Very local food with a sea view
Radius 7, New Road, Stoke Fleming, Dartmouth, Devon TQ6 0NR (01803 770007). Three-course meal for two, including drinks and tips: £80
The word ‘local’ has suffered the same fate as ‘organic’ in that it has been abused by marketing types as a stamp of authenticity. It conjures up scenes of food on wooden boards, served in buildings with wholesome scrubbed red brick walls.
But local is much more than a middle class buzzword. Buying locally is good for the economy and means fewer food miles. It can also allow restaurants to build a better relationship with suppliers so that less waste is created. And a transparent supply chain suggests people are fairly treated and paid at every stage of production.
Radius 7 does local very well.
Sat on a hill that suddenly plunges into the English Channel, the restaurant started out in 2015 with the idea that ALL of its food would come from within a 7-mile radius. Two years on, the proportion is 85% local (they said butchers’ prices were becoming too high) but it is still an impressive achievement.
For starters I had Salt and Pepper Onion Petals (£2.95) which arrived deep fried and with garlic mayo. The onion had been part caramelised before being battered which made for mouthfuls of sweet sticky jam and crunchy fried coating.
My five and a half fellow diners happily saw off heavily cheddared soufflés, scallops with black pudding and peas, and summer minestrone soup.
Wild Mushroom and Mascarpone Arancini (£12.95) with pea puree and beer battered asparagus came next. It was at this point I realised everything I had ordered was deep fried. With my battered starter and the veggie mains menu mostly filled with fried goods (beignets and croquettes too) there could be a better balance. It may have been created for vegetarians who are afraid of vegetables but I am not.
The arancini, which are fried risotto balls, were crisp and well-seasoned, with fat chunks of meaty mushroom inside. The asparagus was juicy and sweet, although the batter was probably unnecessary and did not taste much of beer. However, I was abruptly disappointed when I discovered I had eaten them all. The creamy pea puree was a good foil to the beige but was too salty.
Elsewhere on the table, silenced mouths lapped up crab claws, langoustines and mussels draped in wild samphire and garlic butter. There was a platter of mackerel pâté, prawns, smoked salmon and crab, and steaks with onion rings and veg, and chips to mop up peppercorn sauce. A slow braised ox cheek glazed in Doombar ale and black treacle was eaten in a religious daze as deep as the dark meat lacquer.
Defeated, only one of the group ordered dessert. Dark Chocolate & Peanut Butter Cheesecake (£5.95) with salted caramel came on a wooden board supplied by the local tree surgeon. A thick, rich, creamy, generous chocolatey jar affirmed that Radius 7 knows what it is doing.
The whole meal happened effortlessly, with no delays except when waiting for the bill during an influx of diners. The building is a wonderfully light space that benefits from a high ceiling and two long walls of windows, with the sea visible over the rooftops. On this Friday night it had a pleasant hum helped along with relaxed, assured staff.
Radius 7 could make even more of its local mantra, which is not advertised in the restaurant or online. Arguably the best it has to offer is the seafood, which comes from nearby Brixham, one of the biggest fishing ports in the UK. The restaurant also grows its own microherbs in a polytunnel out back and is looking into stocking Dart Valley wine alongside its Salcombe and Exmoor Wicked Wolf gins.
From an environmental perspective, local food does not always translate to a smaller carbon footprint because most emissions happen in the field rather than during transport. But it still helps, especially if the food is in season and grown easily in Britain.
Moreover it points to a thoughtful and sustainable way of restauranting that I am happy to buy into. Even if the deep fat frier had a bit of a heavy night.