The Cellar Door, Totnes
Lunch, Sunday 10 June 2018
The 2018 summer had already switched up its thermostat when we ate here in the middle of a busy trip to Devon and Cornwall. That heat continues as I write this but there is an element of coolness in my reaction to The Cellar Door.
This is not fine dining but the menu suggests that chef Daniel Teage knows much about ingredients and flavours which work well together. So the menu creates serious interest.
Reviews on Facebook and TripAdvisor are mostly very positive for this restaurant. It is quite possible that we were unlucky on the day but it gets difficult to gloss over or excuse a succession of mistakes in service and in cooking. All of which I have discussed in phone calls with Restaurant General Manager, Emma Langmaid, and with Chef/Manager/Owner, Daniel Teage. Both listened to my points very attentively.
Time to chew the fat here with you as well. I must stress that chewy fat was not an issue on the day and will not be mentioned again.
Hot plates for salad leaves are not a success. Both our mains arrived with a warm, dark green slime forming.
Chalk stream trout is a delicate ingredient. Too much curing had sent mine into the unwanted realms of chewiness. Too much sweet orange also suggested a daft fishy dessert. Chilli made a desperate attempt to limit the damage.
My bream was a simple classic served with pepperonata. The fish skin was almost crispy (still edible) but the fish had lost much moisture. I’m guessing that the pan was not hot enough, whereas the oven was too hot or used too long. The sauce had none of the richness which can be achieved. The lack of attention to detail here was poor, given that the dish’s success rests on just two elements.
Mrs Cheoff made her order of confit chicken leg but was eventually told that it was no longer available. She chose the breaded escalope chicken breast instead.
When her fish taco starter arrived with breaded goujons of fish we were exasperated at the lack of explanation from our server that failed to warn of breadcrumb overload.
The goujon coating was nearing burnt toast qualities and encased a dry fish bite.
The Sharpham Estate wine we had chosen from its interesting description was apparently not yet bottled.
We discarded the idea of dessert and settled up. We were asked about our meal (I think by Emma) but there was no consideration made for the disappointment we expressed except for a short verbal apology.
The reason for our underwhelming experience might be explained by the last-minute call from a KP which meant that Daniel was on washing up duties rather than in the kitchen. Which suggests that adequate back-up skills were not present in the kitchen. Service was fragmented and confusing due to lack of communication. The ‘missing’ wine was explained as one which the vineyard had already printed on the list. A correction to indicate availability could have easily been made.
I am pleased that most diners appear to enjoy The Cellar Door much more than we did. It seems obvious that the team were not on top form for our visit but we would not risk another booking.
This ‘cafe’ is a separate venture on the Sharpham Wine & Cheese estate. It has been bought in by them. It is apparent that the vineyard's quality control which produces consistently good wines and cheeses cannot be transferred to The Cellar Door where an even delivery is not guaranteed.