Bilby Bites - the food blog from Bilby Marketing

Darts Farm Shop

Darts Farm is a bit of a foodie institution in and around Exeter. Based in the ancient port of Topsham on the edge of Exeter, the Dart family have been selling their produce to the locals for the last 40 years so their credentials are sound. Not your average farm shop, they have lost most of their rusticity and are now more akin to a ‘Selfridge’s food hall’ as the Guardian put it, but quite a distance from London. In the last 5 years the Dart brothers, Paul, Michael and James, have received numerous awards for their efforts, including Local Food Hero 2009 for the South West from Good Food’s Market Kitchen, South West Local Retail Outlet of the Year 2009 from the Taste of the West and Best Food Producer 2009 from Devon Life magazine. National awards include the National Farmers’ Retail & Market Association’s (FARMA) prize for UK Best Farm Retailer in 2006/7, as well as recognition by national press including The Times, Guardian and Daily Mail.

I have shopped at Darts Farm for quite a few years and in recent month’s have taken to visiting around once a week to pick up my local meat from Gerald David, the butchers. Gerald David & Family have also been around for 40 years, starting out in Langport, Somerset and now boasting 7 stores across Devon & Somerset. Their meat is locally sourced from trusted farms. The beef is hung for a minimum of 3 weeks, the lamb is selected from preferred Exmoor farms close to their abbatoir, as is the pork which is from gilt pigs (females) to give a traditional taste. All poultry and game is free range including turkeys, chicken, duck, geese, grouse, partridge, pheasant, pigeon, quail & venison. My own personal experience stretches from the wonderful lamb & mint burgers and various flavoured pork sausages, through to gammon ham joints, free range turkey rolled joint & plain old chicken thighs which were last night’s dinner. Nothing I have purchased has disappointed and the quaility is superb. My gammon ham served on Christmas day – see my Festive Christmas Ham recipe – and my turkey rolled joint went down a treat and the cost was not excessive given the quality.

The Food Hall and surrounding Deli, Bakers, Cider Works and Ale House provide every food fix you could dream of. From Teoni’s biscuits (another big favourite in our house), Browne’s chocolates, Willy’s Cacao and Burt’s crisps to Quickes, Cornish Yarg & Sharpham cheeses, Dartmoor Jail Ale and Dartmouth Smokehouse kipper fillets, there isn’t really anything you could possibly want for on a food shopping expedition. All the basics are there including fresh bread, cakes, fruit, vegetables, dairy products and meat sourced from local producers or from Dart’s farm itself of course, but you’ll also find plenty of tempting ‘treats’ such as top drawer olive oils, balsamic vinegars and the like. When looking for something special to go with our pudding course at Christmas time I was even able to find my Pedro Ximenez Triana Sherry which made me gasp out loud with happiness when I spotted it on the shelf.

Whilst the abundance of fantastic local produce is reason alone to visit Dart’s Farm, you could seriously enjoy a day out, or at least half a day, at the complex if it took your fancy. I have easily killed many an hour wandering around the high-brow shops. A word of warning though, take your credit card as this is no roadside fruit & veg shack … or maybe don’t take the credit card. Amongst the range of tantalising establishments you can find connected to the main food hall, are Fired Earth, the Aga store, Orange Tree and Rachel King’s Flowers. It is one of my favourite places to find unusual gifts including Moulin Roty toys - I love these and all of my friends’ children have at least one in their toy collection – Petit Bateau, Bonnie Baby, Mulberry, Cath Kidston, Dr Sebagh, Cowshed and many, many more. One of my dream gifts – for me that is – would be from the Pewter Renaissance collection and I haven’t seen this anywhere else in my gift searching travels. Once you feel you can’t possibly pick up and coo over one more cashmere scarf or Italian pewter jug, you can head over to the restaurant which serves good food using local produce as you would expect. In the cake department there is usually a good offering of gluten-free options for those who don’t get on with wheat. I highly recommend a coffee and cake at the very least to help lift your energies and get you back amongst the fabulous gifts with renewed vigour.

Opening times for the Food Hall & Restaurant are 8am-5.30pm Monday to Friday and 9.30am-4.30pm Sundays, but the other stores in the complex have differing hours, so check the website for more details. The Fish Shed, serving top class fish and chips to eat in or take away is open until 8.30pm on most nights apart from Monday and Sunday. Beware though the wet fish counter has slightly different opening hours so again, check the website first before you get excited and head down there willy nilly. The complex also includes a Conference Centre – blissfully different to your average 4 star hotel chain venue – The Treatment Loft offering various beauty treatments, SMP Pilates and Cotswold Outdoor. The variety doesn’t stop there either. Dart’s Farm ponds offer 24 hour rod fishing of Carp, Roach and Bream, and during season you can pick your own fruit and vegetables. During Autumn last year the fields behind the complex were filled with glorious sunflowers that were also there for the picking. If none of that floats your boat, there is an old tractor for playing on and resident pigs, sheep, chickens and occasionally Alpacas running around in Animal Corner. That’s the kids sorted!

Whilst Dart’s Farm has developed into a sophisticated shopping centre and moved away from the traditional, basic agricultural farm shop model, it still retains a charm and style that makes it unique, particularly in the local area. I never fail to smile when I come away from a shopping spree there, despite the fact that I have inevitably bought more than what I went for. If you haven’t already been, I would recommend taking a look and if you have been, you’ll no doubt have been more than once.