Gidleigh Park

The main dining room

In Greedy Girl’s memories, the trip south west was rather speedier than the reality of a five hour grind out of London. When she’d zip off to Devon and Cornwall, the directions were easy – left at Hyde Park Corner and left at Bristol. The directions remain the same, although there are now lights controlling traffic at Hyde Park – it used to be a fearsome test of one’s ‘cojones’ to pick a gap and gun it.

This was, however, nearly (ahem) 30 years ago and the volume of traffic using essentially the same roads has, unsurprisingly, increased. A crawl down the Brompton Road to the Hammersmith flyover and through increasingly depressing-looking suburbs to the M4 and an uninspiring pit stop at the first motorway services we encountered, we headed west, looking for a relatively straightforward experience.

Pah. Roadworks at the ‘other’ left turn – the junction with the M5 at Bristol made it a very looooooong trip. All that paled, however, once we exited the motorway just after Exeter.

The sign system for British roads is nothing short of sensational. They definitely subscribe to ‘truth in labelling’. ‘A’ roads with two digits (we headed for A31) are absolutely fine. ‘A’ roads with three digits (the A382 to Moretonhampstead) are feeling a bit cramped for room. Then, there is the road to Gidleigh Park – it doesn’t rate a ‘letter’ but is described as a ‘private road’ – for that, please read ‘footpath’. Both edges of this path are dominated by high hedges but, again, there’s a trap for the unwary. The vegetation conceals ancient-looking stone walls with sharp jags, just waiting and hoping to scrape the side panels of your insured-to-the-bumper bar hire car. It would be OK – if you didn’t also have to deal with the traffic coming head on.

But this blog isn’t about backing up to find the barest skerrick of verge to shoehorn into so the locals can push their way through – it’s about what was found at the end of the path, a temple of gastronomy known as Gidleigh Park.

Having only seen a few pix of its Tudor facade, Greedy Girl assumed it was a Tudor-era building. It’s actually an Edwardian building done in the Tudor style – much to gluttonous husband’s relief. The ceiling heights, already challenging for a man of his stature, would have been even lower. All said, both exterior and interior is impressive. Greedy Girl had a very comfortable room in the gables, overlooking rolling fields and a babbling brook.

But it’s what’s on the plate that counts. Gidleigh Park is consistently ranked among the top restaurants in Britain, due in no small part to executive chef Michael Caines. Having watched him cook on virtually every major food show to come out of the UK, Greedy Girl wanted to experience it for herself.

Gidleigh Park offers four ‘menus’ – snacks, traditional a la carte, a five-course tasting menu or Caines’ signature eight course menu. Not knowing if or when we’d be back, Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband opted for just the snacks. Hah. Not bloody likely.

The signature menu began with canapes in one of the conservatory rooms – while the temperature was warm, the sun was too low and the wind too blustery to sit on the terrace. Canapes, with our first taste of champagne, consisted of a tomato consomme with tiny cubes of cucumber and sweet basil, served chilled. Tasty. It was followed by a spoon of crab salad, with flecks of tomato on top and a tomato jelly cube. Third was a tiny medallion of Devon lamb with a fricassee of mushrooms and almonds. It was a very fine start.

Transported into the dining room, we had barely sat down to begin our culinary journey when a huge table of Brits and Americans were shown in. We sat, bemused, unable not to listen to a spirited discussion of the correct way to pronounce ‘y’all’. Can you really get 15 minutes out of that? Thankfully, as successive courses arrived, their attention soon turned to what was on the plate than linguistic differences.

Our first course was ‘native’ lobster with a curried mayonnaise and mango and lime sauce. All was very soft, except from some small cubes of potato to add texture. None of the flavours overpowered each other. A triumph.

The second course was foie gras, served cold, with a madeira jam, truffled green bean salad and a slice of toast on the side. It wasn’t gluttonous husband’s favourite, feeling that the truffle was an ingredient too far, but Greedy Girl believes a day without truffles is a day without sunshine.

Then came what Greedy Girl approached with a tiny amount of trepidation – Cornish cod. Not a fan of strong fish, Greedy Girl was prepared to try but not like. She was surprised. It was served with what was termed ‘beesands crab’, chorizo, lemon puree, a few sprigs of samphire for crunch and the only ‘foam’ of the night, also made from chorizo. The combination of lemon and paprika heat worked to soften the strength of the fish. It was intensely enjoyable but Greedy Girl could only manage to eat half the serving. Luckily gluttonous husband came to the rescue. It just wouldn’t do to send a plate back to the kitchen that wasn’t scraped clean.

The next course was also Cornish produce, this time duck. Served in thin, pink strips, the taste of five spice was strong but, again, softened by a bed of wilted cabbage and smoked bacon. It came with roast garlic and a spicy jus. Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband often come to ‘blows’ over roast garlic. He gobbles it, she rarely consumes. The next day, he reeks. At the prospect of spending hours in a small car with a reeking glutton, there was only one thing to do – Greedy Girl ate it too, and while it was a very pleasant experience, it overpowered the tastebuds.

The final major dish of the evening was west country beef. We had been told it was served pink. Gluttonous husband made his usual request for the cow to be still mooing on the plate and, when it arrived, his serving looked twice as big as Greedy’s. Dare I say it, it tasted better too – the beef was easier to cut and softer in the mouth. It was served with wild mushrooms, shallot and horseradish confit, smoked bone marrow and a red wine sauce.

We were then into cheese – all local. Four samples adorned the board, served with uniquely British oat cakes (yum) and fruit breads. Greedy Girl’s selection included a Totnes goat’s cheese, in place of a local blue. Both were accompanied by a cube of quince jelly. The other cheeses were Sharpham Elmhirst, a local soft cheese with a rind reminiscent of a brie, a West Country cheddar and ‘Little Stinky’ (a well-deserved name), sourced from Bude in Cornwall, just down the road.

Across the way, other diners were about to tuck into a very impressive looking souffle. It wasn’t on the signature menu but Greedy Girl is not to be denied. Our ‘advertised’ puddings of raspberry soup and an apricot plate were replaced by the desserts from the tasting menu of raspberry souffle (served with a sorbet and sauce) and a banana and chocolate parfait. The latter was too much like ice-cream for Greedy Girl’s liking but the souffle was perfect. Not parfait, perfect … ah, just goes to show we weren’t the only table capable of linguistic subtleties.

We then moved into one of the lounge areas for a cup of green tea to aid Greedy Girl’s digestion (too little, too late) and a coffee for gluttonous husband. With that came the petits fours. Sigh. A mini chocolate fondant, a cassis jelly atop panna cotta and a rhubarb crumble. Yes – all three. Weakly, Greedy Girl dipped a spoon in each.

Then, home made chocolates, glistening on a plate. They looked so shiny, so perfect, they required to be tasted, but under sufferance.

Luckily Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband had two flights of stairs to climb before flopping, groaning, into bed.

Staying at Gidleigh Park is an act of pure indulgence. It’s refined, accomplished cooking without gimmicks and incredibly satisfying. Don’t stay too long though – your waistline will not thank you.
With thanks to Gidleigh Park, part of the Andrew Brownsword Hotels collection for the use of the images in this post.

Gidleigh Park

Chagford, Devon
Gidleigh Park Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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