A couple of years ago my sister introduced our family to the River Exe Cafe (she has always been our guru when it comes to where to go and what to do in Devon) and since then it has become a firm family favourite, our go-to for lunches when we’re reunited and celebrations in the summertime.
Just a short ferry ride from Exmouth Marina and sitting out on a barge in the middle of the Exe Estuary, the River Exe Cafe is the perfect place for a sunny, seafood lunch with indoor and outdoor seating available on this custom-built floating restaurant. Just be sure to make your reservation in advance as it is often booked-up weeks in advance, especially in July and August.
Reservations are made via their website through Open Table where you are able to book your table and your water taxi at the same time. The water taxis take 12 passengers at a time and you have 2 hrs from the time you arrive at the restaurant before they will arrive to take you back. The Puffin water taxis cost £5 per person return, payable directly to the boatman.
Anyway, that’s quite enough about the logistics, you want to hear about the food – right?! You won’t be disappointed!
The River Exe Cafe is known for fine British dining and their fresh local seafood (you come past the mussel boat that supplies their mussels on your way out on the Puffin boat, so it doesn’t get more local than that).
We were thrilled to wake up the morning of our lunch to find that the sun was shining and it was the perfect weather for our day out on the water. When you are making your reservation weeks or months in advance the weather on the day is a bit of a lottery during our fine British summer. Our reservation was for 2 pm so we were to meet our ferry captain at the harbour at 1:45 pm. We had a few minutes spare to stroll down to the harbour enjoying the sights, the boats, the brightly coloured houses. We made our way down to the Visitors Pontoon where you meet your boatman – he checked our names off his list and then we were on our way!
You head out onto the estuary against the tide, so your ferry journey on the way out to the restaurant is approximately 15-20 minutes. Plenty of time to review the menus and make your food choices, tummies starting to rumble in anticipation of the delicious food that awaits.
Our table of 5 wanted to try as many different dishes as possible and decided that three courses would almost certainly be necessary (we are predictable little piglets) – clam chowder, fried baby squid, moules, fish and chips, scallops, mackerel rillettes and monkfish were all on our list – a seafood feast!
I started off with the Lyme Bay scallops, baked in coral butter and white port, topped with a crunchy Parmesan crumble. Three fat and juicy scallops, perfectly cooked and served in their own shells on a little bed of salty samphire.
My dad enjoyed the clam chowder, which contained a touch of curry for a tasty but untraditional flair, beautifully finished with a generous garnish of fresh dill.
The mackerel rillettes and goats cheese mousse starters on the specials menu were declared delicious and were creatively presented too.
For my main course I just had to go for the Exmouth mussels served in the classic Marinière style. I opted for the starter-sized portion as the servings are generous and I had a hankering for a side of the crispy truffle and Parmesan fries to dunk in the creamy, white wine sauce. My sister, on the other hand, swears by the Devon cider and smoked bacon sauce for her mussels. With six different flavour mussel options to choose from, I look forward to trying other combinations on future visits.
The monkfish special came with crispy duck, lentil and parsnip salsa, piles of samphire and a curry sauce, with the meaty fish soaking up all the flavours.
Crispy beer-battered fish served with chunky chips and mushy peas.
Not pictured were our desserts of apple tarte tatin with toffee sauce and individual pots of Dunstaple Farm ice creams.
With a food menu prominently featuring local produce and seafood, the wine list and drinks menu more than matches up with local beers and ciders, Devon craft lagers and even Pebblebed wines from nearby Topsham.
We thoroughly enjoyed our lunch and look forward to more next summer! You’ve still got a few more weeks to get down there and try it out for yourselves. What are you waiting for?
You can follow along on my UK adventures on Instagram, here, as we’re off up to North West Wales for more British beach adventures in Abersoch.