Grow’s Countdown Of Devon’s Top Attractions For Devon Day
Grow Talk by Sofy Robertson
Photography by Sofy Robertson, Nick Hook and Unsplash
A day of celebration is upon us; a day of celebrating cream before jam, of drinking cider with all of the bits and proclaiming that our county is gert lush. It is, of course, Devon Day, so we thought we would celebrate our county’s top destinations, as well as its hidden gems, with our Countdown of Devon’s Top Attractions.
Eat your way through our Countdown of Devon’s Top Attractions
I had to start somewhere, and with Devon, that somewhere just had to be food. I think it’s safe to say that as a county, we love to eat. The proof of that is in the veritable cornucopia of farmers markets and food festivals, as well as the Devon producers growing, pickling and baking their way to accolades such as the Taste of the West Gold. And then of course we have the cafés, bruncheries and restaurants (five of which hold Michelin stars) that thrive on the fantastic produce that comes from our rich Devon red soil.
So where to dine? Undoubtedly the trickiest category to narrow down for our Countdown of Devon’s Top Attractions, we are fortunate that our county offers relatively few disappointments with its high food standards. Food Drink Devon’s guide for 2019 is a great place to look for top food and drink producers, as well as places to eat out. We’ve embarked on a few food reviews between us as a team (it’s a hard job, but someone’s got to do it!) so here are a few of our favourites.
A Gastronomic Experience
For fine dining flair, exquisite presentation and mouth-watering flavours, Gather in Totnes ticks all the boxes. With a menu that changes constantly to adapt to the season’s best produce, Gather’s logo of hedge to river to field to kitchen acts as a motto for their ethos towards dining. Grow’s editor, Joff Alexander-Frye explained:
“You could see, hear, taste and smell the ethos behind the business and the compassionate, communal and ethical backbone to the Gather approach left me feeling a happier and more fulfilled human. A bold statement, but a genuine one.
“You are going to struggle to find such excellent food, cooked with such feeling and for such a reasonable price anywhere in Devon.”
Don’t pretend you haven’t used that hashtag. With red ruby cattle on our doorstep, burgers in Devon continue to rise to lofty new heights of deliciousness, so much so that two restaurants made the cut; Beer Factory and Kitchen @ Hanlons in Newton St Cyres (Half Moon, to be precise) and Meat 59 in Exeter, Torquay and Newton Abbot.
Beer Factory and Kitchen @Hanlons is a relatively recent venture between La Cantina and Hanlons Brewery. It is worth pointing out that this is not solely a ‘burger joint’; the menu is actually quite varied and keeps up with the seasons and as Beer Factory is situated in, well, a beer factory, it’s an excellent place to try out some of the best beer in the county, from pints of the stuff to beer cocktails (nicer than it sounds) and how best to use this nectar in cooking.
By proudly posting their Burger of the Week on social media (diet, what diet?), it is safe to say these guys know how to do burger porn. Take the El Don burger, for example; a steak burger with truffle mayo, parmesan, deep fried lasagne, rocket, parmesan and truffle salad all in a garlic butter bun. Yes, you did read that right – deep fried lasagne… Pause, while we have a Joey from Friends meets Homer Simpson meets Garfield the Cat moment… It’s probably also worth mentioning that Beer Factory and Kitchen also cater for vegetarians and vegans (their vegan burger The Veganator even defeated my appetite!), as well as fussy eaters who want to change all the options on their meal… no names will be mentioned here.
Moving on to Meat 59; rather than a Burger of the Week, Meat 59 have a monthly special which really showcases their variety as burger specialists with concoctions like Fish out of Water using Brixham white fish. Although the name would suggest that Meat 59 is exclusively for carnivores, this is certainly not the case. In addition to Pesci diets, vegetarians and vegans have plenty of options with specifically catered burgers, as well as the option to ‘adapt’ one of the meaty choices. As if all of that wasn’t enough, Meat 59 serves a great selection of local beers and ciders and even offers picklebacks (try it before you Google it).
As a coastal county, we benefit from a huge variety of seafood produce. One restaurant that that stands out from the shoal has to be Rockfish, the restaurant baby of acclaimed restauranteur Mitch Tonks, whose first restaurant The Seahorse in Dartmouth was the inspiration for making seafood accessible to all. With their motto “Tomorrow’s fish are still in the sea”, Rockfish pride themselves on local, fresh catches cooked with flair and ingenuity. The latest addition to the Rockfish family is based on Exeter Quay, but their restaurants span the coastal hot-spots of Devon, varying their menu according to their location. Despite sometimes being pigeonholed as a ‘fish and chip’ restaurant, their menus speak to the variety that the ocean has to offer. Owner Mitch Tonks explained:
“This is definitely not a fish and chip restaurant; we have fish and chips on the menu but it’s a seafood restaurant.”
The boom in veganism may have thrown the industry a bit of a curveball, but there are plenty of cafés and restaurants in Devon that have been proudly serving vegetarians and vegans exciting and innovative plant-based food for years.
Riverford Café gets the top mention in this category; with a wholly reasonably priced menu (£25pp for lunch, 29pp for dinner) and the best of Riverford’s extensive garden served seasonally to your plate. Although meat can be on the menu here, the emphasis is from field to plate and most of the time, vegetables and herbs take centre stage.
For dedicatedly vegan eateries, The Plant Café and The Rabbit Café in Exeter both come highly recommended and for evening dining, Exeter has it again with The Flat serving vegetarian and vegan pizzas and pasta (with some very suppable wines).
Top watering holes
Moving on from food, with some difficulty I might add, let’s take a look at a Countdown of Devon’s Top Attractions in liquid form.
We are, once again, spoiled for choice in our county; craft beers, pokey ciders and gins galore are to be found brewed, pressed and distilled in Devon. So where can you go to drink our county’s top tipples?
Starting with our county’s capital, The Old Firehouse is a great destination for that proper pub buzz and serves a range of local beers and ciders, all at reasonable prices. The Hourglass is another top mention for a truly traditional pub with not a screen or fruit machine in sight. You’ll be lucky to even get phone signal. None of these modernities are needed as you sip on a Sandford cider or an Otter ale and peruse their seasonal food menu.
For that middle of nowhere feel, The Nobody Inn in Doddiscombsleigh offers sixteenth-century charm, an extremely well-stocked bar and that hideaway feeling of being in the middle of the Devon countryside.
You can’t get more local than The Beer Engine in Newton St Cyres, a pub that brews its own delicious ales and beers and serves up scrummy Sandford cider from down the road, as well as the best scotch egg in Devon (pure opinion here, but I challenge you to try and it and say differently).
Looking to the coast, Exmouth has Spoken and The Grapevine offering impressively stocked bars of local goodies, as well as tasty menus and, in Spoken’s case, fun and quirky interior design. Another seaside favourite is The Thatch in Croyde, frequented by surfers, dog walkers, locals and tourists alike. Craft ales from small local breweries such as Exmoor Ales and Dartmoor Ales are stocked here, and Friday night is live music night. Need I say more?
Having no munchkins myself, I leant heavily on recommendations for friends for this penultimate category of our Countdown of Devon’s Top Attractions. As the jingle says, “Everybody wants to go to Crealy”, but it isn’t the only family friendly destination our county has to offer.
Paignton and Dartmoor Zoos offer great destinations for your little ones to meet their close relatives in the monkey house (and for you to consider making a trade with the zoo keeper). Greendale Farm Park and Pennywell Farm are also great destinations for animal loving little ones.
There’s nothing quite like a trip on the Dartmouth Steam Railway to evoke literary memories of The Railway Children and, of course, Harry Potter. To evoke your family’s inner Godzilla, Babbacombe Model Village also offers a great day of family fun.
For the more outdoorsy families, The Bear Trail offers a fantastic opportunity to wear out those little legs and arms, and plenty of chances to get mucky too. Haldon Forest Park, which includes a Go Ape attraction, has cycle and walking paths galore, as well as the chance for your little monkeys to swing from the trees like, well, little monkeys.
Walks on the wild side
It’s the final leg of our Countdown to Devon’s Top Attractions. There are few counties that offer walking routes on the moors, along the coast and within its own capital, but Devon does just that.
In Devon’s capital city of Exeter, you can walk The Green Circle, a twelve miler that crosses from the tranquillity of valley parks to the pavements of leafy suburbs. If twelve miles leaves you feeling daunted, the walk is split into five manageable sections, meaning you can walk a section and then reward yourself at one of the many pubs en-route.
For something a little wilder, Dartmoor has you covered. If you don’t fancy scaling one of the tors, then the Teign Gorge circuit offers a moderate walking experience of 4.1 miles. This walk is doggy friendly and takes you along the river Teign with plenty of opportunities for paddling and wild pony spotting. And, hurrah, you’ll find a beautiful country pub, The Fingle Bridge Inn, along the way (you may be spotting a theme here…).
Top circular walks can be found in Newton St Cyres (you can also find The Beer Engine here!) with short loops of three miles to my personal favourite, Walk 2, of 7.2 miles which takes you through a conifer plantation with plenty of opportunities to spot deer.
The South West Coastal path is nigh on impossible to beat for coastal walking and one particularly stunning section is the Undercliffs walk from Seaton to Lyme Regis. You’ll feel like you’re stumbling through Jurassic Park at points with fleshy ferns and straggling vines galore. There is of course the added bonus of fantastic beaches at each end, although admittedly one of those is situated in Dorset.
So from all of us at Grow, we wish you an extremely Happy Devon Day! We hope you have enjoyed our Countdown to Devon’s Top Attractions and we would love for you to share your favourite spots with us. Simply tag us on social media with your photos or recommendations and don’t forget the hashtag #DevonDay.