RIVER COTTAGE CANTEEN & DELI
Housed in the beautifully restored Brewhouse at Royal William Yard Plymouth, is the newest sibling of the River Cottage Canteen family. Hugh Whittingstall's new restaurant and delicatessen occupies part of the restored Georgian victualling buildings, a very fitting location. The restaurant space is impressive, with a wonderful buzzy atmosphere.
Many of the dishes on the menu will no doubt benefit from the mighty wood burning oven that sits just behind the pass. I took this photograph from across the counter, stood at least 10 feet away from the roaring oven, and I could feel my face heating up whilst I composed this hurried snap. It was so hot, I felt that either the lens on my trusty camera was about to melt, or I would soon be horrifying the other diners with an impromptu impression of Ronald Lacey at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark!
Maybe the chefs at the Canteen harbour some sort of X-Men like resistance to heat, or more than likely they own a very long pizza paddle hot oven contraption. I can only imagine how delicious a thin, crusty-bottomed and charred-to-perfection Pizza might taste, were it cooked in this fantastic blistering behemoth of an oven.
Which leads me nicely to the food. With Hugh in charge, the menu is, unsurprisingly, a roll call of dishes comprised of wonderfully local and well chosen seasonal ingredients. Beetroots, Cornish Mussels, Buttervilla Farm Leaves from Torpoint, and a few River Cottage favourites like Trealy Farm cured meats served with Quickes Cheese.
To start, Julie, who is the worlds biggest fan of the humble Cauli, simply couldn't resist a bowl of Creamy Cauliflower Soup with Goats Cheese Beignet.
Creamy Cauliflower Soup, Goats Cheese Beignet.
The soup did what it said "on the menu", delivering a wonderfully earthy mouth feel. The unique, slightly bitter taste that is so familiar to lovers of the often overlooked cauliflower, was softened and sweetened with the addition of good local cream. A joyous bowl indeed.
As for the accompanying goats cheese beignet, addictive wouldn't be an understatement.
For my starter I chose the Cornish Mussels, cooked with Cider, Bacon and Cream. Fresh, plump, sweet mussels, sitting in a wonderfully creamy bacon broth, with a mollifying addition of good cider in place of the usual boring wine, I could've eaten these till the cows came home.
Cornish Mussels, Cider, Bacon and Cream
The thing with mussels though, is all that shell (how dare those wretched molluscs have shells, how inconsiderate of them!).
I sometimes wish chefs would throw a handful of de-shelled mussel meats into the pan before plating up, as inevitably, there are always a couple of empty shells clattering around the bowl.
And without fail, there is also ALWAYS, room for just that little bit more bread to mop up the lovely liquor. In fact, I often wonder if it's the mussels we crave, or the supping up of all that briny broth with the buttery bread!
On to our mains. It's always heartening to see Pollock on any menu. It seems to be slowly becoming more a more popular fish thanks to people like Hugh, and Hixy and a few other like-minded spokesmen championing it. Julie chose the pan roasted Pollock, which came served with what just might be her number one favourite vegetable on the planet, the parsnip. She was happy!
Pan Roasted Pollock Fillet, Parsnip Puree and Sprouting Broccoli
When it comes to fish, simple but delicious veggies always work wonderfully. The parsnip puree had that gorgeous sweetness so essential to its success, and went perfectly with the stiff fresh fillet of Pollock, as did the iron rich sprouting broccoli. A Lovely dish.
I'm afraid I'm a pathetically weak willed soul when it comes to food cooked in the primal presence of a roaring hot fire or chargrill. I couldn't resist, there was no point fighting it, I just had to order the wood roasted Megrim Sole.
Whole Wood-Roasted Megrim Sole, Thyme, Lemon and White Wine
This was a seriously good bit of fish. Cooked whole on the bone in that big old smoky beast of an oven, this Megrim was more than a match for it's more popular cousins, Lemon and Dover.
The wood oven did it's thing, and licked the fish with a delicately smoked note, crisping up the skin to a tee. Fantasticly fresh and sweet, with that on-the-bone juicyness that is often absent from filleted pieces of fish (not Julie's pollock though).
Julie and I are suckers for a rustling, salty bowl of chips, so ordering them is almost a reflex action when we eat out. I say almost, because I'm not a total Philistine. You wouldn't catch me asking the waiter at say, Asodor Etxebarri, for a bowl.
Although, I'm positive that if Victor and Lennox did somehow manage to cook some chips on their famed hand-cranked wood fired grills, they would probably be talked about by every chef, journalist, food blogger and food trendinista from here to Cala Montjoi. Triple cooked, schmipple cooked. These were just good old fashioned crunchy chips, leaning toward a more French Fried size.
Canteen Chips with Cornish Sea Salt
Julie isn't as keen on the crunchy bits that break free from the smaller chips, but as I used to be one of those children that would constantly badger the local Fish and Chip shop for "free crispy bits", I was more than happy about the high proportion we ended up with in our side order.
Crushed White Beans and Wild Garlic
The crushed white beans with wild garlic were absolutely gorgeous. If I ever have to bathe in a bath of beans, remind me to give River Cottage Canteen a bell. I can still taste them a I type. Lush.
The gelatinous, bony remnants of a well feasted upon Megrim Sole!
Naturally, at this point in the proceedings we were quite stuffed, so we decided to share a dessert. I'm really into apricots at the moment, so apricots got my vote.
Vanilla Panacotta, Apricot Compote and Short Bread
Almost Christmassy in it's spicing, the apricot compote was a lovely end to a fine meal. The panacotta had that perfect wobble, and was lovely and chilled, which always makes a good dessert seem that little bit lighter than it really is.
Overall, a perfect meal, in a wonderful location. A pleasant walk around the Georgian grandeur of Royal William Yard after the meal also adding to that sense of contentedness. The views out across the Tamar estuary, Torpoint and St John's Lake are wonderful.
Just watch out for that threshold when you enter the restaurant!!!
River Cottage Canteen & Deli, Royal William Yard, Plymouth