THERE is, without doubt, something very inviting about Heavenly House. Maybe it's the way the building sits on a hill overlooking the centre of the village. Maybe it's the little path that leads, like a child's drawing, up to the front door. Or maybe it's the huge gothic arched windows, the lights inside casting a welcoming, warm glow.
Heavenly House is a former Baptist chapel in Swimbridge. Eleven years ago, it was bought and converted into a house by Geoffrey and Kirsty Everett-Brown. Now firmly settled into their unusual home and village life, the couple have opened the community building's doors once again by creating a pop-up restaurant called Hidden Heaven. Every now and then, accomplished cook Kirsty puts her creative talents to the test and dreams up a menu, using local and seasonal produce, and then invites people in to sample her work.
There's certainly an element of the unexpected to this "restaurant at home", not least of which is approaching the venue through a graveyard.
Then there's the bicycles, hanging like paintings from the walls (as well as being the restaurant's host and waiter, Geoff is an avid cyclist and bicycle collector). And then of course, you may well have no idea who you will be sitting next to at the dining table. But that all adds to the quirkiness and unexpected pleasure of eating at Hidden Heaven.
Opening the chapel's front door, there's an awe-inspiring moment as the beautiful, spacious interior is revealed. No sooner have you started to take in your surroundings, when you're met with a warm greeting and big smile from Geoff.
While Kirsty is hard at work in the kitchen, Geoff takes on the role of genial host – clearly something he enjoys. Once all the guests have arrived and drinks supplied (the restaurant is unlicensed so you can bring your own bottle), Geoff introduces everyone and then you take your seats.
There are five courses to the meal. It's a set menu, and each dish is beautifully presented. So, on the evening we turned up, we started with a supremely light, smoked trout pâté with horseradish cream and delicate melba toasts. This was followed by a Moroccan spiced parcel with harissa yoghurt sauce. A perfect parcel of flavours, alongside the creamiest Jerusalem artichoke mash and citrus flavoured green beans.
A selection of cheeses and home-made bread and crackers followed. Just as the fish came from Passmores in Barnstaple's Butchers' Row, the cheeses, chosen by Kirsty specially for our meal, were also bought locally, from the West Country Cheese Shop, just a few doors down from the fishmonger.
Although there is only one menu, you do get a choice of desserts. We could try a rich, yet so light and fluffy, chocolate mousse or a rhubarb tart, which looked as good as it tasted – lines of the pink-fleshed vegetable resting on a light cream, encased in pastry which had just a hint of cinnamon.
The meal ended with coffee and a plate of handmade petit fours. Once again, like everything about the evening, we were in for more delectable surprises – in this case, fennel flavoured dark chocolates and a simply amazing, burst in the mouth, cherry liqueur chocolate. It was stunning.
At the end of our meal there was still time to look around the room. Geoff and Kirsty don't seem to mind at all if you want to take a closer look at those vintage bikes and chapel memorials, or even nose through their book shelves.
Eventually, however, it will be time to head home, back into the late evening air and another night time wander through a village graveyard.
Where: Hidden Heaven, Heavenly House, Barnstaple Hill, Swimbridge, EX32 0PQ.
Cost: A five course meal costs £30 a head. Bring your own drinks.
Booking: The next Heavenly House restaurant opening is on March 23. To book, or for more information, call 01271 831389.