Review & Photography by Gaby Dyson.
Gara Rock Hotel is the type of destination that you’re likely to come across when scrolling through the enviable feed of an Instagram ‘Influencer’. For starters, its located in Portlemouth near Salcombe, one of South Devon’s most desirable towns, and its stunning views are arguably some of the best that the UK has to offer. There’s a chic ‘millennial’ aesthetic that runs throughout the hotel; owing to its many soft sheepskin throws, velvet armchairs, stylish ottomans and well-stocked bar. Walking inside Gara Rock is quite literally like stepping inside a trendy Pinterest board and the hotel is totally unapologetic about its contemporary approach.
Getting to Gara Rock is no mean feat. Especially if you’re used to driving city roads and you aren’t a big fan of country lanes. Take heed if you’re thinking about relying on your Sat Nav to get there, because some of the narrow lanes we found ourselves navigating were not for the light-hearted. There were many points during our drive when we feared we might have to reverse for a good couple of minutes before finding a suitable passing spot. However, once you arrive at the hotel, the views alone are well worth the punishing journey.
Gara is perched high up on sharp cliffs above the striking South Devon coast. The site where it stands was once home to a row of coastguard cottages, before these were converted into a hotel in the 1920s. This hotel apparently stood the test of time throughout the century before finally being demolished and rebuilt in 2006. Since then others have tried and failed to make a go of this unique destination; but it wasn’t until Aria Resorts got its hands on the building and treated it to a loving multi-million pound restoration that the luxury retreat earned its spurs.
At this time of year, the wind is unrelenting and we were grateful to arrive at the hotel and escape the chill outside. We were immediately greeted by the friendly staff, who offered us welcome drinks of Salcombe Gin G&T’s and encouraged us to take a seat in one of the seriously comfortable armchairs by the fireplace.
Lunchtime at Gara Rock
While we had booked a room and were looking forward to staying the night at Gara Rock; our purpose for being there was to sample their Sunday lunch and share our thoughts here on The Devon Foodie. A quick glance at the menu confirmed that this was likely to be a hearty roast and I was keen to see if Gara’s foodie offerings matched up to its luxury aesthetic.
Guests are welcome to eat in the lounge area, but trust me when I say that a visit to the restaurant is a must. If there’s one thing that sets Gara Rock apart from its competitors it has to be that sensational view. My photos don’t really do it justice, but few places in England – let alone Devon – can compete with the vista that we enjoyed from our table.
Once I finally managed to peel myself away from the window, we ordered our food from the limited number of options on the Sunday lunch menu. I opted for the Salt Beef with Chicory to start, while my partner went for the Sardines with Aioli. I’d be lying if I said that either of these dishes blew us away. In fact, they were quite literally what it said on the menu (not sure what I was expecting there!). Both plates felt a touch too ‘bistro’ for my taste, but we still ate every bite and I was quite content to sip on my G&T and watch the ocean from my seat.
The main event was obviously the Roast Lamb and the Roast Pork. Our plates arrived with a nice helping of whichever meat we’d opted for (there was also a nut roast option if you’re veggie) and a large Yorkshire pudding. This was then accompanied by a bowl of seasonal vegetables and greens, as well as a decadent bowl of cauliflower cheese and a jug of gravy to share.
It’s hard to go too far wrong with roast dinner and Gara Rock have pitched theirs very well. I didn’t feel over-faced by the portion size and the meat was very well cooked. I thought that the roast potatoes were perfectly cooked and I loved the somewhat unusual addition of roast beetroot and steamed kale – both of which tasted wonderfully fresh. Add to this a generous glug of flavoursome gravy and a creamy cauliflower cheese and you’ve got yourself a very promising lunch.
While I wasn’t over-faced by my roast, I was rather full by the time I’d cleared my plate. Therefore, we opted to share Cheese Board to finish off our lunch. From memory, we had the option of ‘Stinky, Golden, Blue, Hard and/or Cheddar’. We chose three of these and they arrived served with saltine crackers & an apple chutney. Rather than opting for a conventional dessert, I felt that this was a nice way to end our meal and I can’t think of a better way to spend my afternoon than with a glass of red wine overlooking those gorgeous cliffs.
Our Evening Meal
While Gara Rock had only asked us to review their Sunday lunch offerings, we chose to stay the night at the hotel and also sample dinner there. For what it’s worth, we were paying full price for the remainder of our stay and we both felt that dinner was far superior to our lunch in terms of the quality of the food and the general ambience. I only wish they’d asked us to review dinner instead because it was right up our street. While there was nothing wrong with the quality of our lunch, we much preferred the chilled out atmosphere of the restaurant during dinner service. While the darker evenings meant that the view was all but gone, the staff were once again very accommodating and we had a wonderful evening experience.
I opted for Herb Ravioli with Girolles & Chard for my main course. This dish was divine and I savoured every mouthful. Meanwhile, my partner chose a halibut dish that was served with a rich bouillabaisse style sauce and delicately cooked baby leeks. We ordered an accompanying side of thickly sliced sourdough to mop up the sauce and we also got through not one, but two bottles of wine over the course of the meal and afterward (when we sat by the fireplace and played an overly competitive game of scrabble).
Should you visit Gara Rock?
Are you visiting as a young family or with your canine companion?
Opt for lunch. It’s simple but tasty food and the views are stunning. You could also finish off your meal with a brisk coastal walk or book seats in their boutique cinema room to watch a family movie. Prices aren’t too steep on a lunchtime and you’ll get to experience some much needed luxury in laidback surroundings.
Travelling as a couple?
Book dinner. It would be amis for me to talk about my experience at Gara Rock and to not mention just how much we preferred our dinnertime experience. Gara sells itself as a glamorous destination hotel. Yet, it also markets itself on its ‘inclusivity’ and that sometimes means eating lunch alongside noisy families and other people’s family pets. I love children and dogs as much as the next person, but I was genuinely hit by some child’s drone during our lunch (what says romance better than being stabbed in the leg by a flying children’s toy?) and I wouldn’t expect to put up with that sort of thing if i’d been a paying lunch guest. Of course, this wasn’t the fault of the hotel, but it does lead me to suggest that if you want a romantic getaway you’re better off experiencing Gara Rock on an evening and you’ll certainly want to try their wonderful evening menu.
Have you visited Gara Rock? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section! Visit www.gararock.com to book your visit.