I know for some people the New Year means giving stuff up and going on a detox and in theory that sounds like such a good idea. It’s just that there always seems to be somewhere new to go and eat! And in January I was lucky enough to visit 3 amazing restaurants – and February’s not shaping up too badly either.
The first was a new one on me – The Fig Tree @36 in Plymouth. Despite being in a quiet residential street, walking into this place was a bit like visiting a French neighbourhood Bistro : warm, cosy, friendly and buzzing with chatter and laughter. It felt like a lot of locals eat there. The restaurant is run by a lovely couple and the emphasis is on fresh, local and seasonal produce. It all started off well, with home baked bread and some deliciously smoked butter – in fact we liked it so much we bought some to take home. Both of us choose a fishy starter : fish cake with tomato sauce for hubby and a chunky tian of home cured trout and beetroot for me.
I continued with the fishy theme for my main course and plumped for the Local Fish Stew which was served with crispy potatoes, more home-made bread (not complaining!) and a gorgeously garlicky aioli. Hubby had the meltingly tender Confit Duck which came with creamy dauphinoise potatoes and a hearty portion of red cabbage. Pudding was a no-brainer as we had spotted The Chocolate Badboy on the Specials Menu when we walked in. This consisted of a rich chocolate fondant (with a runny middle any Masterchef contestant would be proud of), home-made honeycomb chunks, a gooey chocolate brownie, velvety smooth home-made white chocolate ice-cream and a swirl of fig cheesecake filling. This was a fitting end to an excellent meal.
The next place on our hit list was Gather in Totnes. Run by a small team of young graduates from The Michael Caines Academy, this stylish little restaurant was a delight. They all have a real passion for using local, seasonal food and a great affection for foraging! This does usually worry me a bit, as the last time we ate a foraged menu we were presented with 3 snails – all of whom had clearly been allowed to let rip in a lettuce patch as they were huge. I managed to chew my way through one before calling it a day and hiding the rest under some salad!!! However, I needn’t have worried as at Gather not a mollusc was in sight …
Pre-dinner nibbles included fresh home-made bread with delicately seasoned whipped butter, anchovy straws with prawn mayo and beautifully crispy pheasant bon-bons. As we had gone with friends, I managed to try 3 out of the 4 starters – the Boudin Blanc was the standout dish for me, served on a bed of creamy haricot bean stew and topped with crispy spring greens. As we’d never seen it on a menu before one of us did plump for the squirrel (!). This was braised, shredded and then made into a croquette, and tasted a bit like game …
For mains I plumped for the local hake which was poached to flaky perfection and topped with a crust of seaweed which provided a subtle taste of the sea. This was served alongside a prawn cannelloni – made with perfect home-made pasta – and a delicate, frothy Mariniere Sauce.
The pudding menu was small (but perfectly formed!). Two of our party had the souffle which was well worth the 20 minute wait. Light as a feather, fluffy as a cloud and with the addition of the home-made chocolate ice cream gently lowered into the middle a taste sensation. As was the Baileys and Dark Chocolate Parfait served with another home-made vanilla ice-cream and a light, crispy hazelnut sable biscuit.
Both restaurants show just how good local food can be – and definitely deserve a second visit.
The third place we sampled was Michelin starred Purnells in Birmingham … but I think that deserves a post all of its own ….