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Gidleigh Park in Devon - 2 Michelin stars (2013 review)

Rating: 92.
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Back in 1999, when Gidleigh park was awarded its second Michelin star, England only had 4 other two-star restaurants outside of London. They were l'Ortolan in Reading (currently down to one star), Lettonie in Bath (now defunct), Winteringham Fields in Winteringham (currently without stars) and obviously Raymond Blanc's Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons (the only other survivor). Michael Caines (MBE, b. 1969) had become head chef of the restaurant in 1994, after attending catering college in Exeter, and training with some of the biggest names in the industry, such as Raymond Blanc, the late Bernard Loiseau and Joël Robuchon. Two months after he had started at Gidleigh Park, Michael Caines was involved in a terrible car accident in which he lost his right arm. He was back on the job within a month.

Michael Caines is a very busy chef. Apart from Gidleigh Park, he's also in charge of the kitchen at the Bath Priory Hotel, Restaurant & Spa (1 Michelin star) in Bath and together with his business partner Andrew Brownsword he has established the ABode Hotel Group. ABode currently has hotel/restaurants at four locations in the UK: Exeter, Canterbury, Manchester and Chester. Since 2011 Michael's been cooking for the Williams Team during Formula 1 racing weekends. Furthermore there's the Michael Caines Academy at Exeter college, launched in April 2011, that offers students a 2-year catering/hospitality course. To top it all off, Michael Caines released his first cookery book in October 2013, "Michael Caines at Home". Time to revisit the flagship restaurant after some two years (here's a link to my 2011 review) to see what's cooking.

Gidleigh Park is open daily for lunch and dinner. The restaurant offers an a la carte menu, an 8-course signature menu for £135, a 5-course tasting menu for £120, a 2-course vegetarian menu for £42 and  there's a seasonal lunch menu (3 courses £38, 4 courses £49). I had lunch at Gidleigh Park with my husband on Tuesday 16 July 2013 and we both ordered the 4-course lunch menu.

Amuse bouches were lovely: smoked salmon with horseradish and beetroot and a creamy aspargus soup.

First course of the lunch menu was a nicely presented chicken terrine served with leeks, dots of soy sauce puree and truffle mayonnaise. The terrine had been properly pressed and had wonderfully concentrated chicken flavours. Nice bite from the leeks and the truffle mayonnaise had well-judged elegant truffle flavours.

Brixham crab cannelloni followed. Freshly made thin pasta with a generous, sweet and moist filling of crab, accompanied by a piece of braised fennel, chopped fresh tomatoes, some wilted spinach, a sauce vierge, and a lemongrass foam. The sauce vierge had a lovely oily finish and the braised fennel delivered a nice touch of freshness. A well-executed dish with balanced flavours.

Third course was a faultless, creamy tomato and basil risotto, served with halved sweet cherry tomatoes, a basil and rocket foam and Parmesan cheese crisps, the latter adding a wonderful touch of extra richness and depth. An elegant and precise risotto dish with a fantastic balance between richness, sweetness and bitters. Lovely textures too.

Dessert was a soft poached peach, nectarine sorbet, classic vanilla mousse, blackcurrants and a peach-vanilla puree. The vanilla mousse had a perfect airy consistency; so light, so creamy. Even better was the meltingly delicious smooth and clean-tasting nectarine sorbet. A perfectly conceived and executed dessert that celebrated two summer fruits.

Gidleigh Park is a paragon of consistency in the UK dining scene. Michael Caines and his head chef Allister Barsby practice a precise, classical style of cooking with modern touches. The dishes are conceived and cooked with finesse and attention to detail. The cuisine is firmly based on skill and expertise - no fear of form over substance here. Gidleigh Park presents the diner with exemplary two-star cooking in quite an elaborate style even if the presentation, compared to my May 2011 meal, seems less dramatic than before. Service is very attentive and perfectly represents the high standards of this first-rate establishment. I can't think of a better location for lunch on a beautiful summer's day than this grand hotel and restaurant.

Posted 16-10-2013


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