I’m sure you already know, but I have a love affair with Wales. Only in the last few years have I really started exploring what Britain has to offer instead of jumping on a plane and leaving it and I’m continued to be amazed by its utter beauty. While there are so many stunning places to visit in the UK, Wales is for me the most exciting. Having visited Wales from south to north and east to west, I was surprised to realise I’d not touched on the beautiful Monmouthshire – especially when it comes to food.
The Whitebrook, located in the depths of the Wye Valley is looked after by head chef Chris Harrod with his wife Kirsty who manage both the restaurant and the guest rooms located at the property. As soon as we arrived we were whisked away to our room which while simple, its location and attention to detail made me fall in love with the place. While we unpacked, a pot of fresh milk and warm Welsh cake were brought up to us – the latter just fresh from the oven and was absolutely delicious.
The bathroom was really lovely too. Cosy, warm and some good spa products which were great for having a long soak in the tub before dinner whilst sipping on a warm cup of coffee. Bliss.
Before we divulged in any relaxation we popped quite literally across the road and discovered what looked like an enchanted forest. A resident goat looked towards us ominously while we crawled down a hill and stumbled across this lush green enclave with a small network of tiny rivers running through. It really did feel like something out of a movie scene and if fairies were ready to appear from the rocks and trees – though sadly they didn’t.
Dressed and ready for dinner we made our way down to the restaurant where all the magic happens. A glass of local Welsh sparkling wine later and our canapés arrived which were made up of flavours of carrot and freshly foraged herbs – all very lovely.
I’m not entirely sure what this amuse bouche was, but can be best described as a sort of savoury panna cotta with some of most amazing chorizo I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating. Soft, buttery and it quite literally melted in the mouth with an almost sponge like texture. Sunflower seeds and a floral garnish made for such an exciting start to this tasting menu.
First dish out to the table was one of my absolute favourites. Roast Jerusalem artichokes, local goats curd, forest findings, rosemary, nuts & seeds. So many textures and flavours to this dish you can’t help but only fall in love with it. The artichokes were so soft, the goats curd added a nice touch of acidity and the forest flavours complimented just about everything with a nice streak of rosemary running through it all.
Another stunning plate of food was this single Orkney scallop. Expertly cooked and with a nice slightly charred edge to its rim. The scallop was complimented by some roasted cauliflower, Romanesco, estuary findings and wild chervil. This was without a doubt the best scallop I’ve had all year.
A plate of duck liver parfait with quince was irresistibly good and oh-so smooth. It was served with a small crispy duck croquette which had such a lovely depth of flavour and the whole dish offered a nice crunchy nuttiness with some hazelnuts and bittercress for garnish. Full of textures and flavours – this was yet again stunning.
Day boat brill with mussels and vegetables from the Autumn kitchen garden was as perfect as a dish could be and yet again, cooked to perfection. This tasting menu does last for nearly four hours, a little long for my liking but then when dishes like these arrive you realise just why. Equally as impressive was the wild fallow venison with smoked beets, celeriac, mugwort and bitter leaves. The venison was full of flavour and the smokiness from the beets really came through, without being too strong – but instead refined.
The only dish I perhaps had some reservations about during this tasting menu, was this dessert of blackberry, chamomile, blackcurrant and sage. Presentation wise it was fantastic and so was the execution of it all but I just couldn’t quite decide on the flavour combinations. Still, a very good dish – just not quite as punchy as the rest.
The meal ended with a stunningly simple dessert of poached pear, buttermilk, maritime pine and yogurt crumble. I’m sure creating this dish was anything but simple, however in the mouth it didn’t feel overly complex – yet all of the flavours could be tasted individually and on the plate it looked very humble. It’s the sort of food you only wish you could recreate at home. As well as the lovely looking (and tasting) petit fours.
The next morning we popped back down to the restaurant for a rather fabulous breakfast. A buffet selection of croissants, fruits, preserves and cereals – the highlight was the full English, or should I say Welsh. Excellent crispy bacon, juicy mushrooms, creamy scrambled eggs, sweet cherry tomatoes, quality sausage and rich black pudding. The perfect start to our day.
Having fallen in love with Wales just a few years ago, dining at The Whitebrook has made me fall in love with it even more so. The stunning scenery, the people and of course the food. Dining at The Whitebrook is an experience like no other and in my opinion this is the best restaurant in Wales right now. The gargantuan tasting menu perhaps lasts for a little longer than I’d have liked (almost 4 hours) but it was well worth every minute. Next time I’m in Monmouthshire, I know where I’ll be staying.