As Freeman of the City of Exeter, Michael Caines MBE was thrilled at the opportunity to restore and refurbish what was formerly Courtlands House, a grade two listed Georgian Manor, into a location that would fit his vision of a truly exceptional dining experience utilising the bounty of the Exe estuary as well as his two Michelin stars. With £8.5m being spent on the renovation, the result is nothing short of phenomenal.
Proudly sat overlooking the mouth of the river Exe, this contemporary, country house hotel boasts unrivalled panoramic views across the estuary and the surrounding Devon countryside and offers a luxurious location for a hotel stay and an eating experience to remember.
The spirit of the estuary has been captured within the décor of the entire hotel, beautifully utilising a number of marine and maritime themes that flow into the sophistication of the manor. Most notably a wonderful mural by local artist Rachel Toll which dramatically, but elegantly, unfolds as you move from the reception hall and marvel as it sweeps up the stairs to the 21 luxurious hotel bedrooms above. Each of the rooms is named after birds of the Exe estuary and is decorated to reflect the colouring of each bird – an original touch that again pays homage to the local vicinity. The dining area is filled with intricacy, including the original ceiling mouldings that have been accurately restored to combine historic charm with contemporary style.
Now let’s be honest before we go any further. Dining at Lympstone Manor isn’t your everyday occurrence. It’s not the sort of place for an impromptu visit without any prior planning. Dining here isn’t just about satisfying your hunger or checking off a meal, it’s an entire experience that appeals to all of the senses and goes above and beyond any normal dining experience you may have had before. Instead you need to allow plenty of time (we were here for nearly 5 hours!) to be guided on a journey conjuring unique flavours and fusions, carefully constructed using variety and imagination, as you embark on your mouth-watering journey.
Offering lunch, afternoon tea, A la Carte and tasting menus specifically designed by Michael Caines himself, there’s something to suit most budgets for a special occasion with prices starting from £45 per person. We were invited to try the Signature Menu, designed to allow the diner to enjoy no less than nine courses sampling Michael’s favourite dishes that he has developed using the finest fresh, seasonal and original ingredients that East Devon and the South West has to offer coupled with his 20 years experience.
The food courses included an almost poached in texture Langoustine Canneloni with braised fennel and shellfish sauce to start followed by Quail’s Egg Tartlet beautifully balanced with onion confit, black truffle and smoked bacon. The Cornish Salt Cod with Beesands crab chorizo, samphire and tarragon came next – a welcomed rework of an old favourite from Caines’ days at Gidleigh Park –and impressed us tremendously with how the flakes of fish simply fell away into our mouths.
The fillet of Dart’s Farm Beef with braised cheek, horseradish and shallot confit and red wine sauce was simply sublime and my favourite of the courses. The shiny glaze on the cheek added elegance and the fillet kept a consistent colour all the way through showing it had been properly rested after cooking.
Each dish was served with tremendous attention to detail using maritime themed dishes of different shapes and sizes that complemented the particular course. This was followed by a selection of local cheese and biscuits, and two delightfully refreshing dessert dishes. An Apple Mousse with green apple sorbet and vanilla foam served as a fun and surprising pre-dessert with multiple textures to dig your way down through before being served the pièce de résistance – a Chocolate Orange Confit Mousse, beautifully shaped like an actual orange to add a visual wow factor for an exciting finalé.
The added wine flight adds another dimension to the event as a highly experienced wine waiter precedes each course by presenting you with a wine that best complements that particular dish, explaining briefly its origins and virtues. It’s one thing to go out and be able to have a large menu to choose from, but in a situation like this, it feels extra special to know you are being recommended the best accompaniments to your menu.
It’s obvious to us that Caines is going for at least a two Michelin Star rating here and we’d be surprised to see anything less. A dining experience at Lympstone Manor truly is, as Michael Caines says, ‘the realisation of a dream.’
Words: Paul Veysey
Visit Lympstone Manor online at: www.lympstonemanor.co.uk