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Review: Dinner at Lincombe Hall Hotel & Spa

The food has had a shake-up under a new chef at Torquay's genteel spa hotel, and a zhuzhy new dining room to boot. But will it cut the mustard? Muddy investigates...

I’m not saying I’m in love with Lincombe Hall Hotel & Spa but if it was a toss-up between Brad Pitt and here, I’d be walking into the sunset with a 15m lap pool and a Himalayan salt room.

So, when I got word they’d opened a zhuzhy new dining room – with a new chef to boot – I booked in faster than you can say Baked Tonka Bean Custard (of which more later).

THE LOCATION

It’s located in the upmarket, leafy side of Torquay (yes doubters, there is one) on Meadfoot Road which is lined with handsome Georgian villas and Riviera palms.

The road leads down to Meadfoot Beach, a UNESCO Global Geopark, a favourite with locals for morning coffee with a sea view, or for the adventurous, a paddle-board and dip. It’s so sheltered, even in chilly January when my other half and I came to visit it can can feel like spring

THE LOWDOWN

Since being purchased by Torquay locals, Brett and Jo Powis, who own two other hotels nearby, the 44-bed villa is being gradually transformed from from your standard stuck-in-the-70s B&B into somewhere you really don’t want to miss.

I love all spas, but this one is especially joyful. It’s a whole new place to enjoy happy hour, with a cocktail in hand, sitting in the bubbles or lounging on a lounger.

Low-lit and intimate, here you can ring up from poolside for your drinks, brought to you by friendly waiters without you lifting a finger. Heaven is an understatement.

The design of the spa and indeed the hotel, is the work of interior whizzes, Ashton House Design, who have been given a free hand to modernise throughout, including a sparkling bar and brasserie for casual dining (above), two elegant lounge areas and a palatial breakfast room.

Now they’re onto the bedrooms, newly fitted with super-comfy Superkings and ginormous Scandinavian-style headboards, as covetable as modern art.

THE VIBE

Stylewise, we’re talking high ceilings, pretty cornices, sash windows and great period features, made contemporary with a variety of modern touches – emerald tiles, mirrored side tables and vixen-coloured velvet sofas, less for lounging, more for looking pretty while you quaff your Porn Star Martini.

It’s genteel but not in a dowdy Agatha Christie way, more sexy Keeley Hawes, with Ed Sheeran and Dua Lipa serenading you via the speakers, and genuinely caring staff who make everything easy.

The first thing you see having swung through the revolving doors is a colourful display of Panama hats on the wall opposite reception. It’s a bit of fun that sets the tone. You instantly know here’s had the genius of a good designer but you can relax because it doesn’t take itself too seriously.

SCOFF & QUAFF

One of the great perks about dining in a hotel is the whole experience can be drawn out: “Cocktail before dinner in the lounge, madam?” Oh go on, make it two. All that lounging from sofa to table to sofa can’t help but feel romantic and indulgent.

The new dining room is just off the lounge area, a twenty-seater cocoon in the middle of the building, laid out mostly in tables of two (this is an adults-only hotel so great for kid-free date nights).

It feels warm and welcoming with on-trend rust-coloured trimmings and comfortable rattan-style chairs, perfect for lingering. The lighting is spot-on thanks to the brass table lamps, which have all the romance of a candle without the risk of setting your sleeve on fire.

For a Friday night visit, the linen-free tables are almost all taken, and the vibe is relaxed with instrumental pop on the speakers.

It’s a three-course prix fixe menu, with a choice of six dishes each for starters, mains and dessert, with a selection of West Country cheeses as a supplement.

The new head chef, Jon Pearce, previously worked for the Moorland Hotel on Haytor and Richardson Hotels, and is heading up the new menu in the revamped dining room under the watchful eye of executive chef Phil Sampson. Jon is bringing a lot of freshness to the table via local produce and some unusual ingredients in a rolling three-day menu (including a separate vegan menu) which changes to keep the week-long residents interested.

I start with a protein-packed Brixham Gin & Tonic Cured Salmon, with fresh dill and cucumber, and small cubes of gin-flavoured jelly. Its generous fillet belied its delicate flavours, it was full of vim and vigour – and yes, I could taste the gin!

Mr Muddy’s Chicken & Apricot Terrine was chunky and wholesome and as authentic as anything served up in a French farm house. Order with a glass of cider for a taste of Bretton.

My gurnard sat on a mound of daal, blobs of chicken sauce with parsnips cut thick and crispy sprinkled on top. I loved how it was healthy and yet so hearty, a delicious mix of sweet and savoury and the lentils brought out the meaty flavour of the fish really well.

Lamb rump fennel, aubergine, feta and Israeli couscous – a lot of food and a lot of flavour. A Mediterranean medley – the olive bread was home-made but you know the mains are good when you regret eating the bread.

My dessert was a deeply chocolatey delice with caramelised white chocolate – a lovely mix of creamy, crunchy and chewy with the rubble and honeycomb. Stylishly presented too.

Mr M’s Baked Tonka Bean Custard with pear and brandy snap makes for a an intriguing pudding, especially in company as sharing tasting notes is part of the fun. Lychee? Marzipan? Custard apple? All I know is it’s heaven with a brandy snap.

Fun fact: I did a bit of googling as I’d never had Tonka Bean before. The bean is from central and south America and apparently it’s banned from the menus in the US (as the waiter delightedly confirmed). Large amounts ie 30 beans can be fatal. Of course, this dish had nowhere near that amount, still it makes you feel a bit daredevil.

ANYTHING ELSE?

If you fancy making a stay of it for the spa, you can book a One Night Spa Stay (from £175) like we did. Its becoming a very popular choice for Friday nights as it’s two nights minimum on Saturday and easier to manage if you need to book a babysitter. Or you can book a Lincombe Spa & Dine, which includes a meal and two hours spa time.

THE MUDDY VERDICT

Loved it! The new chef has added finesse to the presentation, as well as boosting local produce, original flavours and interesting textures for a more gastro experience. The night had everything I like – a good bar, delicious food, an exclusive but relaxed feel, easy parking despite its town location and what with a quick cocktail in the spa, it made for a memorable and really quite romantic night. A few more wines by the glass (currently seven) wouldn’t go amiss, although there’s loads of choice by bottle and the cocktail menu could be on paper not laminate to keep it classy.

Good for: treating yourself to a posh but informal dinner, like a date night or a special dinner with friends. Older family members would enjoy the peacefulness while younger friends would appreciate that it’s fine food, but without the fuss.

Not for: kids under 16, it’s adults only (although 12s and up can join if you’re a guest); people who prefer to keep it super casual; karaoke lovers.

The damage: £35pp, prix fixe. Drinks were £30 on a bottle of Marlborough Sauvignon, £11 for their signature cocktail Dr Abbs (gin and apple vodka – highly recommended). Cocktail hour runs daily between 4 -6pm, 2 for £18 or 2 mocktails ( a choice of four) for £12.

Lincombe Hall Hotel & Spa, Meadfoot Road, Torquay, Devon, TQ1 2JX +44 (0)1803 213 361, stay@lincombehallhotel.co.uk

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