The Curious Kitchen: Brixham-based cafe delights with its difference
PUBLISHED: 12:10 26 September 2017
Katherine Elliott visits the South Devon café keeping cream teas off the menu
Sat opposite me in Brixham’s trendy new café, The Curious Kitchen, is a jolly, rosy cheeked man in a grey T-shirt and black apron talking animatedly about great coffee, great little cakes, local meat and potatoes…so far, so chef. But with tattoos boldly adorning both arms, knuckles and neck Ash Hamilton, head chef of Brixham’s popular new eatery, is anything but conventional and has an attitude, and menu, to suit.
“I look around the local area and if I see someone else is doing something I deliberately won’t do that,” he explains. “I want to constantly surprise people, make them inquisitive and gain their interest.”
The Curious Kitchen opened in Brixham’s Middle Street last year with a desire to be bold, daring and adventurous. “I wanted to offer my friends something interesting, and different to eat,” explains Ash.
“There was nowhere in Brixham that we really wanted to go so we thought, why don’t we make somewhere?”
One year on and Brixham’s now, I think it’s safe to say, ‘hippest’ eatery prides itself on being able to cater for the modern-foodie; from vegans, vegetarians and those wanting to avoid refined sugars to your regular, sweet-toothed chocoholic – the lot.
Atop The Curious Kitchen’s wooden-sleeper-clad counter you’ll find a myriad of playful delicacies to inspire and intrigue the taste buds. Orange, live yogurt and chia seed cake, doughnuts you can inject with your own choice of filling (so long jam vs. cream debate) and after-school favourite, Freakshakes; a themed milkshake that comes topped with cream and also – because life’s too short – cake.
“I want you to be able to come in and get something different, that’s been made with a bit of love,” explains Ash.
While Ash’s rock and roll attitude has inspired an adventurous daytime menu of sweet somethings, his savoury offerings see Brixham’s traditional fish-based dishes sail into the distance. “I’m big on giving people options,” he explains. Think harissa-spiced baked beans, rice paper rolls and a twist on the humble crab sandwich, complete with smashed avocado, radish and salsa verde.
Daytimes at The Curious Kitchen are full of adventure and indulgence, but it’s the café’s more recently introduced evening menu that’s transforming Middle Street into a destination for local food-lovers. Changing monthly, the locally-sourced, homemade menu fuses brave, modern and unusual flavour combinations that showcase Ash’s sophisticated culinary expertise.
Visit on a Friday and Saturday for the full display; a five course taster menu for an affordable £29 per head, or a smaller two-course option on Thursdays for £19 a head. Sounds reasonable, but don’t be fooled by the price tag, the sophisticated menu wouldn’t look out of place in one of the region’s most high-end restaurants, and nor would it taste so. Typically the menu boasts a meat, fish and vegetarian main course with vegetable-based starters and experimental desserts, “I like to throw in a few surprises,” says Ash with a knowing grin.
Meanwhile the change in feel, and style, from the bustling daytime café to the intimate, romantic evening setting is clear but subtle. Tables are adjusted to sit smaller numbers, candles sparkle and waiting staff attentively replace the informality of the daytime self-serve set up.
Day or evening, Ash prides himself on sourcing The Curious Kitchen’s produce locally and making everything (bar the café’s sourdough) on-site. He says: “Everything we serve is homemade; the cakes, ketchups, bread, chutneys – everything. We even cure our own bacon.” Listed on each menu is also how far your meal has travelled before getting to your table.
“Geno from Kingsbridge brings me sacks of potatoes,” Ash explains proudly. “Our meat and veg is from Totnes and I have a guy who hunts for me in Haldon. It’s really important to me that there’s full traceability in our food.”
There are a number of things I find inspiring about this new café come restaurant; its total inclusivity – with vegan brownies sat beside bacon-infused doughnuts – its ability to transform from playful daytime charm to sophisticated evening romance with subtlety and ease, and its desire to put fun and play back into food and flavour. But behind all that, and probably most inspiring of all, is the man not afraid to push the boundaries, be different and be curious.
“You know what, if I don’t want to do a cream tea,” says Ash, “I won’t.”
Ash’s top tips on how to inspire your own kitchen creations
Source the best produce: “I am fortunate to work with some iconic produce. Nowhere epitomises this more than Riverford Farm. Guy Watson and his team supply fantastic organic dairy products, fruit and veg.”
Travel: or listen to those who have. “I have a lot of friends who have travelled and come to me with amazing food ideas. It’s great to be able to draw from people’s experiences.”
Do your research: “The internet is great for inspiration. Instagram keeps me up to date with trends - I am in my 30s now, I need all the help I can get!”
Don’t get carried away: “It’s a lot of fun trying new and interesting taste combinations, as long as they don’t compromise the overall product. No being weird for weird’s sake!”