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The Crown At Whitebrook - Cymru Culture Review

(February 16, 2011)

The Crown at Whitebrook


Crown 1,1 Front

 

I have long been a fan of the BBC show 'Great British Menu', especially of chef James Sommerin, who showcased a number of elaborate and modern dishes representing Wales (scandalously beaten, in my opinion) in the most recent series. Following some research, I discovered that he works between two locations ('The Crown at Whitebrook', near Monmouth and 'The Crown at the Celtic Manor', Newport). With a wedding anniversary looming, we chose The Crown at Whitebrook for a two-night stay.

Opening in December 2003, the restaurant achieved their first Michelin star in 2007, and has retained it ever since. Other accolades, of which it has an impressive number, include (just in 2010 alone): AA 2 Rosettes and 5 Star Restaurant with Rooms; Visit Wales 'Gold Award ' for 5 star Restaurant with Rooms; Which? The Good Food Guide - 7/10 rating, ranking the restaurant 36th in the UK; to name but a few. It also has an excellent reputation for its extensive wine list; for which it has also won accolades.


Crown 1 Dylan SuiteThe Dylan; an 'Executive Room'

Serial hotel junkies, we stayed in one of The Crown at Whitebrook's eight rooms, called 'Dylan'. It is termed an 'Executive Room', others are entitled Bryn, Kyffin and Wales. Smaller rooms are referred to as 'Superior' and 'Standard', with the prices reflected accordingly. Rather than an hotel, The Crown at Whitebrook is more correctly styled a 'restaurant with rooms' - a wonderful new hybrid combination of excellent rooms and excellent food, without the stuffiness of concierge and trouser presses.

Booking in, restaurant general manager David Hennigan helped us with our luggage - always a nice touch. We were shown to a clean and spacious room on the first floor. The 'Dylan' has a large ensuite, with a huge walk-in, double-shower, lots of lovely complimentary toiletries, fluffy pure white towels and towelling robes. Having had a sneaky peak at some of the other unoccupied rooms, we can confirm that the 'Dylan' is, in our opinion, the best room available. David left the Crown at Whitebrook (and Wales) at the end of 2010, to be replaced by Shaun Corrigan; the new General Manager. Our best wishes go to both David and Shaun for the future.

As to the décor; the room itself was appropriately themed with a portrait of the great Dylan Thomas himself, an antique writing desk and a bookshelf full of volumes of his work, and other quality Welsh-themed literature, which made for pleasant interrogation. There were some lovely touches too, such as a personalised greeting displayed on the wall-mounted plasma TV, accompanied by the sound of an enthusiastic Welsh male-voice choir and excerpts of Dylan Thomas poetry drifting across the screen. And my partner was especially pleased with the complimentary sherry, which he confirmed was delicious, presented in a beautifully engraved decanter.


Crown 2 Lounge 1The Crown at Whitebrook's lounge

Having dressed up for dinner, we were invited to attend pre-dinner drinks at 7 pm. Welcomed on our arrival we were shown to a comfortable lounge, boasting a small bar, from which our chosen aperitifs were brought to us. Surprisingly, the bar's stock did not include Brecon Special Reserve Gin, (distilled only 40 miles away at the Penderyn Distillery, 5 miles north west of Aberdare), whereas you can be sure it included gins that had travelled hundreds, perhaps thousands, of miles. My partner chose Tewdric's Tipple instead, a bottled beer from the Kingstone Brewery, a delicious, hoppy, bitter ale, brewed in Tintern – just down the road.


Crown 3 Lounge 2

Nooks and crannies in The Crown at Whitebrook's lounge

 

While we chose from the menus and the extensive wine list, we were presented with a wonderful selection of canapés (on welsh slate which we thought was a nice touch), ranging from the most delicious chicken liver pate to mini cheese soufflés and individual servings of delicious caviar.

The menu was extensive, with multiple choices both for myself and for my partner, who is what is termed 'pesco-vegetarian': that is he eats fish, but not meat or meat products. Of particular note was the Cornish mackerel with white chocolate, horseradish and beetroot, which I had as a starter on the first evening, and the butter roast skate, with smoked bacon, peas, capers and asparagus (for main, also the first evening). The vegetarian menu contains three choices of both starter and main course, although we had taken the precaution of advising the restaurant of this when booking, to avoid any disappointment. My partner particularly enjoyed the cauliflower, apple and salsify, the wild mushroom, truffle and soft poached egg, (both starters), and roast gnocchi with winter vegetables and hazelnut. A lovely touch was the extra, mini desert we were presented, with candle, on the first evening, to celebrate our anniversary.


Crown 5 BreakfastBreakfast marmalade

 

Crown LavaLaverbread fried in bacon on a buckwheat blini

 

Breakfast was a sheer joy. Of special note was the laverbread fried in bacon and the buckwheat blini, smoked salmon and poached egg which I devoured greedily. My partner thoroughly enjoyed haddock and poached egg, served on voluminous white, designer, crockery. Also, and this was one of the highlights for me, were the freshly baked (and warm) breakfast muffins, which were served with thick slices of brown and white toast (which were not stated on the breakfast menu, so a lovely surprise). I could have easily eaten three or four one after another! The smell that wafted from them when they were broken open was sensational, filling the air with the heady scent of cinnamon.

 

Crown 6 Breakfast 2Breakfast muffin

It is the little things like this, the obvious attention to detail, which really sets The Crown at Whitebrook apart from other excellent restaurants (and we've eaten in a few). The service was attentive, but not overbearing. Our water glasses were regularly re-filled and our wine glasses never allowed to drain.


Crown 4Dining room set for breakfast

 

The attention to detail even extended to the cutlery and crockery, each specially selected to suit each dish. We became very aware of the deliberate presentation of each dish (even to the extent that the angle of the plated items was altered by the waiting staff, to display the dishes to the diner in a more pleasing manner), which were presented so beautifully, that  the look of the dish is obviously of the utmost importance, as well as the taste. Another nice touch was the fact that the waiting staff introduced each dish, which was useful as we often forgot exactly what we had ordered, especially as a small number of additional tasters were served between each (known) course – another lovely touch.

 


Crown NapkinBreakfast setting

 

While it may be a cliché to say that James and his team presented 'art on a plate', the sheer beauty of each course has to be applauded, not to mention the taste. We were looked after with care and thought throughout our stay, and made to feel valued and special. We look forward to our next visit!

 

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