A few days away, in Wales’ food capital, with great restaurants nearby and green rolling away from you as far as you can see? Yes, please: which is what brings us to Llansantffraed Court, just outside Abergavenny. You feel, pleasantly, miles from anywhere, disconnected from city bustle, as we settle in after a cream tea (get me, raised pinkie and everything). This is what you might call a proper country hotel, relaxed but elegant.
I suspect I’m not alone in using hotels solely as staging posts for the weekend’s planned eating; but here, that would be to miss a trick.
As our room overlooks an expansive kitchen garden, we can see the team picking the ingredients for our dinner. That’s the kind of sight which reassures you, with three-quarters of all ingredients coming from within a 20-mile radius.
The restaurant itself is an amiable place, with a low-beamed ceiling and tables well spaced. Reminders of the striking beauty of local lakes and mountains are displayed on the walls.
Among the canapes, a tiny stuffed beignet is a standout, though a frothily light carrot velouté, kissed with cumin, runs it close.
Bread is very good, the butter better. Whipped with caramelised brown butter to bring out nutty, subtly toffee hints, it’s a lovely thing to spread thickly.
The substitution for the menu’s foie gras- my wife hates the stuff, and the kitchen is all too happy to make the change at very short notice- is shredded and pressed ham hock with a crisp celeriac remoulade. The foie itself comes with an exemplary brioche: spread with the terrine and daubed with the tart-sweet damson and port chutney, it’s an opulent start.
Scallops are deftly cooked, the romesco beautifully balanced. The plate is dotted with a golden raisin puree which edges toward over-sweetness but manages to pull it back from the brink by appearing sparingly.
The next dish elevates this meal to genuinely memorable.
Medium-rare fillet of locally-raised beef and short rib- so tender it has you floundering around for words like ‘spoonable’- sweet baby leeks, nutty pearl barley soaking up the juices. It’s all laced with a potent Welsh ale and bone marrow jus: from the humblest of ingredients, something sumptuously sexy is conjured. The beef is a highlight, instantly becoming one of those memorable dishes, but the sauce is a showstopper.
Now, there are people who believe that, having paid for a dish, you are entitled to do whatever the hell you like with it, but I manage- just- to fight back the impulse to dredge my fingers through what’s left, all its sticky, slippery glory. It’s decadent stuff, and at time of writing, it is still among my favourite dishes of the year.
A panna cotta which is set just so, perfumed with honey and orange blossom, sweetened with a scattering of white chocolate crumb. The berries, of course, have travelled mere yards from the garden overlooked by our room- spankingly fresh, sweet, vibrant. It’s simple but lovely.
A chocolate fondant with fruitcake ice cream delivers on its promise; it’s liquid, deep, rich, poised between bitter and sweet, and suitably indulgent.
The Court almost passed me by, overshadowed by neighbours like The Hardwick, Restaurant 1861 and The Walnut Tree. I’m rather glad it didn’t. It deserves to be spoken of in the same breath as its more well-known neighbours: in fact, in a weekend in which this was supposed to act as mere curtain-raiser to a pair of Michelin-starred venues, this comfortably outshone one of its more illustrious rivals.
Our meal at The Court was a pleasure, albeit an unexpected one: and aren’t the unexpected pleasures so often the sweetest-tasting?
The Court Restaurant
This blog is a very simple thing.
I won’t try to sell you any hand lotion, exercise programmes, coffee syrups or Patagonian nose flutes. You won’t find tips on dating, ‘wellness’ or yoga mats.
I write because I love it (and food, as indicated by my increasing girth). Greed happens to be my Deadly Sin of choice, but at least it is never shy of providing me with subject matter.
A simple thing, then: all you get is me wittering on semi-coherently about places I’ve eaten at; hence a ‘restaurant blog’ rather than a ‘food blog’, although there are a few recipes scattered throughout.
From mezze to Michelin ‘fine dining’ and all points in between.