The Green Table, Dartington
Eating your greens just got better! Muddy Devon gets her feet under the table at Dartington's coolest cafe
Dartington Hall’s cafe is – as you would expect from a hub for arts, sustainability and progressive thinking – a thinking woman’s cafe. Full of organic and sustainably sourced food, and interesting looking arty characters, young and old, it’s a mixture of locals who come in daily, Dartington students, and friends and family dropping in for lunch. The name is a nod not just to their green principles, but to their enlightened history, as The Green Table is the name of an anti-war ballet performed by the troupe Ballets Jooss who took refuge here from Nazi Germany.
Situated right opposite the entrance to Dartington Hall, just outside Totnes in the South Hams, and launched by manager and head chef Tara Vaughan-Hughes back in April 2017, it’s my go-to for those bowls of flavourful salads which look and taste AMAZING but I never get round to making due to all the chopping and faffing.
Fresh from Vermont where she ran a cafe called Eat Good Food, Tara’s mantra is “Local always equates to taste”, and is rightly proud of the fact that most of these scrummy salads and veg for the daily soups are grown less than a third of a mile away in the estate’s kitchen garden.
You can tell a lot about a place by looking at the pinboard. Here you’ll find ads for yoga, qigong and family singing sessions next to notices highlighting climate emergency. And you’d expect nothing less, as this is Dartington with its way-ahead-of-its-time promotion of sustainability and local. It’s this ethos which brought the thinkers, artists and educators to this part of the South Hams and now makes Totnes, as they say, ‘very Totnes’.
It’s all light and airy and open-plan with a mid-century vibe and Orla Kiely colours, with house plants and wooden floors opening out onto a terrace of picnic tables and parasols. You’re encouraged to have a tinkle on the piano – in fact my son Henry who’s 19 and fresh from getting his Grade 8 *yep showing off now* asked if he could play and they turned down the music down specially.
There’s a wide choice of eating options: sit with your laptop at a counter made from the trunk of a toppled Dartington Monterey pine; lounge on sofas with friends while the Muddies play with with the dressing up box; or eat rectory style at long desks, recycled from Dartington’s Foxhole School. And yes, that is a topless/shoeless man just in shot on the right handside. Like I said, it’s very Totnes.
SCOFF & QUAFF
You can choose from a seasonal menu or grab a pick-and-point salad plate from the deli counter which I went for – five salads for £7.95 which once you’ve paid at the till, is delivered to you as pretty as a five-pointed starfish. It was all so fresh and health-giving – a mix of cucumber-flavoured quinoa, tamari and sesame-oiled Asian noodles, carrot salad, trad potato salad and delicious Puy lentils, tangy with olives.
The Mud-lennial had protein on his mind so went for the grilled steak sandwich flavoured with home-made salsa, red onion and mayo which he declared, ‘the nicest sandwich I’ve ever had’. I have to admit the tiny scrap I managed to beg off him was just delicious, the horseradish-like sauce spicy but not overpoweringly hot.
The sweet stuff is a choice of vegan ice-cream, Dartington Dairy ice-cream fresh from the goats on the estate as well as baked in-house fare including energy bliss balls, cardamon buns and buttery shortbread. We shared a vegan granola bar full of dates and wheat-free goodness – and very filling.
We didn’t stop there though, oh no. We also tried (for research purposes) a salted caramel brownie, gooey on the inside, crisp on the outside just how it should be; and lighter-than-light wholemeal choc chip cookies. So hardly any calories at all.
All washed down with home-made lemonade made on site, though we could have had juice from Devon brands like Luscombe and Ashridge or Devonia natural spring water from nearby Beesands, selected because they’re the only UK company that collects, sterilises and resuses the bottles. Oh, and just in case you’re sucking your teeth over that ‘single-use plastic’ straw…
I’ve been here on a Saturday morning and the place is always abuzz with young couples and toddlers racing around the settees on foot or on one of the cafe’s pink scooters left parked about. I’d have loved a place like this to chill with friends when my Muddies were small. The staff are fun and friendly, including Harry and a lot of people who seem to be called Matty, laughing and singing in the open-plan kitchen but not in an attention-seeking way, if you know what I mean. So no-one is going to bat an eyelid at a Terrible 2 having a tantrum.
OUT AND ABOUT
Dartington Hall, its gorgeous gardens (free to enter), cinema and regular courses and workshops are right on your doorstep, so it’s the perfect pit-stop before an evening concert. Note they shut at 6pm but stop serving food at 5pm – I’ve been caught out before – but August brings later openings till 8pm from Thursday to Saturday.
Totnes is a ten-minute drive down the road, bursting with artisan shops, restaurants and cafes, including Ben’s Farm Shop, Me & East with its curated jewellery, soap and gifts and the lovely new kids clothes shop Small Folk. And so many more: just follow town centre signs for parking and hot-foot it up the High Street.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Home-made good food, grown locally and abiding by organic practices. Fair to farmers, a corporate-free zone, and inextricably connected to the place and time of year.
Good for: vegans and vegetarians; relaxed family lunches (there’s a big circular table seating 12); breakfast and morning coffee with the gals/kids/dogs; walkers and wanderers; open mic (every 3rd Thursday of the month); enlightenment seekers.
Not for: queue-haters/linen-table-cloth lovers; committed carnivores (only a third of the menu is meat); dinner (it stops serving at 5pm).
The damage: good value, a meal for under a tenner- cooked breakfast£9.95; soup of the day with sourdough £5.95; salad plate £7.95; grilled sandwich from £7.75.
The Green Table, Dartington Hall, Totnes TQ9 6EL Tel: 01803 847110