Devon review: Lympstone Manor
16 May 2017
"Perfectly positioned on a gleaming white plate, is a baby-pink nugget of lobster, exquisitely tender and dressed to impress with a light and fragrant curried mayonnaise"
If you’ve got cash to splash then here’s the place to do it, reckons a wowed Charlie Lyon
Despite having the third- longest coast line in the UK (508.9m to be precise, according to Ordnance Survey), it’s a right challenge to bag yourself a bit of prime sea view retail estate in Devon. Especially if you’re a hotelier with a dream of a luxury lodge and vineyard. So Devon darling Michael Caines got lucky when he stumbled across Courtlands Estate at Lympstone back in July 2014. With 28 acres of land and jaw- dropping views across the Exe Estuary, it was the perfect setting in which to start building his luxury country establishment.
He had time. He’d handed his notice in at two Michelin-starred Gidleigh Park a few months before, but with a 24-month notice period to work out, planning, gutting, renovating and extending could be done at Courtlands before he’d even left Gidleigh.
Michael had cut his teeth in hotel design and development while working with an architect to design the ground floor of The Royal Clarence some years back, but Lympstone was something else entirely. Here he’s not just a majority shareholder, but the brain behind the whole project. Indeed, he’s nothing short of patriarch of a new luxury empire, controlling everything from bedroom paint hues to the varieties of grape grown in the vineyard. (We dug around, and it’s Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay.)
The vineyard isn’t done yet, but on a warm April afternoon we sup Michael Caines Blanc de Blanc and gaze across manicured greens to the estuary, envisaging it. In the distance we spy labourers, who’re joining a cycle path from the manor to the Exe trail, but by bike isn’t how many of the guests will be arriving, we’d imagine. We didn’t spot a helipad, but with Michael marketing to “discerning travellers” from the US and Europe as well as the UK, and rooms starting at £350 a night, we imagine there’s probably one somewhere.
Lympstone’s style doesn’t follow the recent trend of country hotels in terms of design – it’s not earthy, with herb gardens and eclectic interiors. No, this is far more consciously elegant, a smart restored Georgian mansion encircled by verdant lawns, picket fences and raked gravel. Inside, chandeliers and gold accessories add glamour to cream rooms with thick pile carpets. So far, so sumptuous.
The food is princely, too. Canapés to wash down the Champers come in the form of mini mouthfuls of tuna tartare topped with cavier and micro herbs, all precisely presented on bespoke silver spoons.
Seated in one of three dining rooms (far better than one oversized room that risks ambiance dispersing into the vast space during quieter lunch services), our starter seemed equally perfectly formed:a geometrically perfect cuboid of terrine of juicy Pipers Farm chicken – it’s dark and tasty, made earthier still by globules of truffle dressing and perfectly miniature mushrooms. It’s the first dish from a special five-course tasting menu that we’re trying today. Regular services offer a signature tasting menu (£140pp), a three-course à la carte (£115pp) and a special seafood-centric ‘estuary’ tasting menu (£130pp).
The next dish to be placed before us, perfectly positioned on a gleaming white plate, is a baby-pink nugget of lobster, exquisitely tender and dressed to impress with a light and fragrant curried mayonnaise and teamed with mini cubes of mango jelly. Again, balls of caviar hark back to an era of finery that Michael is obviously keen to reignite – apparently his devotees would be up in arms if this particular dish disappeared from one of his menus. Then comes a main that demonstrates the chef’s ability to create beautiful plates that still sustain and nourish.
It’s an admirable portion of beef fillet (Darts Farm, of course), complemented by some great British flavour favourites: celeriac, horseradish, shallot and red wine. Unbelievably moist cubes of braised cheek flank the fillet, and miniature morels and other forest fineries ride atop it.
Vegetarians are well-catered for here, too, with my neighbour ecstatic about her five- course tasting menu – a journey through spring’s finest larder, taking in dishes like slow-cooked duck egg with Jersey Royals, asparagus and black truffle.
We’re braced for pudding with the help of a crisp apple teaser – a zingy, layered apple mousse teamed with apple sorbet and sweetened (though not too much) with vanilla foam. It’s a fine celebration of one of Devon’s most prolific fruits. The dessert is a rhubarb affair, one that you see echoed in restaurants across the county, carried forth by Michael’s previous protégés.
With a name like Michael’s above the door, this hotel and restaurant will be loved in Devon as much as internationally, we’re sure. If your chopper pilot’s on hols and you’re saving to do up the Courchevel pad before next season, hop on your bike and whizz down to take advantage of the £55 three-course lunch menu. Just remember to pack your heels in your panniers.
LYMPSTONE MANOR , Courtlands Lane, Exmouth EX8 3NZ; 01395 202042