Following a string of awards, including first place in ‘Britain’s Top 100 Restaurants’ by The Sunday Times, this month Katie Agnew discovers that Gidleigh Park captivates even the most sullen of visitors…
As my friend Emma and I rushed down the M5 on our way from Bath to Gidleigh Park in Chagford, Devon, our conversation revolved around how miserable we were. It was raining, it was half term, the tumble dryer had broken, and the men in our lives were not doing as they were told. And then we saw Gidleigh Park – a glorious, award- winning, Tudor style country house hotel, on the edge of Dartmoor National Park – and our mood immediately lightened. It’s the kind of building that makes you wish you’d been born in a different age, to a different family.
We were met in the car park and ushered into the grand, sumptuous, but reassuringly comfortable, hotel. Real fires roared, comfy chairs beckoned, impeccably dressed staff greeted us warmly and two glasses of delicious, chilled champagne were poured as we collapsed onto a sofa in the library and took in the breathtaking views of the 107 acres of mature grounds and woodland that surround the hotel.
The atmosphere is grown-up and sophisticated but soothingly relaxed. Although children are more than welcome at the hotel, having seen the best room in the house however – complete with sauna, steam room and a bath the size of an Olympic swimming pool – my gut reaction would be to visit Gidleigh Park without the kids. It really is the perfect romantic retreat.
And then there’s the food. I can safely say that the meal I had at Gidleigh Park was the most divine culinary experience of my life. Which is hardly surprising since the menu is created by two Michelin star chef Michael Caines using only the finest local ingredients. Our foodie heaven began in the library with a couple of exquisite appetisers – one quail, one salmon – to help the bubbly go down. Bliss. We were then shown to one of the grand dining rooms and a knowledgeable female sommelier who helped us choose wine to complement our meals. Gidleigh Park has one of the finest wine lists in the UK and it’s well worth leaving your choice up to the hotel’s experts.
By halfway through my starter of boudin of Waddeton pheasant with cous cous, fois gras and spiced bouillon, I was announcing to Emma that I now felt not miserable, but happy. She tucked into her goats’ cheese terrine with jasmine raisins and candied walnuts and agreed with gusto. Two mouthfuls into my main course of Cornish pollock with cauliflower, lemon thyme and cumin velouté and I was feeling completely ecstatic.
Emma’s loin of local pork with butternut squash, sage and smoked paprika was obviously having a similar effect. And then came the puddings. No, not puddings, pudding art! As my caramel and cardamom parfait with milk chocolate mousse, nougatine and cardamom foam melted into my palate I let out an audible sigh. ‘Who needs men anyway?’ asked Emma, as she fell in love with her cinnamon poached pear with caramelised pear fritter, butterscotch sauce and vanilla ice cream.
After coffee and petits fours back in the library, the journey home was a much more blissed-out affair. Gidleigh Park had cured our woes and all was right with the world. I went to sleep that night with a smile on my face, a warm glow in my belly, and a headful of dreams about being born with a silver spoon and a caramel and cardamom parfait in my mouth.