TRADITIONAL WELSH FOOD -
BWYD CYMREIG TRADDODIADOL
MODERN WELSH COOKING -
COGINIO CYMREIG CYFOES
The Carlton House Restaurant – foremost in epicurean experience!
Carlton House- Best Restaurant In Wales 2005!
By Ken Thorne
The Welsh culinary scene has dramatically changed over the past ten to fifteen years. The Carlton House Restaurant, Llanwrtyd Wells has been a catalyst in this change and an inspiration to others in the food business during this period. The improvements are profound and Wales has now earned its place as an esteemed epicurean center and destination for discriminating diners!
As an affirmation, Carlton House, in November 2004 was awarded the title "The Welsh Restaurant Making The Best Use of Local Produce" by the Welsh Development Agency (WDA). The award recognizes a restaurant that through its menu selections has an outstanding commitment to the best use of local produce (in the UK, produce means all food items including meat, cheese, etc). Carlton’s food is Welsh fresh and flavorful.
A trip to Wales in the summer of 2004 presented another opportunity for food adventures. I particularly wanted to return to the Carlton House Restaurant, based on a prior good experience. From the beginning, this restaurant has attracted serious gourmets or in today’s vernacular - foodies. Carlton was one of only two Michelin Star restaurants in Wales in 2004. A 2005 Michelin Star is expected, making it four consecutive years for this eatery.
If you are in Wales, include at least one visit to The Carlton House. The food and dining experience combine for a superb evening of enjoyment. It is an understatement that Alan and Chef Mary Ann Gilchrist are dedicated to ensuring it.
Letting Mary Ann guide me through the menu, we selected Roast Fillet of Local Beef topped with a Duxelle of locally-picked St George’s Mushrooms, wrapped in Pancetta and served with Smoky Mash, Wilted Spinach and Béarnaise Sauce. (Pictured above right). Duxelles, a finely chopped mix of mushrooms, onions or shallots and herbs was sautéed in Welsh Butter. The smoky flavor of the mash attained through addition of Welsh Smoked Butter during the mashing! This dish was faultless. Perfectly prepared, the ingredients combined to embellish each other’s flavor. The fillet was a very tender, well-aged prime beef whose flavor reflects the richness of the lush green vegetation of the immediate countryside. Yes, it was juicy, exceedingly so! On a previous visit, I also enjoyed tenderloin, as perfectly prepared but served as a Seared Fillet topped with a Black Olive Tapenade. It’s hard to beat Carlton House for a perfect fillet of tenderloin!
The appetizer chosen was a Hay-on-Wye Dry-Cured Ham with Fresh Fig, Mixed Greens and a Balsamic Dressing. (Pictured right). A very well selected grouping of flavors and textures made for a pleasing and light start to the meal.
Dessert was a bombe! Mary Ann outdid herself with a "Warm Chocolate Fondant with a Strawberry & Grand Marnier Coulis." (Pictured below right). A warm soft-shelled fondant, shaped in the form of a small mound which when pierced, released a stream of hot smooth creamy chocolate. My taste buds thought they were in heaven as the chocolate blended with the coulises. Most artistically presented, the dish offered extraordinary eye appeal. It was served on a colorful burgundy-rimmed plate embellishing the chocolate color with the red of the Strawberry and the creamy tans of the Grand Marnier Coulises. Fanned strawberry and sprinkled confectionary sugar garnishes completed a most memorable dessert dish.
Carlton House is one of a few high-rated restaurants in Wales that deliberately limits the size of the menu providing for perfect execution on every dish every time. Changing every day, the Carlton menu lists three main courses, two meats and a seafood. Vegetarian meals are available. The appetizer (starter) section also lists three options, as does the dessert (pudding) section. A cheese board featuring exclusively Welsh cheeses is available as an appetizer or as a final course.
The appetizers listed were Cream of Leek & Potato Soup with Chive Cream; and Avocado Pear with Crab Mayonnaise with Mustard Dressing in addition to the Hay-on-Wye Ham.
The other main courses, in addition to the Roast Fillet, were Pan-Fried Fillet of Turbot with New Potatoes, Stir-Fried Greens and a Lobster Velouté; and Roast Rack of Local Lamb with Herbed Couscous, Roast Mediterranean Vegetables and a Salsa Verde.
Not including the Chocolate Fondant, desserts offered: Bread and Butter Pudding, a rich brioche with brandy-soaked golden sultanas, covered with real vanilla custard & served warm, with cream; and A Compote of Summer Berries in Rosewater Syrup topped with Elderberry Syllabub.
Bold colors are the signature at the Carlton. Deep blue carpet contrasts with the radiant white tablecloths and the turquoise, green and gold drapes. The drapes hid a subtle pattern of fleur-de-lis symbols. Perhaps they hint at the underlying tone of the culinary quality, a blend of the classic with the best of Welsh. The room, well windowed on two sides, is cheery bright and one is not apt to miss a rear wall of restored 19th Century paneling. The seating is modern styled dark wood, high back chairs reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright’s creations. The upholstered seats assure comfortable dining. The tables with spotlessly clean silverware and glassware is an exquisite setting for the chargers so artistically painted in large bold colored fruit patterns. The restaurant is small, intimate and cosy yet the tables are faultlessly and formally set for what one senses is a serious dining occasion.
The restaurant, seating just sixteen, affords the air of a boutique theatre setting. With diners in place, Mary Ann serves her own kitchen creations, entering, carrying on high each one. On presenting the dish, she smiles and politely acknowledges a diner’s surprise and admiration. Bestowed with such a culinary creation, the diner is still in awe for several moments. This level of entertainment continues throughout the evening with great enjoyment to all.
Alan Gilchrist manages the front of the house with smooth, subtle humor and a relaxed congeniality. Nevertheless, he is dead serious about Carlton House cellars, stocking about 80 excellent wines from many of the world’s highly rated wine regions. House wines are well priced and available by the bottle or glass.
An intimate lounge adjacent to the dining room affords relaxation over a cocktail while you pre-select your meal. It is also enjoyable as an after dinner retreat over coffee/tea to engage in pleasant conversation with other guests. A stay during the week of the Royal Welsh Show will certainly find the lounge patronized by prominent Welsh personalities ensuring lively conservation!
This is a restaurant with rooms with dinner service only offered to those who are staying over night. Attractively furnished, all rooms have ensuite (private bath) facilities. Room prices are very reasonable. Gourmet Breaks (includes wine) or Short Breaks (wine not included) are available throughout most of the year. It is difficult not to stay for a couple of nights; rare is the occasion for such good food opportunities in such a peaceful setting as rural Wales. The location is still reminiscent of areas mentioned in George Borrow’s 19th Century book, Wild Wales, being unspoiled and an area of outstanding natural beauty. Casual explorers and walkers will find it a unique base for exploring by foot or otherwise.
Breakfast, included in your overnight stay is also a gourmet delight. Order Mary Ann’s famous scrambled eggs with your traditional breakfast. The eggs will be like nothing you have ever seen or tasted – unless you own a farm. They are bright buttercup yellow color with the full taste of free-range chickens feeding off all the healthy goodness of a Welsh farm.
As always, please check pricing and availability. Carlton’s phone number from N. America is 011 44 1591 610 248. Website is www.CarltonRestaurant.co.uk Address: Dol-Y-Coed Road, Llanwrtyd Wells, Powys, Wales LD5 4R4
For other good places to eat in Wales, purchase the "Dining out in Wales 2005" guide. One hundred and fifty great eating-places are listed. Published by WDA, it is unbiased and with reviews just completed in October, it is up-to-date. Redeeming vouchers attached to the guide will offset the cost. Additional Info: www.diningoutinwales.co.uk
Copyright © 2005 Ken Thorne
Roast Fillet of Local Beef topped with a Duxelle of locally-picked St George’s Mushrooms, wrapped in Pancetta and served with Smoky Mash, Wilted Spinach and Béarnaise Sauce.By Mary Ann Gilchrist, Chef, Co-Proprietor,
Carlton House Restaurant, Llanwrtyd Wells, Powys, Wales
scoops mashed potatoes, smokey,
4 oz wild mushrooms, finely chopped
4 oz shallots, finely chopped
unsalted butter, to sauté
8 to 12 strips pancetta or streaky smoked bacon,
ea 6 to 8 oz beef tenderloin steaks
1 oz cheese, smoked Gouda
4 oz spinach
prepared Béarnaise sauce
salt and pepper to taste
Turn on oven to 425ºF/210ºC/Gas Mark 7. Make duxelles. Sauté slowly the shallots and mushrooms until cooked through and somewhat dry. Sear both sides of the steaks to caramelize (light brown) and seal– about a 1 minute a side. Set aside to cool. Lay out two sets of 4 to 5 bacon slices side by side overlapping slightly. Spread half of the duxelles in the center of each set of bacon strips to the size of a steak. Place a steak squarely on the duxelles and wrap the bacon back over the steak. Place steaks on a roasting pan with bacon ends underneath. Roast in the oven for 4 to 6 minutes for rare or longer to your liking. Rest for 5 minutes before carving, temperature will rise about 10ºF or 6ºC. When ready, carve the steak through the bacon, into 3 to 4 slices.
While the steaks are roasting melt a tablespoon of butter in a saucepan, add spinach and cover. Give an occasional stir; cook until the spinach just wilts – a few minutes.
Smokey Mashed Potatoes:
Prepare mashed potatoes as usual mixing a few ounces of smoked Gouda cheese or one to your liking.
Place mash potatoes in center of plate, top with spinach. Place carved steak on spinach and pour Béarnaise sauce over. Garnish and serve.
Pancetta is not readily available in N. America in strip form. Lightly smoked streaky bacon is a good alternative.
Béarnaise sauce: Prepare sauce from scratch or take short cut (almost as good) and prepare from grocery store packaged Béarnaise sauce (prefer Knorr brand).
Smokey Cheese: Smoked Gouda is generally available in North America or use one to your liking. Adjust quantity to your taste.
Thermometers: If you are at this level of cooking, you probably have a digital thermometer with an oven probe. It is an essential tool for happiness in the kitchen. I use a Polder Digital Thermometer purchased for about US$25. Also, useful is a pocket instant thermometer - about US$4 to $19 depending on quality and whether digital or analog.
Adapted by Ken Thorne
Copyright © 2005 Ken Thorne