Circa 1924, Exeter

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Finding myself in the beautiful county of Devon earlier this month meant that I could spend time with one of my oldest and closest friends, Robyn Gollop. Robyn lives in Exeter and has put me up for so many of my birthdays, making each one more special than the last, I’ve lost count. After too many years of this lopsidedness, last September she finally made her merry way to Jersey, and we had the weekend to beat all weekends, at none other than the legendary Jersey Live festival. Our epic croquet gathering before the event is still being talked about, to this very day.

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Nowadays, Robyn works for an online newspaper called the Express & Echo, and was working on a piece centred around cocktails at the time of my visit. Well, how serendipitous indeed! We were lucky enough to be treated to the evening of our dreams at a brilliant place called Circa 1924. The bar specialises in house infused spirits, ranging from charred pineapple rum and pomegranate gin, to pear and cinnamon vodka. The restaurant is primarily a seafood and steakhouse, but the small plates and desserts were exciting, innovative and had a distinctively Scandi flair.

Having spent an evening together earlier in the week at a rather dodgy cocktail bar in Newton Abbott, just down the road from ‘takeaway alley’, we were delighted to sample some of the barman’s creations in a much more sophisticated establishment.

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A whiskey creation from the specials board, becoming a bit vampire-esque with the blood spatters.

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A twist on a Bellini was our other choice.

Alex, the owner, then led us downstairs to our table. The restaurant is beautifully decorated with modern light fixtures, and we were sat in a comfy booth with top notch people-watching potential. A 21st birthday was going on in our vicinity, and I joined in the singing with gusto, in the hopes of maybe being offered a slice of cake. It didn’t work, but that won’t stop me trying again in the future.

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Fried oysters served with spicy relish. 

Our pre-starter. Having tried one or two crispy oysters in my time, I was over the moon to be presented with an entire plateful of the little gooey but crunchy critters. Being lucky enough (#blessed?) to pop to France for a day once a year, the oysters I love are usually fresh from the stall in Cancale, shucked there and then, with a simple squeeze of lemon. But these converted me to the battered ways of crispy shellfish. Sat atop a dab of punchy relish, they were a hit.

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Cured fillet of local beef, pickled red onion, crispy capers, Dijon mustard & Suerta Alta extra virgin olive oil.

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Crispy softshell crab, spring onion, house sweet chilli & wasabi.

Both starters were stunning to look at and a delight to eat. What I thought was a horseradish powder with the beef, turned out to be olive oil. But my tastebuds are still 70% sure there was horseradish lurking in there somewhere. The house sweet chilli that the soft shell crab was sitting on, was frankly to die for. If they bottled it, I would buy it. Also, fully onboard with the coriander cress garnish. It’s having a moment.

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Ribeye steak, skin on fries, salsa verde, béarnaise sauce.

The fries were all crispy, not just the little edge ones. Exactly the way I like em.

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Grilled fish of the day, monkfish, with dill & lemon butter.

The fish was cooked to perfection, not holding back on the butter. Good stuff.

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Vegetable tempura.

A delicately light, but well seasoned batter made this broccoli the most moreish broccoli I ever hath had the pleasure of tasting.

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Buttered new potatoes and Caesar salad.

This was the most exquisite side order of Caesar salad. At first, our reaction was a tad lacklustre, thinking, ‘Oh, just a Caesar salad like any other.’ But we were wrong! It was marvellous. Not too garlicky or heavy on the anchovies, but it packed a serious amount of flavour.

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Being avid fans of Mary Berry, we were both intrigued by the pineapple & coconut ile flottante. Light, creamy, airy, a fluffy cloud-like dream. Adorned with another of my favourite garnishes, edible flowers.

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Raspberries & cream, sorbet, gel, meringue, fresh & freeze dried raspberries & vanilla creme.

Each mouthful was an explosion of raspberry. Not only did I think it was presented beautifully, but it ate very well, too. Like a sophisticated Eton mess. The chefs at Circa 1924 have not only put a lot of care and thought into the look of their food, but have really thought through the entire menu exceptionally well. Nothing was put on the plate just for the sake of it. Each and every element had a reason to be there. That is something that I appreciate as a diner, and wholly respect in a chef.

Believe it or not, this meal came on the Friday evening of an intense week I’d spent cooking, and eating, everything in all its double cream and buttery glory, at the cookery school. Was I even hungry when I sat down for this meal? No, not really. But did I finish my share of every single thing on every single plate? Yes, I most certainly did. Quite frankly, I don’t know how I did it, but the food was of such a high standard that I enjoyed every single bite. Or, I was so drunk from the smorgasbord of gins, that blind gluttony took over.

After our meal fit for royalty, we sampled even more of the extensive spirit menu.

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Salted caramel flip, lychee slake.

The next thing we knew, it was 1am and we’d been drinking heavily with the owner and his friends the entire time. A double house infusion mixer is only £6.50, with 2-4-1 and £5 cocktails on Tuesday to Friday, from 5pm to 9pm. If I lived and worked in Exeter, I’d be there every single blimmin’ day after work, propping up the bar. The G&Ts we drank were undoubtedly the best I’ve ever had, with the pomegranate and the rosemary & thyme flavours standing out as favourites. Botanical brilliance. Live music fills the upstairs bar three nights a week, so if you’re in the area, I would wholeheartedly recommend to while away an evening at Circa 1924.

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