What could be more dramatic than the thundering seas and moody skies of the south west coastline in autumn? ABI MANNING, editor of the Trencherman’s Guide, reveals some of the best gourmet getaways and south west coastal spots to eat, along with the dining experiences to enjoy against the season’s striking backdrop.

Dorset

At the westerly end of Chesil Beach lies the tiny village of Burton Bradstock. Stay on its outskirts at The Seaside Boarding House, a cliffside spot overlooking sweeping Lyme Bay. Its restaurant majors on modern British dishes crafted from seasonal local produce and it also has a lovely terrace for cocktails or a glass or two of fizz. Each of its nine bedrooms is within sight and sound of the sea, so this is a fabulous find for those yearning to fall asleep to the sound of crashing waves.

For globally inspired eats in a pub setting, The Three Horseshoes Pub & Kitchen is a good find nearby. Dutch chef-patron Jaap Schep delights diners with a fish-focused menu that lists Indonesian seafood curry alongside seafood ploughman’s.

A ten-minute drive down the coast leads to The Club House, West Bexington’s seaside-smart venue housed in a 1930s Olympic-pool clubhouse. Top-notch ingredients from local fishermen and farmers, as well as the restaurant’s own kitchen garden, form the basis of its menu. Start the evening on the heated terrace with an innovative cocktail such as its Toast of Chesil Beach, made using toast-infused Black Cow vodka, lime juice, marmalade, honey syrup and toast crumbs.

Continue along the coast to Wyke Regis where you’ll find Trencherman’s Awards 2023 winner Crab House Cafe. While most chefs talk in food miles, its team count in metres for much of the seafood-centred menu. Despite the name, the star attraction is actually oysters which are grown at the on-site oyster farm. Make like a local and slurp them, au naturel, from their shells.

For those who like their seaside staycation with a side of bustling town life, Lyme Regis is a hot spot. Book a room at Alexandra Hotel and Restaurant for coastal luxury and striking views. With its hilltop location and lush gardens it delivers tucked-away escapism, even though it’s just a few minutes’ stroll from the shore.

Indulge in a meal at Mark Hix’s The Oyster & Fish House for the freshest fish (diners will often spot fishermen dropping off crates of just-landed seafood). The restaurant is encompassed in walls of glass, so every dish is served against a dramatic coastal backdrop. Afterwards, pop into Lilac Restaurant and Wine Bar for drinks. The venue gained a Michelin Guide listing last year so you may be tempted to return to this 400-year-old former cellar to order from the small plates menu.

To dine a pebble’s skim from the shore, head to Tom’s Lyme Regis and devour daily changing dishes. Starters such as Lyme Bay crab croquetas with romesco and gremolata pique the appetite for mains including pan‑roasted cod and sirloin of Dartmoor beef.

Devon

For an autumn getaway with star quality, book a room at Michael Caines’ Lympstone Manor, one of the most glamorous destinations in the UK for fine dining. Designed as a modern take on the classic country house hotel, it overlooks the Exe Estuary and even has its own vineyard. The heart of the house is Michael’s Michelin-starred restaurant, where dishes are artfully matched with wines from a world-class cellar. Venture to the chef’s outpost in Exmouth, Mickeys Beach Bar & Restaurant, for casual eats, cocktails and afternoon tea.

While in the town, discover the locals’ best-kept culinary secret: Saveur. Euro-inspired cooking lends this venue Parisian-bistro vibes, and it’s a très charmant find for a casual lunch with friends or intimate dinner à deux.

Fifteen minutes upriver will take you to the smart town of Topsham, where diners can relish ‘the best of Devon on a plate’ at The Galley Restaurant. A haul of local seafood is the star of the restaurant’s pleasingly restrained menu, supported by locally shot game and Devon-grown veggies.

Skirt the edge of Dartmoor and back out to the coast for a stay at Salcombe Harbour Hotel. Autumn’s the perfect time to visit as the yachty town’s narrow roads are jammed with tourist traffic in summer. Highlights include a stonking panorama of the estuary from The Jetty Restaurant and a sumptuous spa experience.

Head to the harbour town of Dartmouth for a mosey around the galleries and indie shops, followed by a decadent lunch. Former Masterchef: The Professionals finalist Elly Wentworth heads the kitchen at The Angel – Taste of Devon, where guests’ comfort is given as much care as the sourcing, cooking and presentation of delicacies such as roast diver scallops and Devon Red venison.

Nearby is Andria, winner of Best Newcomer at the Trencherman’s Awards 2023. Head chef Luca Berardino has traced his roots (he was born in Paris to Italian parents) to find inspiration for his modern European menus. Presentation is clean, simple and designed to let bold flavours shine.

North Devon is also host to an array of culinary finds. A special place to stay is at one of the newly renovated cottages, rooms and suites at The Collective at Woolsery (a curation of village enterprises created by US-based tech entrepreneurs Michael and Xochi Birch).  Its remarkable dining pub The Farmers Arms features carefully crafted reinterpretations of British pub classics, alongside a creative drinks experience. Head chef Ian Webber uses ingredients grown, reared and foraged on the estate’s farm – the lamb and pork being highlights. Head over on a Sunday for an extraordinary family-style lunch.

Within easy reach is Bideford and Number Eight restaurant. Chef Joshua Jones’ tasting menus have developed a fanbase of foodies who travel miles to experience the likes of cured local scallops with blood orange.

Just outside Barnstaple, boutique hotel Broomhill Estate puts the ‘art’ into artisan dining. It’s long been a mecca for creatives who enjoy meandering through its woodland sculpture trails, but new ownership has introduced a more eclectic vibe where Hollywood props rub shoulders with noteworthy paintings.

Its Canvas Restaurant has undergone a relaunch and features modern British cooking rooted in regional produce. Seven bedrooms inspired by cult classics like A Clockwork Orange provide further opportunity to delve into this creative wonderland.

Cornwall

The land sandwiching the River Camel is home to some gorgeous eateries. Port Isaac is Nathan Outlaw HQ, and a visit to the area is incomplete without a trip to one (or both) of his restaurants. Outlaw’s New Road marked a new era for the chef, in which precise and delicate tasting menus were replaced by a more casual dining experience.

Outlaw’s Fish Kitchen deals in exquisite small plates (like Port Isaac lobster scampi with chilli jam and garlic mayonnaise) in the intimate setting of a tiny 15th-century fisherman’s cottage. The team have recently launched Outlaw’s Guest House and a pair of self-catering coastal retreats.

In nearby Padstow, Rick Stein’s flagship The Seafood Restaurant is an ever-popular site visited by culinary pilgrims looking to sample classics from Rick’s TV shows and books. Stay in one of the smart rooms above the restaurant or at Stein’s St Edmunds House and St Petroc’s Bistro.

Down the road is winner of the Trencherman’s Award 2023 for Best Restaurant Prawn on the Lawn, one of Cornwall’s newer crop of seafood restaurants. It started as a tiny fishmongers and seafood bar in Islington, and became such a hit that founders Rick and Katie Toogood opened this Cornish outpost.

Twenty minutes away in the small village of Mawgan Porth is Scarlet Hotel, an eco-sanctuary nestled in rugged clifftops. The grown-ups-only hotel provides good food and a sophisticated yet earthy spa experience – don’t miss a dip in the natural outdoor reed-filtered pool.

Those heading to Lands’ End will discover far-flung spots as forward-thinking as any city-centre find. Ugly Butterfly by Adam Handling at Carbis Bay Hotel won the 2023 Trencherman’s Award for Creativity and Innovation; book a stay at the luxurious estate to enjoy innovative zero-waste dining.

The harbour towns of Porthleven and Marazion make for a picturesque day trip. Check out Kota for award-winning fusion food from Great British Menu veteran Jude Kereama, and new Trencherman’s member The Godolphin for vistas of St Michael’s Mount paired with boho-chic decor.

Unlike parts of Cornwall that enjoy heady high and tumbleweed low seasons, Falmouth is a perennial staycation spot and there are plenty of quality places to dine and stay the night. The Greenbank Hotel’s Water’s Edge restaurant dishes up creative fine dining crafted from local ingredients, while more casual fare can be found below deck at the hotel’s pub, The Working Boat.

St Michaels Resort overlooks the waters of Gyllyngvase Beach and is an oasis of subtropical splendour in the busy town. Laze in the largest hydrothermal pool in the South West before enjoying locally caught and reared ingredients cooked on the grill at its Brasserie on the Bay. Also on this side of town, Hooked on the Rocks on the shore of Swanpool Beach is a must for fresh seafood minus any fuss.

A short walk along the South West Coast Path will take you to Hotel Meudon. Set in nine acres of exotic gardens, it’s close to Falmouth yet a world away from the bustle and a lovely place to feast on the likes of Cornish stone bass with spiced dal puree, baby spinach and lime butter sauce.

Since the Trencherman’s Guide was launched in 1992 as the gourmet’s guide to the very best eating experiences in the South West, it has built a reputation as the region’s Michelin Guide. Chef Nathan Outlaw says the guide “has always been at the forefront of the scene’ while Rick Stein describes it as ‘a guide with teeth”– the result of the strict entry criteria. The guide is overseen by a committee of industry experts chaired by leading chef Michael Caines MBE.

Discover over 100 exceptional places to eat and stay across the South West in the 31st edition of the Trencherman’s Guide, out early September 2023. When the guide is published Coast readers will receive a 20 per cent discount when ordering using the code COAST20. trenchermans-guide.com

Abi Manning is a Devon journalist specialising in food, drink and lifestyle. Having spent the past six years eating and drinking her way around the South West as part of the editorial team for the prestigious Trencherman’s Guide (the region’s version of the Michelin Guide), she is delighted to become its new editor. She also writes for Food magazine and the Independent Coffee Guides.

Feeling peckish? Have a look through our top coastal coffee stops to check out on you next staycation.