The magic of Dartmoor had us in its spell even before we reached the front door of the Ilsington Country House Hotel. And once inside, there was nothing for it but to surrender ourselves to the relaxing comforts of this treasure of a retreat, located within the shadow of Haytor Rocks.
Owner Richard Hassell and his family have been welcoming guests to their splendid hotel on the edge of the moor since 1998. We settled by the fire in the lounge and browsed the extensive menu, while enjoying a glass of lightly chilled white wine.
We had chosen to eat in the Blue Tiger Inn – the hotel's inventive twist on a bistro style. It has contemporary rustic furnishings with pops of colour in the form of eye-catching patterned cushions, velvety window blinds and table night lights.
The Blue Tiger is open all day, serving coffee, light lunches and supper. Non-resident guests can also enjoy the rolling landscape on the beautiful terrace on a sunny day. It is popular with the hotel's spa users for its fine light and lazy dining.
This hotel prides itself on its locally sourced dishes, and also smokes and cures its own meat and fish. My smoked salmon starter was oaky and full-bodied, with a delightful velvety texture. My partner, Hilary, began with a savoury panna cotta, a silky smooth take on the traditional Italian dessert. It was packed with delicate cheese and onion flavours. Both dishes were served with fresh homemade bread.
Our steak mains were juicy, tender and loaded with flavour. My seared Bottor Rock Farm Rump came with a tangy tomato and mustard sauce, while a stilton and watercress butter perfectly complemented my partner’s prime sirloin.
My choice of dessert – an indulgent dark chocolate delice – was rich in flavour and deep in colour. Hilary’s warm treacle tart had a full golden flavour and could have been made by a honey bee itself; such was the artistry involved. This was an evening of wonderful food in a beautiful setting.