Monthly Archives: January 2013

Plymouth River Cottage Canteen

Question: how does a flying visitor with a mild Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall culinary mancrush fill two spare hours on a rainy day in Plymouth?

Simple; he heads 10 minutes out of town to the impressively swish Urban Splash development at the Royal William Dockyard, gets thoroughly soaked wandering around looking for directions and then finally stumbles across Hugh F-W’s cavernous River Cottage Plymouth Canteen and Deli.

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Having done zero research in advance, I’d expected something a little more homespun, and along the lines of the original Axminster River Cottage Canteen but this on a grander scale altogether. From the first step through the door of this Grade 1 listed former Naval Brewhouse the feeling of space is overwhelming with triple height ceilings, a single industrial sized dining room and an open kitchen creating a feeling of well, yes, as the name suggests, a huge canteen.

Having said this is clearly an upmarket, thoughtfully designed and sympathetically converted canteen. But then this IS an Urban Splash development after all. Huge windows set in metre thick granite walls provide distractingly panoramic views towards Plymouth Sound, floors are stripped, fittings are industrial, furniture is artfully distressed and yes, of course, the acoustics are terrible.

Being a wet, weekday lunchtime in January no booking was needed and barely a third of the tables were occupied so, as would be expected under the circumstances, service was prompt and efficient. Perhaps I was just feeling overly damp and grumpy but my waitress’s enthusiasm grated a little but then again maybe she’s ok when she has more punters to share it with or maybe she just thought this sorry solo diner had been stood up?

Foodwise, well it’s Hugh isn’t it? Local is the watchword whether it’s the Portland crab, locally caught mackerel, West Country meats, hearty sounding seasonal vegetables or Cornish blue cheese. Everything on the menu sounds as though it could’ve got here on the bus at a push. Just how it should be- lecture over.

From a short but varied menu I went for the Spicy Pork Balls with Asian slaw and chilli sauce served on a flatbread. Oh and yes, go on, I’ll have fries too. And, oh, is that Cornish Orchards cider? Well, yes, I got a taste for that down at the Porthminster Beach Café last year so I might as well.

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And on a day like this it hits the spot. A nice mix of comforting spicy pork with the crunch of the slaw combined with the double carbohydrate hit of flatbread and fries and a really decent cider seems suitably West Country; thoroughly local and just enough for a wet and hungry visitor looking for a no-frills lunch. Well, enough when a panna cotta with warm spiced apricots is thrown in for good measure. I tend to treat panna cotta as a pudding for warmer weather with the ubiquitous summer berries but this winter version with a little heat and spice works well and at around the £20 mark for a small main, a side, dessert and a decent cider I don’t feel hard done to.

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And, being on a tight schedule, with the aim of being in, out and on my way within the hour I guess my waitress’s enthusiasm and attentiveness is no bad thing. With a little well-timed eye contact I’m settled up and on my way with 10 minutes to spare.

So what can I say? Good luck Hugh…..if this is the next step in developing the River Cottage brand into a wider chain then it’s a good start. Locally sourced well cooked food, a daily changing menu and a genuinely interesting setting. If the rest of the canteens are like this and there’s no compromise on the River Cottage principles, I’m with you all the way.

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Thyme and Tides- Stockbridge

Ok, this is a tricky one, but not because there’s a problem with the food and certainly not with the service. The problem is entirely mine and it’s trying to get past the Stockbridge stereotypes that populate this great little bistro/deli and concentrate on the food.

Maybe it was the fact that it was the first day of opening after New Year and that the rump end of the holiday period was still lingering but there seemed to be more than the usual number of 4×4’s, expensive wellies (no, not Hunters. the Aigle ones at £290 a pop) and little Cosmos and Cressidas enjoying their last family lunch before being placed lovingly on the steam train back to pre-prep until Easter, adding to the crowd of well-heeled locals who have made Thyme & Tides the busiest of Stockbridge’s many well-regarded dining rooms.

With such a clientele comes an expectation of high standards and it certainly seems that the Thyme and Tides team are doing enough things right to generate this level of business in such a competitive “foodie” destination. Indeed, even on weekdays, the queue around lunchtime can stretch out of the door for those who haven’t had the foresight to book ahead but today, a 10 minute wait following a friendly welcome and explanation of the expected wait time allows for a quick browse of the accompanying interestingly-stocked deli before being seated.

The dining room itself is bright and stylish in a “tastefully neutral” way with acoustics that suffer a little in a space with so many hard surfaces but any lull in conversation simply provides an opportunity for some more people watching and my companion and I pass the time trying to spot who’s eccentrically local and who’s “down from London” for the holidays.

Service is quick, attentive and professional as would be expected from a bistro who’s proprietor comes from a background of running a consultancy for failing bistros. Staff are clearly well-drilled, know the content of the menu well and even on a day with limited choices due to the New Year reopening, there’s plenty of options based on good quality, mainly locally-sourced ingredients.

For a light(ish) lunch, my choice was the buffalo burger with bacon and cheese with a side order of fries. The buffalo is local enough to have joined the queue of it’s own accord having come from the Broughton Water Buffalo people in the next village and makes for a great burger served nicely medium rare. Being so lazy and having taken almost 2 weeks to write up my visit, my memory of just exactly what else was on that burger is pretty hazy but I remember that it was definitely good, in fact very good indeed.

Being unable to leave without testing out Barista Will’s highly rated coffee, I finished off with an Americano and a decent chunk of Millionaire’s Shortbread, again locally made and leaving me with no complaints. This is much more than a coffee and cake kind of place but for those who want nothing more, they do it very well.

I wish I’d written this up more quickly now, I wish I’d taken notes and I wish I’d taken a couple of pictures too because Thyme & Tides deserves better than a quickly dashed out write up of a poorly remembered lunchtime visit. But on the bright side, I guess that gives me an excuse to make another visit sometime soon.

I’ll look forward to it………

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