How to eat and drink like a local in Totnes

Hip and happening Totnes is a mecca of independent cafes and bistros, as Melissa Stewart discovers

Totnes is effortlessly cool; chic bars and art galleries sit happily alongside charity shops and alternative therapy clinics. Unlike Glastonbury, which is unashamedly New Age, Totnes fuses hippy counterculture with middle class money. It feels a bit like Bristol but on a more condensed level, which makes it a refreshingly different place to visit in Devon, where the towns are traditionally (and politically) more conservative. Totnes’ rebellious streak means that it’s a haven for independent businesses, which thrive away from the competition of the traditional British high street. Like Bristol, they even have their own currency: the Totnes pound. Little wonder, then, that it has built a bit of a cult foodie following in recent years, as cafés and wine bars have cropped up across the town. Here are some of our favourites…

Brilliant brekkies

If you’re looking for a hearty feed before hitting the shops, then the Waterside Bistro is a good shout. As well as the traditional English breakfast and veggie alternative, this relaxed riverside venue serves up Belgian waffles with hot chocolate sauce or, for a healthier option, homemade granola.

Can’t make brekkie? Check them out for lunch or dinner, too. Also worth a look is Mangetout (pictured below), an artsy café at the top of Fore Street. Try the shakshuka – two organic eggs, baked in their own terracotta pot with a Middle Eastern tomato and red pepper sauce.

Or, if you’re driving into Totnes from the Dartington side, then make a stop at The Almond Thief. This bakery knocks out legendary poached eggs on sourdough toast with a diverse range of toppings, like smoked haddock, mustard and saffron.

Cool coffees

If you like a caffeine hit, Totnes is awash with cafés serving up excellent coffee. Our pick is The Hairy Barista at the start of The Narrows. It’s a proper hipster joint, beloved by locals, which has a huge selection of speciality coffees to suit every taste; a great range of cakes, including gluten-free and vegan options; and some cool tunes on the stereo.

No less cool, but a wee bit more chic, is The Curator Café on The Plains. Run by Italian-born Matteo Lamaro, it serves up artisan Italian coffee prepared on a 30-year-old wood fired roaster. Enjoy your espresso with authentic biscotti outdoors and watch the world go by.

Lunch bunch

One thing Totnes has definitely got nailed is catering for veggies and vegans. Seeds 2 Totnes (pictured below) may have a somewhat odd name, but its salad bar is the absolute business. Grab a plate, pile it high with a multi-coloured assortment of healthy goodies from the self-service salad bar and pull up a pew at one of the communal benches. It’s great value for money, and all food and soft drinks are prepared fresh on the premises. Another veggie institution is Willow; head there for a phone-free lunch – yup, mobiles are banned – giving you the headspace to enjoy your food and your surroundings.

For a more traditional café vibe, we like Woods Bistro in The Narrows. It’s perhaps not as aesthetically cool as some of its neighbours, but the customer service is amazing, and they deliver some mean classics like ham, egg and chips and a proper beefburger.

For a taste of France, visit Mon Oncle Jean, tucked away at the bottom of the High Street. Choose from a range of fillings served in savoury buckwheat galettes or sweet crepes (both gluten-free), as well as a delicious Marseille fish soup.

If you’ve got a sweet tooth, skip the multitude of cakes on offer in Totnes and instead make a beeline for Delphini’s Gelato. We’re not lying when we say they make the best ice cream for miles. You’ve heard of ‘death by chocolate’? Well, wait ’til you try their vegan dark chocolate – it’s devilishly moreish.

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Black bean salad @seeds2totnes #vegan #chilli

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Super suppers

How nice to be spoilt for choice when choosing an independent eatery for dinner. Locals head to Rumour, which is as much a bar as a restaurant, with a laidback vibe. Go there for homemade pizza or, from the a la carte menu, try crispy duck with watermelon and watercress, or roasted aubergine stuffed with lamb belly.

For tapas, we like Ben’s Wine & Tapas on the High Street (owned by Ben Watson from the Riverford family), which does small plates taking their influence from Spanish, North African, Middle Eastern and Mexican cuisine. Try the beetroot borani – a vibrant, earthy dip, topped with crunchy walnuts, tangy feta and dill and served with sourdough, or the sardines, which come on lightly toasted focaccia with a piquant coriander and pepper mojo verde sauce. They also do tapas to go, and sell all of their wines by the bottle – ideal for a cosy night in.

Or head to Jano – an authentic family-run Italian that’s got an informal, yet intimate, vibe. Sit back as staff expertly talk you through the menu and then, after you’ve gorged on your plate of freshly-made spaghetti, try the dreamy zabaione. If it’s a hearty feed you’re after, head to Pie Street, which unsurprisingly is all about the pies. Steak and Devon Blue (from Ticklemore Dairy) is a winner, and you can have it gluten-free if you order ahead.

Pour us a pint

Beer lovers will love a visit to Totnes Brewing Company, a small independent family-run brewery near the town’s Norman Castle. As well as brewing their own beer, they stock over 80 other varieties from suppliers worldwide. Upstairs is the Barrel House Ballroom, which holds regular live gigs if you’re up for a boogie.

The community-run New Lion Brewery, near the train station, is another micro-brewery worth a look. It has a pop-bar on Friday and Saturday nights where we’re partial to a pint of the Pandit IPA, a smooth citrusy ale. For a drink by the River Dart, visit the Steam Packet Inn on St Peter’s Quay – a family-friendly joint that does a mean Sunday roast.

We also like the stopping for a G&T on a sunny day at The Royal Seven Stars Hotel. Situated at the bottom of Fore Street, it’s a great place to people watch. It’s also an ideal resting spot for the night, if you plan on staying over.View this post on Instagram

On the outskirts

To escape the bustle of Totnes, go for a walk around Dartington Hall Estate gardens and then stop for a bite at The Green Table, a vibrant café with a cool vibe, or if you want the full restaurant experience head to The White Hart, situated in the estate’s stunning Great Hall. Away from the estate, check out newly opened Beyond Escapes, a boutique hotel with a coastal-inspired restaurant. Seared scallops served with Parmesan, herb crumb and toasted sourdough is one of the most popular menu choices.

No trip to the Totnes area is complete without dropping into Sharpham Estate’s vineyard, one of the oldest in Devon. Sample the wines and then enjoy an excellent al fresco lunch of fresh mussels at the Cellar Door. And, if you’re mad about veg, then make a detour to Riverford Field Kitchen. The Watson family’s flagship restaurant consistently creates excellent fodder using produce direct from the farm. A recent visit’s highlight was pan-fried mackerel with tomatoes and pickled purslane.