When I was invited to review the new tasting menu in the restaurant at Llansantffraed Court, a privately owned hotel just outside Monmouthshire’s foodie mecca of Abergavenny, Mr W and I decided to make a weekend of it and stay overnight in the hotel as well. We arrived on the Saturday afternoon and spent a very pleasant few hours having a drink on the terrace and wandering around the grounds – which include a lake and a tiny church, and are absolutely idyllic with stunning views! I took loads of photographs as it was such a beautiful setting but have tried to limit the number I put into the post so as not to bore everyone!
We also had a look around the walled kitchen garden, where a lot of the produce used in the restaurant is grown (the rest being from trusted local suppliers –a lengthy list of which could be found in the extensive guest information folder in our room!) The kitchen garden was wonderful, with lovingly hand-written slates next to each of the crops to let visitors know what they are. All this whetted our appetite suitably for our evening meal, which already seemed very promising, with Llansantffraed Court’s new chef being Mike Hendry, formerly James Sommerin’s sous chef at the Michelin starred Crown at Whitebrook before its untimely closure.
We started our evening with a drink in the bar and what we thought was our amuse bouche, but which turned out to be canapés to get our meal off to a good start – and a good start it was, with crispy, tasty chicken croquettes and light, cheesy beignets.
The restaurant itself was fairly small and intimate, but pretty much full on a Saturday night. Some diners were eating a la carte, but others, like us, had chosen to go with the seven course tasting menu, priced at £50 per head, with a flight of matched wines available for an additional £35. The matched wines were also available by the glass if you didn’t want to commit to the full range at the outset! Interestingly, on the restaurant’s very extensive winelist, it said that they have a very sophisticated system that allows them to open wines and serve them by the glass, then keep them fresh – so all of their wines were available to try by the glass, which is a great plus point.
We started with a beautifully presented amuse bouche of potted ham hock with a pea puree and kaitafi quail egg, which really set the bar high for the rest of the meal.
Up next were smoked scallops (one revealed from underneath a smoke filled dome!) served with cauliflower, cauliflower puree, cauliflower pannacotta and iberico pork belly. Although the scallops were not the most flavoursome I’ve ever tried, they were nevertheless cooked very well and the cauliflower, smoke and pork flavours complemented them extremely well.
Bryn Derw Farm Chicken served with hen’s egg yolk ravioli, wild mushrooms and thyme came next. There was a lot going on with this dish, with a foam and a broth as well as the listed ingredients, but the flavours and textures came together well. The ravioli – with a runny egg yolk inside the pasta pocket – was fantastic. Observant regular readers will know that I very rarely, if ever, order chicken, given a choice, as it’s often bland or a bit boring – but if I could guarantee that every chicken dish would be as tasty as this one, I’d certainly change my mind!
Next was another fish course: this time line caught bass served with butternut squash, artichoke, pearl barley, octopus and a slice of black truffle. The fish was cooked to perfection, with a lovely crispy skin and was complemented well by the sweet butternut. I wasn’t sure if the octopus was perhaps surplus to requirements, but it was still cooked well.
A trio of Monmouthshire lamb finished off the savoury courses, the trio comprising crispy lamb belly (which I loved!), rump and sweetbread. This was served with garden courgette (perhaps one of the ones I’d photographed in the kitchen garden earlier in the day when I was getting all arty for Instagram!) and broad beans, plus a small amount of intensely flavoured jus.
The first pudding was a tonka bean pannacotta served with white chocolate pineapple and pineapple sorbet. Sorbet and pannacotta was an interesting texture and temperature combination, but as a whole the dish worked well, combining delicate flavours that were not too sweet – which was just as well with second pudding on the way!
Last, but definitely not least, was a rich, dense chocolate parfait, served with raspberries, an intense raspberry puree, raspberry sorbet and a raspberry meringue shard. The chocolate was topped with a tiny amount of popping candy – which can sometimes be gimmicky, but in this case really did add something to the dish. Unusually, the paired wine with this dessert course was a red dessert wine, which was a new experience for me!
We were absolutely blown away by the standard of the cooking we experienced. The number of different ingredients, flavours, techniques and textures on show were mind boggling – but they all had a role to play. Sometimes, foams, broths that are poured over the dish at your table, popping candy in desserts and the like can be gimmicky and a case of style over substance: not so here. Every single element we tried added something to the experience, and really demonstrated the amazing skill of the chef. I sadly never got the chance to eat at the Crown at Whitebrook, but when I tweeted a couple of photos of some of the dishes that we enjoyed, a couple of people who had eaten there said that the food was a very similar style. My only slight complaint (and it’s almost a bit of a tongue in cheek one!) was that there was perhaps just too much food! Some of the courses we had would not have seemed like stingy portions if you’d had them as an a la carte main course, and it was fortunate that at the end of the evening I didn’t have far to go before I could lie down as I was so incredibly full up!
Service throughout the evening – and throughout our stay – was fantastic, with attentive staff who really seemed to be happy in their work. Each course was explained to us, and the waiting staff seemed knowledgeable about the wine too.
Breakfast the next morning was excellent too. Despite our still being slightly full up, we managed to find some room! Mr W sampled not only a kipper but also a full Welsh whilst I enjoyed a bowl of rich, buttery scrambled eggs served with local smoked salmon and homemade toast. The buffet also included a lovely fresh fruit salad (I’m not a massive fresh fruit fan but this one actually did tempt me!), organic yogurts, freshly baked croissants and lovely local fresh juices.
I have nothing but praise for the food at Llansantffraed Court. The quality of the ingredients and the cooking were absolutely outstanding and I will definitely visit again – the beautiful countryside setting makes it ideal for a trip out for Sunday lunch and I’d definitely like to try that. Our accommodation was clean, comfortable and spacious too, with a recently refurbished bathroom which was very nice, although I’d say that the rooms – and the public areas of the hotel – although scrupulously clean were a little ‘tired’ and lacked some of the modern and luxurious touches you’d expect from a true luxury country house hotel, which gives me a bit of a dilemma as to whether I could truly recommend the full experience for a gourmet weekend break, which is a shame, because the food is right up there with what you’d expect from some of the best country house hotels, and the fantastically detailed guest information brochure shows that they have absolutely the best of intentions. On the whole, though, I think I would – the setting, the fantastic staff and the outstanding meal make it worth the trip, and the accommodation prices are reasonable, so you could indulge yourself by splashing out on a fantastic meal and also have a night away without completely breaking the bank! Llansantffraed Court is a must visit for any local food lover, or anyone visiting Monmouthshire to experience its culinary delights.
Food: ***** Service: ***** Ambience: ***
Our meal at Llansantffraed Court was complimentary and we paid a reduced rate for bed and breakfast accommodation. Thank you very much to Llansantffraed Court for inviting us.
Llansantffraed Court Country House Hotel & Restaurant, Clytha, Llanvihangel Gobion, Abergavenny, Monmouthshire NP7 9BA