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Muddy takes it away: Sara’s Petite Cuisine

Muddy says Ola La! to an award-winning cafe serving up a tempting twist of Portuguese and French pastries and light lunches in the heart of Topsham.

I was dashing around gorgeous Topsham last week and finally popped into Sara’s Petite Cuisine or Sara’s as the locals it, a teeny-tiny cafe on Fore Street. Petite but pastel-pink so you can’t miss it, the windows primped with faux flowers. It’s so cute, god only knows how I’ve managed to pass by before but anyway I’m telling you now – if you love stylish French patisseries and a proper pain au raisin, here’s your new amour.

THE LOWDOWN

Owned by the eponymous Sara, who was born in Portugal and grew up in Plymouth, this talented lady and her team whisk up a handmade, zipper-busting mix of more’ish Portuguese and French pastries on site daily, along with brunches and light bites to eat either inside or out on the patio (above), or to take away.

Sara – she’s the smiley one on the right – trained as a patisserie chef at Ashburton Bakery School, then honed her craft at Exeter’s Exploding Bakery for a year before setting up in Topsham in 2017. And her talent has not gone unnoticed, as she’s already bagged a Taste of the West Award for Best Tea Room, and she’s opened another shop – a Portugese deli just up the street.

THE LOCATION

Topsham is just four miles from Exeter, once a market port, now an instagrammable mix of quaint cottages and Dutch architecture, and stuffed with ace indie boutiques. I am going to write up a Totter-round the place soon, but in the meantime, Muddy faves include Lark (quirky homeware, gorgeous jewellery) and Artenax gallery which specialises affordable cool stuff for your home from British designers. You always get great advice from Jim at Topsham Wines and he delivers locally too. Oooh, and the new(ish) Allotment with so many lovely linen tops, tea dresses, Victoria pumps – and they’re letting you try things on (and quarantining the clothes after of course).

THE VIBE

Bijou, fun and feminine, with tables to the front and a deli counter bristling with treats at the back. Due to the current covid restrictions the usually limited seating for 11 is even more restricted to half that, with 6 velvet seats inside and four out the front. Rather than bring back the counter for two when restrictions end, Sara is planning to introduce a new line in Meri Meri cake toppers and candles which will complement the playful vibe perfectly.

Local community interest group, Love Topsham, have just installed 10 tables down on the quayside to support the local eateries, so you can trot your goodies the five minutes down the street (or make that 15, with all those distracting estate agents windows en route).

There’s a loo too, a relief (arf, arf) as the ones in the car park opposite are currently shut – complete with pretty-pink loo rolls.

And when you want to get rid of that takeaway cup, there are two frilly plant pots posing as bins.

SCOFF & QUAFF

Sara’s main thing is pastries, available all day (or until they sell out which they frequently do). She always makes her best-selling puffy almond croissants dusted with icing sugar and pain au raisin, but you might also find spicy cinnamon buns, or chocolate and orange cookies, and vegan chocolate cake. I love her coffee too, it’s flavourful but not bitter, a Portuguese coffee, Camilo, chosen for its slight sweetness.

Another not-to-be-missed bestseller is her pastel de nata, Portuguese custard tart. Sara has her own secret recipe, so forget anything you’ve ever bought from Nando’s, this is a creamy combo with a slightly citrus kick in a light, flaky tart. Dangerously addictive.

Sara can’t get hold of Portuguese dairy products and flour here so she uses the next best thing – French butter and flour (all natural) which gives everything a lighter texture and a better flavour, and tint her croissant just the right golden colour.

There isn’t a set menu, instead Sara surprises her dedicated fan-base with new delights daily, so for brunch there might be a Portuguese quiche and salads, and a variety of filled charcoal or beetroot buns and pies. She’s got a bit of a Willy Wonka thing going on, as she loves colourful food, evidenced by her bonkers Mermaid smoothie bowl (above) and Unicorn Tea, a blue tea made from pea flowers or if you add lemon turns the colour of the pink patisserie itself.

Credit: Jo Berman

Or how about a charcoal bun, with bread black as midnight served in a contrasting pink serviette with a salmon and cream cheese filling. Fabulous.

ANYTHING ELSE?

Last July, Sara opened a second store just up the street called Mercado, a Portuguese deli selling cheese, chorizo and cured meats (and those colourful toilet rolls). She’s just added Portuguese beer, wine and Port to the list and – be still my beating heart – authentic Bordallo Pinheiro dishes, including daisy and banana plates and those trendy cabbage ones. So summery.

OUT & ABOUT

If you need to shake off the family while you mooch, push them towards the circular Goat Walk along the estuary which takes you along The Strand and its awesome Dutch houses. There is a play park at the top of the town or take the short ferry ride across the river (weekends only at the mo) for a stomp along the opposite site of the river.

THE MUDDY VERDICT

Petite yes, but not so the pastries which are big and generous with the tasty gooey fillings. Get in first thing if you want to snaffle an almond croissant as they sell out fast! (though she will save you one if you message her).

Good for: anyone who loves handmade, quality coffee and cake on the run; takeaway treats; sweet treats for friends/teachers/anyone you want to bribe; special orders to impress after-dinner guests when you’ve not time or inclination to bake; dog walkers (pooches allowed).

Not for: big groups; the evening – it’s open every day but shuts 4.30pm weekdays and 3.30pm on Sunday.

The damage: A takeaway flat white and Portuguese custard tart set me back all of £4.40. Brilliant quality and value.

Sara’s Petite Cusine, 80 Fore St, Topsham, Exeter EX3 0HQ Tel: 07557 474084

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