WHEN The Salutation Inn in Topsham re-opened its doors this week, visitors were surprised and delighted.
Over the past two years a local family have transformed the historic building into an impressive restaurant and cafe with rooms.
Ed Williams-Hawkes, his wife and sons Tom and Charlie have been working flat-out to return the property, believed to be dated from 1720, back to its roots.
The fine three-storey façade stands proudly in the centre of the town. The main entrance 'porte cochère' (carriage porch) boasts what has been described by English Heritage as one of the largest single leaf doors in the country.
The building has many other historic features – including an architecturally unique Venetian window in the upstairs Assembly Room – and these have all been kept and enhanced by the new owners.
The family bought the building on New Year's Eve 2010 from Punch Taverns. It had been empty for two years and was in need of renovation.
"It was in a really bad state when we bought it," said Tom, who is also the restaurant's head chef.
"It took a lot of hard work but we were determined to keep as many of its historic features as we could.
"We worked with English Heritage and are really pleased with what we have achieved. We uncovered an old cellar room and have reused a lot of the original fixtures and fittings."
Now the building has a glazed atrium cafe, a 30-cover fine dining restaurant and a function room suitable for conference and banqueting. There are four en-suite guest bedrooms and two additional suites.
The atmospheric building has a long history in the art of hospitality as do the new owners. Ed Williams-Hawkes used to own the Imperial Hotel in Exeter and his grandfather ran Deller's of Exeter for 17 years between the First and Second World War.
Tom has always had a passion for cooking and trained as a chef as soon as he left school.
He has worked at Gidleigh Park, Chagford under the guidance of Michael Caines as well as in London under Gordon Ramsey. He was recently executive chef at ABode in Exeter for three years.
Since then he has been 'on board' at The Salutation designing and building the kitchen with his brother Charlie, to an exact specification.
"We want the Salutation to suit every occasion," he said. "During the day the GlassHouse will be serving breakfast, mid-morning teas and coffees with home-made cakes from our own French patisserie Sylvain Peltier.
"Lunch will be a selection of wholesome and light meals and during the afternoons tea and cakes will be available.
"In the evening the restaurant will offer fine dining. It is unique to the area in offering a taster menu experience, starting with five courses at £37.50. We will be offering the best local, regional and seasonal produce cooked to a modern French influenced style.
"We live in Topsham and were keen to bring this old building back to life and deliver a new experience in hospitality to all our customers. It is going back to what a real inn should be."
Tom is determined his food will help put the inn on the map and hopes in future to achieve Michelin Star status.
"We will have food to suit all tastes, available throughout the day, but I want the restaurant to become known for its fine dining," he said.
"I have been working hard on the menus to make sure we get it right. It will be all about the quality."
Restaurant manager Julien Wilkinson will be on hand to match wines to suit and ensure a high level of service in a relaxed atmosphere.
Julien has worked as general manager at ABode in Exeter for the past eight years, working with Michael Caines to produce the best in hospitality. For the past four years he was chairman of the Hoteliers Association. He worked with Tom for three years at ABode.
"Our passion has always been to consistently deliver the finest quality food and beverage we can," he said. "This new venture is a fantastic opportunity to display all we have learnt in a new environment.
"The Salutation is going to be a massive challenge, but one that will also bring huge achievements in terms of service excellence and customer care.
"We hope to deliver a new experience in hospitality to all our customers."
For more details and reservations visit www.salutationtopsham.co.uk or call 01392 873060.