If you’ve been reading this blog for some years, you might remember the first time Jamie and I discovered the Sharpham Vineyard near Totnes in Devon. We had stopped by on the way back from Salcombe and were blown away by its gorgeous setting, stonkingly great wine operation and the fact they make cheese too. Back then I blogged about a lovely afternoon tasting their wares, sipping wines made right there on the estate and tasting their cheese as well as seeing how it’s all made.
Since then we’ve been back, dragging people with us to show them how wonderful it is and after our recent return trip to Salcombe we couldn’t resist taking our pals there and re-treading our footsteps back to the land of lovely wine and cheese.
But it turns out Sharpham isn’t all about wine and cheese. They’ve always had a little al fresco cafe there but since we were last in this little idyll it seems the food operation has been granted a new lease of life and is now The Vineyard Kitchen – a bustling eaterie turning out everything from tapas style picking dishes to mains influenced by the Middle and Far East, all perfectly suited to the slightly exotic feel of Sharpham.
A few words to the wise – The Vineyard Kitchen seems to get VERY busy. When we arrived without booking we were told there were no tables, but a bit of gentle persuasion meant we managed to reserve one for about an hour later, leaving us to just wile away a bit of time in the sunshine at Sharpham. So lesson one, don’t give up in the face of an initial ‘no’.
Also, The Vineyard Kitchen operates separately to the Sharpham shop, which also does tastings and tours, so there’s a slightly quirky set-up of half of the outdoor dining area dedicated to one and the rest to the other. However, they were quite happy to let us sit in the Sharpham side and do a mini wine tasting (which, by the way, is well worth your time and a couple of quid) while we waited for our table, then move down into the other area.
We started off with some padron peppers – a personal fave of mine – fried until their outsides were slightly blistered, and scattered with crunchy sea salt that contrasted perfectly with the sweetness of the peppers. A perfect outdoor snack, and rather nice with a glass of Sharpham white.
Since it was a busy sunny day, a few of the courses had run out but there was still plenty for us to choose from. After a few days by the sea, you’d have thought we may have had enough of seafood, especially after awesome meals at The Crab Shed and The South Sands Hotel. But that didn’t stop two of our number going for a simple combination of prawns and breaded whitebait and calamari served with fries and salad and little pots of saffron aioli and sriracha mayonnaise.
The dish was everything you’d expect from a decent lunchtime venue. Clean tasting and crispy fish, not overdone so it was still tender inside. The fries were, well, fries, but done well, the salad simple and well dressed and the pots of aioli and sriracha mayo a twist on the normal ketchup, mayo or Marie Rose sauce you might find elsewhere. Simple, but effective.
One of our party opted for a dish that takes advantage of the ingredients right there at Sharpham – the estate’s own goats cheese, with ricotta, caramelised onion and broad beans served on sourdough with fig, balsamic shaved fennel and lemon salad.
In this dish you can see exactly what they mean when they talk about influences of the Middle and Far East. A colourful plate mixing the cheese made right there on the doorstep and teamed with the classic combination of sourdough toast and caramelised onion, then the twist of broad beans and a lively mix of fig, balsamic shaved fennel and lemon, bringing the refreshing citrus flavours of the east to an apparently classic dish and making a great al fresco snack.
If it’s the east you’re after, my mezze would definitely transport you there. A feast of food that you could just as easily expect to be served somewhere in Greece or Turkey as in the English countryside. Houmous, tzatziki, spiced beetroot puree, tabouleh, grated carrot with poppy seed, white bean salad, a garlicky orzo salad, fennel, a fresh summery green salad, pitta and a shot of gazpacho. As if that wasn’t enough, I opted for one of the additions of Moorish chicken, lamb kofta, grilled halloumi or sole goujons, choosing the last one that adorned the colourful plate in all its lightly battered glory.
Again, a simple but effective dish. Nothing too swanky, but fresh ingredients, full of flavour and just the right style for the venue, the menu and the season. The fish, as with the other dishes on the table, was cooked just right and its batter not just a great texture but seasoned beautifully too. A great dish and proof that sometimes simple is best.
Never ones to miss out on pudding, we tried a slice of a passionfruit cheesecake they had among the desserts chalked up on a blackboard. Creamy, airy cheese on top of a buttery, crunchy biscuit base and a generous stream of passionfruit coulis snaking its way across it, plus a few fresh raspberries to boot. Delicious.
In terms of food, The Vineyard Kitchen is on to a winner. Keep it simple, build a menu around the ingredients on your doorstep, stick to classic combinations with a slight twist that fits your setting and the summery microclimate that seems to dominate that neck of the woods.
My only tiny criticism would be the slight difficulty we had sorting out a table, which could have resulted in us not getting the chance to try The Vineyard Kitchen and which also gave the slight impression that while they could have accommodated us, they perhaps didn’t want to. Needless to say, once we’d talked the young man who was seating people into letting us have that table an hour later, we were made more than welcome and the service was great. So hey, all’s well that ends well.
Either way, you should definitely give The Vineyard Kitchen a try. Team it with a tasting or a tour and you’ve got a great destination in its own right or a stop off on your way past.
We paid in full at The Vineyard Kitchen. They didn’t know I was a blogger.