Best Western Lord Haldon Hotel, Dunchideock, Exeter, EX6 7YF
Just four miles from Exeter sits the Lord Haldon Hotel - an imposing Georgian country house with beautiful views and grounds designed by Capability Brown. And at the heart of the hotel is the candle-lit Courtyard Restaurant, one of only eight restaurants in Devon to be awarded the prestigious two red rosettes by the AA. Head chef Fred Gallo has searched carefully for the finest local suppliers and is keen to make eating in his restaurant a uniquely West Country experience. He has a passionate commitment to making the best food accessible to the wider public, and is set on continually improving and extending his menu. We began our meal with a local gin in the lounge area, accompanied by walnuts roasted in chilli and honey, and melting Parmesan sables; before graduating to the dining room. After homemade bread rolls the starters arrived - butternut squash risotto, deliciously enriched with a brandy chantilly; and duck egg with black pudding on toast, with a grainy mustard sauce. For my main, a nice fat fillet of beef cooked to perfection delighted me. Charcoal grilled on the outside and tender on the inside, it was served on a bed of garlicky roast potatoes with whole garlic cloves, and succulent shallots in the gravy, sharpened by cherry tomatoes and asparagus spears. My companion's rack of lamb was tender and served with mashed sweet potato and wilted spinach, baby carrots, leeks and purple sprouting broccoli. The best, however, was yet to come; the desserts were quite simply outstanding - some of the best either of us had ever experienced. My panna cotta with lemongrass, imparting an unusual but delicious flavour, was served with a sublime finely-chopped salsa of mango, pineapple and kiwi on a flavoursome and tangy raspberry sorbet. My partner's combination of mango-glazed creamy charlotte on rhubarb jelly with strawberries lightly poached in Rioja was pretty as a picture. Finally we ventured back where we started, the lounge, for homemade petit fours and a Cafétiere for the journey home. Sensational.