Eat & Stay: Kentisbury Grange
Chic, romantic and totally off the beaten track. Muddy's been getting cosy at this country hotel on the edge of Exmoor.
What do you do when you sniff out an actual hidden diamond in the Exmoor rough, quietly doing the business? You send Muddy’s Northern Correspondent Emma Gibbons for a nose around pronto, that’s what. Over to you, Em (but can you take me next time, please? Or at least bring me back a doggy bag).
In a nutshell, this is a corker of a boutique hotel, which only happens to have a swish restaurant by Michael Caines in the grounds to boot. Perfectly set up for a super-indulgent mini-break, Kentisbury Grange and the Coach House nails the mix of old school luxury and contemporary chic all in one easy on the eye, award-winning package. Although family-friendly, this is one to book a babysitter for and make the most of, as two. Which we did, no arm-twisting needed.
Right on the edge of Exmoor National Park, it feels completely remote and off the beaten track, with hills all around. In reality, you’re just off the A39 and about 25 minutes from Barnstaple (an easy zip north from the M5 if you’re coming from outside the county). The gorgeous windswept stretches of beach on the North Devon coast, Woolacombe and Saunton are an easy drive, too. So a pretty decent location for a country break with lashings of romance, no?
Even in the depths of January and through relentless drizzle, the Victorian Manor House still has a bit of an ‘ooh’ factor. Sitting in pretty vast grounds, with the hotel in one building and the restaurant in another, along with 11 more private suites and family lodges onsite, there’s even a freaking golf buggy to transport you around if your stilettos aren’t up to the gravel. Outside, you can just imagine how it transforms during spring and summer into a special spot to sit and sup on a glass of something cold, or scoff afternoon tea.
Having been completely re-modelled by renowned interior designer Karen Gray no less, the result is a 16 bedroom retreat that’s big on luxe, contemporary where you need it and yet still managing to exude the charm and character of the building.
You want stone dogs guarding the grand entrance? Done.For guests, there’s clearly the one objective here: to relax.
The rooms are broken down into a mix of suites and doubles in the main house, along with further suites and larger family-friendly units in the grounds (the kind that would be ideal if you were staying longer than a few nights).
We stayed in Kentisbury Suite No 1, billed as the biggest and most luxurious. Yep, I’d go with that. Despite the island-sized bed, framed by a huge bespoke headboard, and a bathroom bordering on palatial, we still had so much space to loll around. The room was light, elegantly decorated with lovely garden views; the kind that makes you want to stick the kettle on and take tea (even if you don’t drink tea).
The bathroom had a roll top bath, rain shower, underfloor heating and Aromatherapy Associates toiletries. You shouldn’t struggle to get a good night’s kip here; Christ knows what the thread count was on the sheets. Stick a few noughts on it and we’re probably in the right ballpark.
SCOFF & QUAFF
So the Coach House, a short wander from the hotel, is where the culinary magic happens, a restaurant where the menu’s are created by he of Michelin-starred fame Michael Caines. Heard of him? Lympstone Manor ring any bells? The holder of no less than three AA Rosettes and a Gold Award from South West Tourism for the second year running, you get the measure of the kind of place this is. The fact that the restaurant sits separate to the hotel is a good thing, since it’s open to non-residents and feels more accessible.
Inside the 17th century building, it’s a touch more glam. Across two floors, the upstairs lounge is a good spot for a glass of fizz (be rude not to) and is also where you can have a private dining experience. Downstairs, the walnut and marble bar is a bit of a statement piece and from your table you can eye up the chefs at work, through the window (I love a good ogle at the theatre in the kitchen).
The menu is fine dining, as you’d expect and definitely innovative. I had a quick natter with Head Chef James Mason, previously of The Salutation Inn at Topsham near Exeter and also a finalist in National Chef of the Year 2016 (handpicked by Michael Caines). He was great! Young and enthusiastic and clearly comfortable working with the creations of Mr C.
We, of course, didn’t eat for a week beforehand to get the most from the experience (the things we do). I had the Pan Fried Orkney Scallops to start (art on a plate); a fillet of beef, with shallot and horseradish confit, celeriac and a beef red wine jus for main; rounded off with a chocolate torte, with honeycomb and salted caramel ice cream.
The food was clever and reflected both the location and the time of year. The service, too, was spot on. It’s definitely worth a visit as a destination restaurant, even if you’re not staying.
Needless to say, the food knocked us out for eight hours straight; but the next morning we trotted back over ready for breakfast, a relaxed but indulgent affair, with masses of choice and again, quite faultless service.
You could quite happily while away the hours here, if you didn’t have plans.
Surprisingly so. You may think this is a playground for grown-ups, but there are 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom family suites in the main house and further, more private ones set in the grounds, if you prefer a little more privacy and space. So it’s totally possible to do the glamorous hotel experience with kids, which is great news if, like me, you hate the idea of self-catering on your holibobs.
OUT AND ABOUT
There’s loads to do in these parts, particularly if you’re a fan of walking and beaches, or have kids. Keep going north and you’re in award-winning sandy territory, with Woolacombe beach and Saunton a totally drivable distance. It would be a crime not spend a day on the coast, but then you have Exmoor National Park on your doorstep, too. So don’t forget to bring the wellies and walking boots! Kids are well served for adventure parks, too, with the Big Sheep and The Milky Way Adventure Park all easily reached from here.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Those looking for a restful, restorative short break in total peace and quiet; families looking to explore this part of Devon, without having to do the laborious ‘self-catering’ thing; walkers, who want to be rewarded with stonking food after a day pounding the trails.
Not for: anybody wanting extensive facilities onsite, like a spa for example. The emphasis is definitely on gentle relaxation here, so think curling up a with a good book and a G&T and you’ll fit right in.
££: Prices are at the top end, but what you’d expect for a boutique hotel with a restaurant by a Michelin starred chef. Dinner, Bed & Breakfast in the Kentisubury Suite, which we stayed in costs £270.
Kentisbury Grange & The Coach House by Michael Caines, Kentisbury, EX31 4NL. Tel: 01271 882295. kentisburygrange.com