This popular restaurant near the Exe estuary was a much-anticipated mid-week destination for myself and fellow foodie friend, Alex. With a rumble or two in our tummies, we stepped out of the chill of the evening into the warm ambience and delicious aromas of this family-run restaurant. Liz and Matthew Tilt have been here for 15 years and, aware of their glowing reputation, I was eager to try their food.
The love of ingredients was evident from the outset. Our homemade bread basket was laden with three varieties: granary, feta and pesto, and some of the butter had been rolled in sesame and poppy seeds. The complementary marinated olives had a sweet exotic taste, while our fragrant courgette and almond amuse bouche was another velvety appetite-whetter.
Onto our starters. I chose the English Rosary goats' cheese tart. This bijou puff pastry parcel was light, filled with the floury cheese, the elegant slices of poached pear and apple snow adding a lingering, cleansing sweetness. Even the skinny strips of beetroot and micro-herbs were bursting with flavour – no element was lost. Alex's seared Lyme Bay scallops were silky smooth, with a texture-enhancing crunch on the outside. The chilli and crayfish sauce added a sweet/salty balance, while the butternut squash puree was fresh and earthy. Both starters were light and artfully presented.
Both of us chose meat mains. My Westcountry lamb was exceptional: the slow-cooked shoulder was meltingly soft, the best end cooked medium as requested, and so enjoyable. The accompanying carrots and parsnips were baked and earthy, the romanesco crunchy, the pommes gratin had absorbed some of the meat's juices and mouthwatering gravy. Not too thick, this sauce was punchy, yet complemented the meat's flavour without stifling the potatoes or ratatouille.
Alex's perfectly cooked Creedy Carver duck was another flavour fiesta. The marmalade and honey sauce shone, enhancing the red meat. The roasted fig and rosti potato added texture, the pancetta a saltiness. Alex described it as a beautifully balanced dish.
The consistency of the quality in each dish meant our desserts were as tastebuds-tingling as the rest of the meal. The butterscotch sauce in my sticky toffee pudding was a palate-punching mix of heady sweetness, with a burnt, rich aftertaste, tempered by the soft sponge and cooling clotted cream. Alex chose the dark chocolate mousse and homemade ice cream that came with griottines cherries. The result: "a moussey, light, boozy chocolate garden, complete with its own sugar syrup ladder."
What flavour! Managing to marry all the ingredients, while allowing each element to shine takes an impressive understanding and skill. The restaurant's slogan is 'Excellence in the Heart of Kenton'. I couldn't agree more!
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