Deep in the heart of rural Monmouthshire, well in the middle of nowhere really, sits an old and weather-battered country house, with an almost glum expression as you drive up towards the main entrance. The building is in dire need of a bit of attention.
It’s clear that most of the budget at Llansantffraed Court is spent on the food – but that’s never enough. The restaurant has undergone a revival in recent months – the sous-chef from Wales’ finest, ‘The Crown at Whitebrook’, took over as head chef in a bid to transform the culinary fortunes of the place.
I was excited about the set menu that was put in front us. Choosing what to eat can be quite a laborious challenge, especially when every menu ever created tries to sell you everything on it. So I was pleased that I had only a choice of three for every course.
I started with the Pembroke crab, with cucumber and crème fraiche. The crab had a nice salty after-taste to it, softened by the cold cucumber and crème fraiche. It was presented nicely and it was colourful, but there was quite a random feel about the plate. There was some sort of pastry flopped over the top of the dish, adding very little and over-complicating what would otherwise have been a refined piece of cooking.
Moving on, I opted for the Brecon Venison, beetroot, celeriac and wild mushroom. This was more intelligent. The flavours all worked very well together and there was nothing really over-powering about any of it. The only issue I had was that the Venison was too voluminous. It soaked up too much of the rest of the plate and became a struggle towards the end.
Finishing off with a dessert simply called: vanilla, blueberry and lemon – I started thinking about what the problem was with the restaurant.
It felt as though the restaurant was dragging the rest of the place with it. A restaurant only needs two things, in essence. One: good food and two: a warming location. You take any of the world’s top 100 restaurants and each will have it’s own unique atmosphere; generated by the location and the building.
The problem that Llansantffraed Court has is that the restaurant is clearly on the up (although the new head chef is still in the experimentation phase), and is painfully dragging the rest with it. Investing to rejuvenate a restaurant is to be applauded, but that’s only half the challenge.
If the location or building has a glum feel to it, how can you expect diners to feel embraced. You can’t and the food alone, however good, is never enough.