my husband had the Rib-eye
Steak with Bearnaise sauce and triple cooked chips.  He thought the steak was cooked to perfection I was disappointed that the duck didn't have crispy skin - the skin was on the breast and was soggy.  I felt that the sauce was very sweet.  The macaroni cheese (served alongside in a separate dish) was amazing and I loved that.  You can get it as a side order too.

We did have desserts - my 'Lemon tart' was OK but I felt I could have made it myself.  My husband's Chilli Chocolate Torte with homemade Ice Cream - which he felt was very nice - the chilli wasn't overpowering and the tangy citrus sauce stopped it from being cloying. This photo shows the chocolate dessert.

I think this place would be good for a 'date', great for couples and a really good place for groups.   If you chose well (e.g. the crab bisque, the steak, the macaroni cheese) you were rewarded with fabulous food.  My husband also thought that the waitress who served our food was really good

Friday, 21 August 2015

Chagford Show 2015 - A Family Visit

I got to the Chagford Show at about 1215 on Thurs 20 August.  It is set in a beautiful spot, just outside of  Chagford.

I met up with my mum and we went to watch my brother-in-law and his dog (a Hungarian Vizsla) compete in the dog race.  The dog was too well-trained and sped off for 3 metres and then returned to his owner!  There were so many eager dogs, and so many who didn't know what on earth was happening.

I was at the show with my mother and my sister, her husband and her twins, aged 8 and their dog.

I had my lunch from the Caribbean stand, Fancy That.  I had the 'Sweet Beef with rice and peas and coleslaw' for £6.  It was yummy.  The only problem was the lack of seating.  There were about 10 chairs at the neighbouring food outlet (all occupied) so we sat on the ground which my mum and I found tricky.  I noticed there were several people sitting on or leaning against the wall of the field.
 After lunch we saw horses show jumping and harness racing.  We saw giant rabbits, many chicks, flouncy feathered chickens, a coral snake and a tarantula (thanks Dartmoor Reptiles for the last two ).  We also visited the craft marquee and saw many of the stalls.

We all left the show at about 3pm.   Mainly because we all needed to sit down!   Afterwards we had a cream tea at The Birdcage, Chagford.  This cream tea was enormous and very good.  The Birdcage had a stall at the show but our family was put off of it as they were advertising venison sausages - they aren't loved by us.

Overall the show seemed well-organised, with good hi-viz coated marshalls, lots of parking  and there was plenty to do and see.  It had a lovely local feel - many of producers, craftspeople and stalls were local people.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Luscombe Drinks: Organic, Local, Delicious

I have already waxed lyrical about Luscombe Passionate Ginger Beer - their newest offering and absolutely lovely.  A great combination of flavours - and I don't necessarily like things to be 'mucked around'. The passionfruit flavour works really well with the ginger and light fizz.

It was good to revisit these:  Strawberry Crush, Damascene Rose Bubbly (I think I tried this at Exeter Food Festival), Raspberry Crush, Wild Elderflower Bubbly.  They were all good - my children, aged 14 and 15 polished them off as an after-school treat - they loved them.  They had the Strawberry Crush and Raspberry Crush.  They are not a huge fan of fizzy drinks normally - they prefer milk or water - but they really enjoyed these.  I think lots of parents would rather their offspring had these rather than the ubiquitous caffeinated, full-of-sugar alternatives.  Three of the four were organic and they are made in Buckfastleigh I believe - the site of a lovely lunch I had recently!

These are perfect for summer days - I stored them in the fridge and served them with ice.  It is very nice to sit down and sip a Luscombe drink in the garden whilst waiting for dinner to be ready (sorry, that was a dream...).

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Buckfast Abbey: The Grange Cafe Review

It's not every day that I have lunch at a Benedictine monastery (Buckfast Abbey)

We had a wander around the gardens and the abbey.  The lavender, herbs and the roses stick in my mind as being beautiful.  There were plenty of nuns and monks around all in different attire - I think they were attending a conference on site.

The Grange is a great place to eat - it is attractive to behold from the outside - the food is all prepared locally (even the sandwiches).  There is no admission charge - there are tables inside and outside (under cover, with transparent wind shields, or exposed to the elements).  The tables outside have a great view of the gardens and abbey.  It seats about 300 people.

I had the lamb hot pot with vegetables and my husband had the meat lasagne.  They were both tasty (the lamb hot pot tasted of mint and had a really good amount of meat and vegetables in it, topped with many slices of crisped potatoes and then there was the mixed veg, cabbage, cauliflower cheese and extra gravy as accompaniments).  The cafe is self-service and it's the sort of place you can ask for a large portion if that's what you want!

We followed this with an Eccles cake (fruit soaked in the famous Buckie alcohol) and an enormous slice of treacle tart, bathed in golden syrup and served with a large dollop of clotted cream.  We both had a glass of Luscombe drinks.  I had the new Passionate Ginger Beer which I can heartily recommend.  The food is traditional, really well prepared and delicious - good value too.

The restaurant manager, Bernard, chatted to us whilst we finished our desserts and enjoyed the view in the sunshine.  He explained that they never know how many people are going to dine there each day but they pride themselves on preparing all their own food and they get by even when 60 people arrive unannounced.  He mentioned that they are also open for breakfast.  The salad bar was out of action today but there were salad boxes available for those who wanted them.  There is usually a hot counter and a cold one.

I enjoyed the whole experience, despite not being religious.  Buckfast Abbey and the Grange are beautiful places.  The Abbey has an air of tranquility, serving great grub with lovely views.

This is how I felt afterwards!  A sculpture just down from the cafe...The portions were big!

Friday, 22 May 2015

A Visit to Devon County Show 21 May 2015, Exeter

I went along to the show with my mother-in-law.  We headed straight to the food tent where we sampled many wonderful things including many prize-winning cheeses, chutney and the recently launched, delicious and versatile Shute Fruit raspberry vinegar.

Devon County Show at Westpoint near Exeter, is on 21-23 May 2015 (Thurs to Sat, not Sunday as many people think) and it is a great day out: there is a huge food tent, many stalls promoting things as diverse as tractors, care homes, local newspapers and windows!  There are also many things for children to get involved with - one good thing was the BBC tent where there was live music, some local newsreaders, lots of seating and friendship bracelets for the children to make for charity.

There were many tempting food vans selling their wares too.  We had a Farmer Tom's ice cream (honeycomb flavour) and a refreshing Bloom Berry juice.  Was the placing of the Hog Roast van at the end of the pig sheds an accident or not?!  Perhaps you needed to be a farmer to get that joke.

We saw many weird and wonderful animals: so many different breeds of chickens, ducks, goats, sheep, ponies, cattle and more...The sun was shining and it was really good to be outdoors.

This duck was very big!

We also enjoyed mooching around the traders' stalls and watching the animals being judged.  We didn't necessarily understand the criteria, but it was good to watch regardless.

 I think that it seemed a bit smaller (possibly after last year when torrential rain meant that the final day,Saturday, was cancelled and cars had to be taken out of the car parks by tractor on the Friday) but the show was still enormous, well-attended, really interesting and more than enough for me to see in one day (10am - 2pm).  The show was definitely quieter in the morning and got gradually busier as the afternoon progressed.

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Home Exchange? My Experience + A Competition to win one year's membership!

I am holding a competition to win membership of a home exchange company ( for a year, worth £100, - I have experience of home exchanges and recommend them as a great way to have more holidays and travel further.   There are more than 65,000 members of this site alone and plenty of interesting places to visit.  To enter the competition, please add a comment at the bottom of this post and I will draw out a lucky winner on 31 May.  There is no pressure to do an exchange once you join - but my guess is that you will find something appealing.

Why do a home exchange?  Well, price is one thing.  You swap your home for someone else's for your holiday or trip abroad.  You pay nothing for the accommodation.  Some people even exchange vehicles (I have not done this), so you can save on car hire too.  Also there's that thing of having a nice home and then paying to go somewhere on holiday that's not as nice as your place.  That has happened to everyone.  Something is missing...the Wifi, the dishwasher, the lawn...something.

You may also get local recommendations - so you don't waste time on 'rubbish' days out or eateries.   I left a list of places to visit and places to eat.  They were well received and appreciated.  When you go somewhere new, you may well want a local's recommendation of somewhere really good, rather than the tourist hotspot.  Also, we have a vegetable plot in our back garden and we were more than happy for the visitor to partake of our produce - and as it happened we did the same!

There are also all the advantages of staying in another part of the world - either nationally or internationally.  I have heard of retired people who hop from one home exchange to another.  Others have done long term exchanges of a month or more so they can really experience the new location.  I have just done it for holidays.  We live in South Devon and I suppose people want to come here on holiday, but similarly, we want to go to a city, or somewhere new that we haven't visited.  I crave novelty.

The disadvantages.  I suppose human beings are hugely diverse but they are highly unlikely to treat your house with disrespect as you are staying in their home at the same time.  You can draw up a 'contract' before the exchange to express what you find unacceptable behaviour in your home.  Most exchange sites have a check box for smokers / non-smokers and dog owners.  I do not wish to swap my home with smokers and I do not wish to have dogs to stay (I am allergic to them).  My home has always been looked after.  I think we broke one glass in a place we stayed and found an identical replacement before we left.  My house has been left undisturbed, clean, tidy and, more importantly, occupied whilst I am away.

I have found finding a holiday rental difficult to say the least.  I do not want to be situated next to a nightclub or somewhere ugly that is just out of shot of the camera!  Also, when we were about to book a holiday online, we realised that we were about to spend the amount that we would spend on a new car on something that was a 'promise' and unknown.  There is also the possibility of not having home comforts: toys, cushions, a large sofa.  This doesn't usually happen on an exchange.  As for families - it's great (as long as your children don't trash places) as there are often toys, musical instruments, DVDs and gardens that they will enjoy.

I have stayed for two weeks in Tuscany, Italy.  Their house was gorgeous.  Views, a pool, lovely local places to eat and drink, nearby picturesque villages, lots of sunshine, good shopping....they seemed to enjoy themselves in our house too.  They were English and used the time over here to catch up with some of their friends and family.

We did a week's exchange to Yorkshire.  That was very much a 'family' home exchange and it worked really well.  My kids were delighted to find a hammock in one of the bedrooms, a different lot of DVDs, plus some amusing chickens.  We enjoyed the really nice master bedroom, the well-equipped kitchen, the easy parking, the views, different cafes, parks and the local people.
As for the future?  We have had lots of interest in our home from people in central Germany.  That doesn't particularly appeal for a family holiday, so I have politely replied 'no thanks' to them.

Sometimes I find a 'perfect' place and they owners don't wish to swap with me.  There is something on the cards for October half term - a nice-sounding 3 bedroomed house near central Amsterdam - nothing has yet been confirmed, but they have contacted me and I am interested.  I am hoping it will happen.

I think exchanging homes is ideal for foodies - I certainly really enjoyed the local produce in Italy and got an insight into Yorkshire grub too when I went there.  You can always leave a 'local food' gift for the people.  I think that my visitors enjoyed my spice cupboard, vegetable patch and the recommendations I left for local eateries.   I did not leave a 'food gift' but I would in the future.

Here is the secret recipe for a successful home exchange according to
To learn more, visit  the home exchange website

To enter the competition for one year's subscription to the website, please leave me a comment below.  No-one has yet entered the competition (18/05/15) so it will be easy to win!

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Exeter Food Festival 2015: A Flavour

 General view of Exeter Food Festival 2015.  It seemed to be busy - and I visited on the Friday and it was also held on the Saturday and Sunday.

 Luscombe Drinks.   This was a chance for me to try the new flavours - I have always enjoyed the Lucombe Hot Ginger Beer - I had never tried the Passion Ginger Beer which was lovely.  I liked the balance of fruit to ginger.

There were many impressive displays of local produce.
 Quickes Cheese have a great reputation locally - but the huge cheeses they had brought along were pretty impressive.

 Gaucho BBQ - huge chunks of meat on the grill here.  I think they were cooking dinosaurs!  There were several men queuing up for their lunch.  I did not partake, but I did stop and stare...

 Pasty demonstration in the demo Ashgrove kitchen with Chunk of Devon and Glenn Cosby.  My friend and I wanted tips on filling and crimping pasties.  This was demonstrated in a kitchen and there was an overhead screen for the audience to see the details.

The eggs I always use: Black Dog Eggs.  Free range from Crediton.  Apparently they sell loads via my local store - that's because they are so good.

A great day out!  I enjoyed it thoroughly and got a few cooking tips along the way. Thanks to L for accompanying me and being so nice.  I also had my nails painted whilst I was there - bright purple to match my coat.  There were many food samples and it was a good chance to try out something new, make purchases and chat to the producers.

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