Review: Number Eight

by Melissa Stewart

10 May 2018

A Bideford Bistro is breathing some new life into North Devon's food scene, as Melissa Stewart finds out

How refreshing to see a young couple give a new lease of life to an old building, particularly when they’ve taken the plunge by moving to a new area and deciding to set up a restaurant. No mean feat in a difficult economic climate and a notoriously fickle industry.

Number Eight in Bideford, North Devon, opened without much fanfare in December last year. Indeed, a quick Google search turns up very little about it, apart from a Facebook page with glowing reviews. We were tipped off about this venue on Twitter, and were keen to find out more.

The proprietors are Chloe Wilks and Joshua Jones. She handles front of house, while he runs the kitchen. Having spent years working in restaurants for other people on the Cornish coast, they decided the time was right to make a go of it themselves – and, if our experience is anything to go by, they’ve certainly made the right decision.

Situated in a quiet street, just off the quayside, the décor is minimalist, with grey floors, walls and black faux leather seats. Its starkness has the potential to make the place feel a bit cold – unwelcoming, even – but the atmosphere inside more than makes up for it.

We roll up on a Saturday night and every table is full – a good sign in late-February, especially given that it’s only been

open a couple of months. Chloe is warm, friendly and, even though she’s handling front of house all by herself (around 20 covers), expertly calm.

The food is modern British with a European influence. There’s a set menu for dinner, priced £30 for two courses or £37 for three, with a choice of five starters and five mains. We begin with an amuse bouche of butternut squash soup and a delightfully warm rosemary muffin. It’s nothing flash  but it hits the spot, perfectly concocted and a teaser for what’s to come.

This sets me up for a confit duck leg, orange segments, radicchio, marmalade dressing and walnuts. This a pretty looking dish, decorated with edible flowers, that tastes pretty special too. The generous serving of meat is gamey yet tender, with a strong flavour offset by the sweetness of the marmalade and the peppery radiccio. Across the table, scallops come served atop a generous smear of ever-popular cauliflower purée, with a raisin and caper vinaigrette elevating the delicate mollusks.

For main, I opt for pan-roasted hake, which is given a refreshing twist coming served with a chilli, fennel and tomato stew. The rich tomato sauce has that perfect duality of being sweet followed by a welcome afterkick of chilli to warm the mouth. A saffron aioli dolloped atop the fillet of hake has the potential to distract, but instead provides the ideal counterpoint to the warming stew.

My dining partner opts for the duck breast, served with a parsnip purée, mini fondants, roast parsnips, buttered cabbage and blackberry sauce. There’s little to fault here, with the duck being the star of the show – once again, cooked perfectly and sliding off the fork.

Dessert is a combination of favourite flavours: lemon and raspberry. It comes pleasingly presented in the form of a lemon posset with mini meringues, fresh raspberries, candied lemon and raspberry purée. Judging from the speed in which it left the plate, it’s safe to say it was extremely favourable to the palate. Meanwhile, the lure of softened blue cheese and truffled walnuts was too much for me, the sweet pungency of this combination providing the perfect ending to a delectable meal.

We leave buoyed by the excitement of some fresh young blood on the North Devon dining scene. With the area known best for its pub grub, it’s refreshing to have a new bistro in the locale, offering something rather different to the usual gourmet burger and triple cooked chips. We wish them all the best.