All those of-the-moment, style-related adjectives would be put to good use to describe the look of Exeter’s Sacred Grounds. Urban. Industrial. Scandi. Retro. They all sit particularly well with this contemporary café.
Natural wood clads the ceiling while the entire length of one wall is a mixture of bare and painted brick. Furniture is vintage, with mid-century colours, patterned Formica-topped tables and Ercol-style, spindle-backed chairs. An abundance of plants hang from the ceiling and sits on shelves, spilling their greenery down the walls. Naked bulbs, fashioned from twisted neon tubes, are suspended overhead, while underfoot is polished concrete, partially covered with thickly woven jute rugs. A charcoal-coloured steel support provides both form and function in the well put-together space – which doesn’t, somehow, feel too self-aware or try-hard.
The café’s style has not a small amount to do with the trio behind it – Becca Allen and Nathan and Hayley Maker – having worked together on several design projects, including cool lifestyle shop No Guts No Glory, just across the road.
Sacred Grounds, which opened in October 2018 in the former Camper Coffee Co site, is a large presence within McCoys Arcade on Exeter’s Fore Street – its frontage of wall-to-wall glass folding doors helping with that (as well as allowing light to rush in, keeping the space feeling bright and airy while still cosy). The café’s bleed into the rest of the shopping space is also accomplished by the large collection of chairs and tables that spill out of the dining room proper, and into the arcade and up towards its entrance. It’s unclear where one ends and the other begins.
The arcade looks rather different now to the way it did a handful of years ago too: from an oft-forgotten corner of town, it’s morphed into a characterful little pocket of cool independent businesses, having undergone a bit of a spruce up not long ago. And it’s buzzing on the Tuesday lunchtime we swing by.
The menu’s pretty concise, the team having but a very small, very open kitchen to work with – although that doesn’t seem to limit their creativity in any way. Brunch is at the core of the offering, in the form of waffles (which come savoury with caponata, confit tomatoes and watercress pesto, and sweet with roasted peach, macerated strawbs and crème anglaise), overnight oats and things on toast – although there’s a healthy helping of lunch options here too, with soup, sarnies, salads and smørrebrød-style loaded slices of sourdough.
The latter come piled with creative toppings – ours, for instance, stars Korean barbecue-glazed tofu (£8). The flavour of the sticky, tangy crust holds its own among the colourful muddle of pokey kimchi, satay paté, miso chilli mayo and zingy pickled red cabbage. Finished with sliced spring onion, sesame seeds and dressed salad leaves, it’s a really decent lunch – adventurous but not fussy.
More of the same cooking comes in the form of a vivid salad (also £8). A jumble of summer veg, golden chickpeas and brown rice forms the bulk of it, while sliced avocado, pink pickled onions and a lemon and tahini dressing sit on top. It’s the kind of lively, filling salad that couldn’t be further from the image of limp lettuce that the word usually conjures up.
Coffee comes from local Roastworks Coffee Co and sits on the drinks list next to a collection of lattes starring homemade syrups (think beetroot and orange, turmeric and ginger), as well as juices and smoothies. Speaking of which, theIndulge ’n’ Nuts smoothie (£4.50) is all kinds of sweet-savoury deliciousness, with cacao, peanut butter, maca and lacuma (fear not, smoothie novices, you don’t need to know what those last two are to enjoy it), and it was a struggle to make it last the whole meal.
It hasn’t come up yet, but Sacred Grounds is a vegan café. Shunning animal products doesn’t seem to be in any way restrictive to the food, though – it certainly doesn’t make the brownies less dense and decadent, or the ‘cheesecake’ any less popular (alas, it had run out by the time we arrived).
This is a really likeable caff that’s got the looks and the charm – and, most importantly, the food to back the rest of it up.
Sacred Grounds, McCoys Arcade, Fore Street, Exeter EX4 3AN; 01392 791440