What the Critics say... Pre 2006
PROFESSOR JAMES LOVELOCK, AUTHOR, SCIENTIST & CREATOR OF THE GAIA THEORY, DECEMBER 2005
Dear Tina & Tony, I have intended for quite some time now to write to tell you how much Sandy and I admire what you have done at Coombeshead. As you know the cause that most moves me is the wish to show how to live in a seemly way with the natural world of Gaia and for my part I have tried to do so through my books. What you have done is just as important.
We have watched you both build a truly 'organic' country house hotel where any one who comes to eat can see their food growing in the greenhouses, gardens and meadows in an environment that seamlessly fits in with the natural world and is a humane part of it. You have brought new life to the term organic, a word that otherwise has become discredited by marketing to become a shabby icon that endorses food imported by air from places thousands of miles away.
We wish you every success and will continue as always to recommend Percy's to our friends and to the distinguished persons that come to visit us.
SUNDAY INDEPENDENT MAGAZINE, NOVEMBER 27TH 2005 SYBIL KAPOOR
"As winter sets in, many urban cooks fantasise about escaping to some rural idyll, where they can grow all their own vegetables and live off the land. Visions of pulling your own leeks for a steaming bowl of home-made soup will naturally divert anyone standing in a bus queue but, in reality, how many of us know what is in season at any one time in Britain? Few would consider pak choy or the pretty Japanese variety of baby turnips on sale as typically British winter crops, yet both are now widely grown here
One woman who is keenly aware of what each season brings is Tina Bricknell-Webb. In 1990, she left London with her husband Tony to try to create their own organic Arcadia in the depths of rural Devon. In the grounds around their small Hotel they planted nut and fruit trees, vegetables, herbs and soft fruit, and began building up livestock to sustain their new life. At this time of year Tina is spoilt for choice when it comes to vegetables. Aside from the usual selection of root vegetables, she has horseradish, curly kale, leeks, spring onions and cabbages, as well as white-sprouting broccoli - which is destined to be the next fashionable supermarket vegetable.
Part of Tina's Arcadian vision is to cook dishes where all the ingredients have an affinity with one another. "It feels much more natural to eat lamb with produce that has been grown in the same area," she says. "The minerals that flavour the grass the lamb has eaten also flavour the carrots and rosemary you serve with it." Thus, her large black pigs can rootle through the end of the organic potato crop before being turned into tender roasts that might be accompanied by home-grown root vegetables roasted in pork fat. If her pork is roasted with fresh sage leaves, she adds a few sage stalks to her boiled potatoes, so that when they are mashed they echo the flavours in the meat.
A flexible approach to cooking is essential if you restrict yourself to seasonal home-grown produce. There are only so many soups, crisps, gratins, roasts and purées that you can make with parsnips yet, according to Tina, parsnips taste delicious baked like carrot cake and flavoured with mace."
THE OBSERVER TRAVEL SECTION, OCTOBER 30TH 2005 GEMMA BOWES
"Groundbreaking organic food, collected from the estate daily, is what sets Percy's apart. Chef Tina Bricknell-Webb and her husband are dedicated to using seasonal ingredients, and collect speciality salad leaves, herbs and vegetables from the garden each morning, along with Indian runner duck eggs for breakfast. Venison, game and fungi come from the woodland in autumn, pigs and lambs are kept on site, and three times a week the owners meet the Cornish fishing boats for skate, mullet and lobster. Eleven rooms, named after herbs and set away from the restaurant in a converted granary, have whirlpool baths, leather sofas and bespoke furnishings."
SATURDAY INDEPENDENT MAGAZINE, OCTOBER 22ND 2005 JENNI MUIR RANKED 17TH IN THE UK'S 50 BEST GOURMET RESTAURANTS.
" Many of the first rate ingredients used on Percy's menu come from the very estate on which it's based. Not just home grown veg and herbs, but eggs from Black Rock chickens and Indian Runner ducks, roe deer and rabbit, and fungi collected from the woods. Chef and co-owner Tina Bricknell-Webb is also committed to organic growing and sourcing, so any blow out here guarantees at least some special feeling of virtuosity. The building features two dining areas of complete contrast - one a funky conversion, the other epitomising country house tradition."
SATURDAY INDEPENDENT, SEPTEMBER 3RD 2005 CAROLINE STACEY
" Living the dream of running an organic country estate, the Bricknell-Webbs have created a pastoral idyll in the shape of their hotel and restaurant where chef Tina uses vegetables and salad straight from the garden and cooks their own-reared lamb and pork. The cooking's thrilling, fragrant with herbs like lavender (with garlic jus on the rump of lamb - their own of course), saffron and ginger perfuming the vegetables with monkfish (wild), rosemary ice cream with a lemon tart and crème brûlée flavoured with cardamom and lime cream. A pampering place to stay, unbothered by pesticides or little pests - it's adults only in the restaurant where dinner is £40 for three courses."
THE WESTERN MORNING NEWS, SEPTEMBER 3RD 2005 MARTIN HESP
" For the past year, Tina has added a traditional breed of large black pig (which makes excellent bacon and hams) to her extensive live larder and consequently she's been bitten by the meat curing bug. The Percy's terrine (or brawn to give it a local and more humble name) was a masterpiece of the genre, and the bean chutney accompanying it was a flavoursome and well-textured tour de force. I was also impressed by the delicious tiny courgettes and sensational rose beetroot.
Which is why I was somewhat perplexed when I found her sitting behind three plastic tubs of industrial pork cure. "Smell this," Mrs. Bricknell-Webb demanded, wafting one of the pots in my direction. I didn't want to because you could sniff the chemical pong from feet away, but Mrs. B-W is not a woman to be contradicted. After inhaling all the three salt mixtures, I was beginning to feel less than well - then I was instructed to put my nose into a fourth mixture. It's aroma was altogether different - a savoury mix filled with nuances of herbs and spices.
"That" said Mrs. B-W proudly, "is my own cure." Having subsequently tasted Percy's home cured bacon, I can testify that the ex-London chef has got the formula exactly right. It is not over salty - which all too many bacons are nowadays - and this leaves room for other more delicate flavours to come nosing through. "This is where the summer herbs - the fresh bay, the juniper, rosemary, thyme, sage, etc lend the brines an enormous amount of flavour.
Like the curers of old, Mrs. Bricknell-Webb is keeping the fine details of her recipes secret, but she says: "It's something you adjust to your own taste - you add nutmeg, coriander, whatever. I have a real drive to learn this subject and I want to produce the best bacon in the country."
THE OBSERVER FOOD MONTHLY, FEBRUARY 13TH 2005 NIGEL SLATER
" 'I went for a walk yesterday with our dog and picked up a rabbit, came back, skinned it, and made a ravioli for our customers.' Welcome to an organic lunch at Percy's.
And who needs roast beef when what arrives on your plate will consist of Percy's freshest organic vegetables and salad plucked from their vegetable garden, seasoned with their own fresh herbs, served with organic meat reared on their farm, perhaps sprinkled with a few cobnuts or mushrooms picked from the floor of Percy's woodland? Lunch can often turn into a day out. There are 130 acres of stunning cascading hills to explore, you can visit the pigs, help with the bottle-feeding during the lambing season, or just sit at the table watching the chickens and the grazing horses. Tina serves only the most exceptional quality of ingredients and it's totally organic. The style is modern British and the aim is to treat each ingredient with integrity, so as not to disguise their flavour."
THE SATURDAY TIMES MAGAZINE, JANUARY 29TH 2005 GILES COREN
" With it's own organic farm providing most of the meat and veg (kill for the goose eggs laid that morning), Percy's is not only one of the best but one of the "healthiest" restaurants I've ever been to."
THE WHICH? HOTEL GUIDE 2005 PATRICIA YATES
" Superb food and rooms at this flagship for honest, straightforward hospitality.
Many moons ago Tina and Tony Bricknell-Webb did what many other urban dwellers dream of and sank their hopes (and money) into a run-down farm in deepest Devon. It wasn't always an easy transition - their previously docile Doberman displayed murderous tendencies and killed several sheep, while money disappeared faster than swallows in September. But now they have things pretty well set up. The smart restaurant is a showcase for Tina's stylish yet uncomplicated cooking. Lamb is homegrown, as are the eggs (from hens and geese), breads are home-made and fish bought from Looe."
Our inspection meal of warm scallops followed by steamed turbot with asparagus was faultless, Tony providing just the right amount of welcome and conversation. Across the courtyard the rooms match that approach, with their simple colours and top-quality furnishings. Sheets and pillows are excellent, there is a good tea tray and DVD player, and a power shower in the bathroom."
SATURDAY INDEPENDENT, NOVEMBER 2004 CLARE DWYER HOGG "THE 50 BEST FESTIVE FOOD HAMPERS"
" Percy's is last year's Organic Restaurant of the Year and it's Organic Hamper is a treat. It includes gluten-free sausages, ginger and dark chocolate biscuits, a pumpkin cake and their own delicious chutney. They've also included their lemon tart (eight portions) which won gold at the Organic Food Awards. Yum ! All 12 items in the hamper can be made gluten or wheat free, so no one has to miss out."
SUNDAY TIMES TRAVEL, NOVEMBER 2004 SUSAN d'ARCY
" The hotel has amazing views over Bodmin and Dartmoor, rows of borrowable green wellies in the hallway, and four frisky black labradors who can't wait to take you for a bracing walk. The buzz word in catering is provenance: smart London restaurants now name their suppliers on their menus. Percy's goes one step further: it is it's supplier. Vegetables are picked from it's organic gardens; chemical-free sheep and pigs are reared on it's 130 acre Estate; and game, fungi and fruits are scavenged from its woodlands as the seasons dictate. Tony even struggles out of bed at 4am most mornings to buy turbot, squid and lobster from Cornish day boats on the harbour.
You can taste the difference. The lamb in rosemary jus and pan fried monkfish with ginger and saffron sauce are impeccable. Start with Tina's chicken parfait and finish with her tingling lemon tart (both won gold medals at the Organic Food Awards), and you will retire to bed happy."
DELICIOUS MAGAZINE, NOVEMBER 2004 CORALIE DORMAN
" Percy's, a restored 16th century Devon longhouse, is slap bang in the middle of the breathtaking Coombeshead Estate, overlooking Bodmin Moor and Dartmoor. Chef Tina Bricknell-Webb's food is simple, fresh and wonderful - and is also available through mail order. Try the most lemony lemon tart in the world, from £15; the divine fish pie with half the sea in it, £45; and the courgette, beetroot and goats cheese quiche, £15."
MAIL ON SUNDAY YOU MAGAZINE, AUGUST 29TH 2004 ANGELA MASON
" For the perfect restorative organic break...Percy's Country Hotel & Restaurant of Virginstow, Devon, winner of several organic food awards (among many others, for small hotel, stylish/chic hotel, most excellent restaurant - they must have rum out of wall space for their certificates). In smoke-, child- and stress free surroundings, enjoy food sourced locally and grown organically on their own estate. Tina Bricknell-Webb's cooking - including her famous lemon or chocolate tarts, which can be made gluten free - is also available via the organic online store at www.percys.co.uk "
THE EVENING STANDARD, AUGUST 6TH 2004 CAROLINE SYLGE
" Scrumptious, revitalising food is served in tranquil surroundings. Almost everything on Tina Bricknell-Webb's menu is organic and reared on the estate, from eggs in lavender crème brûlée to the roast loin of lamb. The fish - from lobster to Dover Sole - are brought fresh from Looe fish market each morning. Simply exceptional."
SUNDAY TIMES TRAVEL MAGAZINE, AUGUST 2004 JANE KNIGHT (INTERVIEWING TWO MICHELIN STARRED DEVON CHEF MICHAEL CAINES)
" This is a place I'd definitely go out of my way to get to. It specialises in organic food. They have "home-grown" animals - sheep and geese laying eggs, and also grow their own herbs and salad leaves. Tina's a good chef, there's a lively bar and a nice space with a cottagey feel. There's also an excellent wine list."
SATURDAY TELEGRAPH MAGAZINE, JULY 31ST 2004 CAROLYN HART
" Stay at Percy's - the luxury Devon hotel with a smoke, child and stress free policy - and eat their local organically grown food (much of it produced on the Percy estate) in situ, or order the produce via email and have it sent directly to your door. Either option is highly recommended, but whichever you take, remember to have at least one go at the chocolate, prune, hazelnut & Armagnac tart, which could challenge the River Cafe's legendary chocolate nemesis as number one UK pudding."
THE WESTERN DAILY PRESS, JULY 29TH 2004 RICHARD PITMAN
" When I saw that Devon's trainer Rod Millman's Goodwood runners this week included a filly called Lady Chef, running in the colours of Percy's Country Hotel & Restaurant, I thought there was a tale to tell and how right I was."
SUNDAY TIMES STYLE MAGAZINE, MAY 30TH 2004 LYDIA SLATER
" Get yourself a Ritz-worthy tea at a fraction of the cost - by post. Percy's Country Hotel & Restaurant in Virginstow, Devon, has a divine, award winning range of organic mail-order scrumptiousness, from home reared lamb to toffee sauce. The sour lemon tart looked a little battered on arrival, but was, quite simply, the best I've ever tasted (£15), while the light-as-air meringues (£3 per half dozen) arrived miraculously intact."
THE SATURDAY INDEPENDENT, MARCH 20TH 2004 CAROLINE STACEY
" Ordering food from an organic hotel in Virginstow, Devon, is an extravagance we'd recommend. Percy's is an enterprising pastoral idyll, where animals graze, vegetables grow, and guests stay and dine. Produce includes chutneys, meat, an award winning lemon tart, seed breads and this organic chocolate, hazelnut, prune & Armagnac tart, one of the most sumptuous we've ever tried. The delivery charge goes down the more you order."
THE GUARDIAN, MARCH 27TH 2004 JOHN MITCHELL
" Everything tastes of something at Percy's. This includes the cumin flavoured bread and the peppery salad leaves forming a bed for the seared scallops. Pan fried monkfish oozes both taste and texture and its stir fried vegetables with ginger don't just accompany it, they form an essential component of the dish. They even deliver the lambs themselves, and not many restaurants can say that."
THE WHICH? HOTEL GUIDE 2003. PATRICIA YATES
" Aperitifs and canapés are served in the neighbouring bar and mezzanine lounge, which are as slick and sophisticated as the dishes. Across the gravel drive, the cool, chic bedrooms occupy what was a granary, and have light, ash furniture and power showers."
TRADE SECRETS. WAITROSE FOOD ILLUSTRATED, JULY 2002
"Can you help? My husband and I recently returned from a holiday in Provence, where we enjoyed lavender ice cream. My husband thinks it quite divine, tasting exactly as it smells. Anyone not having tasted this culinary delight has certainly missed out. Your help in re-creating this delicacy would be very much appreciated."
Janet Rance, by e-mail
WFI turned to Tina Bricknell-Webb, chef at Percy's Country Hotel and Restaurant in Virginstow, Devon. Tina uses all kinds of home-grown produce in her cooking, not least fresh herbs, and lavender ice cream is a particular success story. "Its fragrance just encapsulates summer," says Tina. "This ice cream is particulary good with raspberries - perhaps in a meringue nest with some crème fraîche, raspberry coulis and toasted nuts." Tina's advice is to use only young shoots of lavender, picked just before the flowers open. Alternatively, use 4 tbsp dried lavender flowers. The glycerine, which is available from pharmacies, is optional - it simply makes the ice cream a little easier to scoop.
RAC ANNUAL HOTEL INSPECTION, JUNE 2002 DAVID SIMS
" The cooking of Tina Bricknell-Webb is unquestionably one of, if not the main strength of Percy's and tonights experience did not disapoint. In many ways it has moved forward and encapsulates the promotion of first class produce and raw ingredients, with a high level of technical skill resulting in vibrant, often stunning dishes in terms of excellent marriages of flavours and textures. Organic produce at its best with commendable cooking."
SATURDAY TIMES MAGAZINE, APRIL 2002 GILES COREN
" The duo of John Dory and sea bass with a saffron glaze was excellent. It was served with a julienne of vegetables which contained chunky strips of ginger, treated as a vegetable not a spice... For pudding, strawberry meringue with cardamom ice-cream and clotted cream was delicious, and a delicate lemon tart was made on exceptional pastry. Percy's is a very rare place indeed"
WAITROSE FOOD ILLUSTRATED, APRIL 2002 NIKKI SMITH
" While away a night or two in this lush Devon hideaway and you'll feel not just utterly relaxed, but also inspired. Walk the estate with the hotel's boisterous black labradors, rub noses with the Bricknell-Webb's beautiful horses, or wander in the herb and vegetable garden from whence your next meal will be plucked."
THE GOOD FOOD GUIDE 2002 JIM AINSWORTH
" In many ways Percy's is a model of it's kind. Dedicated to using some of it's own organic materials, so that the food reflects seasonal gluts and shortfalls, it maintains a degree of contact with the land that is as rare as it is welcome. The garden's role and a direct daily link with the fish auctions at Looe are immediately apparent in an impressive home-cured mackerel salad, the gravlax-style fish shaved in thin slices over a pile of perky, peppery leaves"
SUNDAY OBSERVER TRAVEL SECTION, MARCH 2002 DEE O'CONNELL
" You come back from your walk around the 130 acre estate, ruddy cheeked and peckish, to find that two slices of rich fruit cake have magically appeared in your room. They go down perfectly as you reflect on your afternoon - but then your limbs begin to gently ache. You're not very sore, but you could do with a bath. Maybe one with a control panel that turns on jets of water so its practically a Jacuzzi. Just like, in fact the one you find in your bathroom."
SATURDAY TELEGRAPH TRAVEL SECTION PADDY BURT
" The food's pure delight. Bread's just made. The baby Dover sole is as fresh as it should be. Salad leaves taste as if they were growing an hour ago. It's another of those want-to-come-back places. Am I getting soft or are hotels getting better? "
PLACES TO EAT AND BUY ORGANIC GREENS by JIM AINSWORTH THE OBSERVER
" Percy's currently cultivate a mere one and a half acres as a kitchen garden which is en route to becoming totally organic. Everything in this garden yields useful, usable ingredients for the restaurant menu and the customers declare that Percys' vegetables are far better than most."
AUTHOR & SCIENTIST PROFESSOR JAMES LOVELOCK
" Who would want to live in the depths of rural West Devon with no neighbours and only the wild life in sight? We do because we enjoy its peace and tranquility, but when we want to celebrate, there is Percy's only two miles away. As our friends tell us, Sandy and I have found our little bit of paradise."