Rockhouse Lane, Maidencombe, Torquay TQ1 4SX Tel: 01803 500397
Maidencombe. It is a village in its own right. The first part of the great swathe of the towns and villages that make up Torbay. After Maidencombe you hit Babbacombe and further on you are deep in the heart of Torquay, with the tourists and its quirky shops; the advertising campaign that GWR ran all those years ago promoted the area as ‘The English Riviera’ and it stuck.
In my comprehension of the geography, Maidencombe is nearly part of this elaborate network of bungalows and bingo halls. But it is still a village, the last outpost before the sprawl of Torbay stretches its tentacles further up the coast.
If you read this blog regularly, you’ll most probably know that I am quite fond of this part of the world. With a population that exceeds that of Exeter, there is a lot that happens south of the River Teign that most Exonians largely ignore or just miss out.
My sporadic spots on the Steve Price Show that airs on Riviera FM on Tuesday nights gives me a warmth for the area that might see me changing the title of the blog to something such as Tear-To-Share Torquay…or Tit-Bits of Torquay…Eating Torquay. It hasn’t got the same ring to it. What I am trying to say is, forgive me this isn’t Exeter. But even if you live in Exeter, Orestone Manor is a definite ‘must-visit’ for city foodies.
We were invited along to witness, as the website states, the ‘creaky character’ of this historic hotel which is owned and run by the D’Allen family. The hotel itself had been a former home of the famous Victorian painter (and inventor of the Christmas Card) John Calcott Horsley. Horsley’s famous Brother-In-Law was the esteemed Victorian engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who had a number of prolonged visits to the house when he was constructing the last stretch of the GWR. It is said that Brunel was planning to retire to the area after he had finished his great project, but his life was cut short by illness not long after the railway had reached Plymouth.
With such a history, you might be forgiven to think that Orestone Manor is an overly austere and, for lack of a better word, ‘snooty’ establishment. The evening we spent at the Orestone was incredibly warm and welcoming, there was no pretension, no pomp, just a cosy warm atmosphere, lots of sofas and some absolutely exquisite food.
The table was booked for seven thirty. It takes about forty five minutes to get to Maidencombe from Exeter, coming through Teignmouth (opposed to going via Newton Abbot) and via Shaldon. The turning off the A379 is somewhat tight, it goes down a steep hill double backing on itself which needs a careful approach.
Stepping through the front door, we were welcomed in and ushered to the lounge area. Our orders were taken whilst we were lounging on a sofa, sipping our wine and admiring the newly refurbished decor. The lounge is nicely kitted out with modern sofas, books and a newly installed bespoke bar that has literally been crafted to the hotels exacting standards. Built from iron and glass on the front, the bar is a mixological tribute to Brunel with a suspension bridge and what looks like rivets, presented in a tasteful matt black finish with red glass on the front.
We were ushered in to the dining room via another lounge, to take our place ready for our courses. The dining room, decked in festive lights, was a dark red. It was heavy but had an allusion to the house’s Victorian heritage.
The menu is split in to two. An A la carte menu and and table d’hote, both of which were well put together. We went for the table d’hote menu (fixed price) which included three courses for £27 or two for £21. I started off with an Orestone Fishcake for a starter, Tori went for Asparagus and Poached Egg in a Hollandaise Sauce
The Fishcake was without a single shadow of a doubt one of the nicest fishcakes I’ve had in a long time, if not ever. Yes I’ve had a sheltered life. My school days gave me dense lumps of fish in breaded discs, the fishcakes you are able to buy from the supermarket are no better, so this wonderful deep fried cylinder with a cacophony of different types of fish inside, was something to behold.
The poached egg was cooked well, and it ‘went’ with the Asparagus which was a delightful combination. There was much approval at the expert egg poaching from the other side of the table, but frankly my fishcake was far too nice I generally forgot to ask ‘so, how is it?’.
For the mains, I decided to push the boat out and go for the Aromatic Spiced Venison Haunch Steaks, Pomme Fondant served with Market Vegetables. If you come across a restaurant the cooks Venison so well that it dissolves on your tongue, refuse to leave until you’ve had at least three portions. And never forget the experience as this is exactly how the Venison was cooked, and it was beautiful. Venison can quite often be tough if it is not cooked accurately and with care, so this was technically a really tough thing to pull off. Pun intended.
Tori went for 6oz Fillet Steak Medallions, Confit Tomatoes, Mushroom, Fries, and Peppercorn Sauce. This, again, was meat cooked with absolute care. The steak itself wasn’t overpowering in flavour, it was delicate and cooked medium rare. The peppercorn sauce was a little strong in flavour for delicate palettes but this was forgiven as it was accompanied by beautifully cooked fries and vine tomatoes.
Throughout the whole process the service was brilliant. We were looked after by Charlotte who struck a professional balance between interaction and service, which can be a hard equilibrium to strike.
The Dessert course meant finding my inner pudding stomach. This wasn’t hard to do, so always one to go for desserts I can’t buy or make myself, the Vanilla Crème Brulee with Shortbread Biscuit shouted at me from the page. Tori being the chocolate fiend that she is, defied the Table D’Hote menu and went for a dessert from the main menu, which we were able to do on this occasion. Predictably (sorry darling) going for a Baked Chocolate Fondant served with Apple & Sloe Sorbet.
The brulee had an intricate flavour. I want to say that it was quietly sweet. In fact I will say “It was quietly sweet…” even though that simply doesn’t make much sense. It wasn’t overpoweringly sickly and as you can see from the photos, it was caramelized just about right. Tori’s Fondant was a wonderfully runny, chocolatey, gooey affair that had the most amazing tart/sour sorbet that contrasted brilliantly with the chocolate. A really memorable dessert, and one I am sure we’ll have again when we come back.
We retreated to the lounge, had some tea and coffee and generally felt very full and very satisfied. It was a strange feeling, whilst sitting and slowly sinking in to the plush sofa, as it really felt that we could just amble up to our room, and at no point was there a feeling that you were not a resident.
The D’Allen family have created a hidden gem. A fine dining destination to be proud of. Here is an independent hotel & restaurant with two AA Rosettes (they could have had a third one, but they chose not to), a restaurant which is featured in the Michelin Guide with a reputation for exceptional food and a welcoming atmosphere.
You don’t need a tuxedo to visit, neither do you need to drive a car worth over £30,000 and you won’t get looked up and down with disdain if you wear smart casual to dinner.
Accessible and affordable fine food. For once I agree with the multitude of positivity on TripAdvisor, that this place really is “just stunning..”