La Petite Maison, restaurant review: A treasure trove of gastronomic ideas in Devon

La Petite Maison, 35 Fore Street, Topsham, Exeter, Tel: 01392 873 660. £100 for two, with drinks

Continuing our occasional series about places outside London that my generation, horrified by scandalous house prices in the capital, are likely to move to, today we are in the patch of Devon called Topsham. Full disclosure: this glorious town on the banks of the River Exe is a mile from Ebford, the village where my wife Charlie grew up. But given that we have no intention of moving back there (unless she has plans to which I am not privy), and given that I don't know the owners of the restaurant we are in, I feel no qualms whatsoever about telling you that this place is utterly delightful, and then some.

Alumni and students of Exeter University know this suburb as the home of the Topsham Ten, one of the more notorious pub crawls in the south-west; but that is actually rather out of kilter with a quaint and quiet little place, about 10 minutes' drive from Exeter, and just up the road from the huge, and hugely successful, Darts Farm shopping complex. One other big thing going for it is La Petite Maison.

This is a family-run restaurant in the best sense: Douglas and Elizabeth Pestell took over in 2000; he runs the kitchen, she runs things up front. Their purchase fulfilled a decades-old dream, particularly for Douglas, whose training included a formative spell with Michelin superhero and three-star holder Michel Guérard. Their ground-floor rooms are split in two, and fit around 30 covers between them without being cramped. The menu is short, technically superb – and expensive.

By expensive, I mean £32.95 for two courses, £38.95 for three, with home-made bread, coffee or tea, and truffles thrown in. Once you include service, that's more than £40 for three courses, which would be pretty pricy even for London; but then the south-west is not the cheapest place to live – and Topsham is one of the more affluent bits. So much for my generation moving here…

But if the prices aren't easy to swallow, the food certainly is. There is never a dull moment on this menu. Starters include excellent and firm scallops with black pudding, bacon, and a light lemon dressing that cuts through the salty offal exquisitely; a vast, overflowing goat's cheese soufflé with roasted tomato and strong pesto dressing; curried parsnip, which is a genuine revelation due to the addition of coconut to the warm soup; and a terrine made of confit of duck leg and breast with foie gras and a plum chutney, which is worth the train fare from London alone.

The main, traditional courses, are intelligently balanced plates prepared with great skill, and no skimping on the extras. For instance, the fillet steak – beautiful rather than blue when ordered medium-rare – comes with a thyme-potato croquet, Savoy cabbage, bacon, mushroom, cream and sherry sauce. I don't know what sherry they use, but it has a nutty warmth that binds the dish; and the little mushrooms retain their firmness despite being coated in sauce. My tastebuds get lost between the overwhelmed thyme and the crunchy cabbage, but that's what you get from a plate with so many parts.

The best among the mains has even more: escalope of venison with accompanying mini-burger, pear poached in red wine, red cabbage, boulangère potato – a marginally healthier version of dauphinoise – port, redcurrant jelly and game jus. This is like one of those Christmas meals with all the trimmings, except it's all your Christmases at once. It is almost too much, but within the mix is pure magic: the pear is both hard and soft at the same time, and the burger is full of meaty juices that spill everywhere.

There are also good bass and pork dishes, but some of these plates are so big you could share them (which could be a good way of cutting the bill) – and you really should leave room for dessert, not least the best sticky-toffee pudding I have ever had. There is also an excellent chocolate mousse cake with caramelised pecan and roasted pecan-nut ice-cream.

Those, like the rest of the menu, are generous and memorable – and in that, a distillation of the spirit of Topsham. If this journalism lark goes tits-up, perhaps my wife and I will think again about moving here; in fact, we'll probably save up, try to buy this restaurant, and change very little about it.

8.5/10

La Petite Maison, 35 Fore Street, Topsham, Exeter, Tel: 01392 873 660. £100 for two, with drinks

Four more things I've been eating this week

Almond biscuits

Biscuit of the week is this nutty number from M&S, though one little complaint: too soggy too quickly when dunked in tea.

Fat-burner smoothie

I'm probably Crush's most loyal customer. This "super smoothie" has berries, yoghurt and wheatgerm.

Torta de Trujillo

At Iberica in London, a hang-out for BBC types, this creamy, organic sheep's milk cheese is magnificent.

Chocolate frosted flakes

Charlie, my wife, made some of these with dark chocolate, golden syrup, and a mini egg on top. Scrumptious.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Trainer / PT - OTE £32,000 Uncapped

    £22000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor - OTE £10,000 Uncapped - Part Time

    £7500 - £10000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness chai...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Executive / Digital Marketing Executive

    COMPETITIVE: Guru Careers: A Marketing / Digital Marketing Executive (CRM, Eve...

    Recruitment Genius: Receptionist / Sales / Customer Service Assistant

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: The role is likely to be 4on 4 off, days and ...

    Day In a Page

    The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

    They fled war in Syria...

    ...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
    From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

    Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

    Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
    Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

    Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

    Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
    From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

    Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

    From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
    Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

    Kelis interview

    The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea