FOOD REVIEW: Marvellous dishes from an ambitious kitchen at Exmouth's Spoken
PUBLISHED: 15:09 19 June 2019 | UPDATED: 10:18 24 June 2019
It's argued that a bar such as Spoken should sit in a trendy corner of Exeter, not in a sleepy Devon town such as Exmouth.
After all, with titles such as the UK's best spirit bar and a war chest of booze spanning almost 400 bottles of gin and a total of 1,200 spirits, why wouldn't Spoken reap success in a city full of thirsty students?
The team has been busy cementing Spoken's presence in the town tenfold, by launching an exciting new menu themed around street food from all of the world's avenues and alleyways - and working on the launch of their own-brand gin, Quick.
It was the revamped menu, introduced just three weeks ago, which piqued our curiosity and led us to sit down at a table in Spoken on a grey, drizzly Tuesday evening.
Unless you have the blinkers on, the first thing you clock when walking into Spoken is a glass waterfall of spirits behind the eatery's bar. Second are the fabulous, hipster-pleasing black and white illustrations daubed on the walls, which are adorned with industrial, stripped back furnishings - ready-made for Instagram bloggers.
Although it's a Tuesday evening, there is a healthy throng of diners and drinkers in this busy bar, and even past 9pm, people are still filtering in to grab a bite or pint.
And that's just how the owner George wants it. "We attract a huge demographic of people," he says over a bottle of Spoken's own-brand beer, called 'Four'.
"We get 18-year-olds to 80-year-olds, and as long as you're a decent person, you are welcome here.
"We have a whole new kitchen team as well. That made me invest in a new top-of-the range kitchen.
"Now everyone has found their feet with the new kitchen, we have rolled out a new menu and will be refreshing it every two months.
"Before the introduction of our new street food-themed menu, everyone would come here for burgers.
"We needed to expand our offerings, so started a street food kitchen.
"The feedback has been very, very positive - and food sales have increased dramatically."
So how was the food?
We begin our eating with a few starters plucked from the streets of far-off lands, - sticky Korean fried popcorn chicken and chicken, bacon and avocado tostadas.
The Korean chicken is executed perfectly, a crispy yet soft morsel of excellence.
We are told the poultry comes from Darts Farm, just a few miles down the road, which explains its freshness. You can cut it with a spoon.
The sesame seeds on top add a nuttiness which compliments the sweetness, and for spice-lovers, the dish is generously topped with slices of chilli.
A wedge of lime that we assume is unnecessary actually elevates the chicken, with the citrus coaxing out more heat which brushes the tongue long after the last bite.
A good start, and followed by the equally-good tostadas. Mexican in name, but almost a taste of an American club sandwich.
Well-cooked chicken with generous dollops of mayo, shards of crisp lettuce and sprinkled with a salty spray of bacon bits is always going to be a winner.
It's the kind of dish you wouldn't mind forking out a tenner for from a food van in London. Luckily, you don't have to sit for hours breathing second-hand oxygen in a cramped train carriage to taste it.
We also sampled fresh fried chicken wings, coated in 'sweet and smokey BBQ' sauce. These were perfectly good, but weren't as special as the popcorn chicken or tostadas.
For those with a preference to a sweet, but slightly sour taste, they are a goer.
For mains, we try the classic comfort food - the bar's hot dog - and the aptly-named drunken noodles from Spoken's 'Wok' menu section, with the addition of beef.
I say aptly named because I was feeling a tad rosy-cheeked from the incredibly easy-to-drink, and damn delicious, English Garden cocktail recommended from Spoken's eclectic drinks menu.
We also try the intriguing hoisin 'mock' duck tacos. With a glut of major restaurant chains and fast food joints introducing plant-based alternatives to their meaty burgers dishes, there was bound to be a ripple effect on the smaller independent eateries.
The duck tacos will be a winner for a vegan - and while the dish certainly smacks you around the chops with liquorice and soy, it is obvious what you are eating isn't bird.
But, if you aren't fussy and want to cut more red meat out of your diet, this is a fine alternative.
The hot dog is a unit - sizeable and punchy, lashed with generous steaks of ketchup, mustard and cubed onion.
The bockwurst sausage, from Good Game, is smoky and deep. The skin-on chips are salty and crispy in all the right places.
The drunken noodles are similar to Pad Thai, but with an interesting twist.
Instead of the common shrimp and citrus pairing, these are pumped full of chilli and beef - a melody of sweet and spicy fusion.
The garnish of spring onion, coriander and fresh chilli is very traditional - most Thai street food dishes are served with this, so props to the kitchen for mirroring the authenticity of real Thai street food.
The beef is tender and melt-in-the mouth, no doubt a nod to the kitchen's top-of-the-line combi oven installed in its recent kitchen fit-out.
For dessert, we are jousting spoons for Spoken's homemade brownie and ice-cream, which is rich and indulgent.
Waffles topped with berry compote and slightly salty churros with chocolate sauce are nice, but not the star. The brownie takes that crown.
A refreshing gin sorbet, made with Spoken's Quick gin is welcomingly refreshing - soft and sweet in all of the right places.
The ambition radiating from Spoken is clear to see, and it's a testament to what it offers that it is busy on a damp, vapid Tuesday night.
We are excited to see what the next menu boasts - the only way from here is surely up.
You can check out Spoken's menu here.