With the first stage of its refurbishment complete, Jennie Cooper visits this luxurious rural retreat
Arriving in the dark at the Highbullen Hotel in Umberleigh was somewhat disorientating, but added to our sense of excitement. Manager James Hemming warmly greeted us and scheduled a tour for the next morning.
So far, the rooms and restaurants have had a make-over, keeping original details where possible, but adding luxurious touches. The main house has 11 rooms, the rest are located nearby. The 125-acre estate has an 18-hole golf course and shop, indoor pool and gym, and indoor and outdoor tennis courts.
Our comfortable family room was in an adjacent building. We were encouraged to bring our one-year-old with us and James had arranged for the Hotel’s Ofsted-registered babysitter to look after her.
To accompany the beautiful new decor in the Devon View Restaurant, Chef Dean Griffen’s style is comparable to the general make-over of the hotel – traditional with modern elements. Take my starter: fresh, sweet white crab meat with beetroot salmon and a sweetcorn purée – a flavour combination I had not tried, yet the dish is familiar. The lemon in Jeff's salmon and horseradish dish was in an oil, not a wedge on the side of the plate.
The smell and subtle sweetness of vanilla enveloped my salmon main, which came with cauliflower velouté, wilted spinach and buttery potatoes. A surprise breadcrumb coating added crunch to Jeff's black pudding, served alongside pork tenderloin – with a big emphasis on the ‘tender’. The star of my sticky toffee pudding was its hot butterscotch sauce, while Jeff's dessert ‘textures of mess’ (popular with other diners, I noticed) comprised raspberry mousse, lemon curd, poached berries and raspberry coulis.
Waking up to huge views of Devon's green and undulating landscape, not to mention a sumptuous cooked breakfast, I felt centred again. It wasn't long before I was being driven around the grounds by James in a golf buggy, learning about the history and the future plans for the estate.
The next phase of the revamp is to turn the indoor tennis courts into a facility for meetings or weddings. There are also plans to add a spa and an Italian restaurant. So – plenty of reasons to come here again, as this North Devon hotel is rapidly becoming one to visit.
Published 17 December 2013
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