Cheoff

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The Cellar Door, Totnes

Lunch, Sunday 10 June 2018

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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.

But...

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.

Thought I'd best end on a lighter note... here's a dog.

MR P'S CURIOUS TAVERN

 

Mrs. Cheoff and I dropped in here on February 16th 2017 for lunch on our way home from a Wearside (literally) Valentine's Day stay. The lingering (ever-present) romance meant that we agreed to share the 'Taste by Surprise' menu without too much argument. 

Charcuterie Plate: Hazelnut and Apple Salami, Chorizo, Lomo,
Bread, Oil and Balsamic

All on this platter was quite delicately cured and flavoured. Very thin slices - but about right considering what was to follow. We dipped our bread into an oil which was unremarkable and a vinegar which was certainly much sharper and less sweet than expected or wanted.

Calamari with Marie Rose Aïoli

The disaster. I foolishly assured Mrs Cheoff that this would convince her to include properly cooked squid in her menu options in future. What arrived was a bowl of those elasticated bobbles which are ideal for tidying up long hair but get sent back to a professional kitchen. The 'bobbles' were coated in a poorly seasoned, slightly damp ‘batter’. I still haven’t worked out how the squid could be so over-cooked inside while the outside coating was so limp. The sauce at least had a fruity, acidic hit of tomato.
Chef agreed to send an alternative.

 ‘Seaside’ Pickled Cockles, Mussels and Oak Roast Salmon
Marsh Samphire, Sour Cream and Poor Man’s Caviar

A clever, very pleasing mix here. Great coastal flavours dragged from the promenade stall and given a few richer touches with a smoked element and a suggestion of caviar which wouldn’t normally appear in your polystyrene cup… this was nicely presented in a ‘Kilner’ jar. Back on track.

Potted Clatter Dove ‘Royale’, Smoked Bacon Butter, Raisins, Black Truffle Brioche

My favourite. Let's forget that silly old ‘caviar’ business - this was truly more indulgent. Smoked butter was far thicker than expected... and all the better for that. Hidden chunks of bacon were awfully welcome. Wood pigeon was delicately rich and balanced out by sharp raisins. Is the fecund aroma of truffle on sweet brioche a step too far? Absolutely not… why stop short of complete and utter seduction?

Two Chefs’ Braised Pig Cheek Cottage Pie, Smoked Mashed Potato, Marmite Glazed Carrots

Almost a roaring success. This reads as a crowd-pleaser but, apart from the smashing carrots*, the other elements' flavour and seasoning were disappointingly weak and underplayed. So nearly there.
* I take little heed of you Marmite haters.

Tandoori Pheasant, Spiced Squash, Mango Purée, Fennel, Peanuts and Raisins

Again we had all the ingredients and recipe ideas for a treat. Again the flavours which should have come from spices were almost absent. The meat was dry and it didn't help that any suggestion of hot, smoky tandoor cooking was also missing. Our taste buds were not jaded... we were perfectly ready for further challenge.

Crumbed Black Pudding and Mustard Mayonnaise

This was our replacement for the calamari catastrophe. No real frills here but the earthiness of the pudding was given a wake-up call with just the right attack from mustard. The crumb joined in and formed a trio of well-judged textures. Simple, generous and tasty.

Admiral Collingwood Cheese, Landlord’s Pickle

Most cheeses hit the spot in some way. This was no exception. We’d enjoyed the pickle over at Harome on our last visit. It was lovely to make friends again.

Yorkshire Rhubarb ‘n’ Ginger Upside Down Cheesecake

Not the strongest of finishes. Our main concern was the titchy amount of rhubarb. I couldn't identify much ginger. There was a 'cakey' crumb on top but the 'cheesy' section was replaced with a melted custard ice cream. All a tad confused. And the cold numbed any little flavour which might have been there.

Trebbiano di Romagna, Le Coste Poderi, 2014

Wines are usually reliable from 'Pernshire' and our white didn't disappoint. Driving duty restraints limited our exploration here but the rest of the list looks as sound as expected. There is also a generous ginfest for those so inclined.

All in all a bit of a bumpy ride. We have only enjoyed sheer delight at the flagship (mothership?) Star Inn but I recognise that Mr. P's is a different beast. I would certainly return here but probably not risk the 'surprises' which were sprung upon us. Most of the items were available to choose from the  main menu. I'm sure you could find enough to enjoy on a more personally controlled basis. And, as was made clear, the responsive, professional kitchen is perfectly willing and able to compensate for any occasional weakness. 

I'm not here to put you off. Walk around the quirky interior (between courses or on your way to the loo) but be prepared to focus on the food. York has so much to offer and, when all is said and done, Mr. P's holds out the prospect of city centre eating well above average.

Many thanks to our server, Perrie, who provided confident and reassuring advice and acted as a very diplomatic go-between with the kitchen when things weren't quite right.

Many design considerations went into Mr. P's... look for the influential graphics on this bottle from an interesting South African wine producer when you visit. 

Many design considerations went into Mr. P's... look for the influential graphics on this bottle from an interesting South African wine producer when you visit. 

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