I don’t envy Dean Griffin, who is Head Chef at The Highbullen Hotel, Golf & Country Club. Providing a menu that will satisfy the most demanding of high-end diners in The Devon View Restaurant, then a cheaper yet quality ‘pub-based’ menu for The Cellar Bar that is designed to appeal to those who want to pay gastro-pub prices, then a breakfast menu and bespoke menus for those shooting parties who might want to eat game or golfers who want Fish & Chips (see previous post). And even then the wedding parties and the mass provision of catering for 100 or so guests on top of keeping it all running like clockwork.
Having previously been at The Barcelo Imperial Hotel in Torquay, Dean has brought 25 years of experience to Highbullen, and through his small team of dedicated chefs, they rise to the occasion. Our meal at The Devon View Restaurant was smooth culinary bliss with seamless friendly service in this ‘smart-casual dining’ experience. The Devon View Restaurant is not about formal dining, but they do ask in the hotel information that you wear smart casual attire. So no muddy trainers here thank you.
I managed to miss the concept of ‘wear some nice trousers and look presentable’ and got a good telling off from my marital unit for packing what I believed were comfortable yet smart clothes but alas were actually thinning and creased, which left me feeling very much like the scruff-bag in the corner. The era of packing my own suitcase will be a distant memory from now on.
We got to sample the more traditional three course menu which is new for spring. It twists the modernism that you would expect from a contemporary hotel with the traditional English style influenced by the setting of this amazing hotel; the balance between the experimental and safe was struck well with this expertly engineered menu that made me wish every eating place had such a well thought out selection. This is accessible high dining. Not in the socialist way, but in a way that says ‘come in we don’t bite!’
I kicked off my meal with the Goats Cheese Mouse served with an Apple and Vanilla puree and micro-coriander, Tori started her side with Cauliflower Soup with Cheddar Cheese croutons. The Goat’s Cheese was mild and had an intriguing texture that worked well with the Apple and Vanilla purée. The Cauliflower Soup had a classic taste to it that reminded me of Cauliflower Cheese, but stronger and with much more body on the palette.
The main was going to be a tough choice, torn between Oven Fried Breast of Corn Fed Chicken and the Pan Fried Cod Fillet; the Pan Friend Cod Fillet with Chorizo, Chick Pea and Lemon Cassoulet won me over as I was intrigued to see how the strong tastes of Chorizo was used with a delicate taste like Cod. I was pleasantly surprised when I found that the Cassoulet was as delicately seasoned as the fish was and acted as a perfect accompaniment as only small flakes of Chorizo was used to punch through the tastes of the lemon. Tori had as similar problem deciding what her main should be and ended up choosing Oven Baked Duck Breast. The duck melted off the fork and from what I tasted, it was a quality piece of meat cooked expertly.
There are a few things that every foody should try at some point in their life and a good Creme Brulee is one of my ‘must try’ items. Oddly I had looked at the Desserts first before even thinking about the rest of the meal. And I wasn’t disappointed; it shattered like glass and tasted like a textbook example of how it should be done. Tori went for the Vanilla and Orange Parfait which consisted of an orange sorbet and a raspberry coulis and from the noises from the other side of the table, it sounded divine!
The meal was accompanied by a very nice bottle of Santa Helena 2013 Merlot from their Wine List which consisted of no less than 64 different wines. It was balanced and well bodied and was a good all-rounder with the meal.
The service has to be noted as things happen here that make you realise that you are in a high calibre restaurant. On the night, the service was near perfect, ensuring we had something in front of us when we were supposed to and when we were finished, it was gone. At the end of the meal we were still drinking wine and we were allowed to sit and drink our wine first before having teas and coffees, at no point did we feel rushed. Douglas Muir the Restaurant Manager went from table to table talking to the guests and making sure that everything was acceptable, and this I liked. The high level of customer care and service at Highbullen is something that has to be experienced, and in my opinion it is something that they have managed to get spot-on.
Our stay included a breakfast as well. Luckily for us, they serve breakfast until 10:30am as we are lazy and like lying in on Saturday mornings. Guests are given the choice between just a continental breakfast or a continental and cooked breakfast. Fatso here restrained himself from having both, but could have quite easily gorged himself on Croissants before hitting the fried stuff.
The numerous times I have stayed in hotels across the UK with packages that include breakfast, you get used to a certain standard of cheap breakfast. Sausages boiled in their own grease, soggy croissants and a general feeling that some hotels are just not trying with their breakfasts. A sort of breakfast apathy which always surprises me given the breakfast is still part of the ‘experience’. Thankfully I can report that Highbullen takes their breakfasts quite seriously, using a high quality ingredients and cooked well.
Also bonus points to Highbullen for the size of their teapot. There is always a distinct lack of tea with ‘included’ breakfasts.
As we left Highbullen we had a lovely conversation with Keira who was on reception. And this embodied, for me, the entire experience just through this one conversation. Highbullen has an understanding of their customers’ needs that makes this hotel stand out from other similar hotels. You pay for a touch of luxury, a friendly face and staff who will go that extra mile for you. You pay for an impressive range of activities and access to some of the most dramatic and spectacular scenery in the UK and what better place to do it from?
In my last post I mentioned the fact that Highbullen are widening their appeal, and they are have widened it a little further with a new package that has just been created. The Garden Break includes the following:
Gardens Break in Devon
On our Gardens Break you can enjoy a short break at Highbullen Hotel coupled with visits to two of the best gardens in North Devon. This special break includes 2 nights’ accommodation in a standard room, a hearty Devon cooked breakfast each morning, dinner each night in The Devon View Restaurant, plus 2 tickets to both RHS Rosemoor and Castle Hill gardens, both within a short distance of Highbullen Hotel.
Low Season – £259
Mid-Season – £319
Gardens Breaks are subject to availability. Price is per 2 night package, based on 2 people sharing a double or twin standard room. Low Season is January, February, November and December; Mid-Season is March to June and September to October. Room upgrades are available.
Eating Exeter were guests of Highbullen Hotel. http://www.highbullen.co.uk/
Highbullen Hotel, Golf & Country Club
North Devon, EX37 9HD
T 01769 540561
F 01769 540492
International Tel: +44 1769 540561
International Fax: +44 1769 540492