On walking through the door of the Rusty Bike in Exeter we noted with pleasure the comforting aroma of wood smoke.
It’s an earthy, wholesome kind of smell that triggers certain assumptions in the primitive human brain:
I am home, I am warm, food is one the way.
Open fires have long been associated with proper pubs. The Campaign for Real Ale’s Good Beer Guide used to be sponsored by the Solid Fuel Advisory Service during which time a symbol appeared to show whether a pub had a real fire or not. The 1984 edition was a ‘real coal fire’ special with a two-page advertorial on their appeal.
As it happens, though, there is no open fire in the Rusty Bike.
‘Oh, yeah — we’ve been smoking pigeons all afternoon,’ said the red-eyed young man behind the bar, possibly suppressing a sooty cough.
But it turns out that doesn’t really matter: the smell was enough to make it feel as if we’d walked into a snug village pub, possibly via a 100-year time warp, rather than a modern gastropub a five minute walk from Exeter Prison.
(PS. We’re no food critics but the great big hunks of corned beef at the Rusty Bike struck us as astonishingly good, as did the pig cheek fritters. It’s part of the Fat Pig brewery estate and, though the beers are quite homely, a strangely coconutty cask ESB was just the job. We didn’t try the smoked pigeon.)