Tuesday, 6 July 2021

The Felin Fach Griffin, Brecon

The Felin Fach Griffin is a gastropub of serious pedigree. Their sister restaurant is the Gurnard's Head in Zennor, Cornwall, long one of the most well-regarded and popular spots in the West Country, and where we enjoyed a fantastic meal back in between lockdowns in 2020. Given that this particular trip to Brecon and Camarthenshire wasn't as overtly foodie as the Cornwall holiday I thought just one dinner from a team who clearly knew what they were doing would be a nice highlight of the trip, a bankable win even if the rest of the meals would be more along the lines of a National Trust egg and cress sandwich.

And so it turned out, which of course is great news for all concerned, but even I, expecting good things, was blindsided by the quality of the experience. There's a serious maturity on display at the Griffin, real technical skill when it comes to getting things like perfectly cooked, meaty cod fillet or a deliriously attractive crisp brown skin on a piece of chicken, but something else on top of that, a grasp of flavour and texture that only the very best kitchens can produce. There are lots of good gastropubs, but not many at this level, and certainly not many making the very best of local asparagus and garden herbs for £38 for 3 courses.

But let's start at the beginning. House bread was a) great and b) free, both of which as it should be. If you scan down a menu and see a variety of exciting sauces and jus on offer, then you're also going to want a decent bread to soak into them, and it's always a nice bonus if you don't have to worry about extra cost.

Value is a theme that runs through everything the Griffin do. There are cheaper restaurants, of course there always will be, but you really do seem to get a lot for your money here, whether it's the clear amount of cheffy effort that's gone into this fluffy white onion soup (with accompanying disc of Welsh rarebit) that would not look out of place anywhere with a Michelin star.

Or this beetroot tart with goats cheese and walnut pesto, yes not an entirely original combination of flavours but incredibly well executed with its delicate pastry base and interesting selection of herby dressings.

Best of the starters though was this neat little fillet of poached salmon, with a lovely smooth "horseradish buttermilk" sauce and chunks of fresh sweet pickled cucumber. The salmon had a nice firm texture, it was all seasoned well, and a couple of sprigs of dill from the garden (at least I assumed it was from the garden, as I saw some growing there) finished it all off.

Just look at that bit of cod. Examine it; breathe it in, glory in it. It was every bit as good as it looked, and alongside some choice bits of braised celeriac, fennel and the like it stood out as the kind of serious fish dish you would happily travel halfway across the country (as indeed we had, although it was only 5 minutes drive from our wonderful AirBnB in Talybont) to eat. Pescatarians need not apply, as that deliciously silky sauce underneath is actually "chicken juices" but you know what, cod and chicken *always* works.

Chicken was also worth the journey on its own. See how crisp and golden brown the skin looks? See how clear and silky the jus, see how perfectly charred the miniature garden vegetables. This came with a bowl of "crisp potatoes" (sort of like very crunchy patatas brava) but I couldn't resist trying a portion of their triple-cooked chips too so yes we may have slightly overdone it on the potatoes. Both were wonderful though, so it's hard to have any serious regrets.

Maple & hazelnut-glazed celeriac with "sweet & sour" shallots and charred asparagus was a veg-led dish that would make any vegetarian happy, and although I didn't get to try it (I was pretty full by this point thanks to two portion of potatoes) I'm reliably informed it was very good. Looks good anyway, doesn't it?

Desserts were each ordered thanks not to the main event but the accompaniment. I am far less interested in "Chocolate delice" than "Guiness ice cream" and although the chocolate was more than decent the ice cream was thick and malty and superb. Likewise, Artic roll was very nice but even better was the rhubarb sorbet parked on top, which was packed full of summery flavours.

Having a short stroll around the extensive kitchen gardens after dinner, in the late summer sun (we were very lucky with the weather in Brecon, or maybe it's always like that who knows) it occurred to me that when an operation really puts the effort in, it often creates a virtuous circle of increasingly impressive returns. Start up a kitchen garden and yes you may not save any money versus buying your veg wholesale but the changing seasons force a creative kitchen in new and unexpected directions - all of which improves the restaurant experience. And the better you get at the gardening, the better your menu gets, and so on. The Felin Fach Griffin have created their own ecosystem of seasonal flavours, and know exactly how to make the most of them.

Because yes, a kitchen garden is one thing, but the Griffin are able to work in excellent local producers (including a particularly good fishmonger by the looks of things) and end up with a menu of charm and variety, and serve the whole lot (with a couple of glasses of wine) for a very reasonable £42.50pp. And this is where the real skill lies, in sending customers away with a spring in their step and the knowledge they'd quite happily go back and do it all over again as soon as is at all possible. That requires not just a great kitchen but a charming front of house and a lovely low-beamed building in one of the most beautiful parts of the country. God, it's good to be eating out again, isn't it?


No comments: