It’s not quite a shop. It’s not quite a café or restaurant. It’s not quite a bakery or meeting space. It’s all of these things, and a community initiative as well.

The Real Food Store in Exeter is a co-operative food store which opened in March 2011. It is a community-owned shop, bakery, café and community space which was started up in order to provide a “positive shopping alternative” in this south-west cathedral city. It has 292 shareholding members, and from my experience at the café last month, they’ve made a good investment.

We went rummaging through the shop straight away and were pleased to find not only lots of local vegetables and bread made on the premises, but also lots of other foodstuffs that made us go ‘ooh’, such as homemade biscuits and ales from the area. A great alternative within the city centre to trekking out into Topsham to get the same stuff from Dart’s Farm (DF does have more to offer than that in a way that’s different to The Real Food Store – but more of that another time).

We then went upstairs to the café, which takes advantage of natural light and has loads of brightly-coloured country-side related art on the walls, mostly of cows (the art, by local artists, is for sale too). We just wanted a light lunch, so I plumped for a root vegetable soup, which was full of earthiness, colour and spice, while Jean-Marc chose a venison sausage sandwich (made with bread baked in store, of course). We also ordered drinks (a lemonade concoction for him, I believe, and a ginger ale for me)…and this was the only glitch. The drinks we’d ordered (and paid for!) didn’t come and we had to ask for them again. When they were finally delivered, the girl bringing them was incredibly apologetic and tried to offer us a free cake each by way of apology. Even though the cakes looked incredible, a) we only wanted a light lunch, so didn’t really need cake; b) it was only a small mistake – hardly worth free cake by way of compensation; and c) we knew it was only a small community-owned business and didn’t want to take advantage. So we politely declined – but you definitely could not fault their customer service.

The drinks they serve are local, too, from south-west firm Luscombe Farm; these are always guaranteed to be full of natural flavour and fizz, and the ginger ale definitely had some bite to it (natural ginger all the way, peeps). Our food, too, was faultless, and had we not been going for a three-course meal that evening we definitely would have stayed for cake.  We were thoroughly impressed not only by the food and service but also by the bill – at a mere £15 for the two of us, it tops McDonalds any day of the week. Full marks.

11-13 Paris Street, Exeter EX1 2JB

01392 681234