Down by the river: checking into Michael Caines' Lympstone Manor

 About the hotel

frontA hotel with a view - down to the estuary

About the hotel (or really the chef)

Lympstone Manor is really best known for the chef who's taken it on. Michael Caines is one of the country's best known-chefs, having forged a career for himself at Gidleigh Park where he held on to two Michelin stars for the restaurant there for 17 years. But while Gidleigh was the making of him, it looks as though Lympstone has been his real dream. This is where he gets to put his own vision on the table and he has grand plans for the place, with a vineyard planned in the extensive grounds, to produce champagne-method sparkling wines.

Where exactly is it?

It's about a 10 minute drive from Exeter. The property itself is set in 28 acres of manicured gardens and wilder meadows running down to the Exe estuary. It's properly stunning.

Checking in

We get a mini tour of the place on arrival. There are three separate dining rooms, a proper cocktail bar with a wrap around veranda with views over the estuary and you can even take a gawk at what's going on in the kitchen through a glass viewing panel. Oenophiles will be pretty happy with the wine provision here - the cellar has over 600 bins and they've got a huge wine dispensing system with 24 fine wines available by the glass. And the design of the place is - well, just lovely. From hand-painted wallpaper in the dining rooms and up the staircase to numerous works of local art, it's stylish yet really personable.

OK, but what's the room like?

There are seven categories of room running from a classic garden view to superior estuary suites. We were in a master balcony suite on the first floor - Nuthatch, all the rooms are named after birds. This had a humungous bathroom with rolltop bath and walk-in shower - bigger than our kitchen at home - and a separate lounge area. But the best bit was the massive balcony with views down to the shore.

There's no minibar, but there is a tray packed with everything you'd need to make yourself a top notch G&T with mini bottles of Chase gin, fresh lime and Fever-Tree tonic.

If you really want to push the boat out, get one of their Estuary suites which come complete with an outdoors soak tub and fire pit.


Pre-dinner drinks

canapesCanapes on the veranda before dinner

This was pre-heatwave, so the moment the sun came out we felt there was only one place to be for drinks before dinner and that was out on the veranda. Wines by the glass are punchy - there's nothing under £9 for 125ml, but this felt like the time for a glass of Michael Caines Blanc de Blancs Brut (£13.50).

As we looked through the menu, trying to decide between the a-la-carte, Signature Tasting Menu or Taste of the Estuary menu, canapes arrived to set the tone - a teeny glass of punchy gazpacho.


Dinner by Michael Caines

langoustineLangoustine cannelloni with sauce virerge, lemongrass and ginger

Dinner at Lympstone is very definitely of the fine dining variety. There's fine linen napery, Rheidol glasses and multiple cutlery changes. Our eight-course signature tasting menu (including coffee and petit fours) comes in at £140.

Never having been to Gidleigh, we can't really compare the style of cooking, but Caines intimates to us in a chat before dinner that this is perhaps less fussy than the style of food he would have prepared there. That said, it's quite stunning - stand out courses from our dinner include a visually stunning quail’s egg tartlet with onion confit, black truffle and smoked bacon and a course of Cornish salt cod with Beesands crab, teeny studs of chorizo served with samphire, tarragon and a lemon purée.

quailQuail tartlet with onion confit, black truffle and smoked bacon

The main dessert of chocolate orange confit mousse looks amazing but we actually prefer the super-fresh pre-dessert of apple mousse with green apple sorbet and vanilla foam more. 

Service is warm, knowledgeable and beautifully choreographed - it's one of the few places where wine pairing seems effortless with the multiple courses.

orangemouseChocolate orange confit mousse

If we have an issue it's with the atmosphere. A Spanish guitar soundtrack played at library levels means everyone ends up whispering. It's odd because the clientele is much younger than we'd perhaps expected, and a bit of fun with the music would definitely liven up the space.


The morning after the night before

salmonbreakfastScrambled eggs and home-smoked salmon

Breakfast the next morning comes with all the usual top end hotel fripperies you'd expect.There's a wide range of pastries, charcuterie and cheese at the buffet, but we find ourselves able to muster room for a very good scrambled eggs with home smoked Loch Duart salmon and a pretty decent Eggs Benedict.


Overall thoughts

Caines has surrounded himself with a wonderful team here - from the moment we arrive till the morning we leave staff make us feel incredibly welcome and cossetted and the place itself has been beautifully done up. The food, as you'd expect is great - everyone gets the chance to chat to Caines, which goes down well and the setting is quite stunning. If you're looking for somewhere really special for a weekend away, we can't think of a better spot.


Getting here and prices

We took a train to Exeter (about 2.5 hours from London) and then got a hire car out to Lympstone as we were heading on down to Cornwall after our night here. But you could very easily just get a taxi to the hotel.

Nightly rates at Lympstone Manor start from £245 per night including breakfast.

Hot Dinners stayed as guests of Lympstone Manor. Prices correct at time of writing.