Gidleigh Park ★★ // South Devon // England

Michael Wignall, the former **2 star chef at the Latimer at Pennyhill Park, took over from Michael Caines at Gidleigh Park in 2016, where Caines had given 20 years of strong and creative service. Wignall is now on mission at Gidleigh to make his mark as one of the UK’s most exceptional chefs.

How? By taking time out to work under some of the best chefs in the world. Wignall has worked as an intern (chef stagiaire) at Les Crayères in Reims alongside Philippe Mille (**2 stars) and another year in Paris with Philippe Gagnaire (***3 stars). That’s how.

Everything on paper confirms Wignall’s hunger and determination to be the best, and our experience at Gidleigh Park confirmed this. If there is one word to sum-up this chef’s cooking – PERFECTION.

Two of the courses we had demonstrated this.

The cod starter is one. Cod is not a fish you would normally describe as gastronomic. But this piece of fish, was cooked with the most impressive precision. Over cooked, cod turns flaky and dry and has a clawing flavour. Wignall cooks his “à la nacre”, reaching a delicate flavour and texture, which requires attention. He adds a layer of fish and saffron gel, roasted cauliflower, and a graceful Hollandaise, which is surrounded by curry essences. Unexpected and delicious.

Roe deer is the second. Something I would not normally choose from a menu, but in the hands of Wignall, I had no apprehension. Why? Because I knew he would only source the best quality, local produce and that he would accompany the meat with perfectly balanced ingredients. The faultlessness of the cooking is undeniable, with light touches of wild garlic, which bring a surprising liquorice flavour to the dish. The white asparagus, which cooked al dente, and the crunchy pickled burdock add some texture to the dish, so that the velvetiness of the meat is even more evident. The jus is strong, reduced and syrupy. But the grande finale comes from the little cubes of slow-roasted deer and the sweetbreads – smooth and crispy – which takes the dish to another level. Smokey cubes of heaven that you just want to eat on their own with a bit of the garlic purée. This kind of course can only be experienced at this level of mastery.

So great is Wignall’s attention to detail, that we have no doubt he will go all the way. It’s not often in the UK that you get this level of story-telling at restaurants. The meal develops to a crescendo and doesn’t let you down at any point.   

And not only does Gidleigh Park have an excellent chef, it also has a beautiful hotel and charming grounds – as you might be guessing, it’s the full package. So, if you need an excuse to visit the South Devon countryside, you’ve just found one.

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