Exeter Hotel, Semaphore

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date of visit: Saturday 30 March 2013

The lovely long Easter weekend actually gave us some time to collect our thoughts and head out and about. A friend had mentioned the Kite Festival at Semaphore and while it’s a small hike from our place we made it down just in time to see a few kites before our toddler started demanding something to eat …

We had no real plan and we just started wandering up Semaphore Road. There is no shortage of places to choose from and we were tempted by quite a few. I was looking out for the Exeter purely on the ground that I had been there once about 15 years ago. Unfortunately, I didn’t realise quite how far away from the sea the pub is and by the time we reached it, the bleats of “eat, eat” from the pram were becoming more and more pitiful so we had no choice but to hope they could accommodate us.

We entered the bistro area to see what seemed like huge swathes of massive tables set up, every table with a reserved sign and seemingly every high chair in the state set out. It turns out that Easter Saturday and an international kite festival make for busy venues …

It’s a good thing we were so early (almost bang on 5pm) because we actually bagged the last free table in the house. We could have sat outside but firstly, it was cold and secondly, the Exeter has a play area* and we knew that meant we would have very little focus on actually eating, let alone leaving.

There were no free high chairs but fortunately our table was more like a booth and had high banquette seating so our little chap had no problem demolishing my dinner for me.

The menu at the Exeter is pub standard with pub standard prices. The pub offers various meal deals, as well as “kids eat free” from Monday through Thursday. We opted, as always, for pub standards. Andy chose the beef schnitzel with gravy and I went for the toddler’s current favourite, salt and pepper fried calamari.

As an aside, any pub that has a toddler sized portion of that on its menu – please get in touch, because I’m sick of sharing my food!

The meals came out super fast, which you do expect and also, given the masses of large reserved tables, something for which we were extremely grateful.

Andy’s schnitzel actually wasn’t too bad – a very standard pub schnitzel and it was definitely a case of getting exactly what you expect. Unfortunately, the salt and pepper squid was an absolute masterclass in stuffing up. We could not fathom what had gone wrong.

The batter on the squid was squidgy, doughy and pappy. The squid itself was actually tender. Had everything been dramatically overcooked? Not likely, as that wouldn’t turn the batter doughy and the meals had come out really quickly. Had the fat been not hot enough? I didn’t think so because it didn’t seem greasy (although, in hindsight, maybe all the fat had been absorbed into that nasty batter …). Andy thought it was no mean achievement to mess it up so royally (although he did also say he felt incredibly sorry for the kitchen staff for the imminent onslaught of large parties).

Now I do have to confess that when the waiter came to collect our plates I didn’t complain. Firstly, thanks to the toddler there was nothing left on the plate and I think it’s pretty rude to complain about something you’ve demolished. Secondly, I had no real constructive criticism to offer: “it just wasn’t very good” is rather pathetic.

Everything else at the Exeter was as you’d expect: service was friendly and efficient, the wine list had a good selection of reasonably priced by the glass wines but was a bit boring and the menu offered all the pub favourites.

We used our Entertainment Book voucher and the meal cost us under $40 (2 main courses, a beer for Andy and a glass of Riesling for me). I think I am generally fair and set my expectations according to the venue, and I very much hope the squid was a one off issue. The problem the Exeter has is that it is far too close to a huge range of restaurants, so one small slip up will see us try somewhere else next time we head that way.

Where should we have eaten instead?

* Personally, as soon as I see a pub offering a “play area” it puts me off. I’d rather my child sat at the table and ate his dinner than think it’s acceptable to charge around like a lunatic. That’s the grumpy old lady in me …

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