After visiting Gidleigh Park, we rushed back to the B&B to get ready for our dinner at ABode Exeter, which is one of the non-Michelin starred restaurants helmed by Michael Caines, or with his reputation anyway. This is reputed to be one of the best places to dine in Exeter and indeed, we would expect it to be so, since Exeter is Michael Caines’ hometown. Exeter is about a half-hour drive away from Chagford, and we got there in no time, thanks to GPS.
ABode Exeter sits in the Cathedral Yard with a fantastic view of the beautiful Exeter Cathedral, and luckily for us, we were seated just next to the window facing the cathedral.
It was a very cold night, unexpectedly so, and we were glad to be ushered to our table very soon after we arrived. The service was really quite impeccable for a simple restaurant like this, very efficient and friendly. I was very pleasantly surprised when our thoughtful waiter learnt of our blunder with booking the wrong restaurant, and he went the extra mile in giving us two complimentary portions of lemon soufflé and an autographed menu from the head chef (sadly not Michael Caines, that was why I said ABode was helmed with his reputation, rather than the man himself).
As much as I would like to adore ABode Exeter, I was admittedly very disappointed with the food. The other diners seemed to be enjoying their meals very much, and they looked sincerely happy, but I didn’t feel what I had hoped to feel. I guess I had arrived with high expectations that probably spilled over from the anticipation of having dinner at Gidleigh Park, so it might not be fair for me to review the food here. If I were not dressed for a special occasion, tethering in high heels, and recovering from the reservation blunder, I might have been perfectly happy with the food. Well, I guess I would never know, unless I drop by for a meal at ABode Exeter again, but I doubt that is happening anytime soon since Exeter is a little far away from London.
Whilst the dishes were beautifully presented in substantial portions at very affordable prices, I left feeling unsatisfied and thought that our trip to Exeter was, for the lack of a more tactful expression, a waste of our time. Nonetheless, I would like to highlight that one dish that really impressed me. And a certain tomato bread. You all know that bread comes before every meal in a Western restaurant. And I for one, usually refrain from eating the bread, because they are usually rock-hard, tasteless, cold, inedible, basically a waste of calories. But the ones served at ABode Exeter were magnificent. Quite simply, the best bread I’ve ever had. There were bits of sun-dried tomatoes nestled within the warm and soft bread, and the deep red morsels lent smokey, earthy flavours to the otherwise-boring carbo. They were excellent. I mopped every last drop of olive oil drizzled on my plate with all the bread ABode Exeter was willing to bestow on us.
And then I was served the most delightful appetiser. Pan-fried Brixham scallops and crispy belly pork, in pea purée shallot and bacon velouté. It was lip-smacking and I thought I would have been quite happy for this to be my main course, as it was served in a rather huge portion (photo above was taken of one corner of the huge plate). Sweet and salty flavours in a dish are always THE combination for me. I go ballistic, in a happy way, over sweet and salty, sweet and salty, you get the gist. The scallops were very succulent, and crisped to nutty perfection on the outside. Paired with the crispy belly pork slice, the juxtaposition of textures and flavours won me over. The contrast between the sweet scallops and salty belly pork were married smoothly, with nary a kink, with the clever use of mildly sweet pea purée and the subtly savoury bacon velouté. Very beautiful dish. After finishing the last bits of my starter, everything went downhill.
The john dory main was largely disappointing and very clumsy. Huge slices of pan-fried fish, served in a pool of the most confusing concoction of sauces. I was not the least bit impressed. I always like a clean palette for fish dishes, I like to taste the produce but the dory was just smothered in…everything. I couldn’t even tell what went into the sauce. It was too much for me.
According to M, his starter of spinach ravioli was suffocated in sauce, and his medallion of beef fared a little better.
One thing we came away with was that the food here was all soaked in some kind of a sauce, which was fine by us if they were paired properly. Some worked beautifully, and some went kaput. Unfortunately the minuses weighed in a little more; even though the scallops were fantastic, I don’t think I will come back for seconds.
Pity, really. I think there is potential, if the kitchen could get the flavours right. The produce are all very fresh, but there is no use in having quality food if one is not doing justice to the ingredients.
Anyway, I leave you with a picture of the pitch-black road that we have to drive through in Chagford and Gidleigh. Zero lights, we couldn’t see anything beyond the headlights. Scary, huh?
Michael Caines at ABode Exeter is located at:
Cathedral Yard, Exeter EX1 1HD