The Ex­mouth re­treat that’s fab­u­lous for food­ies

With its ru­ral set­ting and some fine cui­sine from Michael Caines, Lymp­stone Manor is per­fec­tion on a plate

The Sunday Telegraph - Travel - - Front Page - MARK C O’FLA­HERTY

Ire­mem­ber how ex­cited I was to dis­cover Cor­nish fizz a few years ago. Could Camel Val­ley, I won­dered, re­place Veuve as my “house cham­pagne” and save me more than a ten­ner each time I set­tled down to open one with Doc­tor Who on a Sat­ur­day even­ing? A first sin­gle flute in Devon, at Olga Polizzi’s Ho­tel End­sleigh, tasted… dif­fer­ent. My in­ter­est was piqued. But rather like the tat you vac­uum up in the souks of Mar­rakech in a haze of fili­gree and coloured glass, af­ter I bought some and got it home, it was foul.

As I write, there are 17,500 vines be­ing planted over nine-and-a-half acres at Lymp­stone Manor, the Ex­mouth ho­tel of su­per­star chef Michael Caines. While Caines has poured his own-brand (and ex­cel­lent) cham­pagne for years, he wants to hone a pedi­gree, purely English lux­ury ex­pe­ri­ence. And why not? De­spite hav­ing the hump with Cor­nish non-Cham­p­enoise, both Nyetim­ber and Chapel Down Blanc de Blancs are ab­so­lutely my cup of tea. And the Bri­tish wine busi­ness is boom­ing. Even if Caines’s plans don’t quite come to fruition in terms of qual­ity (though stud­ies of the ter­roir are in his favour), then the vines are go­ing to bring a lovely as­pect to the land­scape. This will be a su­perb vine­yard to eat in. Many be­lieve Caines’s rel­a­tively new en­ter­prise is al­ready the best ho­tel in the coun­try for din­ing, and when I vis­ited dur­ing the prepa­ra­tions for the vine plant­ing, I agreed – with some caveats.

Caines clearly wanted to re­fresh clas­sic ru­ral lux­ury. I didn’t feel the re­strained hand of an in­te­rior de­signer at Lymp­stone: it’s a lit­tle too showy. I never need to see an­other twist on a dome-canopied porter’s chair as long as I live. There are sus­pended gi­ant bird cages to sit in, and light fit­tings in the shape of branches with resin ici­cle de­tails, which are bor­der­line fun/ tacky. The wall­pa­pers, de­pict­ing a land­scape of clouds and birds to chime with an over­ar­ch­ing or­nitho­log­i­cal theme, are dig­i­tally printed rather than hand-painted as I would have ex­pected. Still, it all holds to­gether well, with a pleas­ing, shim­mer­ing, mink colour palate.

I stayed in the King­fisher Suite (from £570 per night), which makes great use of Ge­or­gian pro­por­tions with a huge, free-stand­ing bath by the win­dows and a gi­ant bed with moun­tains of pil­lows and cush­ions. But the sinks are in the bed­room, too, which I thought weird – I wanted them in the lava­tory/shower room. The com­pli­men­tary tray of Wil­liams Chase gin, with a fresh lime, ice bucket and bot­tles of Fever-Tree, was a wel­come touch. Two-way light switches were in­fu­ri­at­ing to use, seem­ing to do zilch in cer­tain con­fig­u­ra­tions, but they were noth­ing com­pared with the mad­den­ing LED light­ing down­stairs, which strobes when­ever you pass your hand or a menu in front of your eyes.

The point of Lymp­stone Manor is, of course, Michael Caines and his head chef, Dan Gam­bles. Fun­da­men­tally, this is a restau­rant with ex­traor­di­nar­ily fancy rooms. Apart from the ma­niac LEDs, I thought the din­ing space was gor­geous, full of ex­pan­sive ban­quette ar­range­ments sound­tracked by pre­dictable ’90s cof­fee-ta­ble trip hop: where Air’s Moon Sa­fari goes, Morcheeba surely fol­lows.

The space felt im­pres­sively lux­u­ri­ous, sac­ri­fic­ing the po­ten­tial of more cov­ers for a sense of com­fort and ex­clu­siv­ity. That feel­ing ex­tended to the menu: three cour­ses for £115, Sig­na­ture Tast­ing Menu £140, and £85 for a wine flight – there is also a purely seafood de­gus­ta­tion. This is flaw­less, de­li­cious cook­ing, from the fresh­ness of crab ravi­oli with grape­fruit and lemon grass to the saline hit of Cor­nish salt cod with chorizo and sam­phire, and sous vide and roasted par­tridge. It’s also a se­ri­ous culi­nary itin­er­ary; the only hint of play­ful­ness comes at dessert, when a white choco­late can­dle is lit, ac­com­pa­nied by a glass of Franz Haas Moscato Rosa that gives off the bou­quet of a thou­sand rose petals.

For lunch the next day, I or­dered from the à la carte menu: slow-cooked pheas­ant with lentils, pumpkin and cumin purée with red wine jus. The bird had been pre­pared in the same way as the par­tridge the night be­fore, but there was more of it. I can’t do jus­tice to how good this dish is – the moist­ness of the meat; the nos­tal­gic and over­whelm­ing flavour of smoky ba­con crisps on the sur­face; the to­tal per­fec­tion of it all. There’s nowhere for a chef to hide with a dish like this – it’s just pro­tein and tech­nique.

If those vines don’t work out, as long as there’s cook­ing like this, Lymp­stone Manor will still be one of the best week­end breaks for food lovers in Eng­land.

Rooms from £315 in­clud­ing break­fast. There is one fully ac­ces­si­ble room. Mark trav­elled as a guest of GWR (0345 700 0125; gwr. com), which runs ap­prox­i­mately 24 trains per day be­tween Lon­don Padding­ton and Ex­eter St Davids from £19 each way.

MEET THE TEAM Mark re­ports on de­sign and lux­ury – he likes lights that are easy to turn off, ex­traor­di­nar­ily plush mat­tresstop­pers and a sin­gle large cube of ice in his ne­groni.

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