Review: Orestone Manor
Well did you evah? Muddy raises a cocktail to a colonial country house-hotel on the English Riviera. What a swell part of the world this is.
A hidden hideaway if ever there was one, Orestone Manor secretly sunbathes down Rockhouse Lane, just off the busy coast road to Torquay. I’ve had a soft spot for the place since staying here with Mr Muddy in the carefree days before kids, and it’s been on my wish-list since having kids to return (without them) – those sparkling sea views of Labrador Bay, the chilled quirky vibe, the fantastic food. More than anything else, it’s that magical feeling of being miles away, like a holiday abroad, timeless and off-grid.
Devon coastal countryside meets Provence – when the sun shines you can see why they call it the English Riviera. You can walk from the hotel down the steep hill to the practically-private beach at Maidencombe in around 10 minutes and huff and puff back up in 20.
It’s a characterful Georgian manor, what Gatsby might do if he met up with Agatha Christie and a maharaja for cocktails and a spot of interior decorating. Think art deco, rattan, palms, Persian carpets and jazzy memorabilia. A friend mentioned she’d heard the place was looking a bit *whispers* ‘tired’ but I’d say she’s more a ‘well-preserved’ aunt, with feathers in her hat and faux flowers behind her ears. A grande dame with seriously good bones and a whole lotta class.
The emphasis is on chilling and dining, taking in the palms and sea views, then chilling and dining some more. Ditch the diet before you go: this is an award-winning double AA rosette hotel owned by husband and wife chefs, Neil and Catherine d’Allen, so it would be rude not to.
It’s also the former home of John Callcott Horsley (the 19th century narrative painter) who daubed the portrait of Isambard Kingdom Brunel hanging in the National Portrait Gallery. Significant because Brunel engineered the iconic railway which runs beside the seawall seven miles down the coast at Dawlish and lends his name to Orestone’s funky Brunel Bar.
According to general manager and son Craig d’Allen, guests are less likely to ask about Brunel than ask, ‘Why the elephants?’ as here the walls have ears, as do the paintings, lampshades and furniture. Ellies are everywhere, loitering coyly on shelves, tables and cushions. Turns out, they were an obsession for a previous owner and though only 5% of the collection is left I totted up over 100 in the lounge alone – “Don’t mind me, I’m just counting the elephants.”
It’s soooo relaxing – loll about on the terrace, stuff yourself with exquisite food, count elephants or read newspapers by the fire. If you have ants in your pants, the hotel can organise canoeing or coasteering along the cliffs to clock peregrines, cormorants and interesting rock formations, if that floats your boat. Like a bit of Murder Mystery? Book in for a three-course fine-dine-and-dead-body-on-the-stairs or brave an ‘Evening with Basil’, for insults and antics from Sybil, Polly and Manuel.
Here you’ll find 14 rooms all uniquely decorated, and, some recent additions – three modern double-storey suites with hot tubs overlooking the sub-tropical gardens. We stayed in the Horsley Suite, a large luxurious room overlooking the sea, painted in clotted-cream with a brass four-poster and a mattress so high it gave a whole new meaning to hopping into bed with someone. Think Queen of Sheba, cocooned under a palm-covered canopy, with ships anchored in the bay, bathed in the shimmer of a gilt lamp adorned with silver elephants.
In between eating, you might want to lie prone in front of the free Sky sports package or as I did in a bath of bubbles with its gold taps and appropriately Reubenesque ladies on the walls.
This was my morning view over the gardens and out over Lyme Bay *sigh*.
All the rooms are individually decorated in a quirky, none-corporate way so you might prefer what they call the ‘risqué room’ for a sultry burlesque vibe or cosy in the eaves upstairs in No 7 for cottagey William Morris charm.
The newer two-storey suites are reverse living with the bedroom downstairs and a roll-top bath next to a kitchenette upstairs and located downslope of the hotel. Stay here if you prefer a secluded, modern setting, and bubbles – the hot tub and Prosecco kind.
SCOFF AND QUAFF
Come summer, you’d waft out onto the terrace, cocktail in hand but as Storm Gareth was blowing a hooley, we trotted straight into the conservatory for afternoon tea. Cloistered by Mediterranean-style views of blowy palms and waves, it’s a relaxed family affair with tinkling china and ol’ Blue Eyes crooning over the speakers. After wolfing down delicate sandwich fingers, a salty-smooth panacotta and moist strawberry-topped sponge, we turned our attention to the warmest, freshest, scummiest scones we’d ever tasted (cream first as it’s Devon, natch).
Having tried and failed to eat our weight in cake, we tried to sneak out the leftover chocolate brownies in a napkin but were spotted by the nice maitre de who gave us a striped pink paper-bag specially for the purpose.
The eat-athon resumed at 8pm with cocktails by the fire in the lounge, then we were welcomed into the rosy glow of the dining room where the you’re given a menu to linger over, a choice between a la carte and table d’hote which changes daily to reflect the seasons and local fayre.
The food is a talking point in itself – beautifully served and flavoured. I had a starter of local Vulscombe cheese and crunchy carpaccio beetroot and Mr M, cannelloni of Brixham crab wrapped in smoked salmon with a sourdough crisp and salty caviar.
For mains, we heeded the call of the sea. I honed in on a meaty line-caught Devon bass topped with Fowey River mussels and he had a crispy melt-in-the-mouth trout with chive beurre blanc and crushed potato. All delicious and expertly crafted on the plate.
Finally, we heeded the call of the tempting desserts, opting for a generous shared assiette of sticky walnut and treacle tart, zingy berry sorbet and fruity raspberry meringue all washed down with a refreshingly light white from the local vineyard at Sharpham.
Though kids are welcome, I didn’t see a single littlie during our overnighter and I suspect with no pool or games room, mine would be moaning unless we were constantly off out, which rather defeats the point of a relaxing weekend away. It didn’t seem the kind of place you’d see kids tearing about though the garden looked ripe for exploring or bring them for Sunday lunch, very much a family affair.
OUT & ABOUT
The one-in-four incline to the red sands at Maidencombe beach takes ten minutes (save a minute or two for woodpecker and wildflower spotting) and 20 minutes back up (save 10 minutes for the cardiac arrest). Or drive down (£1.20 per hour for the car park), then head down the steep steps on foot via a sun-peeled beach-shack cafe which opens for summer.
For jaunts out, head left onto the coast road where the funicular Babbacombe Cliff Railway is a fifteen minute drive away or head on to Torquay harbour with its ferris wheel and Michelin-starred Elephant. Turn right to Shaldon for coffee and views of the Teign estuary at Cafe Ode then drive on to Dawlish for Brunel’s wave-washed railway and coffee and croissants at Le Cygne or on to Exeter with its medieval cathedral, boutiques and bars just half an hour away..
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Fantastic fine dining but without the hovering waiters; unstuffy and friendly – one of those magical out-of-time stays you *I* will hanker after for years to come.
Good for: gastronomes, mini-mooners, de-frazzlers, afternoon tea fans, the parents, coast ramblers or anyone seeking a secluded, luxurious base to explore Exeter, Dartmoor and Torbay.
Not for: urbanites, minimalists; easily-bored kids and rowdy toddlers; elephant-phobes.
The damage: Reasonable for the quality and location: dinner was £28.50 for three courses (supplements apply); a one night stay costs in the Horsley Suite costs £250 per room (April, May and October) £300 June-September, £220 out of season. Orestone are offering a bottle of chilled prosecco in the room for anyone quoting ‘Orestone Muddy S’, when they book between now and the end of August 2019.
Orestone Manor, Rock House Lane, Maidencombe, Torquay TQ1 4SX Tel: 01803 897 511