This is an old post. Michael Wignall is no longer Head Chef at Gidleigh Park and we will be returning soon to create an updated writeup!
Few restaurants would survive in a location as remote as Gidleigh Park. But then again, this is no ordinary establishment. Poised on the edge of the wild and beautiful Dartmoor, you’ll find yourself weaving your car through countless narrow country lanes before finally arriving at this spectacular Tudor style country manor. It’s quite a trek, though it’s arguably worth it. I’ll tell you now that lunch at this 2 Michelin Starred hotel and restaurant is a little bit more than a meal with friends or family: it’s an experience.
When we first arrived at Gidleigh we were greeted at the door and shown through into the ‘study’ – a plush room that contains more country charm than you can shake a stick at. It’s a real wood paneling, plaid armchairs and plush sofas affair. If I’m being honest, a little background music would have helped ease conversation – as it was a little too quiet – but we felt very much pampered as we perused our menus. After some consideration we opted for the 3 course lunch menu (as opposed to the mammoth 5 course taster menu which seemed a little ambitious on a lunchtime). Yet despite choosing the seemingly smaller option, we had no idea just how elaborate what was to come would be…
As with many Michelin starred restaurants, there’s certainly an element of theatre involved in lunch at Gidleigh Park. From the moment you’re seated at your table to the moment you leave, you’re treated to sterling service and course after course of the finest food, presented in such unique and novel ways that you can’t help but note the extraordinary talents of the chefs involved. Rather than been given the standard 3 courses (as the menu suggested) you’re treated to around six modestly sized and technically complex dishes that take you on a little edible journey. So rather than spending the remainder of this review harping on about how delicious it all inevitably was, I thought I would break down each course for you:
I’m kicking myself for not asking the maître d’ to write down exactly what our canapés consisted of, but I will do my best to describe them to you here. To start off our meal we were presented with a little work of art on a narrow slab containing three uniquely flavoured wafers. These not only looked the part but they tasted even better. Getting progressively more and more delicious as you made your way along, we started with what I recall was a venison and orange wafer (along with edible flowers) followed by a soft goats cheese and grape wafer, and finally a brown shrimp canapé with a hint of crème fraîche and just the right amount of umami flavours. I personally loved the last wafer the most but each one was delicate and perfectly balanced. These were served alongside a small bowl containing caviar and a flavoursome jelly that was also delicious. Overall, we were off to an impressive start.
Pipers Farm chicken poached in Master stock, frozen lovage, tasaka seaweed, wild garlic pamacotta, chicken crisps
Our amuse course (yet another course that was not advertised on the menu but was definitely welcomed by the table) was an interesting take on umami flavours (I think I see a trend emerging here with Michael Wignall). Combining a slice of smooth and succulent chicken with tasaka seaweed and crisps was a brave move and while all three elements were appetizing in their own right, the combination of all three in one bowl was – in my opinion – slightly overwhelming. Having said that, my fellow foodies felt that that the flavours were outstanding and insisted that they were perfectly balanced. One thing is for certain, this dish definitely showcased Wignall’s talent for thinking outside of the box.
Rabbit & Snails: Rabbit loin, a chorizo porridge, Aylesbury snail bolognaise, Amontillado sherry, braised celery and micro oysters.
My starter was just as bold as the amuse course when it comes to showcasing unique textures and culinary techniques. I opted for the Rabbit and Snails: a tempting combination of two very tasty meats that I would never have dreamed to combine on one plate. What I received was small and tender pieces of rabbit loin, a chorizo porridge, Aylesbury snail bolognaise, Amontillado sherry, braised celery and micro oysters. Wow. You don’t get much more fine dining than a dish that contains ‘snail bolognaise’ and ‘chorizo porridge’ and you’ll forgive me for feeling like I’d somehow been transported to The Fat Duck.
This dish was technically very impressive and some of the flavours were outstanding. However, I’m not a huge fan of food that has unnatural consistencies, so for me it was lightly confusing from a textural perspective. The flavours on the other hand were really quite something and my dining partners starters also looked superb. For instance, the other starter shown below was Marinated and torched Cornish Mackerel with ratte potato, sea urchin emulsion, baby fennel & green bean. This looked stunning and needless to say, it was not around for long.
Golden enocki mushroom, crisps of potato. Dartmoor gold ale bubbles, mushroom ketchup, parsley & garlic mayonnaise.
What came next was another surprise dish that was aptly named ‘middle’. Here chef was very much starting to show off his skills by creating a clever little dish that was comprised almost entirely of fungi. This was earthy and subtle at the same time and the mushroom ketchup was surprisingly flavoursome.
Young grouse, sunflower and seeds, bilberry, haslet, grelot onion, bacon roasted carrots
I’m salivating just thinking about my main course. We were already four courses into a lunch that was already shaping up to be a Top 5 All Time favourite meal when I was presented with quite possibly one of the most delicious plates of food I have ever had the pleasure of eating; and trust me that is praise indeed from someone whose favourite pastime is eating. My grouse main course was so good that I would happy order it again and again. The grouse was perfectly cooked, the bacon carrots were genius, the onions were divine but the most spectacular aspect of the plate had to be those wonderfully caramelized sunflower seeds that went so well with the game. We’re talking a 10/10 dish here and I do not say that often.
Poached plum sorbet and jelly. Miso shortbread crumb & custard saki parfait.
Yes, you read that correctly. Up next was a PRE-Dessert. Basically every woman’s dream. This was another deconstructed course that contained some unusual and technically complex ingredients. Personally I enjoyed the aerated white chocolate a lot and thought it was sweet extra touch.
A selection of farmhouse cheeses
I was very much looking forward to finishing off a successful meal with my favourite course of all – the cheese board. Despite many tempting and unusual sweet offerings on the menu, the lure of six specially selected varieties of cheese was too tempting to pass on. However, I’m sorry to say that I was slightly let down by this final course. The variety of cheeses was certainly good – ranging from mild goats cheese to a fairly potent blue – but I was disappointed to find that most of the cheeses had not been sourced locally, which is a total faux pas in my book. With so many amazing cheese producers in this county I expected a little bit more effort in this department. Likewise, the whole board was far too dry for my taste. There was no accompanying chutney, no celery, grapes or apple slices and no complimentary jellies on the side. For many diners this probably wouldn’t be too much of an issue but I personally felt that for an additional supplement there should have been a little more substance to this dish.
What we thought of Gidleigh Park
Gidleigh Park is the sort of establishment that every foodie should add to their bucket list. Not only is it located in a truly outstanding location but it also offers it’s lucky diners an extremely high level of service and the sort of dishes that many of us spend hours swooning over in the pages of luxury magazines and guides.
It’s rare for an establishment to receive 2 Michelin Stars and I consider myself very fortunate to have one right on my doorstep. For £50 per person the lunchtime menu is extremely good value when you consider just how much effort and expertise has gone into creating each individual dish and I’d go as far as to say that if you splash out on one meal this year then you won’t be disappointed if you make it Gidleigh.
If you intend on driving to Gidleigh then I would suggest heading over on a lunchtime and making the most of the same offer we opted for on on this particular visit. However, if you have the time and money to make an overnight stop at the hotel then I would definitely recommend you do so.