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Muddy eats: Àclèaf at Boringdon Hall

Get your big pants on, you're in for a treat! Devon's Boringdon Hall near Plymouth has just got itself a brand-new tasting menu and oh-so special eating experience.

THE LOCATION

Say hello to Devon’s newest tasting experience: Àclèaf at the five-star Boringdon Hall and Spa, just outside Plymouth on the edge of Dartmoor National Park.

Loftily positioned in the minstrel gallery of this must-visit 16th century hotel and award-winning spa, Àclèaf is small and intimate and gives you a bird’s eye view down into Boringdon’s historic Great Hall. (When I get my coat of arms, it’s going to be that huge.)

THE LOWDOWN

This 40-cover restaurant has taken the place of what was the Gallery Restaurant, under the same super-impressive stewardship of head chef, Scott Paton, who brought the hotel its 3 AA rosettes and has a Caterer Acorn Award and has the accolade of being named Best Chef by the Food Magazine.

Àclèaf means acorn and the oak motif was manifested in the golden branches of the lighting and some of the dinner-ware but not so in-your-face that it fights with the style of the 16th century hotel with it wood panel, lead widows and drapes. Subtly done.

THE VIBE

Relaxed, historic, intimate and romantic. Everyone there was in pairs: three couples and what looked like a mother and daughter having some quality time. It started out quiet but as the wine flowed, it got fairly raucous in one corner and no-one seemed to mind (not me, honest).

This is an upmarket menu, devoted to seasonal top-notch ingredients rather than arty flourishes for their own sake, so if you’re not fond of fine-dining then bear with, because truthfully, neither am I and I really enjoyed it.

Why? Well, the waiter set the tone, full of fun and kicking everything off with a glass of sparkling which always puts one in an excellent mood, no? He was eager to answer my questions about the place and filled us in knowledgably on each course as he brought it out.

SCOFF AND QUAFF

Choose from a four-course Table d’hote menu (£80) or a six-course Tasting Menu (£95). We went for the four-course, but it was gifted with lots of little extras and treats, including an appetiser, bread, and a surprise sweet so it seemed like much more.

First to the table was a welcome glass of something fizzy with an exquisitely crafted canapé each.

To follow, was something to take you back to childhood, Serrano ham and cream cheese sandwiched two light-as air puffs of cracker.

Next came a wake-up call for the mouth – earthy and more’ish, soft beetroot and mushroom flavours contrasted with a herby crunch. And look at that beautiful crockery.

Now for starters – I know! – Mr Muddy plumped for crab, made fruity and zingy with a swirl of lime, peeled corn and punchy leaves.

Chicken liver for me, served with creamy green of ribbon of something yummy, all velvety and not a hint of bitterness.

Next I plumped for a roll of sole topped with sage and capers in a savoury froth. Mr Muddy had quail which so wrapped up with my fish I forgot to photograph (sorry, not sorry).

For mains, a medley of meats – all rabbit – which as the waiter noted, has us all marvelling at how much you can get from one small animal. (With apologies to the daughter and Jarrow and Cub.)

I tucked into 40-day old beef with a rich beetroot fondant, loads of smoky flavours with pulled beef, all so soft and succulent it was a serrated knife-free zone.

We were getting full now but not so much so that this beautiful treat wasn’t welcome – tasting of Black Forest gateau, it was a cherry made from jelly and filled with chocolate fondant with home-made vanilla ice-cream on the side, appropriately served on an acorn-shaped dish.

Mr Muddy said his was like a reinvention of lemon meringue pie, with a perfectly crafted lemon-shaped sorbet.

Dessert raised the beauty parade still further, with this sugar-crafted confection and golden balls (below) worthy of the fairytale Princess and the Frog. Everything is lovingly hand-crafted – nirvana for foodie instagrammers.

It was three hours of the most exquisite eating, a real foodie adventure, and despite the linen tablecloths, it was the most fun I’ve had fine-dining since I went to Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck at Bray. It’s lifted Boringdon into Devon’s fine dining elite. A huge Muddy tick for Scott Paton. Did we love it? Yes, chef!

KID-FRIENDLY?

Er, no. Book into the Mayflower Brasserie downstairs for Sunday lunch instead or if you want to educate them in the art of cleverly crafted food, bring them to Boringdon’s legendary Sunday afternoon tea, which include their Special Editions which are themed to suit the season, like their very cute Paddingon Bear themed tea (above).

ANYTHING ELSE?

At some point in this wealth of courses (sorry there were far too many to remember when) the waiter came out with a puzzle for us to fill in, with three lines of symbols and asked us to circle one from each line which appealed to us most.

As we discovered later, the chef uses to curate one of the dishes to each individual’s taste buds. I won’t spoil the surprise for you though we were told it doesn’t always get it right but it really worked for both of us.

THE MUDDY VERDICT

Look out Gidleigh Park, you’ve got got some serious competition. No pretentiousness, no small amount of suspense and I promise you a food high. If you fancy a stay too, check out my review of Boringdon Hall & Spa.

Good for: posh nosh without pretensions; a treat for a foodie; special occasions; a first date (guaranteed to break the ice and give you something to talk about); foodie instagrammers; a big birthday or anniversary; falling off the diet wagon – it helps if you’ve not eaten for a few days.

Not for: plain or delicate appetites; littlies.

The damage: Four courses £80; six courses £90. Extras include a paired wine flight £ and cheese board £14.

Àclèaf Restaurant, Boringdon Hall, Plymouth PL7 4DP Tel: 01752 283213, Reservations (Due to the coronvirus lockdown, the hotel and restaurant are closed and not taking bookings until 24 April.)

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