They say an army marches on its stomach, attesting to the importance of forces being well-provisioned, but when this phrase was invented they hadn’t quite encountered the voracious appetites of 4 particularly travel obsessed food bloggers.
Having organised a night at Bovey Castle escaping the confines of London for a few belated birthday celebrations, we made sure to enthusiastically test their onsite restaurant offerings, not least as we were a 40 minute drive from Exeter St Davids.
We could literally hear crickets chirruping in the surrounding acreage, well, that between chatting to draw breath and sip champagne that is. Isn’t it just so wonderful when strangers on the internet turn out to be such good friends that they are up for a kidnapping session? Sorry, I mean, a UK staycation in a castle?
Each of our plush suites were pre-stocked with complimentary sloe gin, the usual assortment of tea & coffee facilities, and a couple of healthy snacks – not to mention a couple of bottles of champagne chilling in the birthday boy’s quarters. The only way to spend a night in a castle…
Feeling rather peckish from our trip, we locked our five-star rooms and trooped into the sunshine for a spot of light repast.
Smith’s Brasserie where we gathered, was named in honor of William Henry Smith (WH Smith, I’m sure you’ve heard of him) later to become Lord Hambledon. In 1890 he bought 5,000 acres of land, and his son Frederick built Bovey Castle in a neo-Elizabethan style to be one of the family’s many family manor retreats.
The halls still retain some of the gorgeous original features – the original Jacobean stair case installed by Frederick, the oak panelling in the dining room and the stone fireplace. Sadly with the death of Lord Hambledon in 1928 and large death duties to pay, the house was sold at auction to the Great Western Railway and reopened as a hotel and golf course in 1930.
But, now part of the Eden Hotel Collection, Bovey Castle underwent a multi-million pound refurbishment and was re-opened to the public in 2015, complete with rolling golf course greens.
As with most blogger events, we settled down to our meal after a photograph or two (does the man in the background count as a meta-blogger, or are we just following his lead? #BloggersInTheWild). Each of us chose something slightly different – living by the blogger code – and our table was soon full of sparkling glasses, fresh salads, classic scotch eggs, salmon slivers and a healthy serving of fish and chips.
We simply took our time to nibble, breathing in the fresh country air and the gently rolling views around us. Once our plates were cleared, With the wifi down for most of our afternoon, we dithered between tea in the parlour or a coffee in the wood panelled bar.
Deciding on the latter, we spent a relaxed hour or so nattering away before breaking open a bottle of champagne and excitedly exploring each others individual suites.
Fast forward an hour or two of pampering, and a little while posing on the beautiful Jacobean staircase, we gathered around our reserved dinner table in the more formal restaurant named after previous owners – the Great Western Rail – a restaurant awarded three rosettes by the AA.
My (then) camera struggled a little in the low light, but to give a taster of our meal;
Around the table we clinked glasses of Ruinart champagne, broke freshly baked bread accompanied by salted butter and nibbled canapés; little cones of steak tartare, artichoke arancini and decadent salmon mousse balls served in featherlight choux.
Bovey Castle’s head chef is Mark Budd, who has worked at some of the best luxury hotels in the UK including The Dorchester and The Ritz. A Devon-local he is super passionate about the produce such as the local game, lamb, Exmoor beef and seafood from Devon Coves. His passion for local ingredients has even led him to create his own restaurant supplying herb garden.
Our starters were delightful; my juicy scallops with oyster emulsion, onions, clams and clusters of samphire were perfection, Angie’s cured trout was revealed from under a glass cloche with a wispy cloud of fragrant smoke, plus Binny and Aftab’s off-menu fresh beetroot and goats cheese salads were nibbled away.
Convincing Aftab and Binny to share the signature, hand carved table side beef Wellington (entirely so I could snaffle a slice) I chose the rosette of Devon lamb served with wild garlic and English peas, while Angie enjoyed her fillet of Cornish Turbot with shellfish cannelloni and artichoke nage.
Whipping out palette cleansers, we were all talked into enjoying dessert – scoops of local ice cream, a rum baba with pineapple rings which I still dream about and a delicious melting chocolate fondant – before retiring back to Angie’s room for another glass or two of champagne.
The next morning we met up around the elegant breakfast table for a round of coffees, eggs florentines and our sweet waitresses welcoming smile, setting us up for the day ahead.
But wait, there is a tiny bit more to tell in this tale, not least involving accidental golfcart hijinks…