Bilby Bites - the food blog from Bilby Marketing

The Oddfellows Exeter

Over the years, I have been lucky enough to eat in some wonderful restaurants for my job. Not as a result of food writing unfortunately, but in advertising & marketing people like to eat out. Maybe that’s why I gravitated towards that line of work. In Sydney, my first real job at 17 was as a Junior in a typesetting company, and my boss liked to take us all out to dinner as a sort of team building exercise. None of this paintballing or swinging from trees lark that companies seem to think is a great way to encourage bonding with your colleagues nowadays. I had my first Japanese restaurant experience, my first Thai restaurant experience and my first harbour-side restaurant experience during my time in this job. When I talk about harbour-side restaurant experience I’m referring to Sydney Harbour and it’s definitely worth mentioning. If you haven’t eaten in a restaurant overlooking the harbour, try to do this at some point in your lifetime as it’s pretty special.

My visit to The Oddfellows on this occasion was work related, although I have been there many times before. Co-incidentally my first meal at Oddfellows was also with a group of work colleagues back in January 2007. The fact that I have eaten lots of work-related meals here may insinuate it is without a relaxed atmosphere, but I can assure you it is quite the opposite. The décor is in my favourite style, with wooden floorboards, low lighting, rustic wooden tables, aged leather chairs, candles on every table and a menu board set within a heavy gilt frame. The heavy gilt frame isn't absolutely necessary, but is a lovely bonus. The addition of The Speakeasy, the intimate ‘Bohemian rustic’ (their own, apt description) cocktail bar above the original bar and restaurant, completed the stylish offering back in 2008. On one specific evening at Oddfellows, completely non-work related, I managed to arrive at 5pm for drinks in the downstairs bar with an old friend, before going upstairs for cocktails at 6pm, then heading back down to the restaurant for a 7pm dinner. The rain was bucketing down outside and we had a wonderful time, completely forgetting about the awful British winter outside.

Of course the focal point of any eatery is the food – I am stating the obvious here I know, but allow me some space to work my way onto the menu. What The Oddfellows do best is hearty British food, using responsibly sourced, local produce wherever possible, as any establishment worth their salt should do. Head chef Barnaby Sutton, has sustainability and seasonality at the top of his list of priorities. On this humid and rainy night, I met my 3 companions inside and we quickly sat down and scanned the menu. After a discussion on the merits of red vs white meat – we were a split party – lucky for me and my blogging responsibilities we had decided upon a great mix of chicken, pork and a vegetarian option. I love a good vegetarian option and very nearly ordered this myself, but as my fellow diner was opting for this one the belly pork seemed a terrific alternative. Predictable I am aware. When the Filo Wellington with caramelised squash and asparagus served with potato dauphinoise (originally on the menu as boulangerie), roasted garlic cream sauce and spinach, arrived at the table, I made a mental note to fight my corner more fiercely next time. It was reportedly as delicious as it looked, and as you can see from the adjacent photo, it was quite impressive, holding it’s own amongst the meatier competition.

For myself, I yet again had opted for the pork belly and even as I announced this to our waitress, I knew I was in danger of becoming a very boring blogger. Pork Belly is versatile though. Honestly. The chop was marinated in garlic and served with pesto crushed new potatoes, green beans and a roast garlic jus. If you’re not into garlic this dish is never going to ring your bell, but pork, potatoes and garlic sing to me. I’m not sure I was great company afterwards, but again this never seriously influences my choice of dish when I go out. My pork belly chop was slightly overcooked on this ocassion, but as this is my first negative criticism after many happy visits to Oddfellows I was happy to overlook it. The pesto potatoes were wonderful, perfectly crushed – not mashed - and holding their chunkiness with a homemade pesto flavour that tasted distinctly of basil and Parmesan, rather than that bitter basil oil flavour of pesto in jars. The chicken dish up next, was pan-fried, free range chicken supreme (creamy, bacon sauce) with potatoes dauphinoise, braised fennel, asparagus spears and a roasted garlic cream sauce. I think it is fair to say that the chef likes garlic. Two of my fellow diners, when ordering their chicken, had asked if they could have something other than fennel as neither were big fans, and this request was happily met with the replacement offer of green beans, which still worked well.

This willingness to help overflowed into our dessert choice. Our waitress was unperturbed when, after announcing there were no brownies left, she was asked if anything could be done to incorporate strawberries, vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce into an impromptu pudding option. After popping to the kitchen to double check, we were told this wouldn’t be a problem. As it turned out the chef ‘found’ a brownie – a lot less dicey than it sounds – and included strawberries, ice cream and chocolate sauce with the serving. Apparently, this worked a treat and the whole thing came together nicely. Only myself and one other companion decided to go with dessert, but given the opportunity to sample the sweet delights of a decent restaurant, I never say no. It’s even more difficult if fruit, cream and meringue are involved. I spotted Eton Mess with raspberry sauce and it was a done deal. The difficulty with this from a bloggers point of view is that it is a dessert that is almost impossible to mess up. I apologise for the hideous pun, but it had to be done. Consequently my dessert was very good – creamy, meringuey (I’m fairly certain this isn’t a word) and fruity. The only area you could fall down with Eton Mess is with a cheap and nasty sugary meringue lacking in chewiness, but I was not disappointed that night.

It was an early finish, being a Wednesday night with a hectic week of work remaining ahead, so I sadly walked past the entrance to The Speakeasy without looking backwards. I could quite happily have taken a digestif before heading home, but that would have to wait for my next visit. Next time you are shopping in Exeter and you fancy nipping somewhere different for a bit of lunch, veer away from Princesshay and head down New North Road. The Oddfellows and The Speakeasy are venues that work on lots of levels so there’s no excuse for not trying them soon. Have a Pedro Martinez for me while you are there – Pampero Especial Rum and Pedro Ximinez Sherry combined with a touch of apricot. It’s Sunday evening and just typing the ingredients for this cocktail is making me happy. Happy swizzling.