Not giddy over Gidleigh

Some may regard it as churlish for me to complain about this hotel at all and I am of course immensely privileged to be able to stay there at all. Having said that, I do believe in getting what you contract for.

There were, truth be told, a number of  things which influenced my decision to go to Gidleigh which, on the face of it, isn’t my sort of hotel.  The least influential was my husband’s recommendation a) because he went there in 1990 and b) it was with his ex wife and c) he only told me that as we were driving up to the hotel entrance.

I kept hearing good things about it from a friend and allowing my husband to make the decision I assumed that its Michelin rating and Relais &Chateaux status would mean it had reached a particular standard and that it would be a bit of trad luxury with a great restaurant. I wasn’t expecting trendy, or groundbreaking.

We were greeted very nicely and in a slick, two star Michelin manner. The door person managed not to display any shock at either the journey detritus or the size of my suitcase and whisked us inside. We did the usual ritual alteration to the booked room once we had seen the one allocated (too small).   We were taken to a larger, pleasant but dull room; warned of the hum from the fans but not of the mealtime clatter from the kitchens below, which was far worse. And why not mention that, pray?

Added to this, there was no view, or, rather, the view was of the back wall, a few feet away and a fire escape.  Given the location and the fact that the majority will book on the strength of the website extolling the views and location, it was rather disappointing.  There was a reason it was still free when the hotel was busy. Don’t book Cranborne.

I wanted to move again.  Husband said no; I let it lie. At least I had my earplugs. and the main point was the food, not the room.

The food. I don’t eat meat and forewarned, they produced a specially printed non-meat menu for me, which I felt was thoughtful and showed attention to detail. In food terms, it ended there.

I had a garlic and nettle risotto. I don’t know what garlic they are using, but it’s one without any flavour. I then had a fennel and tomato fondue. It was pleasant, very pretty on the plate but basically  a starter masquerading as a main course, being far too insubstantial and needing some gutsy focal point. And whilst I’m at it, why can’t I have just two courses? Why does it have to be three on the a la carte? Can’t I choose?  It’s a fixed price for three courses and I don’t always want dessert.

Another detail. I asked for an early morning cup of strong tea and a banana as I had organised an early wildlife walk. The tea was utterly without flavour and the banana was unripe. Without any taste.  I mean, how hard is that to get right?

The second night the meal was unmemorable. In my view, having eaten at a number of similarly starred and rated restaurants, this was nowhere near a two star restaurant. I don’t actually think it’s a one. It feels like a competent kitchen, run by someone who may have trained somewhere decent but who needs to go back for further training.  A competent kitchen, but not inventive, or precise. Nothing stood out either in appearance or flavour.  A piece of turbot was very chewy. Overcooked I think.

At least the sommelier was really enthusiastic and after working out what we wanted recommended a very reasonable and delicious wine. The wine list was not overpriced and was a joy to read.  Someone really cares about that list.  I particularly liked the interest in biodynamic wines – the wine list showed an adventurousness not matched by the kitchen.

The cheeseboard. Maybe I’m spoilt because I work within shouting distance of La Fromagerie.  I suggest that whoever is responsible for the cheese takes a visit to Le Manoir to see how it’s done at other two stars.  Or gets Patricia Michaelson to revamp the cheeseboard entirely.   It was good that they had some local cheeses but the stalwarts were missing. It just didn’t have breadth or sophistication.

After the second night’s meal both of us had upset stomachs. Canapes we think. Only thing we both ate during the whole of that day.

The third night we went to to Bullers Arms in Chagford and I had a baked potato. Really.  I just didn’t want to eat in the hotel.

And the breakfast? The coffee was dire. It was grey. It hardly tasted of coffee. I’m not a big fan of cafetiere coffee but it can be better than that.   I stopped drinking coffee of that quality in 1980. Starbucks is better. That’s how bad it was.

What two star Michelin can’t do decent tea or coffee or to the customer’s taste?  I’m assuming they don’t have an espresso machine or perhaps they might have offered one when I said the coffee was weak.  We sent it back for a stronger pot. Still dire. The toast was cold, the buffet was mediocre.

The day before, I asked for a strong cup of tea. I sent the first pot back.  I was very clear. The hotel chap next to the waitress even joked with me – you mean builders’ tea, he said?  Yes, I said, desperate for tannins after two days of insipid liquid. They still couldn’t do it.

The thing is, I just don’t understand how this gets to be be a Michelin two star. I’m lucky enough to have eaten in some really memorable places and what saddens me is that for a lot of people, going to Gidleigh may be a once-in-a-lifetime experience and may be the only time they get to try a Michelin  two star and they think that this is the real deal.  It isn’t. It must have been a great restaurant once, but it isn’t now.

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