I have seen Marc Hardiman, Head Chef at Bovey Castle, several times on my various culinary forays over the past few months, most recently in the demonstration marquee at Dartington Food Festival, where he cooked beef sourced from Dartmoor. This talented chef has a passion for local produce to rival anyone’s so when I got an opportunity to experience Marc’s cooking at Bovey Castle’s Edwardian Grill and Bistro, I jumped at the chance. Expectations were high as my wife and I took the beautiful trip up onto the moors.
Bovey Castle is a luxury hotel, run by the efficient and amiable Federico Aresti. It does everything large-scale from the mirrors, pictures, chandeliers, even down to the butterflies displayed in cases in the bar. The bar itself is impressive – well-stocked is somewhat of an understatement. Even Bovey Castle's cheeseboard contains 87 different varieties and ask the cheese waiter any question about any of them and he’ll impress you with his knowledge. As we relaxed in the colonial-style bar before dinner, we talked to Marc. We discovered that we were the first to try his new ‘nose-to-tail’ dining experience. He explained: “I am completely revamping the menus. The Beef Menu is my signature one, but I am also offering a Vegetarian, Fish and Tasting menu that will be matched with wine. I work closely with the Dartmoor Farmers’ Association and all the beef is slaughtered to order from this farming co-operative. I use as much of the cow as possible when creating the dishes.” I must apologise to this poor man, though, as in thinking of my own stomach I forgot to tell him my wife is pregnant, so she couldn’t have some of the options. Totally unflustered, it was sorted with a smile!
The dining area is bright with white linen, mirrors, glass, candlelight, and a little glitz. Bovey Castle does period drama well and any subtle modern additions cleverly add to the ambience. We were in for a gastronomic treat – six, succulent courses plus a delicious palate cleanser. Beef carpaccio was my opener. Super-thin slices of the meat dissolved on the tongue, leaving a peppery, yet full flavour. My wife’s beetroot was earthy with a creamy goats’ curd and balsamic dressing to offset it. Presentation was top notch too, with lots of attention to detail. The beef dish came with a carrot that was as thinly sliced as the meat – there’s no disputing this chef’s knife skills.
Round two was a mackerel dish (part of the beef menu), which again came finely sliced and gin-cured, served with Salcombe crab. The star, surprisingly, was the cucumber sorbet. Its intense flavour burst on the palate.
Next came the serious beef tartar. The three ‘pillars’ of meat were topped with a quail’s egg, caviar and a potato mousseline. Super tender, it was herby and well-seasoned. My wife ate sweet juicy scallops accompanied by tiny florets of fried cauliflower. Again the textures and flavours were expertly composed, with the addition of a crisp, smoked bacon slice and tangy capers.
Like me, you may assume ox cheek is best served in a ragu or stew. Well, I urge you to sample Marc’s dish that elevates this cut of meat to the star attraction. The flavour of his daube of cheek was so dense that it is definitely worthy of being served on its own. By this point, we were struggling to finish the dishes, but I was glad I persevered, as my favourite came next – smoked sirloin slices, served with a tarragon hollandaise and romanesco cauliflower. Of course sirloin is familiar to me, but it works really well served in this unusual way, and incidentally is smoked on site.
A palate cleanser was served before dessert. A cool yoghurt and fresh berries, topped with a surprise that I will leave you to discover. We shared the carrot cake dessert, which was as exciting as the other dishes. It had a light and moist texture and was accompanied by delicious walnut ice cream. This was a feast fit for the King of the Castle and I am not sure whether to be impressed with how much we ate or a little embarrassed! Either way, our time at Bovey Castle was an unforgettable evening – exquisite food in exquisite surroundings.