Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has been running The Local Produce Store and Canteen in Axminster, Devon, for some time.
Up until now I've resisted entering its hallowed doors. I have a natural aversion to anything remotely 'celebrity' or 'popular'. And I have mixed feelings about the man who I once saw described in a holiday brochure as 'the one who put Dorset on the map' (wasn't that Thomas Hardy?) But when I learned that friends whose opinions I respect go there regularly for lunch, I felt a visit was probably overdue. Especially as the sustainable chef has just opened up a restaurant in Bath.
So Mr Grigg and I combined it with a trip to the Axminster Carpets factory shop where you can get top quality carpets at a fraction of their normal price. (The sale starts on April 25).
However, I digress. The store is in a large building in the centre of Axminster. It's full of local produce, much of it very expensive and aimed at those who would like to make their own but, for whatever reason, don't. As we already make and grow our own and have done for years, it was only the canteen part of Hugh's enterprise we were interested in. So we made our way to the back, a chapel to the industrial age with high ceilings, wrought iron beams with cobwebs in among the metalwork, and bricks and breeze blocks painted in cream and slate blue.
Chunky, purpose-built, rustic tables, with beer glasses containing fresh daffodils and surrounded by random old chairs occupy the room. You order at the bar where coffees and drinks are dispensed. Unlike the rather sniffy reviewer from The Telegraph, we didn't have a problem with this.
The service was cheerful, efficient and unobtrusive. The atmosphere was very relaxed.
But how about the food? A very simple blackboard menu had six choices of main course for lunch, plus a mushroom soup and Lyme Town Mill bread for £5. There was a choice of three puddings for between £6 and £7.
I chose the most glorious leek and goat's cheese spelt risotto, with Palestinian olive oil (£7). It was creamy, tasty and just the right amount. Mr Grigg went for the pan-fried pig's liver and bacon with three-root mash, greens and sage gravy (£10). His verdict? I didn't hear a word from him until he'd finished. 'Excellent,' he said as he put down his knife and fork.
This was washed down with a couple of bottles of Otter Beer (£3.50 each).
The prices were on a par with the pubs around these parts but the quality was far superior.