The hipster town of Totnes is known for its range of cafés, delis and coffee shops, many of them serving up high-quality plant-based grub. What the town lacked (along with decent B&B accommodation) was a good fine dining establishment. Well, not anymore.
Back in April, spritely 20-year-old Harrison Brockington opened Gather, a restaurant on Totnes’ busy Fore Street. As chef patron, Harrison (a former South West Student Chef of the Year) recruited two friends he met while at the Michael Caines Academy at Exeter College – Declan Wiles and Oli Rosier – to help run the kitchen. With stints of work experience at prestigious venues like Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons and Lympstone Manor behind them, the trio started a pop-up dining concept before Harrison secured the Fore Street premises and asked his friends to join him.
The name ‘Gather’ reflects the restaurant’s ethos of using as much local and seasonal produce as possible, be it fish fresh from Brixham or fruit and veg bought directly from a nearby farm. The restaurant is open Tuesday to Saturday, for lunch and dinner. The bill of fare is updated weekly and split into set and tasting menus for lunch and a la carte and tasting menus for evening meals.
We rock up on a rainy Wednesday night and are pleased to see there are a few seats occupied. Pine tables and chairs provide around 25 covers, and a mix of photography and artwork adorns the walls. It’s an attractive space but has more of a daytime feel than intimate restaurant. Mainly, I think, because of the bright lighting. What is nice, however, is the relaxed vibe inside. This may be fine dining but there are no dinner jackets or starched tablecloths here; it’s all very laidback and contemporary.
Keen to see what the young chefs have to offer, we plump for the tasting menu (£55), beginning with some perfectly pillowy sourdough and a hearty taster of hog’s pudding, served with chutney made from Devon’s oldest apple variety, no less. Next is egg – this one’s been removed from its shell, poached and returned to its casing, before being given a foamy topping. Sure, it sounds odd and complicated, but tastes truly divine.
Tortellini with garden green velouté is next, made from chard, spinach, hogweed, yarrow and cavolo nero. Fresh and vivacious, it smacks of summer. Then, cured salmon topped with caviar. It’s bold and creamy; slivers of cucumber helping to cut through the richness.
The star of the menu, though, is undoubtedly the rabbit Wellington, the meat caught locally by McCabe Butchers in Totnes, in true shot-to-pot fashion. It’s presented as a classic Wellington, wrapped in spinach, mushroom duxelles, crepe and puff pastry and served with braised leg and root veg. The meat is exquisitely cooked: silky, rich and enveloped in buttery, melting pastry. The braised leg is mighty fine too, with no gristle or chewiness, which is so often found in gamey meat.
We move onto blue cheese served with apple tarte tatin – creamy cheese and acidic apple happily playing off against one another – followed by a mint ice cream with chocolate. Both dishes are tasty but lack a bit of wow factor. The dessert of raspberry mille-feuille and vanilla ice cream makes up for this, bringing a satisfying end to a satisfying meal.
Like Elly Wentworth’s The Angel in Dartmouth, Gather is a fresh and bold concept, showcasing the skills of the next generation of British chef talent. Where it lacks a bit is in inventiveness with the ingredients. Having gone almost straight from college into their own kitchen, the team perhaps lack the culinary confidence they might have gained had they worked for longer under more established chefs. But that’s a minor criticism; I’m certainly not about to knock these guys for trying where so many others fear to tread.
What’s encouraging is the passion and ambition evident in this young team. The duo in charge of front of house are young and enthusiastic and genuinely interested in what they’re doing. Likewise, you can see that Harrison and his kitchen team are a talented bunch, refining and honing their skills as they develop and gain more experience. It’s nice to see such hard work and ambition in action. I look forward to watching these chefs grow
Gather, 50 Fore Street, Totnes TQ9 5RP; 01803 866666