Jennie & Jeff Cooper enjoy a culinary family adventure in North Devon
18 October 2019
Revisiting the Highbullen Hotel Golf & Country Club, I was again taken by the rolling countryside views enveloping the manor house and its 125 acres.
It is described as comfortable and luxurious – I agree. We were there en famille to dine at the Devon View Restaurant and stay overnight. As you enter the main hotel, you are greeted by country house charm – a drawing room, huge wall-hung paintings, well-worn rugs, a croquet set on the lawn and, in a nearby building, the fairly new addition of the Laura Ashley Tea Room, where our two young girls dined.
This place doesn’t skimp on luxury: our recently refurbished room for the night was located at the bottom of a steep hill, in the accommodation away from the main building. The room had two huge double beds, plus room for a sofa, large wardrobe and chest. The bathroom was also spacious, with a walk-in shower, separate bath and plenty of room for drying off (or dancing around, if you’re aged six and below!).
After admiring the manicured golf course that makes up part of the hotel’s pristine grounds, we headed back up the hill to the Laura Ashley Tea Room. Walking into a ‘high tea heaven’, we were met with a long table filled with many mouthwatering cakes. The other guests were deliberating over tiered stands of scones, sandwiches and sweet treats – obviously a popular spot after a round or two of golf.
We dined early at the Devon View Restaurant, as the girls joined us after their tea. Our delightful waiter, Jose, gave them pens and paper to keep them entertained, while we chose our dishes. This restaurant has a more intimate feel and, although seriously good food is served here with an emphasis on fine dining, families are made as welcome as couples. Large picture windows at the end of the restaurant frame those countryside views, and white table linen and background music set the tone.
Some delicious bread arrived first – my eldest daughter and I particularly enjoyed the salty olive variety, which I remembered from my last visit. Then came an appetiser – leek and potato soup which was thin and light, with an equal flavour of both vegetables. My al dente ravioli starter was stuffed with a mild goat’s cheese, set off by sweet, punchy tomatoes. Jeff chose the spinach and cheese roulade with basil, tiny apple pieces and a crunch of caramelised hazelnuts. These dishes were as attractive as they were appetising.
Hake is my favourite fish, so I chose the menu’s Cornish variety as my main; hands down the best I’ve eaten. Its firm texture was an ideal accompaniment to the creamy, soft pea risotto and lively orange and saffron-braised fennel, with buttered chicory and samphire. It was a perfectly balanced dish with lingering flavours. The perfectly pink duck that Jeff ordered had a fine crisp skin, and came with crunchy beetroot, broccoli and pretty potatoes. Again, the flavours were full on and the presentation was artful.
Dessert was surprisingly easy to manage – not often the case with three courses. I put this down to Executive Head Chef Steven Walker’s clever flavour and texture pairings. His dishes are not overloaded, but light and balanced. My warm, airy pistachio cake was packed with a nutty taste, while a creamy nutmeg ice cream added earthiness and a bit of spice. A playful addition were three types of strawberries – some were like gel sweets. Jeff’s Belgian dark chocolate and raspberry fondant didn't last long – the girls devoured its molten chocolate centre. A sherbet-like, sugary powder complemented the textures and tastes of the accompanying red fruit.
The staff are exceptional, both in the hotel and restaurant. We noticed a few visitors were known by name, and everyone is greeted as a friend, however long they are staying and whatever their age. I urge you to visit – and if you stay overnight, the breakfast spread is as exciting as the evening menu. Try the berry compote!
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Jeff Cooper: 01626 871161
Jennie Cooper: 01626 871161
Julie Hutchins: 07843 621463