The Orange Tree, Torquay

Those seeking exceptional cooking, authentic hospitality and a low-key but delightful spot to meet friends ought to have The Orange Tree on speed dial, says Rosanna Rothery

From outside, The Orange Tree looks fairly unassuming (it’s in a terraced Torquay sidestreet). And inside, while white tablecloths and soft lighting are pleasingly classic, you’ll find nothing showy. But don’t let the modest vibe inform your expectations: you need to get to the soul of the place.

For it’s only after embarking on an utterly lavish starter like crispy smoked ham hock bon-bon on shallot puree with confit egg yolk and homemade piccalilli that you realise you’re about to float into the foodie firmament.

VISIT for the heavenly cooking. New owners Vittorio and Tatjana Melis took over in March and have been gradually refining the restaurant’s à la carte and tasting menus.

Divine interventions include turning a pan-seared bream fillet into a substantial and hearty winter dish with perfectly curated flavours of charred fennel, grilled langoustine tail, grapefruit gel, pommes maxim and a rich lobster sauce.

DON’T VISIT for haughty service or endless interruptions as your wine is poured. The relaxed hospitality at this bijou eatery is part of its appeal; staff are genuinely warm and the pace of eating is unapologetically leisurely.

Vittorio heartily greets guests with a Sardinian flourish and sprinkles anecdotes about the food and wine throughout the evening, adding just the right amount of theatre to the dining experience.

Once you’ve been showered with tasty olives, homebaked bread and delightful petits fours (mini coconut and almond sponges, and chocolate fudge) and you’re sipping an exquisite Fiano from the personally curated wine list, you’ll feel you’ve reached nirvana.

WE LIKED the puddings. A modern twist on black forest gateau (usually best left, along with arctic roll, in 1977) was a layered delight showcasing chocolate sponge soaked in kirsch, white chocolate mousse and chocolate ganache, and given a frosty fruity kick from black cherry sorbet and morello cherry jam.

Don’t leave without your spoon scooping at least three mouthfuls of the dessert trio: a superb cappuccino crème brûlée; unctuous chocolate brownie with white chocolate mousse and black cherry sorbet; and a light and moist sticky toffee pudding with butterscotch sauce. A triumph of taste, technique and texture.

What we ate (dinner)

Starter Brixham crab bisque with tomato, fennel, tarragon and panseared king scallops

Main Tenderloin of pork in sage and onion crumb with pig’s cheek pithivier, pomme puree and Hunt’s Cider sauce

Pud Apple and oat pudding, nutmeg ice cream, butterscotch sauce

3 courses from £33.50

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