Fancy a Rendezvous?
Date night on the cards, drinks with the girls or planning a working lunch? Say bonjour to Rendezvous, Exeter's go-to for lunchtime pow-wows and after-work quaffing.
Hmmmm. Where to book when you’re organising a working lunch in Exeter? Wherever you go needs to tick a lot of boxes: formal enough to talk work-stuff but not stuffy, free of squawking kids and of course, the food has to be top-notch. It can’t be toe-curlingly expensive in case they insist on picking up the tab, but you don’t want to look like you’ve skimped on the main event. Et voila! Say salut to Rendezvous, a basement wine bar come restaurant conveniently located just off Cathedral Green in the heart of the city’s business district, Southernhay.
Owned by Jemma Mitchell, and ex-PR with a knack for entertaining and hospitality since the early Noughties, she studied at Exeter Uni and spotted a gap in the market for somewhere you could get a decent glass of wine. Somewhere unpretentious, where you don’t have to dress up – a home from home for chilling, drinking and grabbing a bite.
What I love about Rendezvous is how it morphs to meet your need. Working lunches rub shoulders with ladies out for a lunch of the liquid variety and come evening, it segues into a buzzing wine bar. By day this is where you’ll find the city’s high-flying solicitors, accountants, barristers and wealth managers when they want some down time – down some stone steps in a basement cellar.
Open every day from midday for lunch and dinner, serving up modern European cuisine with a choice of two whole A4 pages of wine – 60 from around the world, with loads by the glass including local wines and fizz Sharpham, Swanaford and Furleigh Estate (and I was driving *sobs*). Rebecca, Jemma’s sister was serving and she’s a knowledgeable wine writer and trainer, which would have come in handy with the advice had I been imbibing.
The wine list is split down into layman-friendly choices, including Good Plonk, Light Fresh Crisp, or Aromatic and Zesty. There’s a well-stocked bar with 18 choices of gin, rum and other quality spirits, along with local Otter, Powderkeg beers and ales and low-alcohol choices. There are two comfy-looking leather sofas as you go in the door, so it’s no surprise if you come in straight after work any day of the week, the place is usually heaving. In summer there’s a secret suntrap of a cottagey, walled garden to sit out in where you can scoff and quaff.
Located in the basement of an early 1800’s building on Southernhay, it feels intimate by day or night, thanks to the low lighting and even lower ceilings, combined with classy flagstone floor and a mixture of brick and natural sandstone walls.
It was a cold, quiet winter lunchtime when I was there and I was quite tempted to chuck a match on that woodpile. In fairness, the staff had barely had a chance to take their coats off when I barged in one minute after opening (to take pics while it was empty), and it did warm up as more diners arrived and the amazing butternut squash went down.
Despite the subterranean locale, it feels light and airy, thanks to windows letting in natural light front and back.
Table for two, madam? I fancy this cubby hole for a romantic dinner-date (or maybe I’ll just bring the hubby!) The background noise stays low-key in here even when the place is full so any confidential wheeler-dealing can’t be heard from outside. Or in my case, my dear old pa would be able to hear me without having to shout myself hoarse.
SCOFF AND QUAFF
One of four chefs, local head chef Tim Andrews has been at the helm for eight years, specialising in often francophile, European food, mostly meat and fish dishes – with a local catch delivered daily from Brixham. The menu rolls round daily to keep the regulars interested. It’s worth perusing the menu for their lunchtime deal (two courses for £19.90 from Monday to Thursday) as it applies only to the asterisked dishes. Vegan is catered for as long as you to call ahead to let them know.
There were seven choices for both starters and mains, with two veggie, including sea bream, hake (fresh from Brixham), lamb, chicken and steak.
I went for the butternut squash and cumin soup, which was perfectly smooth and creamy, slightly spicy with a drizzle of truffle oil which came in a tilted bowl with a piece of warm home-made bread.
My lunch date went for goats cheese which he said with the home-made bread was delightful – lots of interesting flavours and not too much – so no danger of nodding off under your desk later.
I fancied chicken for mains, served with hogs pudding, roasted broccoli, tarragon cream sauce and a wedge of tasty mustard mash. I don’t often go for chicken when I’m out as it can be a bit boring, but this was really well-flavoured, and so moist. I was enjoying it so much, I looked down and discovered someone had polished every last morsel.
A steak for my colleague, cooked rare, with bayleaf salad, chunky chips (divine – I pinched one) and a little jug of peppercorn sauce. He said it was perfect and he’s a committed steak eater.
I’d say the food was interesting but not pompous. Like the setting, the options were cultured and classy – you can tell they take the dolce vita seriously. They’ve got knowing their customer down to a fine art – the workers who need to dine and dash back to the office, and those who’re here for a leisurely lunch washed down with lots of lovely vino.
No, not especially though kids are welcome and some regulars do bring their children along. But Rendezvous know what they’re about – and it’s not kids. Refreshingly, they’re not trying to please all the people, all the time. It’s unashamedly grown-up so there’s no dedicated kids’ menu (though they will split a dish between two plates), no highchairs, crayons and play areas. If you bring children here, it’s about learning the ropes of eating out nicely, so no acting up and tearing about. And the kids need to behave too.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Wine, obvs! One of the few elegant places in Exeter you can have a really classy drop of the ol’ lady petrol. Ladies who do lunch; romantic twosomes; networkers; subterranean soirees; a couples’ nights out with friends; Saturday afternoon escapes from the shopping crowds; graduation dinners; dirty stop-outs, it stays open till midnight. Occasional live music and wine tastings.
Nor for: Kids, buggies and anyone who struggles to navigate steps (there are a few up to the loos too). Vegans unless you phone ahead. Sundays – they’re closed.
The damage: Extremely good value for the quality – two courses for £19.90 Mon-Sat lunchtimes and Mon-Thurs early evenings for tables up to 8 max.
Rendezvous, 38-40 Southernhay E, Exeter EX1 1PE. Tel: 01392 270222