En route to our recent seafood holiday in Cornwall, we paused for a visit to Riverford Organic during the day, and stayed overnight in nearby Scoriton. For dinner, we visited a local recommendation, Agaric in Ashburton.
Our trip was organised by (and courtesy of) The Food Travel Company.
Agaric is a small restaurant with bed and breakfast guest rooms above and a kitchen shop next door. It’s run by husband and wife team Nick and Sophie Coiley, with Nick in charge of menu and kitchen and Sophie overseeing the day to day running of the business.
Unusually (or perhaps not for the area) the restaurant serves morning coffee / late breakfasts, lunch and dinner, though I guess if you’re running a B&B anyway, it’s not a huge step to offer breakfast to more than one’s overnight guests. For all three meals, the Coileys make as much themselves as they can, from home made bread and preserves to smoked fish and cured meats to ice creams and sorbets, not to mention home grown produce, where possible – behind the restaurant is a courtyard garden, a greenhouse and a kitchen garden; the Coiley’s grow most of their own salads and herbs and also some of the soft fruit, flowers and chillies they use too. For the rest, they source locally and quality.
Inside is small and welcoming, though the sheer volume of preserves on sale is slightly unnerving, filling shelving by the door, nooks within the walls and a dresser nearer the bar towards the back.
Initially, we take a seat at the bar, where we also make our choices for the meal and are served an amuse bouche. Skewers of very tender beef have been doused in an Asian-inspired marinade and lightly seared. Tender and tasty. The plump olives stuffed with pickled chillies are great too. After nibbles, we are shown to our table.
The bread, served warm out of the oven, is truly some of the best I’ve ever had. Brown, feather light, soft, with a light crust… it tastes so good I have to concentrate not to make happy noises and shock the elderly fellow patrons.
I ask for more info, but am told only that Nick has fine tuned his recipe over the years and bakes it in the wood fired pizza ovens he had installed in the kitchen. Later though, our waitress comes back and tells me that Nick combines Shipton Mill brown flour with Marriage’s white and uses live yeast. A start, if I’m to persuade Pete to try and recreate it…!
Pete starts with baked goats cheese with rosemary & paprika on toasted brioche with wood oven roasted peppers (£8.95). He is very happy with the soft mild goats cheese, a nicely dressed salad and sweet peppers.
I choose a fish plate of kiln roast salmon and smoked salmon with a lobster cake, buckwheat pancakes, organic green salad & lime mayonnaise (£9.50). The smoked salmon is thick cut and with nice flavour, not the most flavoursome I’ve had, but decent. The hot smoked salmon, on the other hand, is spectacularly good – succulent, full of flavour and a nice portion too. It’s lovely with that lime mayo. The lobster cake is pleasant, and the taste and texture of lobster chunks do come through, with a lemony back note, but it doesn’t blow me away, being a little too dry.
Pete’s main is an enormous panfried fillet of Devon beef with a shallot and red wine stuffed mushroom served with parsnip puree and horseradish cream (£22.50). As you’d expect from a fillet, the meat is wonderfully soft. Less of a given is how good it tastes, with real beefy punch. The pepper adds texture and a little fire, but without masking the meat. Parnsip puree is fabulous with all the sweet, earthiness of this undersung root vegetable. The only let down is the gravy which is somewhat bland and not particularly attractive either, with all the floating dark matter. Still, overall a great dish.
My roast breast of duck with a honey and rosemary glaze served with a warm beetroot mousse, onion and orange confit and spinach (£19.50) is mixed. The duck is super soft, cooked just right and with excellent flavour again. It’s a generous portion too. The beetroot mousse tastes alright but the grainy texture is off-putting. I’m given a small dollop of that same parsnip puree, and it’s so good I wish I had more instead of the beetroot. The onion and orange confit is superb, with caramelised onion cut by tangy citrus, but this time the portion is far too big. It’s strong stuff, and a little goes a long way. I like my gravy better than Pete’s – thick and glossy with a decent flavour of rosemary too.
Pete enjoys his vanilla and ginger baked cheesecake with poached gooseberries (£6.95) well enough though says the ginger is virtually undetectable and the gooseberries are under ripe.
The hot chocolate soufflé (£6.95) was meant to come with jersey double cream, but I asked instead for a scoop of salted caramel ice cream, listed as part of one of the other desserts. The souffle is decent but it’s the salted caramel ice cream that wins me over more, with it’s generous measure of salt in a properly browned caramel base.
It’s a good meal served by friendly faces, in a simple and cosy setting. The ingredients are clearly of excellent quality, and the dishes attractive and with many good flavours. Not perfect, by any means, but very enjoyable and a restaurant I’d be happy to visit again.
Our visit to Agaric was part of a week-long South West Tour courtesy of The Food Travel Company. They are a new company offering specialist trips for food (and drink) lovers, with group departures and customised itineraries available. Our trip included a night near Buckfastliegh, four nights in Cornwall where we enjoyed a number of seafood-oriented activities, and another night in Bristol on the way home, allowing us to visit some great breweries and restaurants. I’ll be posting about several more of our experiences in coming weeks.