I have a confession to make – before last week, I was an 1812 virgin. It seems silly now as I’ve spent many long, lazy summer afternoons in Bar So; I’ve even stayed in the Royal Exeter Hotel. But I’ve never been for dinner, even drinks, at their popular on-site Lounge Bar/Restaurant. At least I’ve put that right now.
It’s clear from the second you walk into 1812 that the restaurant is something special. A historic building (the name comes from the year it was built, fact fans), the interior is bang up to date, decorated in relaxing warm rustics, ruby reds, a touch of gold and black. You walk through a long, lively bar to get to the restaurant at the back and it’s cleverly partitioned to ensure you retain the atmosphere but also are assured of privacy. You can see it’s popular with couples and corporate groups – almost fully booked on the midweek night we visited.
We were very well looked after by Justina, who filled us in on the extra lengths the team go to, adding those extra details that makes a meal memorable. Before we ordered, we enjoyed a custom made cocktail made by their on-site mixologists. All the team are involved in the creation of the wine list, too, and they have some exclusive bottles you won’t find anywhere else.
The food is not as expensive as you may fear – in fact, there’s a fantastic three courses for £15 offer from 6pm Monday to Thursday. But we were drawn to the a la carte menu and it’s perfectly proportioned – not too many choices to overwhelm you but enough to cater for every taste. I started with a goat’s cheese, walnut and pear salad, which was light and lovely – the ideal accompaniment to the fresh bread and olives provided with the cocktails. My other half went for scallops with butternut squash puree – he has developed expensive tastes lately if you ask me – and said they were perfectly cooked, fresh and also light.
It’s just as well we didn’t go for heavy starters as we both ordered steak for main. His – sirloin steak with triple cooked chips. Mine – the slightly more adventurous fillet steak with spinach puree, red cabbage, baby carrots and pomme neuf. I loved the seasonality and adventurous nature of the dishes throughout the a la carte mains. Other highlights include chicken breast, leg and wing with coconut rice and Thai broth; hake with puy lentils and orange sauce; and even pigeon breast with game tortellini. Both of our mains were beautifully presented and thoroughly enjoyable. I particularly loved the red cabbage, so flavoursome and something I don’t cook at home. My steak was perhaps a little pink for my medium/well order but that may be down to the cut of meat.
Desserts were equally imaginative and passionfruit panna cotta with melon ice cream was refreshing enough to be a bite of something sweet without overwhelming our steak dinners.
I had high expectations for 1812 and they did not let me down. They went one better than that – their surprised me with their flair, originality, attention to detail and stunning service. If you are an 1812 virgin like I was, what are you waiting for? It’s one of the most popular eateries in town in the summer months – and why should the tourists have all the fun?
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