Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Country House - Llansantffraed Court Hotel Restaurant Review


“Wow” were the only words I could manage when we approached the very lovely, verdant Llansantffraed Court Hotel on an equally lovely, sunny Welsh afternoon. The setting for this hotel is rather spectacular, vast lawns, mature trees and shrubs and nothing else in sight. The food had a lot to live up to, but happily, for the vast majority of the 6 course tasting menu, the kitchen proved more than equal to the task.

Taking a gin and tonic on the terrace with a view across the lawns was the first pleasure of the evening, well accompanied by the canapés of parmesan gougère, lamb kofta and deliciously moreish ‘popcorn cockles’. All future gin and tonics should be accompanied by these salty, crunchy little bites.


The first course proper ‘Truffle, Perl Wen’ was the only duff note of the meal, coming as it did with a very sweet custard. This isn’t my first experience of a sweet custard on a savoury dish and I’m afraid I liked it as much this time as I did before, which is to say not a lot.


By the second course we were back firing on all cylinders. ‘Foie Gras’ featured a rich pan fried piece and a ballotine both balanced by with some sweetness from a Muscat gel and texture added by flaked almonds.


The fish course of ‘Halibut’, served with crisped pancetta, truffle and artichoke was a piece of precision cooking and would have been perfect were it not for the irritation of a slab of wood where a plate should be.


The meat course, ‘Beef’ was a knockout, a blushing pink fillet of beef with an intense braised cheek, morels, bright asparagus, carrot and a meaty deep jus. Perfection.


The first dessert of ‘Strawberries’ was an artfully presented mix of elements, including macerated, freeze dried and mascarpone, delicate, pretty and light.


The ‘Chocolate’ course was my favourite, an absolute stunner with shards of cookie dumped in to an evaporated milk espuma (I had to Google it too but basically it's a foam) and Pedro Ximénez sherry poured over the top.


The food at Llansantffraed Court Hotel is seriously impressive and shows a real ambition which is very welcome, particularly given the clever composition and cooking on display. I recommend you pay them a visit!


Disclosure: I was invited to review Llansantffraed Court Hotel and my meal and stay were complimentary and was arranged by Cake Communications

Llansantffraed Court Hotel
Clytha, Llanvihangel Gobion, Monmouthshire NP7 9BA
Tel: 01873 840678

Web: http://www.llch.co.uk/
Twitter: @llchotel

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Street Spirit - Le Bistrot Pierre Restaurant Review

In LA there is a street where two worlds collide. On one side is notoriously scuzzy Downtown LA and on the other is millionaire playground Beverley Hills. Chippy Lane may have improved its image in the last decade but the juxtaposition on Caroline Street of 'last stop of the night' favourite Dorothy's opposite the mega chains of the Brewery Quarter development is not lost on me, and it is to the 'sunnier side of the street' the we head on a Friday evening to try out mini-chain Le Bistrot Pierre.


First impressions are that the whole enterprise is très à dessein and slick, a smattering of gallic accents amongst the staff, white pinafores and shiny shiny dark wood everywhere. The menu is stuffed full of classic French home cooking and hits all the key marks you would expect. Moules, camembert, and boeuf bourguignon all present and correct.

The cooking is pretty decent too. A starter of Calamari £5.95 is crisp and light with no hint of rubber band twang. The Saucisse de Toulouse £5.95 (so popular it appears twice) comes with a suitably runny poached egg and sharp tomato dressing.


The mains keep up the cooking standards. A pleasing and precisely cooked Rib-Eye Steak well complemented by a Roquefort Butter and crisp skin-on frites.

Rib Eye Steak, Le Bistrot Pierre Cardiff

The Agneau au Cassoulet is perfectly tasty if awkward looking, but I can't quite forgive the use of the 'cassoulet' as an accompaniment and what we really have is braised lamb with a bean stew. I know, I know I'm being picky but the equivalent in Italian would be serving pasta as a side dish and it's just wrong.

Le Bistrot Pierre Cardiff


The desserts are lovely. The Delice au Chocolate £5.25 plenty gooey and rich and the Café Gourmand £6.95 a fun 'greatest hits' of lemon tart, sorbet, chocolate fondant and a lovely Gateau au Miel.


Le Bistrot Pierre Cardiff

It's really hard to dislike Le Bistrot Pierre and as chains go it is a good safe bet for town centre. The service standards are high, the quality of the ingredients and the cooking make up for the chain restaurant touches that are subtle but evident. Throw in a wine list that deserves more than a passing glance and while I may not be hopping up and down with excitement, there is more than enough here to keep me interested.

Le Bistrot Pierre Cardiff

Disclosure: I was invited to review Le Bistrot Pierre and my meal was complimentary

Le Bistrot Pierre
The Old Brewery Quarter, Caroline Street, Cardiff, CF10 1FG.
Tel: 029 2034 5990

Web: http://www.lebistrotpierre.co.uk/locations/cardiff 
Twitter: @pierrecardiff

Sunday, 6 April 2014

10 questions for... Justin Llywellyn


Chef Justin Llewellyn’s career has seen him take the helm at some of the most prestigious hotels in South Wales including Resort Head Chef at the Celtic Manor, Head Chef at St David’s Hotel and Executive Chef at The Vale Hotel. He has been Head Chef at The Park Plaza in Cardiff city centre for 18 months.

1. Give us 5 words that describe your food.
Modern, British, Local, Quality Ingredients. You can mask cheap ingredients but I’d rather give a smaller amount and let the best ingredients speak for themselves. For example we buy chicken from Madgett’s Farm which has a completely different texture and taste, it’s really meaty and there’s no comparison to a supermarket chicken. We also buy a lot of heritage vegetables, old fashioned really, carrots and beetroot. 

2. Apart from your knives, what one piece of kitchen equipment would you never be without?
Thermomix probably is our pride and joy, it makes velvet purees. You can get domestic ones and you can just make anything in them. We don’t really use water baths, we’re more about traditional cooking. A lot of places use them but I think it’s just a lazy way of cooking. I’m not a dinosaur, I will try these gadgets and they are precise but for us it’s all about slow cooking.

3. Which book should be in every kitchen and why?
Daniel Bourdain is probably the latest one, my sister bought it for me, for Christmas. Thomas Keller, Under Pressure is a good one, that’s all about sous vide. I’ve got too many books, I’m on Amazon buying cookbooks all the time to be honest. Larousse I would recommend to young chefs. My sister-in-law has a pub and a couple of her regulars know I’m a chef and they bring back books when they go to auctions so I end up with all these 200 year old books. In Season is one of my favourites and I use that all the time. 

4. If you could give the 18 year old you one bit of advice, what would it be?
I’d still be a chef, I wouldn’t change it. A lot of people are unhappy in their jobs, I work 16, 17 hours a day so I can’t be unhappy! My parents had a guesthouse and I used to cook the breakfasts when I was 10 years old. I just like the hotel environment, I like the challenge of a 24 hour business. The only thing is that I’d probably go and work abroad, travel more.

5. People photographing their food - yes or no?
I think it’s a compliment to be honest. You see it all the time, especially with our afternoon teas. I’ve got no issue with it. Trip Advisor is really good, it has it’s downside but it’s another avenue for feedback. People take photographs and they put them on there. As a consumer that’s where I go first!

6. What makes for a great food experience?
It depends whether I’m taking my wife or children but really you just want really good service and quality food. I’m not the type of person to complain unless it’s really bad but really I think you look at what you pay for. I want good quality and to for the food to match what’s described on the menu. Decent portions too! I enjoy the experience of Michelin restaurants but I wouldn’t want to do it every day. 

7. Tell us about an ingredient that is underrated and what to do with it.
I think the flavour of Kohlrabi is amazing and we shred it and put it in salads or do a gratin, slice it with potato and press it like a terrine. We’ve been using quinoa for about 15 years now but it’s only in the last year you’ve been able to get it in supermarkets. We have potted rabbit on the menu now and we add chicken to it to encourage people to eat it.

8. What dish reappears on your menu regularly?
The pork belly. We buy whole woodland pigs, we take the belly and cook it really slowly at 90 degrees in duck fat for 24 hours. Once it’s done we roll it then cut it in to portions and pan fry it ready for the table. What we put with it depends what’s in season, maybe cauliflower puree or butternut squash. Sometimes we put scallops with it, pork and fish go really well together.

9. What do you see as the latest food trends?
I’m seeing a lot of Asian influence in food, we’ve got an Oriental duck salad on the menu which is lovely. People are also wanting to eat more healthily but it still has to taste amazing. Our owners are very healthy but they eat out all the time and they encourage us to look at this or that restaurant. Fish is so popular at the moment, we try to keep away from using fish like cod and use pollock or ling but when ingredients are trendy it pushes the price up. We are also using more raw food to keep the flavour and the goodness in.

10. What’s next for Justin Llywellyn and The Park Plaza?
We’re changing the menus all the time, the competition is so fierce in Cardiff so we’re just looking at our own quality and not getting too hung up about what anyone else is doing. We’re busy which is good and I’m trying to get as much feedback as possible, I want to do things right. One thing we're looking at launching is a gentleman's afternoon tea with a shot of beer, maybe a cigar on the terrace or steak sandwiches. 



Monday, 31 March 2014

March 2014 Digested


Spring has sprung and new produce is on the way. Crab, Jersey Royals and Spring Greens will be coming to a menu near you soon! Plenty of news and openings to talk about so here's the news for March...

  • In February's Digested I reported on a new opening planned for Saundersfoot, Coast Restaurant brought to you by the team at The Grove in Narberth. This month came the exciting news that Will Holland, formerly of La Becasse Ludlow had been appointed Head Chef when plans for his own restaurant fell through. Opening is currently planned for April 14th.
  • The Gravity Station, a small but perfectly formed craft ale bar and shop opened on Barrack Lane, handily positioned for a few post work beers and a burger at The Grazing Shed. Check the opening times though because their licensing is a tiny bit restrictive. 
  • Following a popular pop-up run at The Canadian in Splott, Got Beef opened in their permanent home on Whitchurch Road.
  • Anyone who has been to a festival in the last decade will already be familiar with Pie Minister. And by familiar I mean have had their festival more or less rescued by beer mopping Mothership. If you don't know what I'm talking about, get yourself to their new shop on St Mary Street for pie, mash, gravy and minted peas pronto.
  • While we're on the subject of festivals, Abergavenny, the granddaddy of food festivals in Wales will be hosting its first evening festival. Early bird stroller tickets go on sale at 2012 prices from Monday the 7th of April.
  • Nomad Restaurant had its inaugural dinner at the Clytha Arms on the 30th March and the food looked amazing. I say looked because I missed it but the pictures looked tantalising. Follow @nomadcardiff for details of the next event. 
  • And last, but by no means least, The Discovery opened in Cyncoed to general approval all round. For photos from the preview evening go here.

Dates for the diary

April 8th, Bar 44 in Penarth are holding a Calçotada. 'A what?' I hear you say. Take a look at this for the lowdown of what you might expect

April 14th, Coast Restaurant in Saundersfoot due to open

Late April, Restaurant James Sommerin due to open, exact date TBC



Saturday, 22 March 2014

Poles Apart - Y Polyn, Nantgaredig restaurant review

It has taken me over a year to make it to Y Polyn. I've been thwarted by snow (twice), car trouble and a mistimed attempt on Mothering Sunday, but I finally made the trip and I'm pleased to say that although it was worth the wait I'm kicking myself that I left it quite so long. The restaurant is run by husband and wife team, Sue and Mark Mason who have a thriving business out here in deepest, darkest, loveliest, Carmarthenshire.

The menu name drops plenty of quality Welsh produce (Pantysgawn cheese, Carmarthen ham and saltmarsh lamb) and there is sufficient choice to demand a stiff gin and tonic before I could order. This is food for getting stuck into so bring your appetite.

I had been warned about the bread, and the sea salt and rosemary crusted white was something special.

Bread at Y Polyn

A starter of wild rabbit tagliatelle was lip smackingly, deeply savoury and pan fried scallops with just a hint of fivespice accompanied by shards of crisp Carmarthen ham and a celariac puree.

Wild rabbit ragu at Y Polyn

Scallops at Y Polyn

Dovey Estuary saltmarsh lamb was served pink with a confit breast and a pungent onion, garlic and thyme puree.

Saltmarsh lamb at Y Polyn

Whole lemon sole was simply fried and swimming in a beurre noisette and brown shrimp.

Whole lemon sole at Y Polyn

Crème brûlée is my ultimate dessert and this did not disappoint. I often find my heart sinking when I see it on a menu, so many restaurants feel the need to mess about with it adding lavender or Earl Grey.

Don't. This is how it should be.

Creme brulee at Y Polyn

A fun yet grown-up knickerbocker glory produced a huge smile from my friend who grinned pretty much all the way to the bottom.


I might be late to the game, but I really liked Y Polyn and this is my kind of food. Quality ingredients, economically presented; by which I mean that nothing superfluous makes it on to the plate. No twiddly bits and no gimmicks. Special mention has to go to the front of house team who run the dining room casually yet professionally. I relax because they are relaxed and I honestly can't think when I've enjoyed a dinner this much.

I don't think it will be long before I'm back. In fact, anyone fancy a mini bus trip out West sometime soon?

Y Polyn


Y Polyn
Capel Dewi, Carmarthen SA32 7LH
01267 290000

Web: www.ypolynrestaurant.co.uk
Twitter: @ypolyn

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