Wednesday, 23 October 2019

Llys Meddyg, Newport, Pembrokeshire

Although, in the end, our meal at Llys Meddyg turned out to be (spoiler alert) really quite good, it did not get off to the best of starts. It's not that the welcome at their basement bar wasn't warm, or that there was anything to complain about in terms of the comfort of the seating or the volume of the sound system, but when my request for a selection of their advertised 'foraged cocktails' was met with a gasp of "oh God, I'll have to look up the recipes", it seemed to suggest that perhaps bar work wasn't this particular member of staff's strongest skill. I watched with increasing horror as huge copa glasses were filled with vodka, gin and who knows what else (or maybe I just don't want to know), two ice cubes per glass to ensure the temperature of the final mixture was only just under room temperature, and finally a thin scattering of random herbs, lending the unfortunate things the look of something a toddler may proudly present as "tea" after an afternoon playing in the garden. So far, so bad.

But once settled upstairs under the twinkling fairy lights of their tastefully rustic dining room, things started to go a lot better. The menu seemed to involve a great many of my favourite things (crab, pigeon, cockles) and made a point of featuring ingredients smoked in their own back garden smokehouse, which tends to suggest an operation with a certain amount of ambition. House bread was soft and crunchy in all the right places, and (gordal?) olives plump and full of salty flavour.

My own starter of pigeon would have been perfect - literally perfect - if it had just been seasoned a bit - well, a lot - more. Carefully butchered and beautifully timed to pink inside, a bolder hand with the salt would have made the most of its lovely gamey flavour. That said, the parsnip mash was silky smooth, and poached blackberries (presumably from the garden) were another tasteful, and colourful, accompaniment.

The aforementioned house-smoked salmon fortunately did not suffer from lack of seasoning, and came artfully folded around radish, beetroot and toasted hazelnuts. I realise it look a bit anaemic above - this was not the case on the night, it was just very dark in there and my pics have needed a bit of Photoshopping to make them even vaguely usable.

Last of the starters was Solva (a very pretty little fishing village further west towards St Davids) crab, huge mounds of it, fluffy and fresh, studded with pickled kohlrabi and cherry tomatoes. But the highlight of this dish wasn't the crab - lovely though it was - but a little jug of what they called "tomato water", a clear but powerfully flavoured liquid that tasted of summer itself. A truly wonderful thing.

I had my eye on a main of cod and crayfish tails, and seeing that a few bits and pieces on the menu were foraged or home-grown, asked our waitress if the crustacea had been netted locally. She darted off to the kitchen to ask, and came back with the answer that they were from "the North Atlantic". After it was pointed out that crayfish are a freshwater species and if they'd been fished out of the North Atlantic they'd have been very lost indeed, not to mention rather ill, she disappeared again, only to return with the same answer - North Atlantic, specifically "Subarea VI". I half thought about ordering it just to see what on earth would turn up, but in the end my desire for a nice dinner overcame my curiosity and I ended up with the lamb. Much like the pigeon, this otherwise carefully cooked shoulder of lamb would have been faultless if seasoned a bit more boldly. A shame, but there was still plenty to enjoy in the rich, tender meat and foraged sea vegetables (samphire, and sea beet).

If miso carrot, smoked tofu and spiced gnocchi sounds like a rather eccentric collection of ingredients, well, you're not wrong. But actually, other than the fact we didn't quite work out what was "miso" about the carrots (they just tasted of normal roasted carrots), it worked surprisingly well. It probably could have done with losing an ingredient or two, but the gnocchi were well made and toasted peanuts added a nice crunch.

Best of the mains though was sea bass, caught that morning (so we were told) and cooked to absolute perfection, with a gently transluscent centre and delicate crisp skin. A little potato dauphinoise was indulgently creamy, and pickled mustard seeds were an interesting texture, but really this was all about the fish, which was worth the price of admission on its own.

Desserts were a little more uneven. An apple "tarte tatin" had a very thin amount of soggy pastry, and tasted unsatisfyingly savoury. Also, the "crème fraîche" ice cream on top was unpleasantly sour.

Peanut butter parfait was better - you can't really go wrong with peanut butter and banana, and the vanilla ice cream on top was really good. Still, part of me wishes we'd steered away from the desserts and just ordered the Welsh cheeseboard. There are some really good cheeses in Wales.

All in all though, despite Cocktailgate and Crayfishgate and the odd bit of underseasoning, there was still more to enjoy at Llys Meddyg than criticise. It's not a destination restaurant, but isn't really trying to be, it's just a friendly, relaxing place to spend an evening serving local food well enough to easily be worth the money they're charging for it (in this case, £33 a head with a bottle of wine, which is great value I'm sure you'll agree), and, well, sometimes that'll do. We very much enjoyed our weekend in this most beautiful part of the country (Llys Meddyg is a hotel as well, and the rooms are lovely), and will have very fond memories of it. As long as we try and forget those cocktails.


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