The best restaurants to eat in Exeter
Along with its rich history, the cathedral city of Exeter offers visitors unique bakes, fresh seafood, hand-roasted coffee and even south Indian curries.
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With the arrival of fine-dining hub Lympstone Manor, the Exmoor Food Festival and vibrant new restaurants, cafés and bars, Exeter is now firmly on the foodie travel map. Between exploring the sights of this picturesque city, with its imposing cathedral, ancient fortifications and quaint Tudor buildings, you can enjoy a wide range of local and international dishes.
Contributing editor to BBC Good Food, Orlando Murrin, is lucky enough to be a resident and takes us on a foodie tour in and around this popular UK holiday destination.
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Best restaurants in Exeter at a glance
- Lympstone Manor - Special occasion
- The Daisy Café - Cheap eat, kid friendly
- The Flat - Cheap eat, kid friendly
- Rendezvouz - Casual dining
- The Conservatory - Special occasion
- Dinosaur Café - Casual dining, cheap eat
- Rodean Restaurant - Special occasion
- The Exploding Bakery - Cheap eat, kid friendly
- Harry's Restaurant - Casual dining, kid friendly
- Lloyd's Kitchen - Cheap eat, kid friendly
- Reed Hall - Casual dining
- The Devon And Exeter Institution - Cheap eat
- The Galley - Casual dining, special occasion
Ten miles south of Exeter, Michael Caines’ gorgeously renovated 18th-century mansion commands luminous views over the Exe Estuary. From the moment you step through the door, everything is absolute perfection, particularly the world-class food. The à la carte menu (£135) offers such sumptuous choices as langoustine cannelloni, Brixham lobster and duck liver terrine. Taste of the Estuary (£145) is a seven-course tasting menu based around local scallops, sole, mackerel and John Dory. Stay overnight if you can. The Oyster Catcher suite has huge dual aspect windows, a marble bathroom and the comfiest bed in Devon. Their a la carte menu is £175pp.
The Daisy Café
Cheap eat, kid friendly
Located on the outskirts of Exeter, this traditional café with a modern twist has rapidly won the hearts of locals since opening last year. Faye Rowbury manages to please everyone, with proper breakfasts, generous sandwiches, warming bowls of homemade soup and hot daily specials (the brie and bacon panino is a personal favourite), all made with locally sourced ingredients. Once a month Faye throws a brasserie evening – get in fast, as it invariably sells out. In summer, ask for a table in the garden.
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Cheap eat, kid friendly
Just up the street from Angela’s (see below) is an edgy new establishment called The Flat, which describes its food as ‘planet-friendly indulgence, done simply’. It is, in fact, a vegetarian and vegan pizza and pasta joint where everything is made from scratch using ethically sourced organic ingredients. A choice of seven pizzas (in two sizes) and three pasta dishes keeps things simple. My top pick is the blue cheese, truffle and radicchio pizza. Gluten-free bases are available. Small pizzas from £6.
Tucked away under one of the grand terraces of Southernhay is Rendezvous, a wine bar with a charming, slightly retro vibe and outstanding service. Exposed brick walls, flagstone floors and low lighting produce an intimate atmosphere. Choose from over 60 wines, and dive into comfort food such as lamb rump and belly with squash or rump steak with chunky chips. Rendezvous also has a lovely garden – an oasis in the heart of the city. Mains from £20.
This restaurant is on the site of a Tudor merchant’s house, and as you enter the upstairs dining room you can see some remarkable painted panelling that dates back to about 1600. Chef-owner Mike Barry’s food, on the other hand, is bang up to date: fresh, locally sourced and with a lovely light touch. Fish comes daily from Cornwall, vegetarians are well provided for, and the lunch/early-bird dinner menu is a snip at £17.95 for two courses. Lunch menu is two courses for £12 or three courses for £15.
Casual dining, cheap eat
It may not sound like a Turkish restaurant, but this is the place to head for excellent meze, salads and grills. Its location near Exeter College and the University of Exeter means it has a devoted student following and can be busy, but everything on the menu is fresh and tasty, and the welcome is warm and genuine. Mains from £11.80
In the pretty village of Kenton, 20 minutes out of Exeter, is this charming family-run restaurant, which over the years has become something of a Devon institution. Long before it became fashionable, chef Matthew Tilt was into local sourcing, and practically everything comes from south Devon. Main courses from £19.
The Exploding Bakery
Cheap eat, kid friendly
The parade of shops outside Exeter Central Station has come to life recently, with the arrival of the Real Food Store (formerly in Paris Street), and this groovy bakery-cum-café: everything they make and serve is seriously good, including hearty soups, tortillas and sausage rolls. Don’t leave without a slice of Lumberjack Cake (apple, dates and nuts - £3), which has become part of Exeter’s foodie folklore.
Casual dining, kid friendly
A perennial favourite with university students (and their parents), set in a marvellous building that dates from 1883, designed as a wood and stone carving workshop for the sculptor Harry Hems. Although the hammering stopped long ago, it remains a noisy place, with lots of birthday parties and celebrations, but the food is carefully sourced and meticulously presented. Pop idol Will Young cleared tables here when he was a student. Mains from £18.
Cheap eat, kid friendly
Thanks to Exeter’s Princesshay development (providing a mix of shops and restaurants), the city has become a must-visit for shoppers. The handiest place to grab a bite is this ever-popular café in a plum location: the pedestrian street that runs between the cathedral and the shops. Go for the Exe Breakfast (£10.95), or lunch, with one of the open sandwiches (from £10.95).
Exeter University stands amid sweeping landscapes on a hill overlooking the city. For a quick, cheap meal on campus, it’s hard to beat the View Restaurant at the Northcott, but those in the know head for Reed Hall. Dating from 1867 and surrounded by acres of gorgeous Italianate gardens, this is arguably the university’s finest building, and where you’ll find the gracious Woodbridge Restaurant. Few realise it is open to the public; even fewer that it has its own (free) car park.
The Devon And Exeter Institution
If you know anyone who is a member, beg them to take you to lunch at this venerable library/reading room adjacent to the cathedral. The recent restoration of the cupolas (thanks to lottery money) has restored it to its full glory, and Mary Noon serves delightful, fresh and seriously inexpensive lunches (often under a fiver), beneath the glorious Tudor plasterwork of The Courtenay Room. Members only.
Casual dining, special occasion
Exeter residents think of Topsham as rather posh: with its quaint high street, gabled houses and estuary setting, it’s certainly a desirable place to live, as well as visit. The town offers a wide choice of restaurants and cafés, and to its credit, all are excellent: there is no selling out to the tourist trade. For me, the Galley is the best: a daily menu of super-fresh fish, cosy atmosphere and attentive service. If you love fish and chips, go for the prosecco-battered fillet of bril with triple cooked chips (£19.50).
4 foodie places to try
The best coffee in Exeter is roasted by Steve Pearson in a roaster he made with his own hands. You can also buy coffee beans and learn to be a barista.
An elegant emporium for fans of Spanish food. The products stocked are the best of the best. Those in the know head here for lunchtime bocadillos.
The epicentre of Exeter’s food scene is this compact, heavenly shop on Magdalen Road – a sort of mini Fortnum & Mason. The homemade items are truly exceptional.
The best butcher in Devon is now an online and mail-order business, which means you can get expertly reared beef, lamb, pork, chicken and more delivered to your door.
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