As part of my day job on I got invited to a press trip* to Highbullen Hotel in North Devon to experience their Christmas offerings. I fell in love with this place the first time I visited - nestled right in the middle of the countryside with astounding views across Exmoor and a sense of cosy grandeur.
To set the scene - it may not have snowed when we went - but here is a photo from when it became a winter wonderland last year...
Steve and I arrived at Highbullen and were greeted with a warm welcome, and made our way to the Neil Room, one of the manor house's stunning show bedrooms with sweeping views for miles across Exmoor. When we awoke the following morning, we were able to look out over the wild moors with not a soul in sight - it was blissful. They even have binoculars on hand in each room so you can spot the early morning deer roaming the golf course!
After a tour of the hotel's brand new Palazzo - which is simply stunning - and an amazingly warming mulled cider in front of the open fire, we headed to a private dining room in the Devon View restaurant for our Christmas dinner. It may have been November at the time, but I was already feeling super festive.
James Hemming, manager at Highbullen, was charming and made sure we were entertained and plied with wine throughout the duration of our meal! I was given all the gluten free options - including gluten free bread for my starter - and James explained how well the hotel catered for dietary needs. He already had a sound knowledge of the new food regulations coming in with food labelling, and I was really impressed with the knowledge of all the staff.
It was so hard to choose what to eat from the lovely menu, but for a starter I went for the confit chicken & pistachio roulade with dried fruit chutney and roast onion bread crostini.
There were so many amazing flavours in this starter, I didn't want it to end! I loved my gluten free crostini, and the fruit chutney was so sweet and tangy it perfectly complimented the chicken. Delicious.
My main didn't disappoint either. I was tempted by the turkey with all the trimmings, but opted instead for the slow-braised blade of beef with Bourguignon garnish, parnsip mash, root vegetables and thyme jus.
Now, it's not very often I am lost for words but this course simply left me speechless. The beef was so tender it just fell apart in my mouth, and the tang of the garnish was just incredible. Every mouthful was a new delight and I think I literally could have eaten this until I popped. I can still taste it now - I am having withdrawal symptoms!
Finally was dessert - the toughest choice of them all. I couldn't decide between two, so the ever so kind James let us order a chocolate mousse to share so we could try it! For my dessert, I was swayed by the sound of the vanilla and rum pannacotta with caramelised fruits and nuts, and mulled wine sorbet.
Seriously, MULLED WINE SORBET. This was literally mulled wine...frozen....possibly the best idea in the world! Coupled with the toffee-like, candied fruit and nuts it was like a combination straight from heaven. This is by far one of the best meals I have ever had - and the chocolate orange mousse with orange jelly and basil purée we also sampled was delicious. I think basil and chocolate might be one of my new favourite flavour combos.
After our meal, we were also given a gorgeous Christmas stocking (modelled by Steve below!) which included a bottle of vintage port and a book each - a lovely idea. Every guest at Christmas gets a stocking, which I thought was such a brilliant idea.
I was so impressed with everything at Highbullen, from the beautifully refurbished rooms, gorgeous restaurant, impeccable food and friendly staff, to waking up to this view...
Oh, and of course, the breakfast was almost as epic as dinner the night before. After the mulled cider, a few glasses of wine and a nightcap of Bailey's, a decent breakfast was in order and Highbullen did not disappoint. I enjoyed a full English - including gluten free toast - overlooking the astounding views from the Devon View. It seemed horrible to have to go back to reality - I wish I could have stayed for longer!
Highbullen are offering a number of Christmas packages - click here to view what's on offer, including their 18-hole golf course and gorgeous spa. Even if not for Christmas, you have to visit this hotel one day, the food is just incredible.
*My stay at Highbullen was complimentary but this has in no way swayed my review.