REVIEW: The Seacliff Restaurant, Sandy Cove Hotel, Ilfracombe

A few miles from Coombe Martin with it’s famous rockpools and beaches, sits The Sandy Cove Hotel, majestically perched on a cliff overlooking the Bristol Channel high above the dramatic North Devon coastline – Dining Devon was up in North Devon for a foodie marathon, and our first night’s dining was here at The Sandy Cove Hotel.

The Seacliff Restaurant provides a fine dining experience, along with a tasting menu and wine flight for those diners who want something a bit special. We were invited along to try out their fine dining offering and experience for ourselves what makes the Seacliff Restaurant a beacon of fine dining in this part of the world in this new entry on to the Devon fine dining scene.

The only indication that we were as close to the sea as we were, was seeing a fishing boat bobbing up and down in the distance, lighting up the water around it as it glowed dreamlike from the darkness, had it been daylight we would be viewing one of the most scenic coastal views in the country. Unfortunately when we visited a few weeks ago, it was in the midst of a torrential downpour and it was dark, so I just had to use my imagination.

The interior design is sleek and modern, exuding grey & black tones which do not distract from food. This subtle and refined feel to the ambience matched the high level of service that we experienced throughout our evening.

Head Chef Carla Jones has created a tasting menu that brings together some of the finest local ingredients. As a scholarship student of legendary chef Pierre Koffman, she appeared on MasterChef in 2018 and after travelling she settled at the Sandy Cove Hotel.

With a tasting menu that changes every six weeks, the dishes that we sampled have now been replaced with other new ones – for more information about the current menu it’s worth heading over to their website for an up to date menu with prices.

The menu for our evening was the following:

Homemade artisan breads & Amuse Bouche

Fermented Turnip, pea and coconut tart

Devon crab, hay smoked potato, apple, brown crab custard

BBQ Venison Loin, salted blackberries, salsify, chocolate

Luscombe lemon mousse and lemon sherbert

‘Black Forest’ Valrhona Chocolate, cep, cassis

The meal was accompanied by a wine flight, which is priced at £45 per person.

We started off with the amuse bouche. The squid ink crackers had a deep savoury tone to them which contrasted well with the other elements. The artisanal bread was super-crusty and worked well with the marmite butter – it was an exciting introduction to our evening. With this we had a crisp Champagne Castelnau Brut with it’s playful apricot and white peach tones.

First off the block was a Fermented Turnip, Pea and Coconut Tart. The cascade of delicate flavours matched with a Louis Latour Montagny 1er Cru La Grande Roche, worked perfectly with the coconut and sweet elements of the tart. The tart itself was a joy to eat as it was layered with the coconut/turnip flavours at the bottom which became stronger as you dug deeper.

The next dish took us to the rock pools of the coastline with a visual journey which we found very creative. This Devon Crab with Hay Smoked Potato, Apple and Brown Crab Custard looked like a crab body, the custard gave the texture of the shell with the crab, apple and smoked potato was the body underneath the ‘shell’. For a moment I thought there were two little eyes looking up at me when it first arrived.

This was matched with a gorgeous Faustino Rivero Ulecia Albariño 2020 which was, for us, a delightful fit. This was one of the best matched wine flights we’ve had with a tasting menu for a very long time. Jack the maitre’d was incredibly knowledgable and professional through the whole evening,

Heading back inland, our next course was something of a discovery. Who knew that venison and chocolate could go so well together? The land course was a BBQ Venison Loin, Salted Blackberries, Salsify, and Valhrona Chocolate which was in a rich meaty sauce glazing and bringing all the elements together. The venison melted into a smoky cloud when cut, which only became more intense when it hit the tongue. Salted blackberries were definitely a new one on me, but they worked so well with the sauce and the venison.

The guest of honour with this was another pefectly matched wine, this time a Jerome Quiot, Parcelles 38 Châteauneuf-du-Pape: a lovely light red that went perfect with with the dark rich tones of the smoky-chocolaty-venison.

For me, with further reflection, if I had to have a favourite course I feel this next one would be it. The Luscombe Lemon Mousse and Lemon Sherbert was a refreshing palette clenser, it was entertaining and a fantastic example of simple yet effective.

And, the thing that blew my tiny mind, was that it looked just like a lemon.

For Carla, the inspiration behind her dishes come from emotion; either childhood memories or present emotions. The lemon mousse came from reflective moments over a busy summer, Carla would reflect with a Luscombe Sicillian Lemonade in hand, and out of those moments came this dish.

Sat on a bed of lemon sherbert, the inside was a fresh tangy liquid sauce that heightened the lemony-ness of this spectacular dessert. Not only was this creative and exciting, but it was an excellent palette cleanser for the final dish.

This was the finale, a spectacular end to a creative and memorable tasting menu. A chocolate mousse that took the form of a dark cherry with a sweet cep mushroom (bottom right of the photo) which blew my tiny mind. Again. The rich chocolate was matched perfectly with the American Elysium Muscat sweet desert wine that was paired with it, the perfect partner to the smooth rich chocolatey texture of this final dessert.

This tasting menu will not leave you hungry, it was substantial in portion size with lots of different varying tastes throughout the menu. There was a varied palette of textures, tones and tastes that all worked really well together, and throughout we had dishes we liked more than others.

Service and wine flight was absolutely perfectly matched and Jack, our maitre’d and sommelier got the wines absolutely spot on. The matched wines were expertly selected.

Lastly, the menu itself was incredibly creative in presentation and in taste. The lemon mousse that looked like a lemon, the chocolate cherry, the crab that looked like a crab were creative in concept and well executed. It was a memorable meal with a flair that I look forward to experiencing again.

Currently The Seacliff Restaurant has a Five Course Taster Menu for £65pp with the wine flight for £45pp. Head to their website to have a look at their sample menu. The menu changes every six weeks. If you want to feast your eyes on more of their exceptional food, follow on Instagram for their delicious feed.

If you want to read about their latest menu, One Shy Foodie has written a review as well which is well worth a read.

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