Simon Hulstone is a highly decorated chef. As well as the proud owner of one quarter of the Michelin stars currently residing in Devon he has also captained the UK culinary team, won junior world championships, is a Roux Scholar and designed the British Airways 2012 Olympic menu with a certain Mr Heston Blumenthal. Given this background, it's perhaps a surprise that he is not working in a more lucrative location but he stays because of his family roots and belief that the South West larder is as good as any on the planet - and long may that continue.
That fine dinning is more than a job is evidenced by the decoration adorning his restaurant walls – there are no Turner landscapes or modernist depictions of courgette flowers here. Instead you'll find menus from the various three starred restaurants where he's eaten. Let's be honest, you have to have some confidence to actively encourage diners to compare the food on their plate with the best haute cuisine on the planet, but equally you have to think that the world would be a better place if every chef shared this level of open ambition.
These same standards shine through in the other aspects of the restaurant, from the food to the staff that serve it - in fact, the Maitre D’ is as good as any I have experienced.
As with many fine dining establishments, The Elephant only serves a multi-course tasting menu designed to show off the best of local ingredients and the skills of the kitchen. On our visit that included a stunning heritage tomato consommé, locally foraged wild garlic soup, and trout mis cuit served with an ingenious squid ink tuile - which, unless you have a dehydrator, don’t even think about trying to recreate at home! Overall the menu was light well-balanced and full of intense flavours as you'd expect from food at this level, making the Elephant a real jewel in the crown for the English Riviera.
The fine dining restaurant is now closed for the winter, reopening in May 2014, whilst the team develop dishes for next season. However, whilst these are refined they are likely to appear on the menu at the more informal brasserie, which shares the same kitchen, and so it's worth visiting this little gem on the English Riviera no matter what the time of year.