A Business lunch at Bill’s, Exeter – by Lauren Heath

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32-33 Gandy Street, Exeter, Devon EX4 3LS – 01392 259 227

Monday – Saturday 8am – 11pm
Sunday (and bank holidays) 9am – 10:30pm

In a city full of a variety of restaurants at all budgets, I was delighted when I was told I could choose where to go for a business lunch meeting – delighted and bewildered! I love ALL food – the choice was too large. I felt an opportunity here for a restaurant that has not been featured on the blog, and also somewhere I had been to before and enjoyed enough to return, also to ‘save face’ and be confident of guaranteed satisfaction for my meeting partner.

I settled on Bill’s in Gandy Street, which is also very conveniently located about 100 yards from my work and with a busy schedule, was not too far to go if I was running late – which I was. I had already booked online using their easy system to ensure a table, as I have seen the place bursting at the seams most days as I walk by during my lunch break.

On entry we were very warmly greeted and I mentioned the name of my booking; I had written some notes online about requesting a larger table for the 2 of us and in a quieter corner if possible. I’m not sure if this shows on their booking sheet as I had to repeat my request verbally to the hostess, but nonetheless it was granted with absolute ease and no feel of us being awkward. In order to accommodate this request they offered us a table upstairs; having only ever sat downstairs, I accepted gladly and we were seated by 2 large windows at a spacious table that was not too close to others. We had a great view of downstairs through the railings and a very light and airy feel to the whole room.

Bill’s serves breakfast as well as a good sized main menu across lunch and dinner. Over the last 3 years I have enjoyed their breakfast once and lunch twice – my most recent visit being at the beginning of the year. In addition to this they have a very well priced set menu from 12pm until 7pm, with 2 courses for £10.95 and 3 courses for £12.95.

Whilst perusing the menu, I knew from experience which drink I wanted right away and ordered the Elderflower Cordial (priced at £2.50) which can be served hot or cold – I opted for cold which has a selection of fresh fruits floating at the top. It is delicious and refreshing and just a bit more exciting if you are not able to choose a cocktail or similar. There are plenty of fruity non alcholic options if you’re that way inclined. There are plenty of wines, beers and everything else you’d expect of course.

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Whilst browsing the menus, our waiter asked if we wanted the windows opened, to which we replied yes as it was a lovely (and humid) day. He then apologised for the noise of the delivery truck just outside and assured us it would be moving on shortly – what a nice touch – being concerned for their customers enjoyment regarding something they have no control over, I was very impressed.

My business partner chose from the set menu; a starter of Potted Ham Hock and the main of Hot Smoked Salmon Salad (£10.95 total). I have recently been on a bit of a carb-free rule during the week but that went ‘out the window’ as the Rarebit Mac ‘n Cheese (£9.95) was standing out for me as a treat and it sounded different and so not to be left out I settled on a starter as well, choosing one of my favourite items – Crispy Calamari (£6.50).

The Potted Ham Hock came in a glass pot containing mustard mayo, radish and watercress with toasted campagne bread on the side. It was vibrant in colour and delicious so I was told, with enough bread to cater for the quantity of food. The Crispy Calamari was served with a tartare sauce and red pepper tapenade; both were delicious. The panko style breadcrumbs were light and crispy and the squid was cooked to perfection without being too oily.

They were spot on with their check back timings and I found that we were left long enough after we had finished eating before they took our plates away, and with a nice enough gap between courses. We didn’t feel rushed at all yet felt well attended to.

Mains arrived and we were both delighted visually. My business partner’s salad looked vibrant and well stocked with enough salmon versus salad and veg. I had a taste of it and the fish was beautifully smoked and the right ‘meaty’ texture. It contained baby potatoes, radish, long stem broccoli, green beans, lemon crème fraîche dressing, pickled red onions and bramley apple slices. The smokiness of the fish against the sweet onions, sharp apples and fresh lemon dressing was a real triumph and very well balanced in flavour.

My Mac ‘n Cheese wasn’t quite what I expected, but in a good way – I like to eat items that I can’t or don’t make at home and this was certainly a twist on the usual heavy yet comforting pasta dish. Small and very soft macaroni pasta served in a cheddar cheese sauce with mushrooms, leeks, peas, broad beans, topped with a mustard rarebit and garnished with baby kale. The sauce was thinner than I thought it would be but so full of flavour – I considered asking for bread to dunk and absorb some of it but decided against it in order to not over fill myself and actually by the end I had eaten everything including said sauce. It didn’t mention mint or similar but it certainly had something ‘fresh’ tasting in it  which really lifted it to be something else. A really unusual version, and the mustard rarebit top was really yummy and quite a treat, I’d highly recommend it!

You would have thought by now we would be stuffed and indeed my guest was, but  everything so far was so nice I felt I couldn’t leave without completing a hat-trick. Our very smiley waiter also helped convince me, although with fairly little effort to be fair. I adore pudding, it’s my weakness and I really couldn’t decide on what to have. I decided to test and trust him and asked for a recommendation. He very confidently said, that without a doubt, the Lemon Meringue Pie (£5.50) was the best – decision made.

This course was another surprise when an unassuming little glass turned up with the most gorgeous blow-torched meringue top and yellow layers. The waiter suggested, with great enthusiasm, to dig deep and get all the layers at once. I tried but there was lot to this well filled pud. This cheesecake in a glass was topped with Bill’s lemon curd, yogurt ice cream and poppy seed meringue – and was just spot on! The meringue was so creamy and fluffy but nice and firm, enveloping a ball of delicious yoghurt ice-cream. You then come across a creamy, zingy lemon curd followed by a layer of cheesecake and the expected biscuit base. The base was a little too crumbly or sandy if you will, but that only caused slight inconvenience as some of it fell off my spoon as I tried to eat it, although luckily back into the glass! The ice-cream worked really well as a cleanser against all the other sticky, gooey textures.

You may think I am being over enthusiastic – but what Bill’s manages to do is serve very tasty food, good portions, well priced, in a really comfortable and buzzing environment with efficient yet discreet service – money well spent I’d say. They really do offer something more than other chains offer, and it doesn’t have the feel of a chain, more so an independent.

EE RecommendsThey do, however, add a discretionary service charge (although this is clearly noted on the website and the receipt). This is not something I’m a fan of and I am unsure if the staff receive the full amount – I do hope so, as our waiter was very good and represented Bill’s well. Not forgetting to mention the kitchen staff who, if they hadn’t done their job properly, would’ve made our lunch a very different experience, good service or not.

I look forward to the next visit and sooner rather than later I hope!

exeter@bills-email.co.uk

https://bills-website.co.uk/restaurants/exeter/

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