Restaurant Review: Gidleigh Park, Chagford in Devon – Fine dining in the heart of Dartmoor
Sitting at the top of my dining wish list, Gidleigh Park was a place that I had longed to visit but always felt like it was a bit of a dream. Thankfully, dreams come true and I was lucky enough to enjoy an evening of ultimate dining at the Dartmoor based hotel.
Executive head chef, Michael Caines MBE has been at the helm of the kitchen since 1994 and in that time has gained and retained 2 Michelin stars for 17 consecutive years along with 5 AA rosettes for the past three years. He was also named AA chef of the year in 2007 and was awarded an MBE in 2006. During his time at Gidleigh Park, Michael has gained an enviable reputation for creating some of the finest dishes using his incredible skills and those of his team to serve up stylish plates of food that have a modern European influence. The fare celebrates the best of West Country produce complemented by vegetables and herbs from the restaurant’s seasonal kitchen garden.
I spent one Friday evening there in November and have to say that my dining partner, Nick and I were treated like royalty along with our fellow diners. We were greeted at the door with a smile and, once we had shed our coats, were led into the lounge where we enjoyed a glass of Champagne and an aperitif by an open fire. The room was decorated in a classic country house style with wood panelled walls, an ornate stone fireplace and comfy sofas and chairs. We looked at the menus and practically salivated over the choices on offer. Our taste buds were tantalised with the Champagne and aperitif, which included a goats cheese terrine with candied walnut and apple and a scallop with a shellfish foam – a very exciting way to start an evening of fine food!
The menu is something of a triumph and you know that whatever you decide on, it will be pretty special. We made our choices and moved on to the wine list. With 50 pages to peruse and around 20 options per page, we decided to let the resident sommelier decide what was best following a chat about our preferred types of wines. The wine cellar holds 13,000 bottles and 1,300 bins from a selection of European, new world, and bio dynamic wines and the list received three gold stars from the World of Fine Wine in 2014. I could not wait to get started!
We were led into one of the dining rooms to take our seats – the room housed 6 round tables for two or three, a fireplace and 1930’s original wood panels, which graced the walls along with French drawings. I like that there are sectioned dining rooms as I feel it promotes a more intimate dining experience.
We tucked into a selection of warm and tasty breads and even the butter was at the perfect spreading temperature (those small things can be really noticeable sometimes!) before being brought an appetiser of spiced carrot veloute with a carrot crisp. The veloute was colourful, bubbly and creamy, although it contained no cream, and was gently spiced – it was a very nice start to the meal.
For my starter I chose the terrine of duck liver with Sauternes jelly, quince and sultana purée, which also came with small apple balls, sprinklings of hazelnuts and crunchy brioche. The plate was a piece of artwork and I could see that a lot of effort had been put into compiling the dish alone. The fruity flavours combined with the richness of the duck were well complemented by the smooth texture of the terrine and the crunchy nuts and apple. The finely chopped pieces of jelly were, surprisingly, the winning element of the dish for me and brought dish together. My glass of German wine suited the dish very well.
Nick’s choice of starter gave me food envy as it looked incredible and full of different elements. Again it was a picture on a plate and he was a very happy man. Nick had opted for a tartlet of quails’ eggs with onion confit, smoked bacon and Devon quail with a light quail jus. The eggs sat on a bed of puff pastry and were sprinkled with grated truffle. Nick said the rich, salty truffle and soft egg burst in his mouth to create an explosion of flavour. He described this dish as a ‘festival of tastes’ with the tender souveed quail breast and rich egg and truffle complementing each other perfectly. He wasn’t sure if the bacon was needed here but nonetheless described the dish as a ‘divine plate of food.’
After our winning starters we were offered a fish course of Cornish salt cod, which was served with a Beesands crab salad, chorizo foam, samphire and a lemon purée. This dish really did it for me; the cod was so plump, tender and tantalising that my mouth watered. It was coated in a paprika powder, which added so much flavour, and all the additions to the plate really elevated the cod from a chip shop favourite to a delicacy. The chorizo foam was wonderfully hot and tangy and the small chunks of the Spanish sausage, samphire and the sharp and tangy purée all made for a very tasty dish. The sweet Radikon – Pinot Grigio suited the paprika and chorizo so well – perfectly chosen! And the colours of the food on the black slate plate made the dish look fantastic.
On to the main course where I had opted for the saddle of venison with braised belly pork, red cabbage, fig and a chestnut purée. There were also a selection of mushrooms on the plate and it was drizzled with a red wine jus. The smell of this dish simply warmed my heart, especially the belly pork. The juicy and plump venison melted in my mouth and the red cabbage added a lovely sweetness that brought all the flavours together. My favourite part of this dish was combining the venison, cabbage, pork and purée on the fork and enjoying the combination of flavours together. It was all beautifully dark and rich and was well complemented by the chestnut purée and mushrooms making this a warming autumnal dish. I think the figs were a good addition although they are not a favourite of mine but I can appreciate that they were welcome here.
Nick decided to sample the ‘local lamb,’ which came with boulangère potato and confit shoulder, fennel purée and a tapenade jus. The tender lamb had been rolled in pistachio and his plate of food looked fantastic. Garlic flavours also came through well and the layers upon layers of potato were described by Nick as ‘beautiful, soft and delicate.’ he said the various flavours were very nice, the lamb was tender and delicious and his glass of Pinot Noir was well enjoyed.
While we sat there happily chatting about our evening so far and taking in our comfortable surroundings, we were offered a pre dessert of apple mousse topped with green apple jelly, green apple sorbet and a vanilla foam. Apple is not one of my favourite flavours but I have to admit that I did enjoy this small seasonal offering. I thought the delicate and sweet vanilla foam was paired beautifully with the sharp and sweet sorbet, and a crispy piece of cooked apple resting on top won me over completely.
My dessert soon arrived and I was very excited to receive my hot prune and Armagnac soufflé with prune and Armagnac ice cream. Soufflé is a dish I love but one I rarely see on a menu so I was very pleased to receive this. The light, fluffy and spongy texture is one I love and this dish did not disappoint. The warming mixture melted away in a delicious puff in my mouth, the ice cream added the clean, refreshing and delicate sweet flavour while the wafer basket in which the ice cream sat added a fantastic crunch.
Nick had opted for the piece de la resistance of the white chocolate candle with rose infused chocolate and a raspberry mousse. The ‘candle’ arrived at the table burning, which added a great sense of theatre, then the small candle inside was swiftly removed so that he could enjoy his delicious dessert. The white chocolate tower resembled a half burned candle with ‘wax’ dripping down the side and the whole creation was sweet and tasty and housed a milk chocolate mousse inside. You need to be a fan of raspberry to fully enjoy this dish as the mousse is full of flavour. The theatre, floral and fruity flavours and the eye catching shades of red on the plate made it a very enjoyable treat.
As it is no secret that Michael is stepping down in January 2016, the restaurant menu is featuring some of the chef’s most popular signature dishes created during his time at the hotel as a fond farewell. Michael commented: “Leaving Gidleigh Park will be an emotional parting. We have enjoyed some truly wonderful years and I’m immensely proud of what we – my team and I, as well as everyone involved with Gidleigh Park – have achieved over more than two decades.”
New executive head chef, Michael Wignall will be joining from The Latymer at Pennyhill Park in Surrey. During his time there he has gained two Michelin stars and five AA rosettes and his menu will be available at Gidleigh Park from mid-January after the hotel’s annual closure.
It is no surprise that I am raving about my time at Gidleigh Park, with the accolades the restaurant holds, it is proof that I would have to search very hard to find something remotely displeasing about my experience and I just cannot. Gidleigh Park comes highly recommended from me.
In a nutshell
Being tucked so neatly at the end of a long drive on Dartmoor, Devon, this really is a destination establishment but one that is definitely worth the journey. You are there for the evening, you are not rushed, this is an experience and one that you will savour for a long time thanks to the fantastic treatment afforded to you by all staff members.
Address: Gidleigh Park, Chagford, Devon, TQ13 8HH. T: 01647 432 367