Category Archives: Reviews

SB Review: Toucan Wholefoods, Minehead

Eastern themed cuisine evening – pudding and coffee

The vegetarian cafe at Toucan Wholefoods in Minehead is one of my favourite places to eat in this little part of the world that we now call home. The food is varied, interesting, tasty, local, organic and cooked on the premises, sometimes even to order (lime pancakes with poached eggs) and they will serve almost anything to take-away, which suits me very well. Over the past year, I have got to know the staff, and it is such a pleasure to be greeted by people that remember what you are up to and what you like to eat.

Quite often, I will sit in the first floor cafe for my lunch break, eating my main meal of the day (last week was goats cheese, butternut squash and sage lasagne with three side salads) and reading a book.

So, it was with pleasure that husband and I attended their inaugural themed food evening last night. It was an eastern theme and they had collaborated with Sara from No. 7 Harbour Studios (sorry, I don’t think she has an online link) to decorate the room with Sara’s signature Indian cushions covers. The food itself was lovely – 3 courses including popadoms with beautiful accompaniements, various curries served with cardamon rice, lemony bombay potatoes and pathata bread.

Highly recommended.

Toucan Wholefoods
3 The Parade
Minehead
Somerset
TA24 5NL

Tel: 01643 706101
Email: enquiries@toucanwholefoods.co.uk

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Shop opening hours: 8.30am – 5.30pm. Mon – Sat.
Café opening hours: 8.30am – 5.00pm. Mon – Sat.

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SB Review: Ways of Seeing, Churchgate Gallery (Porlock)

Paper Works by Toni Davey

Almost a year since they opened and a first gallery exhibition for the Churchgate Gallery in Porlock. I’ve been lucky enough to visit several of their artist events over the last year but I think this is the first exhibition where all of the other work was removed and each artist given their own space. It worked well.

Billed as ” an exhibition of three artists exploring visions of reality and imagination through space, line and materials” the enormous fairytale like structures of Rob Heard were juxtaposed against Toni Davey’s precise laser cut lines with a healthy dose of twee like reality coming from Paul Askew’s black and white paintings taken from his own photography.

I was most taken with Toni Davey’s precise lines, created by laser cuts, creating light and shadow and lifting the two dimensional paper into a third dimension. She appeared to have architectural precision and the works created a calm middle room between the two other styles.

Heard’s fairy tale structures were impressive. I could see them more as a set dressing or permanent installation in a gallery rather than a piece to take home so it was nice to see a local gallery showing things just for the pleasure of showing a piece rather than simply to sell. The structures were taller than me and smelt appealing of modelling wood. They appeared to grow out of what appeared to be driftwood, as if they had been dreamt there rather than created.

Askew’s paintings were evocative to me because many were of London, home to my old life. They made the underground and the sites of London look rather like a black and white film or an old fashion photograph. They too had a slightly fairytale quality and rather gave the impression of a rainy November evening, which is how I fondly remember my time in London, rather as if through rain tinted neon glasses. I enjoyed looking at his images but somehow rather more suited to a greetings card than my wall.

We attended the opening evening of the exhibition which was buzzing. It is a pleasure to have such a lovely gallery so close to where we live and I very much enjoyed the evening. Once again the canapes were excellent, as were the drinks. Well worth a visit if you are in Porlock.

Ways of Seeing: An exhibition of 3 Artists (29 May – 12 June 2011)

Churchgate Gallery

High Street Porlock Somerset TA24 8PT T: 01643 862238
E: churchgategallery@live.co.uk W: www.churchgategallery.co.uk

Open daily 10.00 – 5.00

*image from Churchgate Gallery

SB Review: Exmoor Cooking Company (Porlock Weir)

A few weeks ago a piece of paper came through the door. Fish and Chips, it proclaimed. For delivery on Friday nights. Run by the Exmoor Cooking Company – whose kitchens are based at Porlock Weir and who bake rather tasty bread – so we decided to give them a go. Now, our cottage might be reasonably ‘remote’ to those who don’t live round here, but it’s not *that* hard to find. Or it shouldn’t be, we gave them the postcode. When they did arrive, slightly cooled, they were nice. Not too greasy, decent chips, decent tartar sauce. Reasonably priced at £5.50 a portion. We rang to complain that they weren’t so hot on arrival and we were offered a free portion the next time we ordered. Pleased with the customer service, we decided to give them another chance next time we fancied fish & chips.

This weekend was our 9th anniversary and, in our timed honoured tradition we like to have fish & chips and champagne. We telephoned, reminded them of their offer and they remembered. Only, they’d abandoned delivery. A wise move I thought, as everyone can locate them pretty easily, delivery is much harder. This time they were piping hot and tasted pretty good, washed down with a Billecart Salmon Nicolas Francois Billecart 1998. They haven’t reduced the prices though despite collection only. Even so, I would order them again.

Out of interest, I went to the website.  I was surprised to see customers are describing the fish & chips as “better than Rick Stein’s and a damn sight cheaper”… We have eaten Rick Stein’s fish & chips on several occasions and can definitely vouch that they are better than these. Not that these are bad, just Rick’s are better. I also recall Stein’s prices as around £6.95 to their £5.50, so cheaper but not overly so. Still, compared to what else Porlock has to offer, the Exmoor Cooking Company’s fish & chips are well worth the order.

Apparently they are also suppliers to the BBC, so we’re in good company…

Exmoor Cooking Company

6 Anchor Stables

Porlock Weir

Minehead

Somerset

TA24 8PB

07792 558383

Serves fish & chips Friday evenings, contact company for other food.

Website here.

 

SB Review: Brimblecombe, Dulverton

I discovered Brimblecombe in Dulverton this past Saturday, although I was recommended it by a friend from work. It is one of those shops which immediately appealed to me and which my husband disliked on sight. Filled with all sorts of lovely things including Hush nightwear and Ren toiletries, I could have browsed all afternoon (had it not been that I made the mistake of going in at 3.50pm and the shop assistant wanted to leave at 4pm so badly that she had her coat on, the back room light turned off and a don’t you f**king dare buy anything expression – which was rather off putting).

“After a certain point on holiday, the female simply has to shop. We will buy almost anything. You know when you go into a room and start wilfing (short for ‘what was I looking for?’). Well, we do the same thing when we shop, only we don’t know what we’re looking for until we see it. My husband calls this ‘brimbling’, after a divine shop in Dulverton called Brimblecombe, where female friends always seem to find something they ‘need’…” Rachel Johnson in the Spectator

I found the quote above from Rachel Johnson (on the Brimblecombe website) and it sums up the shop rather aptly. The website for the shop is nothing hugely useful although there are some appealing photographs. I was particularly amused by the reference to a blog in the profile of Jane Brimblecombe and the space at the bottom of the website which states “blog will go here” but does not link to anything. If there was a blog I would certainly have perused it, as I was rather taken with the selection of items in the shop, even if I did not feel invited to purchase by the girl behind the counter.

My husband thought it rather overpriced, which to an extent it was. The toiletries were about £1.50 – £2 more than Liberty; the pyjamas marked up by about £5 on the online prices. But there would be no postage to pay if you wanted to buy them in Exmoor as opposed to waiting until a trip to London.

I will certainly be returning, although perhaps attempting to time my trip slightly earlier in the afternoon. And I will park husband in the pub. After all, if one is Brimbling (see the Rachel Johnson quote above) one need’s one space.

Brimblecombe
17 High Street
Dulverton
Somerset
TA22 9HB

01398 3241812

10am- 5pm Monday -Saturday (closes 4pm in Winter?)

All images borrowed from the Brimblecombe website

SB Review: Late Night Shopping, Porlock

It was late night shopping in Porlock this past Saturday evening. Based on our experiences of Dunster By Candlelight the weekend before we thought perhaps that it might be another slightly overpriced but enjoyable as an isolated event. Turns out it was a community effort to get as drunk as possible, shopping was optional.

We started the evening at the Churchgate Gallery with a glass of mulled wine as we surveyed the beautiful collection of paintings, prints, ceramics and gifts. We had received a gorgeous Christmas card from them earlier in the week entitled “The Big Mince Pie Heist” enclosing an invitation to the evening and so we were keen to attend. We bought our Christmas cards from the same range as the mince pie heist – ours are called “Not Just for Christmas” from a drawing by Jonathan Walker.

Our next stop was the florist – The Garden Room – which sells all manner of garden accessories as well as being a florist. The owner, Jackie, also has a local produce stand from which we shopped all summer and sells seeds in beautiful paper packets which I cannot resist along with natural wax candles in terracotta pots which I used in the summer. This Christmas, I was hankering after a wreath for our front door. In my six years in London I had never had a front door upon which I could hang such a thing and I was determined for our first year in the countryside we would have one. I investigated making my own but decided that, for the first year, I would buy one and then I would have a florist ring and a moss hoop which I could use year on year to come. At a very reasonable priced £7.50 we found a simple holly and moss one with a red ribbon bow.  Jackie was offering home made chestnut and cranberry sausage rolls and some kind of alcoholic hot punch. Fortified, we continued our progress…

…to the butchers, Clive Downs, where we drank fizz and ate game and redcurrant sausages hot from the oven and discussed geese and bought ham and ran into various people we knew. We drank these drinks whilst watching the Watchet Town Band playing christmas songs at the Exmoor Classic Car Collection where life sized beef eaters sneered at the trombone players and an ice queen and king on stilts watched from above.

And then to my actual point of this post: we followed the ice queen and king back up the High Street towards the church (they cut a rather lonely figure – 9 foot tall, hand in hand, ice white and silver in the darkness) and found Green Dolphin Crafts. This is a charming shop essentially in the front room of a darling little cottage with the most lovely of bay windows. Run with a hippy like vibe it is stocked with interesting silver and gem stone jewellery, woollen garments, silk underwear and night wear, and delight of delight, hand made beeswax candles. The beams are so low that my husband had to stoop and the fire so entrancing and warm that we might have stayed there all evening had not other customers wished to crowd in too. I bought 4 votives and a pair of taper candles and was even able to pay by cheque. As we paid, another customer was voicing her delight at the embroidered cushion covers and the owner was explaining that they had one day simply decided to use the front of the house/cottage as a shop. It was an utterly delightful place and well worth a visit if you are ever in Porlock.

Green Dolphin Crafts

High Street, Porlock

TA24 8PT

(not sure of opening times – call 01643 862868)

The Garden Room

High Street, Porlock

TA24 8PU

(not sure of opening times, closed Sundays – call 01643 863547)

 

The Big Mince Pie Heist is by Jonathan Walker and sold by Sally Mitchell Fine Arts Limited

SB Review: Horse & Crook, Dunster

Last Saturday we went to Dunster by Candlelight*. Always held the first weekend of December, Dunster by Candlelight is a pleasant way to see the village and indulge in a spot of (Christmas) shopping at the same time. The title is only slightly misleading – there are quite a few candle lanterns – and almost all of the shops are open late. We saw a medieval procession – wassailing I think, although I might have mistaken this fire lit procession for something else – and a samba drum band and drank many cups of mulled wine with brandy. We also snuck into the castle and admired the decorations and wall paintings and enjoyed the medieval style craft market in the cobbled stables area.

Dunster, for those not aware, is a medieval village with age-old cobbled streets and an old yarn market in the middle. Both sides of the main street leading up to the castle are filled with a variety of little shops. Including Horse & Crook. Which is a darling little find, filled with an ever-changing selection of vintage and hand-made home and garden accessories as well as being a florist. I always make a beeline for Horse & Crook whenever we visit Dunster and not just because they have a beautiful dog called Maisie who is always interested in some attention.

Horse & Crook was the first place I have found down here which sells only natural candles (usually plant or soy wax in this case) in taper dinner candles as well as pillar and votives. They also have, in the winter, a beautiful selection of handknitted gloves and wrist warmers, soaps and body butter. It is an excellent place for present shopping and they are, again, the only place in the south-west, so far as I have found, to sell my beloved V V Rouleaux ribbon. I have been known to buy reels of garden twine in shades of russet and stormy blue for no other reason than they looked so beautiful.

Barely anything in the shop is pre-packaged. My lovely white plant wax candles came tied in a scrap of velvet ribbon and were then wrapped in tissue paper and handed over in a recycled paper bag. Ribbon comes on card or wooden reels; soap in paper parcels. A beautiful shop and one that I can never leave empty-handed.

They also have a website, for those whom Dunster is perhaps too far away to pop over one afternoon. The selection on the website is in no way representative of the collection at the shop and seems a little too handmade, but perhaps that is all part of the charm.

Horse & Crook

High Street, Dunster

Mon-Sat 10.30-5.00
Sun 11.00-4.00

(Image borrowed from Horse & Crook website)

*My top tip for Dunster by Candlelight is to leave your car in either Minehead, Porlock or Watchet and get the park and ride buses. We walked down to the bus so, for once, both of us could drink as much mulled wine as we fancied without worrying about the return journey. We also only realised that the Tithe Barn was open right at the end of the evening – the beautiful church of St George also has candlelit carols at various points which we discovered too late to enjoy. A programme is available (although at £1 we opted not to purchase) and this might have been useful if “not missing things” was the theme of our evening. It wasn’t, as it happened, so we didn’t mind.

SB Review: Piggy in the Middle (Porlock)

There are many things that I miss about London. I thought restaurants would be one of them but there is a surprisingly good selection of places to eat to choose from down here. We are slowly attempting to try out them one by one.

Surrounded by pubs and hotels, Piggy in the Middle is situated bang in the middle of Porlock, along the stretch of ‘high street’ which is lit up by pretty little lights and looks so welcoming as you come down the hill and through the village.  On Exmoor we are lucky to have a fantastic selection of local produce being both on the moor and coastal. We have organic produce everywhere we turn and thankfully Piggy in the Middle serves up yummy dishes full of local food.

Fine dining it’s not. The house wine comes in a carafe, the napkins are black linen, it’s a little faux french in decoration and the coffee is less than desirable but the food is nicely cooked and the service is friendly. Too many viewings of Masterchef and Junior Roux have led me to notice things like plate choice, symmetry and style of the food and precisely how acidic the beurre blanc is yet what really matters on a Thursday night when you book with ten minutes notice is that the food is cooked by someone who knows how to choose their ingredients. We shared a prawn, rice and salad dish and a herb and tomato crusted salmon fillet with a sticky toffee pudding and felt satisfyingly full but not overstuffed. The chef came out to speak to us and there was a happy atmosphere.

Not somewhere to go on a first date but an enjoyable place to have a casual supper.

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Piggy in the Middle
High Street
Porlock
Exmoor National Park, Somerset
TA24 8PS