Category Archives: Local Restaurant Reviews

Lunch at the River Life Cafe & Bistro, Bude

River Life Cafe

Don’t be fooled by its unassuming exterior or the obvious exaggeration in its name. Such is the success of this unpretentious little cabin tucked away on Pethericks Mill Industrial Estate that, even in the murky depths of winter, for a mid-week lunch, you’ll be very lucky to get a table unless you have booked or are prepared to wait some time. Even to sit outside.

Retired gentlefolk, young mums and anyone else who can sneak some time out of the day are regularly filling the seats here. Some admit to popping in as often as three times a week. And the reason is simple – the food and service is fabulous and it’s good value too.

Don’t be fooled by the apparently uninspired menu either. Cheese on toast has never looked so good or tasted so good before – it was positively ambrosial!

But that was on our first visit. This time we ordered the special – fish pie with a cheesy potato topping and lots of fresh vegetables. It’s good home-cooked comfort food, but I did think the portion of fish pie could have been more generous.

On the plus side, this left plenty of appetite for dessert and this didn’t disappoint in any way at all. It was a raspberry creme brulee to bring a tear to the eye of any French chef worth his sel de mer. And as you can see, it was beautifully presented. The small glass of raspberry coulis was nice and tart but not enough to pucker your nose. I had to be forcibly restrained not to lick the whole lot clean.Pud

Filling our glasses was the house white for me and red for Simon. Together with the rosé, which we tried last time, they offer smooth, easy drinking. Happily, you can buy all three by the glass – £4.40 for a large 250ml measure – or by the bottle at £8.95. A carafe of tap water arrives on the table without having to ask.

We rounded off our tasty lunch with an espresso which, whilst it may not have won the heart of your average Italian, was nevertheless strong enough and wasn’t overly bitter.

Judging by the jars of ‘Teapig’ teabags on the counter, the tea is good here too. In fact, the cafe is open all day, and has some very tempting cakes tucked under the glass counter. On the day we visited there were some squidgy double chocolate and cream muffins on a buy one, get one free offer. That could be the perfect end to the Short Bude Cliff Walk featured in a previous edition of the Chronicle. It’s easy to start making up excuses for more visits!

The final bill for our lunch came to £34 – great value for two courses with wine and coffee. But there are no corners being cut here. The meat, for example, is top quality and is supplied courtesy of the family farm in Meddon. Next time, we plan to go along in the evening and sample the slow-roasted belly pork.

Owner Justin Lewis can be justifiably proud of what he has created here, and I, for one, am looking forward to his next venture, The Bank at Bude – not another business-busting, bonus-rich financial institution but a smart wooden hut at the opposite end of their car park, which will offer a selection of tapas, seafood and ice cream. By the time you read this, they will be busy working their way through the 700 or so bookings that have already been made for here. I can just imagine sitting out under the stars on the little wooden deck, devouring some tasty marine morsels on a balmy summer’s evening.

Hmmm, now that really could be a foolish thought!     01288 353070

Bude Cycle Centre, Bude, EX23 8TF

Helen Crossley

April 2013 (Spring issue)

The (Very) Red Room

41a Market Street, Hatherleigh     Tel:  01837 811548     Email:

Opening hours:  Mon-Sat:  5.00 p.m. to 10.00 p.m.   Sun:  Noon to 3.00 p.m.

red_roomI think it’s safe to say we would all love to have a decent place to eat out round here that doesn’t cause an involuntary gasp when that innocuous-looking slip of paper arrives at the end of the meal. So there was a faint ripple of excitement when it became known that a new establishment in Hatherleigh would soon be open for business. And when it opened its doors prematurely to torment spectators of the Olympic torch with the heady fragrance of fried bacon, hopes began to run high. Here was somebody who knew what they were doing. In fact, chef proprietor Neil Wright can claim twenty-two years in the business, and has returned to the town to pursue this long-awaited adventure.

Strangely, the fanfare never really built past the first chord. It’s difficult to find any more information about Neil and his new project. There is no website (bar an out-dated Facebook page) and calls to the bistro are sometimes met by an anonymous answerphone, or simply remain unanswered. I figured this could be a good sign – a small team running a very popular restaurant, putting all their energies into creating a fine dining experience for the good denizens of West Devon. Initial reviews and reports certainly suggested this. So it was that Tony, Angela, Simon and your roving répas reporter found ourselves sat expectantly in the red glow of the very red Red Room.

The oxblood colour scheme extends to the table runners, napkins and cushions, with the only respite offered by dark wood furniture and pale curtains, though these too were trimmed with a red pelmet. It’s all very extrovert. So when the service could fairly be described as somewhat introverted, there seemed to be a bit of a personality clash going on. We waited a good half an hour before our order was taken, then waited again for the arrival of the first course.

Fortunately, there is no wait for a drink, because here the restaurant has adopted a very welcome and enlightened policy – you can Bring Your Own for a very reasonable corkage fee of £1. However, a request for sparkling water was met with an apology and an announcement that they only have small bottles. Fine with me, but why not offer large bottles too? Maybe they had run out?

A similar request made later for bread – to mop up the delectable sauce – was met with some surprise, then the statement that we would have to be charged for this. We were all of the opinion that bread should be given freely in restaurants – unless a Ryanair pricing policy is adopted, whereby the headline rock bottom price is bolstered by every last option having a cliff top price on its head. At roughly £6 for a starter and £15 for a main course, I don’t believe this is the case here. However, when it arrived in its little basket, we found the bread had been warmed and was actually fabulous.

It was even stranger that, when presented with the bill later, this consisted of just the total sum. There was no breakdown whatsoever. Maybe the breakdown was the till – or even the management?

So, what was the food like? Well, mostly it was pretty good. Starters of scallops and black pudding with aforementioned sauce were very tasty. A plate piled high with golden squid rings got the thumbs up from Angela.

The men enjoyed some manly steaks for their main course, but both agreed they could more accurately be described as “medium” rather than the “rare” they ordered. Angela and I both had duck legs and they were very good.

But the puddings let them down. The blokes’ brownies failed to score highly on the squidgy-o-meter, despite a good swim in a large pool of chocolate sauce. And the “Trio of Desserts” Angela and I shared consisted of a small glass of gooseberry posset (not the lemon advertised), a bland chocolate tart, and an underwhelming slice of redcurrant meringue pie.

In another dichotomy, but what could prove to be a real crowd pleaser, there are wood-fired pizzas on offer – to eat in or takeaway. Inevitably, though, this means there are likely to be people hanging around the bar close to the tables. The corner spot complete with bench designed for this purpose, no doubt from an earlier incarnation, has instead been requisitioned for diners. The couple perched there didn’t look very comfortable. (However, given that hardly a word passed between them during their entire meal, there may have been something more fundamental than backache going on.) It doesn’t help that the bar area is flooded with retina-searing light from a multi-bulb chandelier. The candle on our table remained unloved and unlit. Mood is good in lighting, but not in customers, especially in a restaurant.

I hope these niggles are just teething troubles. I would really like this place to succeed – so I would say go and try it. Because if it goes the same way as its predecessors, Simon isn’t going to get a break from cooking at all ….

Helen Crossley

October 2012 (Autumn issue)


The Boathouse at Instow

boathouse instowWebsite:     Bookings:  01271 861292

As usual, the appalling weather coincided with the arrival of guests. In this case, it was the outlaws fresh off the ferry from their eight months vanning around Spain and Portugal and struggling to adapt to the drastic fall in temperature combined with high winds and pelting rain. How were we going to distract them? There was only one thing for it – go out for lunch.

We headed west, over to The Boathouse in Instow. One silver lining to the dark clouds bunched over us was finding a parking space not far from the restaurant. (But on a dry day, when the front can be solid with cars from sunrise to sunset, it’s only a short stroll from the cricket club car park.)

Being at the northern end of Marine Parade gives it long views out to the crashing waves on Bideford Bar, while the emergency access to the beach opposite means no parking and so uninterrupted views across the Torridge estuary to Appledore and Saunton Sands. If you’re lucky, as we were, you’ll be able to enjoy this fine view from one of the few tables by the window. And Simon was able to initiate his Dad and Stepmum into the joys of counting the number of buses which serve this little pocket of coastline – as pub quizzers will already know, you can catch a bus here which will drop you in Cleethorpes twelve hours later, if the fancy ever takes you!

Not surprisingly, given its name, the speciality at The Boathouse is fish, and the decor complements that with a jolly seaside theme. From the striking display of glossy surf boards on the ceiling as you enter, to the ice-cream coloured bunting strung across the walls, it all looks fresh and appealing.

The same could be said of the dishes. The specials on the blackboards included roast monkfish in Parma ham;  baked Lundy crab;  and locally caught lobster – although the latter at £25 a pop was never going to tempt the folk from Yorkshire! On the regular menu you’ll find the usual prawn and salmon offerings as well as Simon’s choice of starter – New Zealand green-lipped mussels grilled with smoked bacon and Worcestershire sauce, pronounced “delicious”.

Carnivores are also well catered for. On the day we visited, specials included rack of lamb;  duck breast with a mango and blackcurrant sauce;  Cajun spiced chicken;  and steak, kidney and ale pie. Vegetarians don’t get a raw deal either. Choices included spinach and ricotta cannelloni;  avocado and mushroom bake;  and mushroom stroganoff.

We all plumped for the fresh fish. My starter of potted crab on a pecan and walnut salad was fashionably presented in one of those bowls that resembles an upturned hat. Dave and I both enjoyed the fresh chunks of crab on mixed salad leaves, but it was only after the last forkful disappeared that we realised it had been missing the extra crunch of the nuts. On querying this with our waitress we were informed that the sprinkles which had decorated the wide brim of the bowl were in fact the said nuts. Other people, she mused, had made the same comment.

Dave and I agreed on the main course too – a perfectly cooked fillet of John Dory with roasted Mediterranean vegetables accompanied by new potatoes – again, very tasty. But Simon damned his Ray with faint praise, proclaiming it just “fine”. We washed this down with a bottle of something Italian and white, but it was also possible to buy wine by the glass, starting at £3.50 – of little relevance to Sheepwashers, I know. And I’m afraid I can’t comment on the desserts as we called it a day at that point. I can report, however, that the loos were exemplary.

Overall, the service was polite and efficient, and our waitress was unfazed by Barbara’s necessary questions about whether or not there was flour in the dishes. But sadly, I think it lacked a bit of personality, a bit of warmth, that you tend to come across much more in Devon than many other places.

The price for the four of us with water and wine was £105. Given that the portion sizes were pretty decent, we felt it wasn’t bad value and headed back outside armed and ready to face the cold grey Devon summer’s day.

By this time, the rain had stalled and the wind dropped slightly, so we ventured a walk along the front before heading back to Sheepwash for our coffees. As the effects of the wine were beginning to wear off, we hit them with a big glug of caffeine and large slabs of coffee and walnut gluten-free cake. Simon stuck the MotoGP on the telly and settled on the sofa with his Dad while Barb and I got stuck into a couple of mags. What weather?

Helen Crossley

August 2012 (Fete Special issue)