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It was not coincidence that I visited Gidleigh Park yesterday. I have been on holiday in Cornwall and Devon is not that far away, so I couldn't leave the country without stopping by at Michael Caines's Gidleigh Park in Chagford, Devon. Gidleigh Park is one of Britain's most celebrated restaurants and throughout the years the restaurant and Michael Caines have collected numerous awards.
After having trained under Raymond Blanc, Bernard Loiseau and Joel Robuchon, Michael Caines became head chef at Gidleigh Park in 1994. Within 5 years the restaurant was a awarded a second Michelin star, after it had held one star since 1993.
Apart from 2 Michelin stars the restaurant also holds 5 AA Rosettes and only just recently the Sunday Times put Gidleigh Park in the number one spot of their Best Restaurants list and Condé Nast named the restaurant "Most Excellent Restaurant". Michael Caines himself was crowned Chef of the Year several times and in 2006 he was awarded an MBE for his services to the hospitality industry.
In a way you could say the awards for Gidleigh Park are extra-special because the restaurant isn't the easiest restaurant to get to. On the contrary: you really have to make an effort on the long and winding (but extremely narrow) Devon country roads and your satnav is liable to send you the wrong way (as mine did)... But we kept heart and when we saw beautiful Gidleigh Park at the end of the road all logistic trials and tribulations were forgotten and a glass of champagne (Gimonnet Brut Premier Cru from Cuis for hubby and Ruinart Rosé Brut for me) well-deserved.
For lunch Gidleigh Park offers an 8 course Signature menu (GBP 120), a 2 or 3 course lunch menu (GBP 37 for 2 and GBP47.50 for 3) and the à la carte menu (GBP 99 for 3 courses). My husband and I decided to go for a 3 course lunch from the à la carte menu.
We had an aperitif in the bar and we were served 2 pre-starters, a beetroot and walnut salad and a quail boudin with pea puree and quail jus. The beetroot and walnut salad was delicious, lovely sweet beetroot with small pieces of walnut and had a lovely walnut aftertaste in the dressing. The quail boudin, served on some pea puree, was lovely too and had a nice hint of truffle.
Before our starter we got the final pre-starter, a pea and mint soup. A wonderful and tasty soup with the perfect touch of mint and a lovely sweetness from the peas. Also a nice bite from some crisp pieces of ham and some split peas. A very precise dish.
As a starter I had the Devon quail raviolo, herb puree, truffled egg yolk and quail jus. Fantastic quail raviolo. so pretty and served with a beautifully rich and concentrated quail jus. Excellent truffled quail's eggs with perfect soft-boiled yolks. The truffled quail's eggs made the dish very comforting. Good classic and rich flavours which were balanced by the herb puree and mushrooms, especially the parsley in the herb puree has the property to counter rich flavours and did so in this dish.
Hubby had the frog's legs and crayfish with a snail, nettle and garlic risotto. His words: the most delicious sweet crayfish, crisp breadcrumbed deep-fried frog's legs provided structure. Perfect risotto, nice and velvety. Excellent use of herbs, white garlic and nettle gave lift. Luckily I managed to steal two mouthfuls.
On to the main course. Windout farm chicken, truffle and potato puree, baby spring vegetables, mushrooms and white wine sauce. Wonderful moist - and I mean really incredibly moist - ballotine of chicken, a celebration of perfectly cooked spring vegetables (broad beans, asparagus, green beans, baby turnip, button onions, spinach, peas, baby carrots) and morels, served with a lovely and elegant white wine sauce and to top if off a gorgeous truffled potato puree. Clearly exceptional skill was employed in the preparation of this dish. The seasoning however was perhaps slightly more present than I would have liked it to be.
On the other side of the table: Cornish duckling, cabbage, roasted garlic, Cornish potatoes. I tasted this dish too: a delicious and elegant duck dish, with lovely crisp and creamy cabbage and an excellent delicately spiced sauce and a somewhat strong accent from the roasted garlic.
Final course: dessert. I had one of Michael Caines's classic dishes: strawberry mousse, palmier biscuit, strawberry jelly and sorbet, sweet black olive and basil puree. A glorious strawberry dessert which was beautifully presented on the plate. Wonderful and pure strawberry flavours from the mousse, jelly and sorbet. Lovely basil too - is there such a thing as savoury sweetness? Tremendous crisp pastry in the strawberry tart. Delicious olive and basil puree, both with a wonderful aftertaste. All elements in this dish were perfectly executed. A fun dish that stimulates the senses.
Hubby had the plate of rhubarb: mousse, crumble and sorbet. I didn't get to taste this but here are hubby's words: delicious rhubarb sorbet served on lovely crunchy pieces of rhubarb, exceptionally light and fluffy rhubarb mousse and a nice and warm rhubarb crumble.
We did not have the signature tasting menu this time (we did during our previous visit in 2008) but I believe the six different à la carte dishes my husband and I did have, provided a representative insight into the cuisine at Gidleigh Park. The portions are hearty; the style is classical; the execution is outstanding; the presentation is flamboyant, pictorial even. Michael Caines' food does not belie his classical training in the kitchens of great French chefs. Seemingly simple dishes from the best regional ingredients deliver intense and pure flavours by virtue of precise execution. He clearly also has an open eye for innovation but avoids getting lost in contrived modernisms or theatrics.
I had a wonderful lunch at Gidleigh Park. Simple? No, but simply wonderful!