Like you a little I’m so weird. You see, I also enjoy some scents that I must hate as an organic human being. In the same way that my mother loves the smell of container trucks, which evokes fond childhood memories, I enjoy the smell of exhaust fumes coming from the back of a small boat.
I smell black smoke from the engine mixed with the smell of sea salt, and suddenly I’m transported to a place of peace, quiet, holidays and happiness. It could be Paxos, Corfu or Leros and when the pong joins the spinning and gurgling sound of the engine as it rises gently, I feel dizzy from the satisfaction.
But before you go for a happy nostalgia fix with a quick diesel sniff, dirty ashtray, or tub of chlorine, come with me on this little boat as we drive away from Exmouth Marina to a barge-built restaurant moored in the middle of the X estuary.
If you already have a boat, you don’t need to spend £7 on a Puffin Water Taxi, but just mind the big sandbank en route, or you’ll be stuck while we’re stuck in a plate of oysters.
We were lucky to have a calm and warm clear evening, which made the experience even more magical with sunset and lights from the moored boats around.
Opened in 2011, the River Exe Café consists of two vehicles and a shed, and I don’t remotely apologize for being a bit late to the party. On a perfect summer night it is a place of priceless memory, although I suspect it would also be very interesting on a rainy day. Only open from April to September, so get the diary now.
The menu consists of local produce and decor – wooden decking on floors and walls, sturdy wood-paneled tables, blue chairs, and international pennants – shouts, “Seafood!”
We sipped from a delicious, dry bottle of Muscadet Fildefere, which comes with a Grolsch-shaped bottle seal (beautiful, charming, and reusable), as they brought a pint of prawns to the table with sourdough bread and olive oil. And a plate of crunchy homemade potato chips.
With a table at 8:30pm we were the last of many and the waiter duly cycled us through the items we were out of. No lobster, for example. Horror shock. But I forgive them. Stuck on a catamaran built on two old, rusty barges from Stoke on Trent, the demands of kitchen economy and location mean they run a narrow barge.
The prawns were bouncing and biting, enhanced with good saffron aioli. We had a plate of Teignmouth oysters too, and the narrow barge syndrome means we had 11 instead of 12. Is that an omen? All old wives’ tales were all welcomed… (FYI, I’m still alive writing and a piano hasn’t fallen on my head.)
The must-share sashimi dish was a mixed bag, with great tuna, sesame-wrapped edges, but less soft and fresh salmon (with citrus) and mackerel. Perhaps the problem is more my protest to the word “sashimi”, which actually means raw, not raw, some processed and whatever the ship’s chef feels like.
But our main course of mussels was juicy, like a benevolent sultan: rich, creamy and wonderful. We walked away, under a starlit sky across the calm waters, my head, my heart, and my stomach filled with food, memory, and marine diesel oil.