Review: NC@EX34, Woolacombe
PUBLISHED: 10:45 13 August 2014
Noel Corston's restaurant on the North Devon coast has just won a Gold in the 2014 Taste of the West awards. Last year it was voted Devon's best restaurant by the foodie members of the Love the Flavour judging panel. SUSAN CLARK books in for an anniversary dinner to find out why this is the place everyone's talking about
You may have eaten at Noel Corston’s Woolcombe restaurant before it changed its name from The Courtyard to NC@EX34 but that’s all history now. The bistro-style menu is gone – in fact the only menu on show is the humble blackboard detailing the month’s five or seven course taster menu.
I say detailing but you can see from our photograph that I am embellishing. Because actually, each course in Noel’s new taster menu is shown simply by the name of the fish or meat that he is cooking that night and so you will not know what other gastronomic delights it will be served with until your plate is placed before you.
We are a party of four that includes two strict vegetarians, one pescarian and one meat-eater. It’s what most chefs can now expect from diners – very specific dietary preferences – and NC rises to the challenge of making sure the vegetarians are as intrigued by and thrilled with their dishes as the fish and meat eaters.
There are just 16 covers in the newly revamped restaurant which makes for the kind of intimacy where diners are quite happy to pass small talk with each other at the cocktail bar where Australian-trained mixologist, Stuart Crawford, offers a small but stylish cocktail menu on arrival.
Throughout your meal, you will be looked after by Noel’s wife, Nora, and you will wonder, more than once, how they manage to make the dining experience look so effortless and easy.
This new ethos for NC@EX34 has its roots in two much-talked about Pop Up restaurants that Noel ran first in Croyde (2012) and then Woolacombe (2013). He was testing the idea that both locals and tourists would pay for a menu that offered no choice (other than five or seven courses) and would enjoy Fine Dining as an experience of putting themselves entirely in the capable hands of a seasoned and passionate-about-good-food chef.
I love this style of uber modern eating which brings a frisson of surprise that knowing in advance what you are about to eat lacks. I love not choosing my meal from a long list of dishes that in so many restaurants promise so much but then deliver more of the same old, same old, and I love that the passion and intensity that Noel taps into when he steps into the kitchen to create something memorable to eat means that every dish I am served is just that – memorable.
Noel Corston@EX34 is open Wednesday to Saturday nights from April to the end of September with servings at 7pm, 7.30pm and 8pm. The five-course taster menu costs £45; the seven course menu is £70. You can also request wine matching when you book via noelcorston.com If you are travelling any distance for dinner, ask for local accommodation details and stay over – because the whole experience will be well worth the trip.
Booking is essential.