A taste for excellence
In 1971 James Onedin sailed his ship, ‘ The Charlotte Rhodes’, up the river Exe, past our offices at Topsham, which didn’t exist then and eventually tied up at the Quay in Exeter, opposite the Customs House.
The blockbuster television series, The Onedin Line, charted the changes in business and shipping in the middle of the 19th century.
If James disembarked at the Quay now he would be amazed at the changes taking place at the beginning of the 21st century.
Gone are the crinoline dresses and parasols of his day. Now the quay area is awash with tourists, resplendent in their Craghoppers and Nikes. James would be more than a little confused by the accents. Gone are the westcountry burrs, replaced by New England’s drawls and Japanese chatter.
No braided and tricorned custom officials would be stepping out of the Customs House now to check his cargo. The Grade 11 listed building is now Doctor Ink’s Curiosities, a Victorian themed cocktail bar, offering Sing Sing Slings and The Bee’s Knickers in a glass.
Next door, the old warehouse that would have been stacked with James’ goods is now the new Exeter Bavarian Bierkeller, where lederhosen wearing customers are served German beer in steins, eat Bratwursts and listen to the resident Oompah band.
Shortly, this historic area of Exeter, where Romans, Normans and 18th century Dutch landed their armadas, will see the opening of another award-winning Rockfish Café, the creation of master chef Mitch Tonks.
If you haven’t found an eaterie to suit you, stroll up Quay Hill, past the old Roman Wall and take in the splendour of the Norman Cathedral before stepping into the High Street. Facing you is the magnificent Guildhall, the oldest working civic building in Britain.
Surrounding the Guildhall is the recently developed Queen Street dining quarter, where you can choose whether to chow down on Caribbean at Turtle Bay or try the Lebanese food next door. For burger lovers there is the Terrace with its amazing deck and views over the rooftops of the city.
Yes, of course Exeter has all the ethnic restaurants from Asia, Europe and the Middle East, together with the usual group offering from Bill’s, Wagamama’s, Cote, Carluccio’s etc, as well as boasting of the oldest coffee house in the country.
Little wonder that Exeter has become the administrative, cultural, retail and hospitality centre of South West England.
The proliferation of eateries cropping up recently, together with more planned in the new Paris Street development will create a mecca for gourmets, gourmands and food writers. So significant are the choices available that I wouldn’t be surprised if TripAdvisor opened a regional office here.
With a lifetime’s experience of financing restaurants and their contents I naturally take an interest in the culinary comings and goings in the UK and Exeter in particular. Gone is Jamie’s Italian, (well there’s a surprise, not!!) but how long before Rick Stein see the potential of this great city.
If Theresa May gets fed up with all the bickering I’ll buy her a train ticket to see what all the SMEs are achieving in this ‘backwater’ – that will cheer her up and energise her for the comic knockabout in Brussels.
Ps Watch this space for a positive critique of Michael Caines’ new hotel and restaurant, Lympstone Manor, (just down the road from us), due to open in April.