5 star hotel, historically 2 Michelin starred from Michael Caines and Michael Wignall - has now been taken over by Chris Simpson and gained 1 Michelin star for the 2019 Michelin guide
Editor’s note: review conducted at time of holding a Michelin star – venue subsequently demoted in the 2020 Michelin guide.
The move of Michael Wignall away from Gidleigh Park only just after two years from taking over was a huge surprise. Barely enough time had passed for the immediate re-awarding of two stars and Mr Wignall departed to follow in Michael Caines’ footsteps to having full ownership of another location. I look forward to visiting him at The Angel Inn at Hetton when I get the chance. For now, Chris Simpson has taken over Gidleigh park and earned it a Michelin star in his first year of taking over. This a la carte was £125 which is very expensive so with this comes quite a reasonable amount of expectation. I am familiar with Gideligh Park now, but this was the first time I had been able to have a thorough look by staying over and having a dinner t’boot. The results of this visit are mixed and like I have never had in some ways as you will see…
Gidleigh Park is an impressive 5-star hotel with wonderful grounds to walk around and a decent amount of facilities for the guests. I have made a list of miscellaneous good and bad points for the hotel stay in general at the end of this review, but for now, dinner. This was a slightly odd opening as I found myself in one of the three dining rooms with just one senior couple, the gentleman of which protested at me taking pictures of the dining room, thinking I had included him and his guest, which I had not. After reassuring him of this, he then took it upon himself to order me not to take any pictures of my meal at all which was interesting as presumably, I could have told him to not wear the tie he was wearing as I didn’t approve of this. I mention this purely because it became obvious to me that Gidleigh Park has a number of guests visiting in their senior years and those that are regular are most probably used to getting their way and this is the sort of clientele I was not fully prepared for.
Anyway, after airing my thoughts and then removing myself from the ridiculousness of this situation (it is not the restaurant policy to forbid photos, so until it is, I will do this discretely for my own table as I wish), the staff dealt with the seating change request as quickly as can be and I thought were professional in dealing with this so quickly and smoothly.
Chris Simpson was away on sick leave on my visit and the stand in head chef was Gareth Howarth for this occasion (and possibly for the longer term). Initial canapés were celeriac espuma with eel which was a very good combination and tartare with smoked mayonnaise, back olive, houmus with red pepper marmalade which was pleasing enough. The amuse bouche consisted of pickled apple, crispy rice, radish and buttermilk sauce included a fair flavour of mackerel, with good design of the cream being offset by the pickle but overall was a little flat.
The starter had was veal sweetbread and came with pickled mushrooms, sourdough bread croutons on a mushroom mousse base. This was an exquisite mousse however the pickling could have been a little stronger. The sweetbread was well cooked and generally, this was a very pleasing dish.
Halibut came from a 4kg fish and with roasted baby lettuce, smoked king oyster mushroom, Jerusalem artichoke purée and Jerusalem artichoke crisps. The handling of the mushrooms was grand and was seen through the sauce and the smoked king oyster mushrooms. The halibut was cooked as well as could be but I have had halibut with more flavour; this was essentially elevated by the flora. It was good on the simplicity, good on the crisp with lovely mushroom handling but only just entered Michelin starred cooking to me at this point of the meal.
The pre-dessert was a mandarin mouse with clementine, hazelnuts and apple sorbet. This had pleasant citrus and was a classic combination but again, was difficult to be blown away by the dish. Dessert consisted of spiced red wine panna cotta, pear, gingerbread & yoghurt sorbet. There was a really good chocolate tuille here with skilful pannacotta and all harmonised well enough with the poached pears good and the subtle ginger bread crumb.
Service was pleasant throughout but seemed a little less in true command from midpoint to the later stages as other 5* hotels can be at their very best and not what I was expecting for £125 for an a la carte menu (£145 for the tasting menu). There was a little bit of rushing from the staff and one waiter didn’t wish to stop for me after seeing me trying to get his attention and it’s never brilliant to feel like an inconvenience as a guest. There was also quite a long wait for being given the dessert above the norm, cutlery wasn’t placed on the table very well as was quite rushed and topping up for water felt stretched. So, all in all, after what was looking promising at the beginning in terms of hospitality, became evident that this was not in the same league as other 5* hotels at the top of their game. Still, the meal on this occasion had some good moments to enjoy.
I mentioned the hotel stay and thought I would offer some quick thoughts on this as it is not every day one stays over at grand and luxury Manor Houses. I can summarise this by saying that for staying over at Gidleigh Park:
- Complimentary Medeira in each room and pantry.
- Little blue lights at the bottom of the toilet for middle of night visits are a great touch as means you can navigate without blinding yourself with light switches that take 5 minutes to find.
- Jackets and boots provided for any walks on to the moor.
- Coffee delivered in the morning.
- Phone call warning order prior to coffee getting to room in the morning.
- Out of date room lay out (nowhere to easily iron with plug sockets).
- Plug sockets in a poor state generally.
To conclude, I think the quality of the food at Gidleigh Park is obviously not at the heights of when either of the Michaels were in post but this is a new chef with new outlooks. I enjoyed the food here, but for the £125 for an ala carte menu, this almost comes across as paying more for where you are than the actual meal as this was just too expensive for fireworks that never came as the price would indicate. I also did not realise the main clientele is seemingly of a certain privilege and age and with the few couples there enjoying a breakaway, it is difficult to feel truly comfortable in the dining room being so enclosed, waiting to hear the next pin drop on occasion.
As an observation, I believe it is overdue a bold move of knocking the walls down of the three dining areas to make one large area as there seems to be no reason for the individual rooms and all this does is prevent the acoustics to let sound carry more and causes tables to compete for quietness in risk of being overheard. With a bigger space, this might be alleviated and improve the general atmosphere. Purely my thoughts.
So, I’m glad I did the full works, but I discovered it is a sign of the visit if you are enjoying the fantastically done eggs benedict at breakfast and additions even more than the main meal the previous evening. A pleasant stay with a lovely setting and bridge in the grounds, but based on this experience, this is one that feels a little too far to merit the journey.
Food Grade: 72%
Gidleigh Park has after many years lost its staunch weapon of Michael Caines who has held 2 Michelin stars here for 16 years prior to leaving in 2015. Immediately after, Gidleigh Park managed to recruit another two Michelin starred chef of Michael Wignall, formerly of Penny Hill Park, who gave the hotel 2 stars the very next year which must have been a huge relief to the Hotel. This visit was a set menu lunch at £49 including tea and with the amount on display I felt this was very good value. The 5* Devonshire hotel has an extremely narrow mile, long road on its approach (be very careful when driving towards!), but once you are in the grounds it will all become clear why you made such a long journey, such is its wonderful grounds and homely feel. I Recommend visiting in the colder months.
The nibbles here are almost as grand as the wonderful drawing room one can lounge in on arrival. A selection of crisps (sourdough and chickpea crisp and herbs) were served with an olive emulsion along with a salmon mousse with trout roe. At the table, the amuse-bouche consisted of Thai green curry mousse with crab and coriander & chilli crab gel. This was an ethereally light mousse but with a kick of chilli and was superb to have. Linseed crisp with shrimp, taramasalata and flying fish roe was also really quite wonderful; bathe lance of salt, pop of roe and juicy bite of the shrimp finished off a serious level of opening mouth amusers prior to the meal. Homemade sourdough was also very good, beautifully presented and served with lightly salted and natural kinds of butter, the latter being superb.
First up was lightly cured and torched sardines and purée, tempura fennel from the Gidleigh garden, violet potatoes, cuttlefish. The latter really held the rest together here as the sardines were fine as were the purées, but the tougher texture and smokiness of the fish gave the rest of the minimalist starter that which it needed.
The main I opted for was red-legged Yorkshire partridge, broccoli, bread purée, leg rillettes, with salted popcorn and Madeira, sunflower and chestnut. The main dish was perfectly succulent, fresh and the herbs being puréed to perfection. I enjoyed the diced and fried elements with a decent charred, sweet effect from the shallots as well as the Madeira giving the rillette very good depth and smoothness. Altogether, this was luxurious and light at the same time – a very good dish.
Pre-dessert was toffee custard, cinnamon butte noisette, apple pie mousse and cider snow. This was a beautiful combination of cider and toffee, fresh, vibrant, Autumnal and over in two seconds. Dark chocolate and coffee opera, almond cream, hazelnut marzipan, milk and ice cream formed the dessert. This was absolutely lovely. The coffee sponge, white chocolate, hazelnut Dacquoise and hazelnut mousse were all well balanced and light again with a punch of flavour.
There was even another bonus as the petit four came as a mini bowl of dark chocolate, lavender honey gel, peppermint cream and violet ice cream combining as a mix between a peppermint and Turkish delight blend. Whilst not my favourite combination this was original and fun at the same time.
All in all, this was a superb set menu lunch, which, for £49 at this level and in the surroundings that it was, was outstanding value. This is some of the best 2 Michelin starred cooking available in the country as is not only skilful in every way, but I love the fact that beyond its obvious decoration are fantastic flavours that really work overall. The outdoor scenery is wonderful and on a miscellaneous note, I love the seats here as well as are supremely comfortable. The only slip of this meal was having to wait until 1pm until I was with bread at the table, but then again if you are driving into the middle of Dartmoor, you wouldn’t or shouldn’t really be planning too many other appointments for that day so I was in no rush. I’m so pleased to see Michael Wignall retaining two stars at Gidleigh which is absolutely right and a nice change to have from the equally delightful classic cooking from the other Michael (Caines) who gave it such a staple in the UK previously.
Food Grade: 90%
This is a wonderful option to go for if you happen to be in the area over a few days or want to do something special. The hotel itself is one of classic luxury and from the moment our canapés were served in the library / lounge whilst we waited for our table to be ready, we knew we were in exceptionally good hands. The dishes were in a superb class and the attention to detail in their design as well as the genuinely delicate flavours (the cumin and curry essence with the pigeon and soft remoulade with the salmon were frankly a treat to behold. Staying here for an evening and having the full blown tasting menu would not be a cheap weekend but equally would get any man out of a sticky patch with his other half or gain instant brownie points and enough credit to last quite a long time if he were to treat his other half with this as a special occasion. My only regret is not being in a position to be doing the latter, which I greatly look forward to doing as I know it will be a truly great experience.
Food Grade: 85%
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