It’s a fantasy of mine to stay in a lovely English country house with delicious food, served by friendly staff, but without any of the responsibilities that come with being a guest. The simple solution, of course, would be to house-sit for someone who owned such a home, except in that case the staff and chef would probably not be in attendance. Alternatively, you might say, why not check into a country house hotel? But in my experience, either the food is not very good, the beds not very comfortable, or the staff over-attentive.

Once the family seat of the Baring family, Lympstone Manor in Exmouth, England, is now a five star hotel with a Michelin-starred restaurant. Friendly, white and well proportioned. It looks from the outside like the kind of Georgian country house that will be comfortable – and it is. There is something a little ‘Dynasty’ (the remake) about the interior decor, but there is nothing over the top about chef-patron Michael Caines’ sublime food, the easy and efficient service and the deep comfort of the bed rooms. From the moment we arrived until the moment we were handed the bill, we might have been spending the weekend with extremely generous friends.

In our bedroom, decorated in palettes of greys, blues and greens, with textures of satin and suede, and very ‘bling’ chandeliers, a plate of home-made chocolates was waiting for us, so delicious that it required superhuman willpower to resist consuming them all before dinner.

Michael Caines has built his reputation on a highly personal and distinctive modern cuisine that celebrates fine local and seasonal produce from Devon and the south west and draws on influences from his travels around the world.

Born in Exeter in 1969 and adopted into a large and loving family, today Michael and the team at Lympstone support a number of projects drawn from Michael’s own lived experience, including Families for Children which endeavours to find children a stable and loving home.

Michael held two Michelin stars for 18 consecutive years before he took the leap of faith to create his own country house hotel. Just six months after opening Lympstone Manor, Michael and the team were awarded their first Michelin star.

On our first night we opted for the ‘taste of the estuary’ menu, which began with delightful Lyme Bay scallop ceviche with avocado, Exmoor caviar and citrus vinaigrette, and continued with confit Loch Duart salmon, with honey and soy vinaigrette, wasabi yoghurt, salmon consommé and Oscietra caviar.

The next course was a very light shellfish ravioli, with langoustine bisque and basil. And then came barbequed sea bream with broccoli, smoked yoghurt, buttermilk and curry oil.

Finally, a superb rhubarb mousse, with rhubarb from the garden and lemongrass jelly, rhubarb sorbet, lemongrass and vanilla foam.

One of the best things about Lympstone Manor is surely it’s position, featuring sweeping views of the Exmouth Estuary, and we loved our day-long explorations of the ‘Jurassic’ coast by e-bikes rented from Exmouth Cycle-Hire in town. The exceptionally beautiful ride along Devon’s radiant Exe Estuary is easily one of the best bike routes in the country, following both sides of the River Exe Estuary, linking the seaside resort of Dawlish Warren to Exmouth, with expansive views across the water.

We cycled through some handsome waterside villages, including Topsham and Exton, and at Exmouth we crossed the town centre to the seafront, where in summer we could have caught the Starcross ferry back to the west side of the estuary to turn the ride into a loop.

Surrounding the estuary are marshes, which provide a year-round haven for thousands of birds, looked after by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

On our second night, we chose the tasting menu with roasted Lyme Bay scallop with parsnip and vanilla, bergamot, seaweed, chicken vanilla and ginger jus, followed by terrine of duck liver with apple and celery, pickled apple, smoked eel and candied hazelnuts. Next up was free range poached chicken, with Wye Valley asparagus, wild garlic, and Madeira jus. And for desert, apple mousse with green apple jelly, apple sorbet and vanilla foam.

Everything about the place is easy and comfortable, and it is the friendly, but not overly attentive, staff that make it hard for other similar establishments to compete with the impossibly high standard set by Lympstone Manor. Although every minute there feels like a visit to a rich host’s country estate, it is incredibly rare to find a culinary master with Michael Caines’ level of delicacy and refinement.