IT only opened its doors eight months ago yet already fine-dining Exeter restaurant The Salty Pigeon has won its first award.
Taste of the West recently presented the family-owned restaurant in Magdalen Road, St Leonard's, with a silver award in recognition of its fine food and use of local produce.
What also impressed the judges was the way The Salty Pigeon dares to be different with its innovative specials menu.
The talented trio behind the new restaurant is Tanya James, owner and front of house; her son Ryan Mell, chef and front of house, and head chef Simeon Babber.
"We are really proud of what we have achieved," says Tanya. "Running a restaurant means long hours and hard work, and it can be quite soul destroying at times, but when people tell you your food is breathtaking and they love the service, that's what makes it all worthwhile."
From the outside, the size of The Salty Pigeon is deceiving because it is split on two levels, and there is also a conservatory.
Although the restaurant doesn't have its own parking, customers can use the car park at the bottom of Magdalen Road free of charge after 6pm.
It opened its doors for the first time in January and Tanya is often asked where the name came from.
"The salty bits comes from Ryan saying my food tastes like gruel and asking for more salt," laughs Tanya. "And pigeon reflects our menu. Pigeon is our signature dish and is always on the menu because it is one of our most popular dishes.
"We're not a pretentious restaurant. It's friendly and relaxed and when you've booked a table you have it for the whole night. We want people to come in and have an enjoyable eating experience.
"We serve great food, not fast food. It takes time to cook nice food, and it is all cooked fresh."
The only exception to the rule is at lunchtime when the restaurant serves an express lunch within 45 minutes costing £9.95 for two courses, or £12.95 for three courses. Options include homemade seasonal soup, seafood tagliatelle, and mini steak and chips with a French garden salad.
Evening diners can take their pick from the a la carte menu and specials board both innovatively created either by head chef Simeon or Ryan.
Starters include home-smoked pigeon breast with a cumin carrot puree, pickled carrot and blueberry salad, priced £7; and mains include rump of Devon lamb with sun-dried tomato couscous and Mediterranean vegetables and a light basil scented jus, priced £18.50.
Puddings not only taste divine at The Salty Pigeon, they also look like a piece of art. A recent addition on the menu has been summer peach three ways, consisting of mini brulee, parfait and bellini, priced £7.
Chef Simeon's wealth of experience is as interesting and spectacular as the food he produces. His past jobs include working in a Michelin star restaurant and cooking for the Royal Family at Birkhall, the private residence of The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall in Scotland.
"My main aim is produce food that is full of favour and has got a good depth to it, is appealing to the eye and is sourced from within 60 miles," explains Simeon.
"The only thing that comes from further away is our fish which comes off day boats in Cornwall. It means it doesn't arrive at our restaurant until 5pm and we don't know until then what the fish special of the day will be.
"It's all about seasonal food and being local where possible. Everything we serve is made from scratch on the premises including the bread, pasta and ice-cream.
"We try to have a menu that changes every three to four weeks. We put on some dishes people will know, but with a special twist. We don't do boring food!
"We're actually quite innovative for Exeter, and anything 'strange' we put on the specials menu is what sells really well. A recent example is crab risotto with avocado ice-cream. The hot and cold does amazing things for the taste senses."
Simeon's skills are being passed on to trainee chef Ryan who recently graduated from The Michael Caines Academy at Exeter College.
Ryan, who previously worked at The HH Restaurant in Broadclyst, said: "It has been a steep learning curve and also a very good experience. I have learnt a lot more about food and have had opportunities to do things I would never have got to at someone else's restaurant.
"I've enjoyed coming up with some of my own specials and I can't wait to get more awards and one day I want Michelin stars."
Despite not having even been established for a year, the trio behind The Salty Pigeon are already planning on opening a second and third restaurant in Exeter within the next five years.
"We've already got the names sorted," laughs Tanya. "The Angry Mackerel will be our second and The Battered Badger our third.
"Our next venture will be more of a pub but still with an emphasis on good food. It will give Ryan the opportunity to take on The Salty Pigeon on his own."
The Salty Pigeon is open Tuesday to Saturday, 11.30am to 2pm, and 7pm to close. Call 01392 435883 or visit www.thesaltypigeon.co.uk