The Rusty Pig at Ottery St Mary near Honiton
When somewhere calls itself a licensed feasting house, curiosity is already piqued and you’re wondering exactly what you’re going to get – but yet again, when we ate there last night, the Rusty Pig delivered in spades. Based in Ottery St Mary, a lovely market town near Honiton – it would be very easy to miss the Rusty Pig if you were just wandering past – a shopfront window, a neon light, an upside down pig sign – it’s a bit like a secret club that only the lucky know about. Established by Robin Rea, an Ottery born and bred local – it seems only right and proper that the Rusty Pig Ethos is all about “local – sourcing, flavours and people” and from humble beginnings in 2011, it is now rightly one of the sought after Devon foodie destinations. We first went there a number of years ago and the breakfast we had is still at the top of our dine-out breakfast rankings. Robin has always sourced and cured his own meat and it was top-quality stuff. We raise our own pigs, and often find the meat lacking when we dine out – but not in Robin’s case, the meat here has always been inspirational. Rolling on a few years – the additions of Mark, the extremely talented chef and Agata, who runs front of house have taken this from a great place to eat to an amazing place to experience food – and for me there’s a subtle difference. Truly great food isn’t just about the food, it’s about the atmosphere of where you’re eating it, the service and the accompanying beverages – and when you get those four pillars working together – it goes off the scale. So about last night… We booked a table for 5 and the warm welcome started as we approached the door, it was thrown open and we were ushered in out of the cold night air and then shown to our table upstairs. It’s a quirky layout with tables spread over 2 floors and a brilliantly electic collection of art and kitchenalia providing an interesting backdrop to your meal. Our table was a repurposed door, complete with escutcheons and candlelight – with vintage cutlery and serviettes aplenty in the heaped drawer on the tabletop. Drinks orders were quickly taken – local juice, local bitter, local cider from Branscombe and my gin & tonic choice for the evening was Tarquins, a Cornish artisan gin – and arrived promptly. So to the menu, one of the things we like about eating here is the innovative approach they have – “Pig & mix” which was a tapas-style journey through some excellent dishes was a particular favourite on a previous visit. Tonight we have “Surprise, surprise!” – 2 or 3 courses on offer and although Aggie offers some clues if we really want them – we decide to go with the flow and just see what arrives. The starter causes some consternation on arrival – parsnips – with 3 non-believers around the table, this might be a challenge! Presented beautifully in a cast-iron skillet – the parsnips have been coated in a pea flour & tonic water batter (and so are gluten and vegan friendly) and served with a side pea pesto and a rich and unctuous tomato sauce. Luckily our boys (and that includes hubby) will try things and they were so glad they did – pronounced delicious by the whole table – this course was a big hit. 1-0 to Mark, he wins this round… Now for the main, big chunky slices of excellently cooked pork leg nestling on a bed of crushed fried potatoes, buttered green kale and black lentils in a tasty sauce – lentils caused a bit of an eyebrow raise with hubby, but the meat tempted him in and yet again Mark proved that even ingredients you don’t particularly care for can be transformed into essential elements of your meal. This really was a superb plate of food, and little moments of treasure appeared whilst eating in the form of crisp crackling nuggets and flavour combinations that really work. 2-0 to Mark… We were sufficiently full really, but the lure of a pudding surprise was too much and we all indulged and oh my goodness, that was such a good decision! Marmalade brioche bread and butter pudding with caramel sauce and cream – served again in a skillet, could we fit this in and continue our run of clean plate courses. Why dear reader – it was too sublime not to finish, the slight bitter bite of the marmalade cut through the sweetness of the caramel with the two flavours really bringing out the best in each other. This was one of the best puddings I have ever had – I nearly asked for a slice to take home it was so good. 3-0 and total victory to Mark.- clean plates all round. Throughout all of these courses, Aggie and her lovely assistant were professional, engaging and made it a really enjoyable experience – informative and funny, their careful and attentive ministrations of us made all the difference. Excellent service is effortless and never that easy to achieve – here you can see that your experience is at the heart of everything they do. So to the bill, two round of drinks for 5 and 3 delicious courses each came to an excellent value £30 per head – the innovation and customer service weren’t priced separately but are an invaluable and integral part of the Rusty Pig and are what keeps us coming back on a regular basis. This is one of those places I am almost loath to write about in case too many people discover it – hats off to Robin and the team, it is pigging superb!