The day Michael Caines broke my vegetarianism at beautiful Lympstone Manor
Tucked between Exeter and Exmouth on the stunning Exe Estuary Trail is Lympstone Village. Currently, it is at the top of our wish list of potential places in which to buy our Devon home; it’s safe to say that it remains a firm favourite after my visit to Michael Caines’ luxury hotel and fine dining restaurant, Lympstone Manor last month.
The Grade II listed Georgian mansion is located on the southern edge of Lympstone Village with glorious views over the Exe Estuary. Set in 28 acres, with plans for a vineyard, Lympstone Manor is two Michelin starred chef Michael Caines‘ ambitious project that has taken two years to come to fruition.
Michael Caines (MBE) is a bit of a local hero. Born in Exeter and adopted into a large family, he discovered a love for cooking and his passion took flight. After becoming student of the year at catering college, he trained with his mentor, Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in Oxfordshire. Since then he has taken on a variety of roles and projects including: overseeing the food and beverage operations at the city’s iconic Royal Clarence Hotel, becoming Head Chef at esteemed Gidleigh Park and establishing restaurants, cafe Bars and Taverns around the UK.
In 2015, Michael was made a Freeman of Exeter, and given the key to the city. Despite his continuous success, he keeps his feet firmly on the ground and is involved in lots of altruistic ventures in Exeter. Here he has set up Michael Caines Academy at Exeter College to teach future chefs, and is involved with several charities including Families for Children and Farms for City Children (he’s just a bit of an all round nice guy).
According to Michael, Lympstone Manor is:
“the realisation of a dream, my vision of country house hospitality for the 21st Century”
And what an incredibly beautiful dream it is. The building itself is stunning. Formerly known as Courtlands House and originally an 18th century farmhouse, Lympstone Manor has undergone significant changes over the years. The Barings family (who founded Barings Bank) were responsible for the most dramatic changes to the house, adding to the smaller Georgian structure and creating the building that stands today.
The day we visited was a perfect Spring day, with beautiful blue skies and no April rain to be seen. I had been invited along with a small group of local journalists and bloggers. True to form, I arrived half an hour early and had the opportunity to enjoy some coffee on the veranda and take in the breathtaking views across the estuary.
When everyone had arrived we took a tour of the hotel. I was rather taken by the beautiful watercolour artwork and wallpaper throughout. The works, by local artist Rachel Toll, feature images of birds from the estuary, bringing the water and nature theme inside. Each room has a different bird theme, even the prosaic seagull was included. Art is plentiful throughout the hotel, including paintings for sale by regional artists such as Matthew Draper and Kurt Jackson.
The lounge areas are warm, welcoming, comfortable and homely with natural colours and plenty of interesting prints and art to look at.
The bedrooms are awash with blues, greens and gold. Each room has a different style and a different layout. The interiors are luxurious and most have views into the garden or estuary.
My favourite touch in the bedrooms has to be the complimentary Williams Chase gin trays. Each room also comes complete with Nespresso coffee machines, L’Occitane toiletries and GHDs.
On the ground floor, the rooms have their own private garden with fire pit and outdoor soak tub and (did I mention) the view?
The appreciation of wines is taken very seriously at Lympstone Manor. As well as two basement cellars, on the ground floor opposite the dining rooms there is a signature tasting area. Here, there are state of the art Wine Emotion dispense machines that keep the wine at optimum temperature and do some kind of technical magic to maintain the wines freshness once opened.
We had champagne and exquisite hors d’œuvre of tuna tartare with caviar, carrot mousse with turmeric and a perfectly cooked quail egg on the veranda then headed into the dining room for lunch.
The menu looked sumptuous. Handmade bread including pain du morvan with burnt oats and honey was brought to the table, followed by a starter for me (from the vegetarian menu) of Wye Valley asparagus soup with fresh peas and the most delicious hint of truffle. Each course came with a matching wine, and Brookland Valley’s 2014 ‘Verse 1’ Chardonnay from Margaret River in Australia, with its hint of citrus and nut was very complimentary.
The starter was (and I am not exaggerating here) absolutely fantastic and perfectly balanced in texture and flavour. Mine consisted of Goat cheese mousse with succulent jasmine raisins, crisp apple and the most delicious candied walnuts – the temptation to lick my plate when I had finished was strong (obviously I didn’t).
For the meat eaters there was Warm salad of Cornish lobster which (as you can see) looked stunning and tasted just as good apparently. The clean, crisp, appley and refreshing glass of Weingut Eichinger’s 2015 Grüner Veltliner Strasse Hasel (from Kamptal in Austria) was the perfect accompaniment.
The next course was Slow cooked duck egg with peas, jersey royals asparagus and black truffle, I have to admit that I am not a massive egg fan, but it was perfectly cooked and tasted lovely with the selection of vegetables.
Around the table the carnivores had been served Darts Farm Beef, braised cheek, horseradish, shallot confit, celeriac, mushroom and red wine sauce and there were lots of “oohs”, “aahs” and “wows”. It looked divine and when Lauren Heath offered me a taste, I had to very seriously weigh up my options; on the one hand, my vegetarian values and on the other, the thought that this might be my only opportunity to try free range, happily reared, Darts Farm beef cooked by Michael Caines in Lympstone Manor… I told my vegetarian self that on this occasion, I needed to taste it, and so I did, it was heartbreakingly, melt in the mouth, delicious.
I guess if you’re going to break your vegetarianism you should do in in style with a two Michelin starred chef, in a magical setting eating exquisite, responsibly reared beef.
The accompanying wine was 2014 Plansel Selecta Reserva, Quinta da Plansel, Alentejo – I didn’t try it because I was saving myself for the dessert wine in an effort to display some decorum.
Before dessert we were served light, melt-on-the-tongue amuse-bouche of Apple mousse with a delightful rich and sweet 2013 Monbazillac, Domaine de l’ancienne cure, jour de fruit, bergerac.
Michael was kind enough to let Lauren Heath from Eating Exeter and I in the kitchen to watch him and his team at work, creating the beautiful Poached rhubarb with hibiscus dessert.
Served with golden and delicious 2012 Sauternes, chateau delmond, bordeaux, the floral and fruit of the wine celebrated the lemon and rhubarb in the dessert, allowing for the perfect end to a lovely meal.
I was never a huge dessert wine fan but now I am a convert.
Michael and his team came to talk with us after lunch. As charming and charismatic as he is humble, it was wonderful to hear him talk about his dream coming to fruition and I for one wish him every success in his endeavours. He definitely seems like someone who works hard and deserves to reap the rewards.
“The opening of Lympstone Manor is the realisation of a dream… Everything that I have achieved in my long career has brought me to this point where I can fully express my vision of contemporary country house hospitality for the 21st century.”
(Michael Caines, MBE)