Brunch for the sandwich generation
Finding a safe haven to eat with bickering kids and an oldie in tow is no picnic. Hallellulah for The Donkey Sanctuary and their new Sunday brunch.
The Donkey Sanctuary at Sidmouth is well known for their great works rescuing more than 20,000 donkeys over their 50 years but it turns out they are also good at rescuing exhausted mums with tricky lunch dates. One’s a vegan tween, one’s a teenage boy and one is 86, only ever eats fish and chips and is deaf as a doorpost.
We tumble into the visitor centre with the daughter trying to trip up her elder brother down the steps, and me trying to stop dear old dad tripping over his stick, and though we are meant to queue at the counter – a kind waitress takes pity on us and ushers us to sit down and takes our order.
My cappuccino arrives within seconds and Sunday morning immediately looks better.
Up until recently Sunday lunch at The Donkey Sanctuary was a roast and two-veg affair, but the powers that be have decided to ditch the gravy and introduce a modern brunch, available from 9am to 3pm, with the option of lunch of soups and sarnies from 11am.
The location is just as good as ever, in 130-acre grounds overlooking the Jurassic Coast, and fields full of cute donks rescued from all over the globe. Small, large, old, blind, curmudgeonly – all are welcome *and the donkeys, ho ho*. I took my youngest daughter who is 12 back in the spring and she loved it – you can read the review here.
The Donkey Sanctuary cafe opened in 2017, thanks to a £1 million investment and it shows. Spacious and airy with wooden floors and a mixture of booth and table seating. You’re greeted by two counters as you go in – a Grab & Go for drinks, cream teas and ice creams and a counter for food orders. Overhead is a huge blackboard showing where local cheese and drinks are sourced in Devon and nearby counties. The clientele is a mix of families, pairs with pooches, and a big family celebrating a littlie’s birthdays with balloons tied to the chairs.
The modern IKEA style lighting and pops of colour feel high-quality and comfortable. Floor to ceiling windows run the length of the cafe offering 180 degree views out over the donkey paddocks, East Devon countryside and sparkly sea, with a wooden terrace to the exterior for sunny days or over-sugared littlies who need a run around. It feels bespoke thanks to all the donkey tropes – in the wooden clipboard menu, the coffee – even the coat hangers have ears.
SCOFF AND QUAFF
Brunch was a choice of Full English, egg dishes, sourdough and avo staples, syrupy pancakes and Mexican beans or French toast.
Dad and the daughter went for the Full English, hers the vegan. The little missy was happy with hers, though I polished off her veggie sausage because she was full and it tasted home-made though I checked and apparently it wasn’t. My dad reported back his was perfect.
My Eggs Florentine was just the right runny, with a layer of salty spinach on two halves of buttered muffins. Yum.
The lad had a generous portion of Amercian pancakes which got a tick for being nice and fluffy with gooey banana and caramel sauce. He would have licked the plate clean had I let him.
I appreciated the quick-quick service, the pretty coloured mismatching plates and all the local stuff on the menu, including cider from Lyme Bay Winery. Plus Devon roasted fairtrade coffee, clipper teas from Dorset and Luscombe organic drinks. It’s nice to know 100% of the profits from the cafe, indeed all their trading activities, are donated back to the charity to help the donkeys
Plus plenty for intolerances with the menu well-labelled and regular, skinny or soya milk for the shakes and soya spreads on offer. And no chance of moaning from those those who can’t live without chips – we loved our side of skin-on chips.
Yes, and more importantly it’s very mum-friendly thanks to wide buggy-loving aisles. You could fit a caravan of buggies at a table and not feel too in the way, ideal for meeting up with other mums. Despite its size and clientele, it wasn’t too noisy thanks to the engineered acoustic system of a wooden ceiling (my dad appreciated this as he can’t hear a thing in busy places).
There are high chairs, help-yourself water, wicked hot chocolates in normal and white choc that come with sprinkles, marshmallows, flakes – the whole shebang, plus shakes and smoothies. They also do Donkey Bags for kids who prefer to lunch from a cardboard box with a drinks carton, raisins and a bag of Pombears.
And the best bit is The Donkey Sanctuary is free to visit, though donations are warmly welcomed, and there’s always plenty on: check out their Christmas Craft Fair on 23 and 24 November.
You can borrow a wheelchair for a small deposit. We were allowed to park in the disabled parking without a badge for dad, and there were lots of slopes so we could avoid the steps. I really rate the gift shop as its full of bespoke games, socks, pocket-money items – really good quality like everything else here.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: packhorse mums weighed down by bags and buggies; families, oldies, kids birthday parties.
Not for: Sunday roasts and pub grub; romantic spaces. Bookings – just turn up.
The damage: very good value: brunch from £6.50, shakes £3.80.