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June 24, 2023updated Jun 26, 2023

Michael Caines’s Lympstone Manor: A Delight for the Senses

Spectacular views and gourmet food make this English country hotel a place to savour.

By Irenie Forshaw

I’ve spent so much time thinking about the food I’m going to eat on my way to Lympstone Manor, the views catch me off guard. This must be the case for many guests that make the pilgrimage to the south coast of Devon to sample Michelin-starred chef Michael Caines’s fare. So, before I dive into what you’re probably here for (a rundown of the restaurant) it’s worth taking a moment to talk location.

We arrive on a glorious sunny afternoon in May. The whitewashed Georgian manor house sits proudly on a hill overlooking the Exe Estuary; perfectly manicured vineyards (where Caines makes his own wine) line the sloping grounds below. Outside is a sandy gravel drive dotted with golf buggies for transporting guests around the 28-acre estate.

Built in the 1760s, the Grade II listed mansion – then Courtlands House – was originally home to the wealthy Baring banking family. By the time Caines visited the property back in 2014, it was operating as a wedding venue.

[See also: South Lodge Review: The Ultimate English Wellness Break]

Michael Caines
Michael Caines in the vineyards at the estate / ©Lympstone Manor

At this point, Caines had spent just shy of two decades running the kitchen at Gildleigh Park – where he scooped two Michelin stars – and was looking for somewhere to strike out on his own. From the moment he glimpsed Lympstone Manor it was, he tells me, “love at first sight”.

And so, after purchasing the property, he began the lengthy process of transforming the dilapidated manor house into a luxury boutique hotel and restaurant. Within six months of opening, the eatery had been awarded a Michelin star – an accolade it holds to this day. Six years later, Caines hasn’t looked back. Gidleigh Park, he tells me with a smile, was an affair. Lympstone Manor is his wife.

Stay

Lympstone Manor bedroom
Each room is entirely unique and is named after one of the birds that live in the estuary / ©Lympstone Manor

One of the nice things about Lympstone Manor is its size. This really is a boutique hotel: the manor house has just 21 guest rooms and suites, each entirely unique and named after one of the birds that live in the estuary.

We were taken across the lawn to The Tern – one of the Grand Estuary Suites on the ground floor – where gin and tonics were waiting. You never forget where you are here; the best place to soak up the views is from the private terrace complete with a firepit and soaking tub (there’s another freestanding bath inside, too).

Shepherd Huts at Lympstone Manor
Down at the end of the vineyards in a clearing of trees lie the Shepherd Huts / ©Lympstone Manor

Caines worked closely with Meraki Design Studio to put his stamp on the interiors. The rooms themselves feature color palettes inspired by the birds – ours was decorated in shades of pale gray and white after its namesake. In keeping with the theme, watercolors of birds by local artist Rachael Toll adorn the walls.

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Down at the end of the vineyards in a clearing of trees lie six Shepherds Huts – a relatively new addition Caines put in during the pandemic. The cozy huts are ideal for nature-loving families or larger groups looking for something a bit more laid-back in a private setting. Each hut includes an open-plan kitchenette, lounge area and sleeping quarters, and you can opt to have a breakfast hamper delivered to your door.

Dine

Lympstone Manor dining room
Grand windows framed by gauzy pale blue curtains let the views take center stage in the dining room / ©Lympstone Manor

Of course, the real draw at Lympstone Manor is the food. Caines’s reputation precedes him; many of the guests have traveled from far and wide to experience an evening in his fine dining restaurant.

The revered chef cut his teeth at the two-Michelin-star Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in Oxfordshire with Raymond Blanc as his mentor, before moving to France where he worked alongside cooking legends Bernard Loiseau and Joel Robuchon.

He took over as head chef at Gidleigh Park at just 25, scooping a second Michelin star in three short years despite losing his right arm in a near-fatal car accident. To say he is ambitious is an understatement – this is a chef who has defied the odds to make his mark on the food industry. It’s little wonder he has a loyal legion of fans willing to make the journey to Devon’s south coast to try his food.

Michael Caines crab cannelloni
Michael Caines’s crab canelloni with caviar / ©Lympstone Manor

So, it’s with a fair bit of excitement that we head to the sunny terrace for a chilled glass of champagne. We’re treated to a moreish selection of hors d’oeuvres that set the tone for the rest of the meal; a crispy squid ink tapioca cracker topped with little dots of mandarin gel is followed by a delicate tartlet case brimming with shimeji mushrooms.

We’re ushered into the main dining room – a surprisingly intimate space with just eight tables. Grand windows framed by gauzy pale blue curtains let the views of the estate take center stage. This is proper fine dining – a glittering chandelier hangs above a marble counter in the middle of the room; smartly dressed waiters quietly buzz between the tables.  

Since we visited during the month of Charles III’s coronation, we were treated to the aptly named ‘Fit for a King’ eight-course tasting menu. Dishes took us on a wonderful journey through the southwest of England; the produce is exceptional in this corner of the UK and we tried everything from anise-roasted Cornish sea bass in a rich seafood broth, to a mouth-watering single cannelloni filled with crab meat from Lyme Bay topped with a generous mound of oscietra caviar.

Michael Caines in his vineyard
We got the chance to try Caines’s first pinot noir from the estate / ©Lympstone Manor

Each dish was expertly paired with wines from the cellar by the knowledgeable sommelier (we even got to try Caines’s first pinot noir from the Lympstone Manor estate).

If you’re looking for something a bit more casual, head to the Pool House restaurant. The ever-changing menu here features plenty of seafood and seasonal veg – we opted for the catch of the day (a succulent piece of hake served with slivers of Jerusalem artichoke).

Relax

Lympstone Manor Pool House
The Pool House opened in May last year to give guests something else to do when they’re not being wined and dined / ©Lympstone Manor

Caines opened the Pool House in May 2022 to give guests something else to do when they’re not being wined and dined. Located above the vineyards with beautiful views across the estate and estuary, it’s well worth taking a dip in the heated pool. If you don’t fancy swimming, it’s a nice spot for a cocktail.

There’s also a tennis court and croquet lawn here (those with a membership can come to use the facilities, too). The one thing missing from Lympstone Manor is a spa (the hotel is crying out for one), but spending a few days in such an idyllic setting will leave you feeling rested and restored nonetheless.

Explore

Lympstone Manor vineyards
The hotel hosts weekly vineyard tours and wine tastings / ©Lympstone Manor

We could quite happily have spent a few days without leaving the estate; Lympstone Manor hosts weekly vineyard tours, wine tastings and there’s a sculpture garden to explore with over 50 unique pieces chosen by Caines peppered throughout the grounds.

If you do want to venture further afield, though, there is plenty to do. The hotel has bikes you can take out for a ride on the Exe Estuary Trail which stretches all the way to Exmouth in the south and Topham in the north, and the ruggedly beautiful Dartmoor National Park is less than an hour’s drive.

As you would expect given the décor throughout the hotel, the surrounding area is a bird lover’s paradise – head down to the Exe Estuary where you can spot an incredible array of wildlife among the saltmarshes and mudflats from kingfishers and lapwings to rare Cetti’s warblers. For those that love water sports, it’s also well worth stopping by at Lyme Bay where you can rent paddleboards or kayaks and head out along the picturesque Jurassic Coast.

lympstonemanor.co.uk

[See also: Inside The Harper, Norfolk’s Boutique Bolthole]

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