Comedian and food fiend Jessica Fostekew puts her mouth where others fear to tread. A celebration of eating: from posh nosh to kebab shops to stuff that’s been on the floor. This week, Jess eats at Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Canteen & Deli.
This weekend I was put up by dear folk, Carole and David Chapple. They’re comedy-dweebs of the highest order. David holds the Guinness World Record for the most comedy ever watched during the Edinburgh Festival. They put me up in such kind style, with eggs from their own chickens to eat and pre-printed local swimming timetables. I’ve never before been so sweetly attended, including the times I was ill as a child.
On my first night, before my first gig, we went with their lovely friend Marie to the River Cottage Canteen & Deli. A spin-off from the original Dorset River Cottage of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, it was uniquely swish and lovely. There are still only four of these across the south-west. He hasn’t quite gone down the Jamie Oliver route of splattering every high street with yet another sort of Bella Pasta. Cheers for those, Jamie. Because there weren’t enough places in every single city in Europe to go to pay too much for dried penne.
I do like Jamie really, especially his campaigning. I just have a bias. I’ve got a cookery book of Hugh’s called Three Good Things, which is one of my bibles. I cook from it more than any other book. So I was especially jiggly about eating in a restaurant he’d put his giant name to.
Royal William Yard is a fort of giant grey buildings which are beautiful and bleak without being imposing. They’re on the edge of a shipping dock on the tip of Devon. The tall windows look out over a stretch of water and onto a green bit of Cornwall, which looks much closer than it is. The decor’s all linen and battered wood, like your Mum’s most bohemian mate’s kitchen.
Our waiter was one of my most favourite ever. Friendly, brainy and passionate without the faintest hint of smugness. He managed to be memorably lovely without ever once hanging around grasping for reassurance. That seems to be par for the course these days elsewhere. If my boyfriend asked me if everything was OK as often as the staff in Wagamamas do, I’d assume he was having an affair. Anyway, Carole’s vegan and I’m up the duff and our chap took both these restrictions in his wise, kind, stride. We both had a truly impressive batch of options.
To guzzle I had a bottle of Wild Nettle Fizz. No one else wanted a sip, I suppose it was a bit of a punt but it was flipping delicious. It was as fresh and unsickly as carbonated cucumber water, yet it really tasted of nettle. Delightful. Nettles are a diuretic, however, and the last thing a pregnant woman needs is any encouragement widdling. I was like the Manneken Pis of Brussels for the rest of the night but who cares, it was tasty enough to be worth it.
The menu changes every month to keep the produce seasonal. Cor, it was hard to choose. I had ‘Fish and shellfish stew, red chilli & garlic rouille, grilled bread.’ Minus the rouille because, they warned me, it was full of raw eggs. Foetuses hate those.
Flipping heck. It was like eating a day on a private beach. It had all the salty seaside glory of molten fish, clams and mussels all cooked to the dream point. The slight heat in the red soup, though, with the dill and parsley and other beautiful herbs, made it feel more special and intimate. Then there was the giant slab of oiled, griddled rosemary focaccia there soaking it all up. Oof. It was fucking sexy.
David chose a combo of smaller dishes, the ‘mixed fish fry’ and the ‘Moorish lamb chops’. They both looked amazing and, if anything, a little too fresh for Dave, with the fish still headed and the lamb so pink. Once he’d overcome the fish’s accusing glare he was super impressed. Carole and Marie both had ‘curried split peas, roast cauliflower, raita and flatbread’. Carole forewent the dairy-riddled raita and flatbread. It looked and smelled exquisite.
We all hoofed some rosemary and sea salt chips with it. Once everything else had arrived we realised these were excessive. Scrummy, though. Medium fine, skin on, succulent hand-cut chips. The rosemary worked with my bread and they were especially lush dunked in my glorious stew.
We weren’t on the wild lash and we didn’t have starters or puds. Saying that, four of us were stuffed to wincing point with seriously high-end wondergrub. It came in at less than £20 a head. Considering the sheer quality and class of it all, I consider that near incredible. A master-place.
River Cottage Canteen & Deli, Royal William Yard, Plymouth PL1 3QQ
Tel: 01752 252 702
Opening Times (for food, deli open longer): Mon-Thu 12pm – 3pm & 6.30pm – 9.30pm, Fri & Sat 12pm – 3pm & 6pm – 9.30pm and Sunday 12pm – 4pm.
Accessible: Yes, fully.
Jessica Fostekew is a writer, comedian, actor, law degree-waster, sister, daughter and beard-fan with an unabashed food infatuation.