Whenever we stay in Exeter, we tend to stay at The Queen’s Court Hotel. This is not only for its proximity to the town centre and the main train stations, and not only for its view of the town clocktower and its luxurious rooms, but also for its restaurant, The Olive Tree.
Open to the public as well as to the hotel’s paying guests, the restaurant epitomises affordable luxury. This is not only contributed to by its setting – a leafy square in a historic cathedral city – but also by its sumptuous yet subtle decor and the Michelin star-style finish of its dishes. There are two entrances to the restaurant – via the hotel reception area, and via a second entrance from the street – and these both also give access to the plush modern bar and waiting area, which is also furnished with high-quality magazines, including local gastronomic and cultural press, to pique one’s interest.
The restaurant emphasises the local provenance of its produce, and this is immediately evident in the existence on its menu of dishes such as the trio of West Country duck, the locally farmed chicken served with sweet potato purée, and a cheese platter consisting exclusively of cheeses from the region. Food is imaginatively and adventurously prepared, but it’s clear that the restaurant prizes substance just as much as style: meat is tender and falls off the bone with ease, and the ambitious dessert menu offers a full range of temptations, as does the wine list.
As if this were not enough, the restaurant prefers to share its recipes rather than be secretive about them, publishing selected recipes online for visitors to try to recreate at home. Not that dining at the restaurant itself is in any way out of reach financially: one popular deal at the hotel is a £230 weekend away, including an allowance of £40 for two to dine in the restaurant as well as a full English breakfast (whose delights I have also sampled to their fullest extent – they include freshly squeezed fruit juices and local black pudding). If you just have the restaurant in your sights, you could easily have a three-course meal for as little as £25 (not including wine) à la carte – so not including any special deals or menus that the restaurant might be running.
Needless to say, I absolutely recommend this place: Exeter is full of chains such as Pizza Express, which I’m sure all have their merits, but if you want really excellent cuisine at jaw-dropping value for money, hunt out this hidden hotel – and if you want to return (as you almost surely will), the hotel and restaurant also operate a loyalty card scheme, whereby you get a stamp each time you stay or dine, which allows you to work towards various rewards such as a free bottle of wine, a free dinner, and even a free night at the hotel. All the more reason to come back!
The Queen’s Court Hotel, Bystock Terrace
Exeter, Devon EX4 4HY, United Kingdom
01392 272 709