The arrival of chef Chris Eden and his dishes centred on the bounty of the garden heralds a new era for the iconic Andrew Brownsword property. Amanda Afiya reports
There may be fierce rivalry between the counties of Devon and Cornwall, but a journey over the River Tamar wasn't going to stop Chris Eden from taking on his dream job, even with a 120-mile-round commute each day. The truth is, Gidleigh Park has long since held a special place in Eden's heart.
As a young chef growing up in the southwest, Eden quickly became aware of Gidleigh Park's impact on the UK's fine dining scene, with Michael Caines cementing its status as a gastronomic beacon with the award of two Michelin stars in 1999. During his formative years, Eden undertook stages with Caines, ate there and stayed there, but it wasn't until it became the venue of Eden's first date with his future wife, Sam, that it established itself as a place of emotional significance, too.
Eden, who hails from St Austell in southeast Cornwall, took the reins at Gidleigh Park in September, following in the footsteps of Chris Simpson and Michael Wignall, who had filled the role since Caines' departure in 2016.
He took on the role in Chagford after moving from the post of executive chef at boutique Portscatho hotel Driftwood, where he worked for 12 years and held a Michelin star for seven.
"As a young St Austell boy, if you'd said to me that I could be the executive head chef of Gidleigh Park in 25 years' time, I would have laughed in your face. But in the end, hard graft and commitment does pay off. I love Driftwood and it's a huge part of me, and I love the owners Paul and Fiona [Robinson], and everything that we did there. I would never have left for anywhere else apart from Gidleigh."
Ever since Eden returned to the region in 2007, following a career in London at the Lanesborough, Orrery and the Square, he has set out to champion the whole of the southwest.
His dishes are abundant with the region's produce – meat from Launceston-based Philip Warren, poultry from Sladesdown Farm near Newton Abbot, scallops from Beesands in south Devon, and fish from Wing of St Mawes, St Ives-based Matthew Stevens and Kernowsashimi, all specialising in seasonal, sustainable fish and big supporters of local fishermen. Even the chocolate comes from Falmouth, originating from bean-to-bar chocolate makers Chocolarder, set up by chocolatier Mike Longman seven years ago.
Only the odd ingredient is from further afield, such as venison from fellow chef Brett Graham's deer park partnership at Aynhoe Park in Oxfordshire. Eggs are from "a lady in the lane" and from Gidleigh's gardens comehoney, fruit and vegetables, the latter playing a starring role in the daily changing ‘garden salad', currently beetroot, feta, olive, nasturtium and frozen horseradish.
Heading up a brigade of 14 chefs, many of whom followed him from Driftwood, Eden offers a choice of à la carte menus at lunch (£65 for three courses) and dinner (£125 for three courses), and five-course (£135) and eight-course (£145) tasting menus, also at dinner.
Served in the 45-seat restaurant, Eden's dishes are largely new creations, such as a starter of braised Aynhoe fallow venison, salt-baked turnip, apple cider ricotta and hazelnuts, as well as main courses of cod, Gidleigh estate honey, coco beans, salt-baked celeriac and Mylor prawn, or aged fillet of beef cooked over coals with smoked bone marrow, garlic and spinach.
"The only thing that has stayed exactly the same is ‘thunder and lightning', because it's very dear to me," says Eden, describing his dessert, inspired by a teatime treat his mum used to enjoy – a bread bap filled with clotted cream and golden syrup. Eden's version comes as a slice of clotted cream-enriched custard tart, decorated with ‘jewels' of Italian meringue, puréed raisins, saffron jelly, golden syrup jelly, edible leaves and a sorbet made from Luscombe's ginger beer. Delicious, dramatic and elegant, it's not hard to see why it's become one of Eden's signature dishes.
Despite the long commute home, Eden says he appreciates his thinking time in the car because it allows him to reflect on the day. "It gives me a chance to analyse things; I think to myself, ‘how can we make that better?' Or I consider something the gardener might have said about what produce is coming in, which is so inspiring. I'm really enjoying a new lease of life here. I'm relishing the challenge and, well, just kind of loving it."
From the menu
- Jigged squid, Old Winchester crumb, smoked bacon, shiitake mushroom and samphire
- Roasted quail breast, confit leg, Jerusalem artichoke, salsify, truffle jus
- Turbot, toasted rye spätzle, ironbark pumpkin, chanterelles and orange thyme
- Mushroom risotto, girolles, barbecue grelot onions, garden herbs and truffle
- Aynhoe fallow deer, ceps, pine and pickled elderberries
- 8 textured single estate Chocolarder gorse brownie
- Gidleigh estate honey, milk parfait, mead
£125 for three courses, including coffee and petits fours
Chagford, Devon TQ13 8HH www.gidleigh.co.uk
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