For Michael Caines, the opening of his first solo project has been a long time coming. The head chef at Gidleigh Park in Devon for 21 years, owning his own country house hotel was always on the cards, so after some soul searching, Caines finally decided to take the plunge with the launch of Lympstone Manor. ‘It was time to move on,’ he says. ‘I had a sense of wanting to do something for myself. Someone once said to me that the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago – I didn’t want to look back in a few years time and regret not moving.’
Located in a Grade II-listed Georgian pile on the banks of the Exe Estuary, the 21-room hotel has been outfitted by London-based Meraki Design, with a brief, says Caines, to ‘style the hotel around Restoration Hardware, a company in America that inspires me.’
The resulting aesthetic layers a poetic and abstract sense of place by way of hand-painted watercolour wallpaper, featuring local birdlife, by Devon-based artist Rachel Toll; and nautical maps that highlight the area’s trade routes during the medieval times. These are, in turn, framed by floor-to-ceiling French windows that cast a refreshing natural light onto the otherwise modern furnishings and the warm beige and silver-grey colour scheme.
The bedrooms – some with direct garden access and all with views of the sweeping estate and the estuary beyond - are cosy cocoons that are named and styled after the birds of the estuary, such as the Kingfisher Suite which is revealed in tones of jewel blue. The riffs on local architectural motifs include crystal chandeliers and antique-framed mirrors, while stand alone bathtubs and gold accents add a sense of luxury and highlight the building’s original features.
Of course, its the food that is the star of the show. Served within a choice of three separate dining rooms, Caines has taken the opportunity to experiment with some new concepts, such as the fish-only estuary tasting menu, inspired by the hotel’s location, while plenty of his greatest hits have been recreated for his fans using local ingredients. Must-tries are the tartlet of quail and quail’s eggs, served with a tasty onion confit and black truffle; or the boudin of John dory and langoustine, flecked with crispy pork belly and ginger purée. Lastly, for the wine connoisseur, take a peek into the sommelier’s ‘office’, which is lined with Wineemotion dispensers that preserve open bottles, allowing a larger range of wines to be had by the glass- perfect also for when the hotel's planned vineyard is up and running.