Michelin-starred chef Michael Caines might boast a confusing surname, but he’s undoubtedly as much a God of British cuisine as the similarly-sounding actor is in Hollywood. Hence my excitement when Caines broke away from the five star Gidleigh Park belonging to the prestigious Andrew Brownsword Hotel group in 2016 where he had been Executive Chef for 21 years, to branch out on his own and launch a boutique hotel with gourmet cuisine at its core. Whilst you and I would consider Michelin stars inevitable wherever Caines goes, having held 2 at Gidleigh Park since 1999, the pressure of this goal must have only added to the stress of such a personal and highly ambitious project, backed by investors.
Lympstone Manor (formerly Courtland House) in Devon, lies just south of the city of Exeter where Caines was born, and is the culmination of a life-long dream. Overlooking the tranquil Exe estuary (it could be Lake Geneva) this is a mesmerising location regardless of whether the days are long or short. The neon pink sunsets of winter ad the frosty lawns are equally as spectacular as the golden glow of summer, while first impressions inside the 21 bedroom property are just as favourable, each possessing a classic, understated elegance that makes the most of the clean lines of the spacious Grade II listed Georgian manor. When you discover that the two-year renovation cost somewhere in the region of £4.5 million, you’re only surprised it wasn’t more – everything about the place is sheer quality and taste (in more ways than one).
Each room is named after the glorious birds that can be spotted in the 28 acre garden and parkland, our Oyster Catcher suite featuring far-stretching views of the estuary, well worth opening the curtains at sunrise for. A substantial velvet upholstered sleigh bed is the main feature of the room, while a large marble bathroom with free standing bath and shower, all with glistening gold plated taps is where I wanted to spend most of my time. There isn’t a spa, (nor do I know if they plan one), but frankly when the bathrooms are as glamorous as this, who cares? A generous ‘his and hers’ range of L’Occitane toiletries are on hand to make freshening up before dinner a pleasure rather than a chore, while the complimentary Chase gin bar, complete with ice and a fresh lime awaiting your arrival, adds extra fun to the proceedings.
There are three striking dining rooms seating a total 60 guests; Mamhead, Berry Head and Powderham, each individually designed and over looking the dreamy estuary. Powderham, where we were seated, feels exclusively small and intimate with just six luxurious semi-circular booths all facing away from your close neighbours and allowing you to feel as though the informative front of house are merely there to serve you. As if to partner the number of dining rooms, there are three menus to choose from, à la carte (£115pp), ‘Taste of the Estuary’ (£130pp) or the ‘Signature’ tasting menu (£140pp) which we plumped for. How can you beat Michael Caines’ greatest hits collection condensed into eight sublime courses?
Just as it should be, wine is a key element of the experience, and with over 600 bins in the cellar you can expect exquisitely matched recommendations, something you’ll be more than satisfied with until the fruits of Lympstone’s recently planted vineyard are available. That certainly tops the kitchen garden concept and I can’t wait to sample it. It’s easy to see how this flawless restaurant achieved a Michelin star within six months of opening, and more recently the Trencherman’s award for ‘Creativity and Innovation’. It’s clearly destined to be as much of a destination gourmet hotel as Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in Oxfordshire.
Roasted Brixham scallop, lightly spiced with cumin and featuring a pickled cauliflower stump, was partnered with a Ken Forrester South African Chenin Blanc to highlight the natural sweetness of the scallop, a rich duck liver terrine was perfectly balanced with a crisp, classy Viognier, while the melting Cornish salt cod and Beesands crab, chorizo foam, samphire, fresh tarragon and lemon puree fish course was a marriage made in heaven with the slightly sparkling, citrussy Alexander Laible Riesling.
The two meat courses were equally sensational; slow-cooked partridge with quince puree and an aromatic Gewürztraminer sauce ingeniously partnered with a Patagonian, extremely quaffable Pinot Noir, and the sumptuous fillet of Darts Farm beef main with a horseradish and shallot confit, celeriac puree, mushrooms and a red wine sauce, a punchy Rioja Reserva.
A well chosen selection of English cheeses were enhanced by a Lalande-dePomerol followed by a cleansing pre-dessert of fresh pineapple, passionfruit sorbet, coconut foam and a pineapple crisp alongside a tropical-style 2009 Vouvray from the Loire. The now legendary white chocolate candle dessert with rose and a raspberry sorbet was the impressive finale, which you can blow out and make a wish (I guess most people simply long to come back here), was partnered with the very Franz Haas Moscato Rosa which inspired Caines to create the dish.
Lympstone Manor is a grown-up paradise. It isn’t the kind of place you check into for a sightseeing weekend, although Exeter and Powderham Castle are close by if you do and there are bicycles on hand to explore the beautiful landscape outside the door, yet good food and wine are surely the primary motivations for a visit here. Nor would I expect to see a conference party at breakfast or children running about gaily on the lawn – it strikes me as the perfect retreat for couples who appreciate the finer things in life to get away from it all for an indulgent night or two. ‘Experience the exceptional’ they say confidently, encouraging you to be hypercritical. We were there to be just that and we were wowed.
Lympstone Manor, Courtlands Ln, Exmouth EX8 3NZ. To make a reservation call 01395 202040, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the website.