Food & Drink: So what's your poison?: Emily Green samples Toxique chic at a converted Wiltshire farmhouse, then has a sweet and sour time in Devon

'I THINK it means poisonous,' said Peter Jewkes when the Independent contacted him just over a year ago about the naming of his new hotel-restaurant. 'Toxique' is, in fact, French for 'toxic', and qualifies Toxique, on the scrubby periphery of Melksham, Wiltshire, as the Business with the Silliest Name in the British Isles. Its only serious competition comes from a London restaurant called the Dog House.

Name aside, Toxique is an entirely agreeable place, a converted farmhouse with a slightly dotty French charm. Feathery trees at the front of a large, cool garden have had a gentle topiary job done on them. Roses climb. Cows moo in a field out back. This rustic grace has a poignant sense of fragility about it, given the presence out front of electricity pylons marching across the horizon, and a dull suburb encroaching nearby.

The arrangement inside the house is decorating-magazine bohemian: walls in the lounge are black, couches and armchairs are low. Pine cones are placed artfully about. In the two dining rooms white plastic garden chairs are cleverly draped with fabric. It emerges that the design flourishes are no accident: Peter Jewkes, one of the two owners (a couple), is an architect who got out of London when the construction industry ground to a near halt.

Small-town life appears to suit Mr Jewkes. Hospitality could not be more laid back. Those who have booked a room and arrive late afternoon will probably find him in the kitchen. He offers a choice of handsome, spare rooms in cool white. Other than bathtubs the size of small swimming pools and large, firm beds, these rooms ignore the 20th century. There is no phone, no television. Just a hint of dinner from downstairs as the other owner, Helen Bartlett, fries onions.

The low-key hospitality clearly appeals to Melksham and nearby towns. Toxique's dining room was hopping last Thursday night. Guests travelled from Bristol and Bath to eat there. They were given an easy, gracious reception, candlelight, three courses for pounds 22.50, a decent choice of wine and good cafetiere coffee.

The food evinces care. Good bread rolls are kitchen-made. When it comes to cooking proper, it remains pleasing, if a bit busy. Every dish sampled was perfectly good, but could have done without at least one ingredient. A carrot, tomato and pepper soup with basil- and tarragon-laden croutons was rich, had a hot kick and an almost overpowering sweetness. Moist monkfish kebabs came in a pool of beurre blanc with a rich black bean sauce and spiced with tarragon and lime. It needed less seasoning and more texture. Lamb was coated in nuts and given a sweet glaze, and served with baby carrots. This again needed relief: something clean and simple.

Mr Jewkes and Ms Bartlett set up Toxique as a relaxed alternative to stuffy country house hotels. Perhaps they should have called it Antidote.

LIKE the owners of Toxique, Stephen Edds and Jane Gibbs are newcomers to catering. He left a career as a teacher to run a restaurant. Last November, they opened Temple Winds, several blocks from the seafront in Exmouth, Devon.

There was not much they could do last week when the council decided to drain a fountain out front during lunch hour, its pump droning with dull intensity. (Apparently some joker had put green food-colouring in it.)

There are, however, tricks of the trade that come with experience. These include offering not just white but also red wine by the glass and giving diners the choice of going straight to table in a pretty, white-washed dining room instead of directing them to an empty, airless lounge upstairs to order. Add to the list not congratulating single diners for being single diners. And most certainly not peeping around doorframes at them as they eat in an otherwise empty room.

The cooking is a good news, bad news story. Bad news first: the savoury courses. Bread, strangely shaped from baking in a seedling pot, was ropey and raw in the centre. Amuse-gueules, including carved-out cherry tomatoes stuffed with some sort of bland whizz, were dinky and tasteless. A salad of crispy duck had nice lettuces in perfect condition, tough stringy meat and a bland hazelnut dressing. Chargrilled tuna, served with a sweetish tomato sauce and glazed spring onions, was seriously overcooked. Vegetables to the side included good grilled courgettes, 'tempura' green beans (battered and deep-fried) and overdone carrots.

Mr Edds says he has no interest in any food 'east of Italy' (meaning Oriental) and boasts he does not cook with lemongrass. This is a peculiar point of pride, and should preclude the bean tempura and (listed but unsampled) sea bass with 'classic sweet-and-sour sauce'.

Good news comes in the form of dessert. Mr Edds appears to be an excellent pastry chef. His lemon curd ice-cream with a bramble sauce and shortbread was first class: generous, pretty and fresh. Petits-fours, including excellent fudge and snow- white meringues, were ace. Prices are fair: a three-course lunch is pounds 13, two courses pounds 9.

Toxique, 187 Woodrow Road, Melksham, Wiltshire (0225-702129). Vegetarian meals. Children welcome. Dinner, bed and breakfast pounds 64 single, pounds 108 double. Open dinner Tue-Sat, lunch Sun. Access, Visa.

Temple Winds, The Beacon, Exmouth, Devon (0395-222201). Children welcome. Open lunch and dinner Tue-Sat, Sun lunch. Access, Visa, Switch.

Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese and DiCaprio, at an awards show in 2010
filmsDe Niro, DiCaprio and Pitt to star
In this photo illustration a school student eats a hamburger as part of his lunch which was brought from a fast food shop near his school, on October 5, 2005 in London, England. The British government has announced plans to remove junk food from school lunches. From September 2006, food that is high in fat, sugar or salt will be banned from meals and removed from vending machines in schools across England. The move comes in response to a campaign by celebrity TV chef Jamie Oliver to improve school meals.
England captain Wayne Rooney during training
FOOTBALLNew captain vows side will deliver against Norway for small crowd
Life and Style
Red or dead: An actor portrays Hungarian countess Elizabeth Báthory, rumoured to have bathed in blood to keep youthful
peopleJustin Bieber charged with assault and dangerous driving after crashing quad bike into a minivan
peopleHis band Survivor was due to resume touring this month
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Radamel Falcao poses with his United shirt
FOOTBALLRadamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant in Colombia to Manchester United's star signing
Life and Style
fashionAngelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Business Development Manager / Sales Pro

    £30 - 35k + Uncapped Comission (£70k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Business Develop...

    Day In a Page

    Chief inspector of GPs: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

    Steve Field: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

    The man charged with inspecting doctors explains why he may not be welcome in every surgery
    Stolen youth: Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing

    Stolen youth

    Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing
    Bob Willoughby: Hollywood's first behind the scenes photographer

    Bob Willoughby: The reel deal

    He was the photographer who brought documentary photojournalism to Hollywood, changing the way film stars would be portrayed for ever
    Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

    Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

    Scorsese in the director's chair with De Niro, DiCaprio and Pitt to star
    Angelina Jolie's wedding dress: made by Versace, designed by her children

    Made by Versace, designed by her children

    Angelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
    Anyone for pulled chicken?

    Pulling chicks

    Pulled pork has gone from being a US barbecue secret to a regular on supermarket shelves. Now KFC is trying to tempt us with a chicken version
    9 best steam generator irons

    9 best steam generator irons

    To get through your ironing as swiftly as possible, invest in one of these efficient gadgets
    England v Norway: Wayne Rooney admits England must ‘put on a show’ to regain faith

    Rooney admits England must ‘put on a show’ to regain faith

    New captain vows side will deliver for small Wembley crowd
    ‘We knew he was something special:’ Radamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant to Manchester United's star signing

    ‘We knew he was something special’

    Radamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant to Manchester United's star signing
    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York