Restaurant Review: The Coach House by Michael Caines at Kentisbury Grange in North Devon
With ten pages of handwritten notes and an urge to never leave anything out between the thought and final stage process, this is not an easy one. The food is itching to be described in such wonderful detail… I’ll try my best to keep this brief but I won’t promise a thing!
Kentisbury Grange, in the luscious (it’s the only word to use, it rains often enough to keep the natural surroundings this way) hills of North Devon, is a Victorian built hotel with luxury rooms and a superb restaurant too. The Coach House by Michael Caines is one of a few ventures by the two Michelin star awarded chef, previously of Gidleigh Park, since ending his lengthy stint there – the other being the newly opened Lympstone Manor. Lending his name and expertise to The Coach House has meant that diners from afar will flock to try this cuisine, and so they should. Head chef James Mason serves up wonderful and creative treats for lunch, dinner and afternoon tea, and I was lucky enough to enjoy two dinners with my guest, Nick.
On our first night we were kindly offered the six course tasting menu (£70) and we indulged ourselves in the wine pairing too for an extra £35 each. Course one was langoustine cannelloni with sauce vierge and tapenade, and with its delicate and soft flavours, was a gentle, delicious start to the meal. A glass of crisp and flavoursome Chenin Blanc complemented this very well.
Course two of pan fried duck liver with mango, honeycomb and pain d’epices was Nick’s favourite, claiming it to be a “Michelin star” dish. The sweet elements made for incredible pairings with the liver as did the sweet wine (Monbazillac, 2013). Liver is not a favourite of mine but it is Nick’s and he commented that it was one of the best dishes he had had for a long time.
Course three was pan fried turbot with asparagus, crab and morels and was one I was really looking forward to. I love turbot and this didn’t disappoint – the top quality of the fish matched with the grassy flavour of asparagus and a little gravy and red wine was lovely.
Course four of rose veal sirloin with herb purée, roast garlic and sherry foam was served with a glass of lovely, light Pinot Noir. Nick really liked the clean, light flavours but I thought the dish could have done with more seasoning. The ingredients were well presented on the plate, as reflected in the previous courses and the portion sizes had been just right.
Course five was a palate cleansing apple compote with granola and cumin yogurt. I loved the granola, seeds, yogurt and tiny little pieces of apple jelly cubes, and I also like cumin, but there was too much in here. I applaud innovation and experimentation with flavour pairings but my mouth was rather fiery after this!
Next up was a surprise course of rhubarb and panna cotta (brought over by mistake but given to us anyway – I will never say no to an extra dessert!) It was delicious, sweet and refreshing and was paired was a beautiful dessert wine. Our final course was a winner for us both – peanut butter parfait was complemented with caramelised banana, chocolate sauce and lime sorbet. The parfait was coated in nuts and everything on the plate was wonderful with tangy, smooth and crunchy elements to go with a glass of Michael’s own Champagne.
There may have been the odd element that didn’t bowl me over but the tasting menu as a whole certainly did. It worked wonderfully as a complete meal with each and every ingredient on every dish being treated differently and creatively. The presentation on all dishes, the flavour and texture combinations and the wine pairings were of a very good standard.
A LA CARTE
For our second night of dining we were let loose on the a la carte menu. Following an amuse bouche of warm asparagus veloute and some warm crispy breads, we tucked into our starter of Loch Duart salmon with honey and soy vinaigrette, salmon jelly, wasabi, pickled ginger and caviar. We both chose this and agreed that it was exquisite with a perfect balance of flavour from the kick of the wasabi to the sweet honey and gentle soy.
My main course consisted of lemon sole Boudin with langoustine mousse, smoked pancetta, pink grapefruit and chicken jus. Again the flavours on the plate won it for me with the well seasoned fish accompanied perfectly by the salty ham and sweet shellfish.
Nick described his slow cooked Exmoor lamb loin with confit lamb shoulder, boulangere potatoes, haricot beans, fennel and tapenade sauce as “spring on a plate.” He said the choice of vegetable accompaniments were uplifting and light with good quality, rich meat and the layered potato stealing the show.
We like to share as we both love a sweet dessert and also cheese, so we opted for the dark chocolate mousse with confit orange sorbet and the regional cheese selection with fudge cheese biscuits and chutney. A smooth, yet dense milk chocolate mousse was topped with crispy orange zest pieces and had a little orange in the middle. This also came with an orange sorbet, chocolate and orange sauces and chocolate crumb – yum! As well as biscuits and chutney, the cheeses came with a jelly, grapes and celery and consisted of perfectly proportioned Cornish Brie, smoked cheddar, Devon blue and a sheep’s milk offering.
The 17th century former coaching house, which is a separate building to the hotel, is an open plan restaurant downstairs with white painted ceiling beams, wood tables and a dark grey tiled floor. Velvet armchairs and booths and dark blue lampshades soften the look and help to create an intimate space at night. Popular chilled music or jazz guides you through your evening with grace, depending on which night you dine and the large wine cabinet built into the space under the stairs was my favourite feature! Upstairs is The Loft – the ideal place to grab a G&T before dinner or a coffee after. At times I noticed the service wasn’t spot on, not for us but for other diners, but I feel these were small issues that can be easily sorted. The waiters and waitresses are young, friendly, smartly dressed and knowledgable and I didn’t have any problems.
As well as dinners to delight, The Coach House by Michael Caines also serves up breakfasts for guests and offers package stays with the Kentisbury Grange so that you can enjoy those whiskies or wines and retire to your stylish room with little effort. We took full advantage of the fact that there are luxurious rooms so close – you can read my review of Kentisbury Grange here.
IN A NUTSHELL
I can easily see The Coach House by Michael Caines gaining more and more awards as time goes on. Every thought has been put into the preparation and presentation of each dish and the comfort of the diner has been carefully considered. Nick and I both thoroughly enjoyed our meals – and the wines too!
Address: Kentisbury, Barnstaple EX31 4NL
Phone: 01271 882295