To the south east of Exeter, and only a hop, skip and a jump on the train from the city centre (or even a leisurely cycle using the Exe Estuary Trail), Topsham is a town where food culture of all kinds is thriving. Imagine a buzzing boutique estuary town with boats bobbing on the water, giving easy access for keen types to venture out and grab that catch of the day. However, if you haven’t got the sea legs to go out yourself to capture said catch, then no need to worry. The Galley has it covered.
Family owned and run for the last eight years by Nigel Mitchell and his team, The Galley enjoys a position at the lower end of the town, with a rare view direct to the waters that inspire the décor and ethos of this popular fish restaurant. Head chef Lee Harry and sous chef Jack Sharland, both who previously worked with Michael Caines, recently joined and have been making waves with their solid cookery skills.
Where most restaurants are meat-focussed, The Galley is the opposite; the menu here is fish filled, with but a couple of meat and vegetarian options, such as a starter of roasted carrot, salsa verde, feta and tomato vinaigrette, or main of shoulder of lamb with roasted shallot, fondant potato and red wine sauce.
Sat at our window seat, we were more than delighted by the all-important estuary views outside, and soaked up the busy atmosphere that this bijou 10-table restaurant offers. It’s not difficult to admire the warm interiors, the dark wood tables adorned with sea-blue goblets to match the tasteful bare brick and clean white walls, and sea-faring blue cushions. With taste buds already tingling from perusing the menu and inhaling the smells emerging from the kitchen, a gazpacho amuse bouche arrived. This chilled little chap packed a tasty punch, and once the homemade bread with salted butter, olive oil and dukkah were consumed with gusto, we were presented with our generous starters – ravioli of crab with spinach and shellfish bisque and pan seared scallops with smoked belly and butternut squash.
The ravioli was a big beast, meaty yet light with a warmth of chilli finishing on the palate. The scallops were perfectly cooked, the softness of their flesh meeting the incredibly tender and naturally salty smoked pork belly – alongside the sweetness of the butternut purée, it made me close my eyes and exhale with satisfaction.
Mains were just as impressive; a towering bowl of steaming moules mariniere cooked in white wine and cream, along with pollock with haricot bean, chorizo and red pepper cassoulet. The moules were handsomely sized, meaty and sweet, with chunky chips for dipping in a sea of sauce. A plump pollock fillet sat atop its cassoulet base; dressed with pea shoots and vegetable crisps, this was another meat and fish marriage full of flavours and textures.
We found room in the stern of our bellies for some dessert, and treated ourselves to lemon, orange and ginger cheesecake with white chocolate anglaise, and a notoriously tricky chocolate fondant with vanilla ice cream. Both were silky smooth, the fondant bursting at the seams with an oozing, molten middle.
All good then, and a place full of at-ease looking diners too, all relaxed and deep in conversation – but not too busy to clean their well-laden plates of every last drop of sauce, be it bisque or anglaise or, indeed, anything else.
The service is as generous as the portions too, with staff taking the time to indulge in good old-fashioned conversation with their guests. It’s clear Nigel and his team are delighted to extend a warm welcome to all who climb aboard their Galley, and keen to take them on an exciting trip around Devon’s bountiful coastal larder.
The Galley, 41 Fore St, Topsham, Exeter EX3 0HU 01392 876078