Today I’m reviewing a much loved staple of Exeter’s independent food scene: Tea on the Green, a delightful tearoom set in one of the most beautiful parts of Exeter. It’s a cosy and sweet little venue, that offers delicious traditional breakfasts, lunches and afternoon teas, while going out of its way to provide an excellent gluten-free spread. This review acts as a kind of follow-up to my last post, continuing my gluten-free exploits over the Easter weekend last week! In addition to cooking a (mostly) delightful vegan and gluten-free meal for my parents on Saturday, they also took us out for such a nice gluten-free lunch here on the Friday.
Tea on the Green is located on Exeter’s beautiful Cathedral Green, and has beautiful views looking out across to the cobbled stones of the street and the cathedral itself. There’s plenty of seating both outside, which is lovely when the sun is out, and in the restaurant – if you sit upstairs, the view from the windows is even more impressive.
I’ve been a couple of times before a few years ago, not long after I’d been diagnosed coeliac, and enjoyed a delicious gluten-free curry both times, but they’d slipped from my radar in recent times. However, as we were walking past, we could hardly fail to notice their big, egregiously yellow sign advertising a somewhat staggering list of GF treats: breakfasts, paninis, soup and bread rolls, cakes, shortbread, and even proper pasties, both traditional and vegetarian! Tea on the Green’s curry of the day and catch of the day are usually gluten free, although not always – so do double check with the staff. They also do gluten-free afternoon teas.
The idea of gluten-free pasties must have taken hold of my dad’s imagination and quietly rattled around his head for the morning, as, when lunchtime arrived, our plan for an austere and practical sandwich at home gently melted away like it had never been: lunch out at Tea on the Green it was.
My parents had brought with them our cocker spaniel Ruby, so we settled down at a table outside so that she could come with us. The waiter greeted her with every proper courtesy (an ear ruffle and a scratch under the chin, of course), and then came straight back out after serving our drinks with a bowl of water for her, without even being asked. The setting was gorgeous, but inevitably a little mired by the building work directly to the right of the restaurant – the Cathedral Green is still scarred from the fire at the Royal Clarence Hotel last October. It remains a shell, bundled up in scaffolding and protective boarding. It’s a shame, especially in comparison with memories of what it was like before – people sat outside it in the sun, surrounded by such a beautiful and historic part of Exeter – but the view is still nice.
As luck would have it, we’d come on a Friday – on Thursday evenings, they change the oil in their fryers, which means gluten-free battered fish and chips on Fridays! The pasty plan was abruptly and callously abandoned. My dad was overjoyed to be having fish and chips again, and Greg and my mum followed suit and had the same.
They didn’t have gluten-free beer for my dad, but I think the unexpected pleasure of GF fish and chips far outweighed that particular disappointment. Greg and I had absolutely delicious ‘healthy’ smoothies – raspberry and yogurt for him, and a five-berry concoction for me. And just look how sweet they look together! Both were nice, but I think his just pipped mine – it was creamier with the addition of yogurt, whereas mine was more like a sophisticated fruit juice.
I took advantage of the fryer oil changeover as well, which meant that I could enjoy my three-egg omelette and salad with chips (mmmm). It is still something of a treat to get chips out and about as a coeliac, and it was so nice to sit there and feel like I could eat the same things as everybody else. There were no compromises in my meal, no cause to adopt that ‘Well, I’m lucky to be able to eat out at all’ mentality. I had basil and tomato in my omelette, which was flavourful and delicious, and added a little lightness in contrast to the hearty-pub-lunch-iness of the chips and salad. It would have been even more perfect if the sun had been out consistently, but the little patches of sunshine that did peep out from behind the clouds tantalizingly hinted at how wonderful it would be to eat outside here in the summer.
The verdict on the fish and chips? Just look at that generous portion! Even better than it looked, I was told, and there was a general hum of approval around the table.
The other person who seemed to think that the fish and chips looked good was sat glumly on the floor, Eeyore-style. Ruby is firmly on a diet; however, luckily for her, the rules of said diet are somewhat less firm than the fact that she is definitely on one, meaning that she somehow managed a couple of chips:
The manager himself came to clear our table, with the friendly comment that he likes to do the same jobs as everybody else. Ever since the fire on the Cathedral Green, he told us, it’s been tough on business, which I can imagine. Apparently, due to the difficulties of rebuilding such an old, damaged and precious structure as the Royal Clarence, the process could well take over two years. It is such a shame to see the scaffolding over the pretty green, and it’s right next to Tea on the Green. It’s also lovely to see a little independent amongst all the big brands that otherwise line the Cathedral Green – Cote Brasserie, Waterstones, Costa, Pizza Express, etc. – so, if you do go and enjoy it, it might help to give them a bit of a boost and leave a little review on TripAdvisor. 🙂
With the exception of a slight wait for the bill that was a little too long for my parents’ liking, this little lunch out at Exeter was pitch perfect. I have to come back and try the afternoon tea (gluten-free scones with jam and cream, yes please), and I’m sure my dad will be back in for that pasty sooner or later.