Hotel Review: Ilsington Country House Hotel, Dartmoor in Devon
Tucked away on Dartmoor, Devon, Ilsington Country House Hotel is one of those places where you go to slow down and hide away. It’s all there – a brand new spa, restaurant, pub, cosy lounge and classically styled rooms in the midst of the moors but easy enough to reach from the dual carriageway.
Sitting within a stone’s throw from Haytor Rocks, the dog friendly hotel is a great base for exploring the local landscape then returning for a well-earned pint and chunky sandwich in the Blue Tiger Inn followed by a chilled spa experience. A walk around Haytor is a must, you can opt for a gentle one or simply continue walking in any direction to suit your ability. The views on a clear day are outstanding. It is so peaceful, you can breathe in the crisp, fresh air, gather your thoughts and take in the stunning scenery.
Nick and I went for a brisk walk – we had no option on such a chilly January day! We stomped about for a couple of hours then travelled the few minutes in the car to the hotel, feeling enveloped in warmth as soon as we walked in the doors.
We had a room on the top floor with a new luxurious bathroom and lovely views. The bathroom has a separate bath, large walk in shower and a new suite. It is nicely decorated in large cream/beige tiles throughout with pale yellow painted walls above. The sink area is set back in an alcove, the bath looked so tempting and the shower was nice and spacious.
Dark wood furniture consisting of a sleigh bed, a chest of drawers, side tables, wardrobe and dressing table filled the room. A pink lampshade on the ceiling and the same colour inside the bedside lamps bathed the room in a gentle, warming pink hue every time the lights were on. A pale grey and bright pink patterned blind covered the window, which offered fantastic views of the garden, trees and moors beyond in the day. Pink/purple wool throws on the bed and striped cushions added colour to the room, which was comfortable and reflected a country house style.
We went to the spa for a few hours after our hearty walk and lunch, it has been recently made over and is a great addition to the hotel. There’s a pool, steam room, sauna, ice bucket and shower area, plenty of loungers and a hydrotherapy pool in which to rejuvenate yourself. The hydrotherapy pool sits in an elevated position and has two areas on which to lie down and let the bubbles massage key areas – neck, back, shoulders and legs, two large and powerful taps that massage the shoulders and neck from above, a seat and a standing area that acts as a hot tub. We made full use of every facility and I liked the décor of natural woods, warming coloured tiles and colour changing lights. There are also a range of treatments to enjoy including a scalp massage, varying body massages, ear candling, reflexology, eye and face treatments, body wrap and Tibetan massage.
BAR AND LOUNGE
As well as lunches, The Blue Tiger Inn offers afternoon treats, local beers, and informal evening dining. It’s open all day and is very relaxed with a wood bar, tall tables and chairs and booths in which to recline and enjoy the big portions of food that are served. Next to it are two open lounges offering a cosy seat on which to enjoy a cream tea, teacake or afternoon tea.
There’s another, bigger lounge where we enjoyed a pre dinner drink as we cast our hungry eyes over menus while eating some nibbles of popcorn, olives and sweet potato crisps and a gin and tonic. There’s a Friday and Saturday six course taster menu (£55 or £85 with wine pairing) and a dinner menu, where you can enjoy three courses for £38 or two courses for £32.
A very stylish, welcoming and comfortable room with a classic feel and low lighting to create a cosy atmosphere, the recently updated lounge is decorated in olive greens with hints of blue and mustard with soft, patterned fabrics and a dark drown leather sofa to sink into. Yellow patterned wallpaper sits on the top half of the walls with grey below and thinly striped curtains in mustard, blue, taupe and brown frame the tall windows.
We were the only ones in lounge at the time, which was nice but I could have done with a bit of music to add another atmospheric touch to the room. There are books, scrabble, chess, magazines to keep you occupied and it’s a nice place to relax.
Dinner and breakfast were served in the main restaurant, which had great features including a dome ceiling in the centre of the room, which held a large chandelier, a grand piano and a wall of floor to ceiling bow windows. Other than that the décor was a little outdated with a dark green and cream circle patterned carpet and pale yellow curtains and walls. There was a nice atmosphere though with chatting couples and some piano tunes playing love songs throughout the night.
We opted for the weekend tasting menu with just a couple of glasses of wine rather than the full wine flight – I quite fancy remembering my dessert!
First up was a shellfish chowder with linguini, potato and crispy oyster, which was creamy and tasty with well balanced flavours. Next, a colourful plate of artichoke, leek and haricot bean gnocchi arrived – not a typical gnocchi we were told, something to do with a solution that ingredients are thrown into instead of a potato variety. Honestly I didn’t get it and there were gentle flavours but this course was over in a few bites. Course three was Dab Veronique – a classic French dish traditionally poached in white and covered with a creamy sauce – this version consisted of sous vide lemon sole (wrapped in a bag, placed in a water bath) served with tomato and a white grape and was rather bland but lifted by the accompanying ingredients. I had a glass of Sauvignon Blanc (2014 Marlborough, New Zealand) with the first three courses and thought it was delicious with all three.
My favourite course of the evening was the wild duck with royale potato, mushrooms, salsify and red cabbage gel. The beautiful, buttery potato and cabbage went nicely with the flavoursome gel and the duck, which was cooked two ways. Next up was a cheese fondue, which was a little disappointing – I was looking forward to an actual fondue set and a bit of fun but instead received a little bowl with a croûton, half a mushroom, a piece of onion and a bit of melted cheese. It was nice but I did feel a little cheated. We ended the meal with a delicious pistachio soufflé, which was well executed and came with vanilla ice cream and some lovely pieces of plum.
All dishes on the tasting menu were well explained and aside from a few mix ups the service was good and the staff were very friendly throughout.
Breakfast is also served in the restaurant and you can choose from a buffet of fruits, croissants, cereals, muesli and yogurts, while the kitchen can cook you up a selection including a full English, smoked salmon and scrambled eggs or grilled kippers.
IN A NUTSHELL
The spa and the location do it for me here as well as the welcoming nature of the hotel and the friendliness of the service you receive. The food on the taster menu could be improved upon, the effort is there but not always executed as well as hoped, perhaps it is too ambitious here.
Rooms range from around £125 to £185 per night and there are also packages, for more information visit the website ilsington.co.uk.
Address: Ilsington Village, Newton Abbot TQ13 9RR / 01364 661452