Restaurant Review: Gidleigh Park, Chagford in Devon
I’m pretty confident that I could write about a thousand words on my dinner at Gidleigh Park but I’m not sure anyone could survive that long! I talk, read, write and think about food all day and I am happy to proclaim that this meal was something from another world that I’ve never landed on.
Michael Wignall heads up the kitchen at Gidleigh Park in Devon, and with the exquisite food combinations that seem downright strange at first, it is easy, yes easy, to understand why he holds two coveted Michelin Stars.
I turned up one night in October with my eager dining companion, Nick, and we ploughed our way through the ten course tasting menu (wine matched too) like we were on a mission. A continuing mission to explore strange new combinations, to seek out new wines and (OK I’ll stop with the Star Trek reference now). Anyway, where else would you enjoy smoked eel and white chocolate or appreciate the pairing of popcorn and sweetcorn?
The innovative chef has held the reins since January 2016 and has made quite an effort in paving his way to culinary greatness. Coming from two Michelin Star and 5 AA rosette, The Latymer Restaurant at Pennyhill Park in Surrey, Michael brings with him an accomplished set of skills (he’s classically trained) and a wealth of experience – he was awarded his first star in 1993 and has gained the accolade in every kitchen he has headed since. His style of cooking varies somewhat compared to previous Gidleigh Park chef, Michael Caines, who offered a super refined and classic approach throughout his 21 year reign.
Our dining experience was made great by not only the food and the sumptuous and elegant setting but also by the staff who went to great lengths to ensure our comfort throughout the evening. We were greeted outside upon arrival and were given the choice of either the bar or lounge for a pre dinner drink. We opted for the bar with its wood furniture and deep red walls, which were littered with paintings of people enjoying drinks and local maps. Every member of staff that came in were friendly and chatty and that level of service continued for the rest of the evening.
After a glass of Champagne and a peruse of our menu we were shown to one of the dining rooms to sample some colourful crispy crackers with spicy, salty, smoky toppings alongside eel and crab canapés – all of which were different, delicate and delicious.
The dining rooms are split up and low lit with sumptuous fabrics throughout, which offer intimacy and comfort. We were seated in front of a stone fireplace, on a round table, which had white table cloth with an olive green under cloth to match the velvet curtains and armchairs. A cream carpet added warmth as well as wood panelled walls, which were lightened with images of beachside holidays.
As mentioned I could go on and on about the food, I’m not promising anything but I’ll try to keep it brief, yet in my usual detailed style…
Course one of torched eel, rilette and consommé, Granary Smith apple, aerated white chocolate and sesame and Oscietra caviar was an explosion of flavours! The eel was complemented exquisitely by the sweet apple and creamy chocolate and the presentation of the food was intricate and stunning, while a glass of light and gentle Italian white wine matched the apple and eel very well.
Course two of pastrami of squab, crosnes, grelots, charred roquette and oil, cocks combs and celeriac had gentle, almost sweet, and warming flavours. Great textures, delicate meat and fruity wine made this autumnal dish a very enjoyable one. Rebecca, the sommelier, regularly chatted with us about the wines, why they were paired with each dish, what elements, if any, in particular the wine was chosen for and we thought each one was perfect for each course.
Course three came with a sake and consisted of umami – Piper’s Farm chicken cooked in a master stock with garlic panna cotta and frozen lovage. This was a small, yet powerful course, absolutely packed with flavour. It was cold, light, salty and crispy and almost acted as a palate cleanser – we loved it!
Course 4 was St. Austell Bay mussels, charred lettuce, sardine dressing, braised onion and coal powder, and it smelled wonderful. The large, flavoursome onion held the rest of the delicate ingredients inside it and the smooth, gentle and sweet elements were lovely together along with the salty mussels. Nick said it reminded him of a burger onion but in the best possible way and a Californian Riesling went down well.
Course five was cured sea trout, beetroot, celery, braised octopus with miso glaze, bottarga, roast squid and a chicken jus, and was my favourite so far. It was colourful, earthy, flavoursome, sweet, textureful and inventive. Great flavours of the sea and earthiness combined well to create a dish like I had not tasted before. My only niggle (if you can call it that!) would be that I would have liked a knife in addition to the fork and spoon so that I could chop up the celery, beetroot and octopus, only because I wanted to savour this dish so much!
Course six was perfection. Aged Cumbrian beef was sprinkled with Wiltshire truffle and was accompanied by girolles, parsley and fermented garlic and watercress to create a warming, flavoursome, delicate, autumnal and colourful dish that had a beautifully gentle richness to it.
Every dish so far reflected the season brilliantly and a great amount of effort and creativity has clearly been injected into each plate of food, with the wines complementing the ingredients so well. Just the right amount of time was spaced between each course as well meaning we could savour each course and also weren’t left waiting too long.
Course seven was an interesting combination of rich and sweet flavours with a blue cheese mousse and a warm pumpkin purée (flavours of Devon Crown Prince, colston basset, pear and chestnut). The small but powerful dish was colourful and felt like a condensed cheese course.
Course eight had me a little confused at the start but left me feeling like this was the most revolutionary meal I have had in one evening – sounds dramatic, I know, but it’s true! Chewy popcorn met with cold sweetcorn, Manuka honey, a buttermilk parfait and blackberry bubbles to create a weird and wonderful plate of food. A glass of Moscato D’Asti was slightly fizzy and added another fun element and the dish was a great bridge between savoury and sweet.
Course nine consisted of lemon and Bergamot set cream, pistachio micro sponge, liquorice and pomelo. Zesty, crunchy pistachio sponge sat alongside smooth cream and harder pistachio pieces to create a dainty, lemony dish with crispy, crunchy textures and tangy, sweet flavours, which was also great with the Moscato D’Asti.
Our final course finished us off nicely with its chocolatey deliciousness and was made up of hazelnut – praline parfait, caramel, bitter chocolate and frozen yogurt. A ball of parfait was encased in a crisp, thin chocolate layer, which was fun to crack and satisfied my sweet tooth. Crispy, nutty sponge textures and sweet caramel added to this along with a 20 year old Tawny port. A hot drink and a mini black forest gateau in the low lit and elegant lounge was our final fling then we were well and truly done!
In a nutshell
Michael Wignall and his team offer up a great showcase of flavours, textures and strange but fantastic ingredient pairings that challenged my preconceptions about food. It was the most innovative food I have eaten and crafted beautifully to create a well balanced menu. Truly exceptional.
Address: Gidleigh Park Hotel, Chagford, Newton Abbot TQ13 8HH
Phone: 01647 432367