The Real Food Store opens its doors
Come on into the bakery
Emma's Bread in all its glory
The Real Food Store counter
Fairtrade biscuits, local chocolate and so much more
Aerial view of the Store floor
Emma's Bread - great, funky signage
Gorgeous local vegetables
And off up to the Cafe ...
The Cafe counter and members of the lovely Real Food team
Emma's cakes to tempt you
It's been a long time in the planning, but The Real Food Store in Exeter has finally opened its doors. This might be a slightly biased review, but being a member I was always going to want to shout from the rooftops about this wonderful new 'store with a heart & soul'.
After 2 years in the planning, the founding members and first official Board of Directors, finally saw their dream of a ‘Real Food’ store for Exeter come to fruition. Dominic Acland, co-founder of Occombe Farm in South Devon, Nicola Beglin, Sarah Collier, David Mezzetti of Transition Exeter, Christine Duff of OrganicArts and Love Local Food and Emma Parkin of Emma’s Bread have been supported by nearly 300 local shareholders, better known as members, in a project that has ‘community’ written all over it. The idea was to open a shop, café and bakery for local people that was an alternative to other standard retail offerings. The double fronted store in Paris Street features local, Fairtrade & organic essentials and specialities, homemade bread baked daily and a café menu that makes the most of this very special and carefully selected produce. The focus is on seasonality, making it very easy to keep track of what is naturally available to us at any time of the year.
Suppliers are thoughtfully sourced in a bid to maintain the integrity and ethos of the project. My trip to the store on its first Saturday of opening saw me scouring the shelves for new and interesting products and I wasn’t disappointed. There were those I instantly recognised such as Luscombe juices, Chunk pies & Quickes cheese, but the shelves were riddled with unfamiliar brands that kept me occupied for the best part of half an hour. A small taster selection includes Devon Cottage organic fudge, Sandford Orchards Ginger Beer, The Bath Pig’s UK Chorizo - that’s definitely on the shopping list for my next visit – Mike’s Smokehouse smoked salmon & prawns, Zaytoun Palestinian Fairtrade EV Olive Oil and Bell & Loxton Cold Pressed Rapeseed Oil. Where the produce is not completely local, and this is inevitable for a well-rounded store, it is Fairtrade. David Mezzetti has been quoted as saying that this is the perfect shop window for local producers and I have to agree. The choice is broad, enticing and ethical. Essentials such as flour (Shipton Mill), bread (in abundance!), vegetables, fruit, milk, meat and eggs are all accounted for making this a serious option for part or all of your next weekly shop. Prices are varied and many are very reasonable, but sometimes it is worth paying a little more to know that we are supporting local producers and getting top quality, seasonal food.
Local workers who fancy something different at lunchtime can either shimmy on up to the Café or grab a take away sandwich, all of which are made on the premises. I was very impressed by the sandwich filling selection which is an extension of the current Spring menu in the café. Pumpkin, humous and slaw, venison sausage and onion marmalade and paprika egg salad stood out as attractive alternatives to your standard BLT or tuna mayo. We aimed to eat in the café, but missed both the breakfast and lunch slots which run until 11.30am and from 12 noon respectively. We ordered a latté and Americano instead and enjoyed bathing in the sunshine streaming through the large windows at the front of the café. The coffee is Origin Farmer 30 (£2.10/2.30) and the Fairtrade loose leaf tea (£1.95) is by Suki. I spent a little time studying the Spring menu in order to get a head start on my next visit and was more than impressed by the average prices, particularly given the quality of the produce. My choice on that visit, would have been for either the Garlic Cheese Salad (£4.25) - salads are changed out regularly - served with Emma’s Bread or the Venison Sausage & Hillside Red Onion & Thyme Marmalade sandwich (£4.95). The breakfast menu served from 8-11.30am includes healthy options such as Emma’s toast, Midfields granola with Riverford yogurt (£2.95) as well as weekend treat options such as Rhubarb & Ginger breakfast muffins (£1.95) and my personal favourite, an open toastie with wilted organic spinach & tasty Cheddar with 2 poached eggs (£3.95). For someone who thrives on novelty, like myself, the seasonal changing of the menu equals endless entertainment.
There is plenty of room in the café with roughly 15-20 tables seating between 60-80 people although don’t quote me on that. It’s a big space in any event. In the true spirit of the project JC & I shared our 4 seater table with a mum and her son as things were a tad busy. The café had a lovely buzz to it, despite some teething troubles such as an inability to take card payments due to a technical glitch. Given the store had been open only 4 days it is expected that things won’t run exactly to plan from minute one, but they certainly looked pretty organised to me. The colour scheme, in line with the store branding, is lime green and tomato red with several feature walls painted in either one or the other colour. The use of natural materials, including gratifyingly chunky wood counters in the store, bakery and café, add to a very tasteful and vibrant space. The design of the Real Food Store has an earthy and vivid personality which makes poking around the well-stocked shelves even more enjoyable.
The bakery has it’s own entrance to the right of the main store entrance and as per the rest of the store feels very different to your average supermarket experience. Emma Parkin has run Emma’s Bread since 2005 and her products are already well known and loved by many a farmers market shopper, but this is her first permanent store front. The bakery is stocked daily (Mon-Sat 8am-6pm) with a range of speciality breads including spelt, rye & seeded sourdough and wholemeal loaves as well as an ever changing range of tempting cakes, biscuits and slices. Emma’s aim is to offer customers ‘real’ bread using traditional methods and without unnecessary additives or preservatives. Emma uses Shipton Mill organic flours and each loaf is weighed and shaped by hand. An artisan bakery of this calibre should be well appreciated by anyone who truly loves good food.
My purchases on that first visit were a little special as my sister and brother-in-law were arriving from Australia that week, so I pushed the boat out. Some goat’s cheese & mature Cheddar from Quickes, a pot of Hillside Plum & Port fruit paste and a packet of Hillside Pink Peppercorn Crunch savoury biscuits made for a stunning Devon produce showcase as well as a very impressive late afternoon snack for my guests who are a pair of Australian foodies. In fact all of these products are made within a stone’s throw of Exeter city centre. I can’t fail to bowl them over with that little spread. Next time you are pottering around Princesshay, head for Paris St. and treat yourself to a little feel-good nosh. Help support our local producers and at the same time enjoy a mighty fine meal. You can’t say fairer than that.