Hotel Review: Highbullen Hotel, Golf & Country Club, Umberleigh in Devon
If you are looking for a place to stay that is so peaceful and calming that you can hear a cows ‘moo’ a mile away then give North Devon’s Highbullen a go. With a great selection of leisure facilities and relaxing activities to partake in on site, you’ll find something to suit your mood for sure.
Our room was in the main red brick hotel building and simply oozed style and opulence. Sumptuous velvet fabrics in rich purples complemented the pale fawn walls and rich, metallic curtains with darker decorative wallpaper covering one wall and fresh, white bed linen to create a warm atmosphere. A chandelier lit the room, which held chunky, dark wood furniture and two large windows, which framed the wonderful countryside view. A large love seat sat at the end of the bed and the spacious, airy room also held an armchair in the luxurious purple fabric, which matched the headboard and cushions. There was also a modern bathroom, well laid out with sandy walls and a white tiled floor.
The room is one of 37, which were all fully refurbished in 2013. The main manor house holds 12 rooms offering different styles throughout, while 25 other rooms are laid around Highbullen’s estate. There are also a selection of self catering cottages on location providing a little more privacy and sleeping up to 10, while also catering for pets.
After my guest, Nick and myself had made ourselves comfy in the room and enjoyed some of the on site facilities (read on for more information on these) we prepared ourselves for dinner in the resident restaurant.
The aptly named, Devon View Restaurant makes full use of its stunning surroundings by showcasing the scenery with more windows than The Shard (OK, slight exaggeration but you catch my drift). With a view like that, it really is important to make a feature of it, and Highbullen does.
Settling back on our light brown cushioned armchairs, Nick and I checked out the menu, which consisted mainly of classic British savoury dishes (poached egg with asparagus, duo of Devon pork) and European inspired desserts (panna cotta, crème brulee).
For my starter I opted for the pressed duck leg terrine with orange sorbet, duck liver parfait and croute, mainly as I was interested as to how the orange sorbet would fare in a starter. It turns out that the tart, fruity flavour was a very nice complement to the dark meat. The smooth parfait was rich, the croute crisp and the delicate, chunky duck terrine was light in flavour making for a well balanced, tasty, cold starter.
Nick opted for the poached duck egg and English asparagus, which was served with Serrano ham, mustard dressing and Hollandaise sauce. He commented that the egg was perfectly cooked and noted that it was a classic dish with classic flavour combinations. He didn’t like the taste or texture of the Hollandaise sauce and didn’t think the cold asparagus was very appetising but the ham was a good addition and the portion size was generous.
For my main course I enjoyed a roasted fillet of guilt head sea bream with crushed potato, steamed greens and a hazelnut dressing. When the dish arrived, its colourful presentation reflected the season well and looked delectable. The bream had a deliciously crispy layer on it and the textured potato was buttery and tasty, while the greens (broccoli, kale and asparagus) and warming, flavoursome hazelnut dressing completed the delightful, light spring dish.
Nick’s main course looked and smelled great. He opted for the slow cooked shoulder of Exmoor lamb with fondant potato and roasted roots, finished with a jus. He described the lamb as beautiful, tasty, tender, moreish and said it simply fell apart. A rich glaze on top added a delicious crunch and he said it was of excellent quality, proving to be the star element of the dish. A rich and flavoursome jus and soft fondant with crisp outer with additions of broccoli, cabbage and glazed parsnips completed this winning dish.
After we made our dessert choices we sat back and took in the scenery outside and the décor inside. Decorated in blues and pale browns with crisp white linen, the restaurant is modern and comfortable with a relaxing atmosphere, while windows cover half of the walls to allow you to appreciate the beautiful scenery beyond. The hotel is set in the rolling hills of North Devon and the restaurant is situated on the lower floor, which feels secluded and provides the most incredible panoramic views of the luscious green countryside.
Back to the food and following on from my fairly lighter previous courses I decided to the end the meal with a rich dessert with a Belgian chocolate marquise, which came with espresso ice cream and chocolate dentelle. The dish was heavier and richer, as expected, and the marquise was smooth and dark, while the ice cream was refreshing and cooling and the coffee flavour complemented the chocolate well. The presentation was good and the dentelle was crispy, offering a contrast in texture. Nick opted for the glazed vanilla brulee with tastes of raspberry, sable crumb and peanut biscuit and described it as a very well put together dish. He said the brulee was smooth and creamy with a crisp top and commented that it was “simple, delicious and beautiful – as it should be.” The sweet raspberries and gentle vanilla were a good flavour combination with nice textures in the crumb and biscuit. Overall these were very good dishes with the restaurant offering the best ingredients – good location and good food.
A drink in the nearby bar was in order before we returned to our room for a comfortable night’s sleep. Breakfast is also served in Devon View and offers a small selection of cold items from a buffet as well as cooked items including porridge, which I enjoyed, and a full Devon breakfast, which Nick happily tucked into.
Other dining options include the less formal, Cellars Restaurant, which sits between Devon View and Cellars Bar. As the name suggests, the restaurant is an old cellar with white painted brick walls and no windows – a shame considering the view nearby, it could also have benefited from some art on the walls. Cellars Bar is a relaxed area with a games room at one end and it serves up lunches, afternoon teas and light dinners.
Upstairs on the ground floor, there are two elegantly decorated reception rooms in which to enjoy a board game, afternoon tea or to simply spend a few hours enjoying a book or the view. Both are stylishly decorated with hints of wine red, forest green, gold and cream colours, floor to ceiling windows, cushy sofa, large fireplaces and a chandelier or two.
This is all sounding very relaxing but this is very much a leisure hotel – you can, of course, escape here and do absolutely nothing but, should you wish, you can partake in a round or two of golf on the 18 hole USGA specification course set in richly wooded parkland. There is also a 20 metre indoor pool with great views to enjoy, a sauna, steam room, jacuzzi, gym and fitness classes to join in with, and that is just inside. Outside (including the golf) there are tennis courts, a croquet lawn, fishing and shooting facilities, large outdoors games (Nick and I held a few fairly competitive draughts matches here!) with some great local walks to enjoy as well.
If you’re looking to hold an event at Highbullen, The Palazzo is a dedicated building on site with 5 separate spaces to utilise seating anywhere between 20 and 400 guests or delegates. Built around classic Italian architecture with pillars and domes, it is the ideal place to hold a wedding, party or business meeting with stylish décor and modern facilities.
In a nutshell
Highbullen’s beautiful, peaceful surroundings and wide selection of leisure facilities mean that you can escape to the countryside then return to everyday life feeling relaxed and rejuvenated.
Address: Chittlehamholt, Umberleigh, Devon EX37 9HD / 01769 540561