It’s a wet and windy night in winter when we pull into the car park of Boringdon Hall Hotel on the outskirts of Plymouth. An ancient wooden door stands between us and shelter. Entering into the twinkly lights and warmth feels a bit like passing through the wardrobe into the magical kingdom of Narnia in the children’s classic The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.
Here, Ácleáf is the magical kingdom of Head Chef Scott Paton and he orchestrates an experience that feels like being embraced in the kind of hug we all missed in 2020. Scott has spent a long time perfecting his four-course, four options, winter menu which seamlessly marries taste, texture and techniques to the point where you just stop thinking about the food and relax.
There’s something very grown-up about a white linen service, but there’s nothing stuffy about Ácleáf with its lovely staff and relaxed atmosphere. And what better way to start than with a glass of fizz and an ice-filled bowl with two tins intriguingly labelled Ácleáf caviar. It was a fabulous appetiser with lobster and caviar which, in two spoonfuls, managed to be textured and smooth, and also fishy and sweet. It was just lovely with buttery sablé biscuits.
The simplicity of the descriptions on Scott’s four-course winter menu hide the complexity of his dishes. Rabbit comes with a bacon jam and a parsley purée, and perfectly caramelised scallops come with shiitake mushrooms that have been fermented to concentrate that earthy flavour. Beef makes a perfect pairing with chestnut and celeriac, and the tender venison has a haggis topping. There are no side dishes here to distract you from the quality of the food and the skill of the cooking – which is all you need to fall in love with the place, the people and what’s on the plate.