I've been eating at the Rusty Bike since Hallowe'en 2012. I know that because the meal we had that night was so damn good that Michele whipped his phone out as soon as he'd scraped the last morsel of dessert off his plate and gave the pub the following review:

"I'm Italian, and I am normally very picky about food (my girlfriend loves to say) but this place is one that helps me reconsidering English cuisine. I've really liked it! It costed a bit but was worthy. I had a deer and "some kind of bird", I tasted a chocolate and passion fruit dessert and I strongly recommend them both. Plus the ale I had was good as well, I will come back for food or just even for a pint."

(The bird was pheasant by the way)

Now, for Michele to say that a restaurant helps him to reconsider English cuisine is very high praise indeed. As such, we've been going back every time he comes to visit to see what the latest menu has to offer and it is, invariably, excellent.

Their website gives you an idea of what to expect:

"Our aim is to minimize the distance from producer to plate. We opened our own pig farm as part of that vision, but break-ins and poachers shooting five of the herd put a stop to that. Not giving up however, we source all of our meat direct from the farms around Exeter:  rare breed Pork from Haldon Hill, Ruby Beef from Dartmoor and lamb from Langford.
We have forged strong ties with local land owners and game keepers where we shoot our own venison, pheasant, rabbit and pigeon for the pot, and we use only line-caught fish. Bicton College supply us with fantastic rose veal and a small amount of hops for our brewery. You will often find us foraging in the hedges for wild garlic, dandelions and berries, and we bloody love it.
 Put all this together with a talented and dedicated team of chefs and friendly hospitable staff out front and its pretty close to our idea of the perfect pub.

However as Michele states in his review, the pub isn't the cheapest place in town and as students, it's difficult to justify spending two weeks' worth of grocery budget on a night out, no matter how damn good the food might be. 

Luckily for my foodie team and I, the Rusty Bike's Christmas menu only costs £25 for 3 courses (usually for a three course meal and drinks, we're looking at £35+ per person; not extortionate necessarily but beyond our usual means!)

We arrived just before 9pm to a table decked out for Christmas with a lovely little Christmas tree, crackers and festive water bottles. The rest of the restaurant and pub area was decorated with festive green tinsel, baubles and fairy lights, making it all feel even cosier than usual.

I started the evening with a pint (even though we'd had a cheeky little cocktail or three at home beforehand) because I simply cannot pass up on a good local brew.

We just about had time to pull our crackers before our starters arrived.

Frankie had a bowl of their delicious soup (potato, onion and garlic) with freshly baked bread.

Although it was neglected for a few minutes in favour of reading out the crap cracker jokes and getting our Christmas hats firmly in place!

Lauren had the smoked salmon with pickled cucumber and dill (just about visible); I pinched a bit and it was the most beautiful, tender and richly flavoured smoked salmon I've ever tried.

I, on the other hand, went for something I've had before.

Soft egg, salt cod and aioli.

I can still taste the salt cod now! If I could make this at home, I'd have it for brunch every weekend. Perhaps I need to start investigating?

Vicky didn't have a starter because she is a massively fussy vegetarian who doesn't like mushrooms or soup meaning there wasn't anything on the menu that she wanted and as we'd already persuaded the chef to make her something else for her main (that wasn't the mushroom risotto veggie option), she decided to go without and watch us. I swear I will get that girl to start eating soup or mushrooms by the end of this academic year if it's the last thing I do...

In between courses, it was time for Secret Santa gifts!

Although by this point, it wasn't very secret at all! In fact, Frankie was pretty much the only one who didn't have a clue as to who was whose Santa!

With a budget of £5 and threats of mean joke presents coming my way from my evil Santa (Vicky) I wasn't expecting much. I was very, very, very pleasantly surprised.

You may be wondering why I look so happy (yep, that's my happy surprised face, worryingly) about a seemingly empty egg carton but that's not the whole picture.

My incredibly thoughtful Santa made me a miniature cocktail garden kit! I have soil and seeds to plant various little herbs in the egg carton so that when they have bloomed (as I hope they will) we'll be able to add them to our cocktails! It's such a wonderful and personalised gift as I am famous in the house for splurging on two things; our communal cocktail bar and house plants (a year in Milan really did things to my head it seems...) An absolutely perfect present.

Unfortunately the table didn't quite allow us to have a proper hug.

Presents over, back to the food!

I was really feeling a little too tipsy by that point so the arrival of some freshly baked bread to help soak it all up helped a fair bit.

The chef kindly made a butternut squash risotto for our fussy veggie (top); Lauren went for the slow roasted pork, sausage, green lentils and thyme (middle) and I had the hake with tomato, fennel and white anchovy (bottom). Frankie had the mushroom risotto which was huge and ultimately defeated her (although I'm ashamed to say that I was able to polish the whole thing off when I went back a few days later for a society meal!)

Things rapidly went downhill from here.

Despite cocktails and beer, we thought wine was a good idea. This led to us quickly discovering that Vicky doesn't quite understand the instructions "tilt your head down and look up at the camera", that when we drink we really do create quite a mess and that it's probably best not to leave your photographic devices alone with Lauren:

One of the great things about the Rusty Bike is that you can turn up starving and know that they will take pretty good care of you so that by the time you leave, you can hardly walk.

In fact, by the end of our mains we were so full we had to ask them to wait at least half an hour before the puddings were rolled out!

Meanwhile, the restaurant began to empty out as the less rowdy patrons finished their meals and went home to bed.

However we couldn't keep away from the desserts for too long; if we're famous for one thing in our house, it's for our capacity to eat the sweet stuff.

Vicky and I have lived together since Year 1 and used to spend our evenings in halls hidden away in my room, making huge bowls of cookie dough and then gobbling it all down so that our flatmates wouldn't steal it (mean of us I know; we used to laugh at how ridiculous we were but we'd still do it now if we could get away with it!)

Lauren and Frankie on the other hand have taught even us a thing or two about eating chocolate. One day I want to be like them too.

Lauren and I shared the dark chocolate mousse with orange syrup and vanilla cream (Terry's, eat your heart out!) and the Devon cheese board.

Vicky had a chocolate mousse too and Frankie broke the mould with her sticky toffee pudding (which I of course pinched a bit of and can confirm was bloody fantastic - you've got to check the whole range of the menu, right?)

Despite our protesting stomachs, we managed to polish the lot off and sat back as four very happy Christmas elves.

Even though we were the last ones there (and had been more than noisy throughout the meal), the lovely staff brought us some of their sloe gin to try.

This made me incredibly happy as its been sold out every time I've been (so you know it's good stuff!) I finally had some and it didn't disappoint.

The Rusty Bike is well worth checking out if you're in Exeter. It's mine and Michele's favourite place to eat out and we are never disappointed.

In fact, I might just invite him back to Exeter so we can go again...

Merry Christmas!