Restaurant on the river gets ready for business

Joseph Bulmer

Boat bistro is set to open on Bideford riverbank this weekend

A FLOATING restaurant is set to open on the banks of the River Torridge in Bideford this week.

Conversion of the “Hindostan”, moored at Bank End, is nearing completion and owners are confident the 36-seater Barge Bistro will be open to coincide with the start of the Atlantic Watersports Games this Sunday.

Owner Jason Bevan originally planned to open the new business next year but has teamed up with owners of popular Mill Street caf� Cleverdons in order to get the venture shipshape in time for the games’ opening ceremony.

During the last few months, it’s been all hands on deck for Jason and Jock Tierney and Sue Smith, who have owned Cleverdons for nearly five years and ran the Bell Inn at Monkleigh for seven years previous to that.

“We’ve still got a lot to do but we’re determined to be ready,” said Jason, who is being helped by 21-year-old son Jake.

“We’ve been working flat out every day for five months and still have some wiring and plumbing to do but unless there’s a major problem, we should be open on Sunday.”

The former pre-war Royal Navy auxiliary barge and sea plane tender arrived in Bideford around five years ago after serving life as a training vessel at the Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth.

Jason bought the boat last year and approached Jock and Sue last Christmas with an ambitious idea to give it a new lease of life.

“We all like the idea of recycling something and it’s nice that we’re helping to keep something alive,” said Sue.

“Bideford is a maritime town but I don’t think there has ever been something like this along the river before.”

Similar plans to convert the tug “Ionia” into a floating cafe further down the quayside at Landivisiau Walk appear to have stalled since Torridge District Council extended planning consent for five years in May 2009.

The bistro will offer breakfasts and light lunches from 10am to 7pm and will be open in the evenings for bookings. An application to serve alcohol and host live music has been lodged with the district council.

As part of the massive transformation, the boat’s old office has become the galley, the storeroom has become a toilet and the naval classroom has become a restaurant and bar.

Many of the interior fitting have been reclaimed and restored, with the tables recovered from the Tavern in the Port in Bridge Street and the bar taken from the recently refurbished Elizabethan at Westward Ho!

The entire vessel – which floats on a high tide – has been repainted and the front deck will become a sun deck, complete with new gangplank, canopy, and room for a further 30-or-so diners.

“We’ve come a long way but there is still a lot of potential and we’ll be hoping to do more throughout the year,” added Jason.

“I’ve been involved with boats all my life and have done a lot of trawler, barge and narrowboat conversions but this is by far the biggest.

“But we’ve been very fortunate to have had a lot of help from friends, who have helped with everything from paining, to labouring and grinding.

“We’ve also had some great support from the council and the harbour authority, as well as great feedback from members of the public who walk past the boat and want to know when we’re going to be open and what food we’ll be serving.”