Lucy Self loved every morsel at Gidleigh Park Hotel!
At Gidleigh Park Hotel, one of the UK’s most prolific country house hotels and top restaurants, you never notice the welcome begin or end. It is a subtle constant of your stay. Calling something genuine can often sound so cliché, it takes away its power, but at Gidleigh Park Hotel the staff really do seem thrilled to help. And, miraculously, convey it without ever becoming remotely irritating.
The rooms themselves are as comfortable as an old pair of slippers and, perhaps because they’re not the cutting edge of interior design, feel properly lived in. There’s the usual blinding white sheets, baby soft robes, double sinks and fancy products, but it’s the fact that you feel like the guest of old friends that makes all the difference.
Apart from tennis courts and a golf course, guest facilities are at a minimum, which is totally understandable given its location. Having Dartmoor on one’s doorstep hardly calls for a treadmill-filled gym. Once you get beyond Gidleigh’s own dazzling gardens there are moors and forests a plenty to get lost in. We went at the turn of autumn, walking beneath a blanket of crimson and ochre leaves before fighting the winds to climb one of the areas many craggy mounds.
With so much to recommend it already, it seems almost excessive that Gidleigh Park Hotel is also home to a two-Michelin starred restaurant, run by superstar chef Michael Caines but, of course, this is a huge part of its draw.
Those booked in to dine are invited to meet in the bar around 7pm – with a glass of champagne and selection of pre starters to kick things off. Though a traditional touch, which seems completely right for Gidleigh Park Hotel, the lack of music (and often conversation) does make it a relief when dinnertime rolls around.
Then onto the dining room where the food is outstanding. There’s a parfait of billowing lightness served with a sharp jelly of bitter pep. A warm lobster salad, which looks nothing like one and is a million times better than any salad should be.
As we move towards the mid courses, the dishes get more complex. A breast of tenderly cooked pigeon is given crunch by tiny pickled onions and fat walnuts, then hugged by a smooth mound of pureed chestnut. A perfect sphere of pink beef is surrounded by fat lardons, a jet black cheek so long-cooked it’s practically treacle, foraged mushrooms, golden quince and a vibrant green sauce of tasting of freshly plucked herbs.
There’s cheese mid-way and its astoundingly good. But we’re astoundingly full so the waiter clears with a bewildered face thinking we don’t like it – we really do. The meal ends with a plate of strawberry: a mouse so light the act of lifting it from the plate feels like evaporation, jelly cubes tasting of childhood sweetshop sessions, a cooling basil gel and some chewy tufts of Pepto-Bismol-coloured meringue.
The food at Gidleigh Park Hotel is undoubtably one of its talking points. But, for us, the final flourish and what we think sums up the hotel’s calling card, is a gift we’re given as we scurry away at a hellish hour the next morning. The wicker, red-gingham lined hamper, filled with a bottle of champagne and a couple of jars of homemade preserves. It is traditional, classy, perhaps a little old-fashioned, but mainly it leaves us with a feeling that they care.
An eight course tasting menu at Gidleigh Park Hotel costs £140 per person.
Rooms start from £240 per room, based on two sharing on a bed & breakfast basis.
For further information visit gidleigh.co.uk
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