January 1998


Chagford, Devon January 14, 1998 Winter in Devon is not without its compensations. We rarely suffer, for example, from extreme cold, and though stormy fronts sweep across the region with regularity at this time of year, they are punctuated usually with spells of glorious bright sunshine and fast-moving clouds, quite dramatic and beautiful if you manage to catch a glimpse between the downpours. For me, one real benefit is that it is possible to cycle outdoors throughout these months: I've just now returned from an exhilarating afternoon ride across the hills of East Devon to the seaside towns of Budleigh Salterton and Exmouth, then back to Topsham via Woodbury Common.
Another great compensation at this time of year is the Financial Times "Lunch for a Tenner" scheme, which provided us yesterday with the opportunity to revisit one of our favourite restaurants, Gidleigh Park, a country house hotel and restaurant set in its beautiful grounds and gardens on the edge of Dartmoor. The FT scheme is a truly magnificent bargain for Gidleigh's restaurant is one of the finest in the country, at least deserving of its single Michelin star under young, talented chef Michael Caines: lucky diners whose bookings are successful (the scheme runs just for a fortnight, and lunch for this entire period was completely booked within two hours) have the chance to enjoy something approaching the full Gidleigh experience at a significant reduction to the normal cost. We shared the dining room, for example, with a number of young trainee chefs and catering students from Plymouth and Exeter who might otherwise not have had the opportunity to experience food and service of this level in such magnificent surroundings.
"It's quite a challenge," says Michael, "to put together a menu within this budget [ten pounds for two courses, fifteen for three with wine extra]." From our vantage point, he managed remarkably well and indeed it is hard to see how the establishment could manage to make a profit on the fortnight. Amuse-gueules or deliciously enticing appetizers served in the drawing room with an outstanding glass of local Sharpham barrel-fermented white, a difficult choice between a vegetable terrine and crab bisque with crab raviolo; then oven-seared local cod in a delicately light butter sauce, or boned and stuffed leg of guinea fowl. The meals, incidentally, are always accompanied by an outstanding selection of imaginative and delicious homebaked breads as well as with jugs of sparkling or still Dartmoor mineral water. Afterwards either a selection of mainly local Westcountry as well as French cheeses, or a selection of Michael's stunning desserts. I chose the hot prune and Armagnac soufflé which was partnered magnificently with a glass of Fausto Maculan's cult passito dessert wine Torcolato. Indeed, one of the finest features of Gidleigh is that you can always choose from a selection of open wines, impeccably kept in the Cruvinet, to match with each course. Coffee was served with delectable petits fours in the drawing room in comfortable, deeply upholstered settees in front of a log fire. Afterwards, though the passing clouds had by now given way to a light drizzle, we donned a pair of wellies each anyway (kept by the front door) and armed with an enormous Gidleigh brollie had a walk through the gardens, beautiful even at this time of year, and landscaped with such sensitivity that it's hard to tell where man's work ends and nature takes over. Yes, winter in Devon has its compensations, but a return visit in late spring to see the rhododenrons in bloom is certainly something to look forward to.
We were fortunate indeed last year when Michael was the guest chef for us at Nello's Ristorante for one of our Ride for Life gastronomic fundraising evenings in aid of cancer research and I'm delighted to reproduce here again his recipe for a delicious French classic, prepared in Michael's inimitable style.


Michael's Boeuf a la Bourguignonne

Serves about 6

1 kg (2 1/4 lb) braising steak, cut into 3/4" cubes

1 lb broccoli

1 bottle of Burgundy or other Pinot Noir wine

125 g. (4 oz) shallots, sliced

450 g (1 lb) button mushrooms, sliced

A generous glassful of port

300 ml (1/2 pint) whipping cream

2 tablespoons of flour

1/2 litre (3/4 pint) chicken or brown stock

3 sprigs of fresh tarragon

5 black peppercorns

4 sprigs of fresh thyme

25 g (1 oz) unsalted butter

groundnut or vegetable oil


250 g (1/2 lb) baby onions, plunged into boiling water and peeled

250 g (1/2 lb) small button mushrooms

250 g (1/2 lb) smoked bacon, cut into small cubes and blanched in boiling water


In a frying pan, heat a little oil. When the oil is very hot, add the butter and then the pieces of meat to colour well. If you have a small pan, then do this in two or three stages. Once the meat has coloured, remove from the pan and place into a large saucepan.

In the same frying pan, add the shallots and sweat them for 2 minutes (but do not allow to colour). Add the mushrooms and sweat for a further 3 minutes, until they are slippery in texture. Add the flour and cook for 2 minutes. Now add the wine and port, scrape the bottom of the frying pan to deglaze, then pour into the saucepan with the browned meat. Reduce the wine slowly by half.

Next add the chicken stock, tarragon, black peppercorns, cream and thyme, and season with a little salt. Bring to the boil, and reduce to a gentle simmer and cook for 2 hours. If the sauce becomes too thick during cooking, then thin down with water. Once the meat is cooked, use a slotted spoon to take out the meat. Bring the sauce to the boil, skim, and reduce to a consistency that coats the back of a spoon. Adjust the seasoning, and add the meat back to the sauce.

For the garnish, cook the button onions in water, butter and a pinch of sugar. Let the water reduce complete to glaze the onions. Lightly fry the blanched bacon and drain from its fat. Finally, fry the button mushrooms in butter.

Now add the garnish to the beef and leave to stew through together before serving. The dish can be garnished with some carrot batons and green beans to make a complete main course.

Wine Note:

Naturally, Michael's boeuf a la bourguignonne cries out for a really great bottle of Burgundy to accompany it, a classic Pinot Noir at its silkiest and classiest. However, for our Ride for Life evening, I chose instead to match this great regional dish with a Tuscan classic, Castello di Volpaia Chianti Classico Riserva. The elegant and restrained fruit of the Sangiovese married excellently with the dish without overpowering it. MM

recipe © Michael Caines



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