at Whitebrook, Wales
Crown at Whitebrook, home
to the blue-eyed boy of Welsh
cuisine, James Sommerin, is a former
17th century drovers
inn now run
as a restaurant with rooms
the distinction of being the first
restaurant in Wales to be awarded
a Michelin star...
IN A TRANQUIL ROMANTIC FOREST setting with just the deer and babbling brooks
running past its doorstep, you'll find and experience a magical combination
of exceptional style, five-star service (it is different, but on a par with
the Dorchester Hotel's Grill which is exemplary), high-end dining and
Arriving at The Crown was like stepping into the warm embrace of an old friend
the welcome was so friendly and genuine. We were made to feel as if we
were in a cocoon of tranquillity and the attentive, but delightfully unobtrusive,
service continued throughout our visit.
The contemporary bedrooms were attractive and sumptuous with much-appreciated
attention to detail: fluffy white towels in the pretty, well equipped bathroom;
welsh cakes to munch on; a decanter of sherry; as well as a fantastic selection
of books together with a terrific selection of DVDs to borrow should you wish
to hole-up between the crisp linen sheets… Cool, cosy, chic and romantic with
every modern facility going not forgetting the picture-book scene from
our window across the myriad colours of the forest. Could anything be more perfect?
Principally though, we had driven over two hundred miles to test the great reputation
of James' modern but classic French-style food. Together with the delightful
Shaun Hill of the Walnut Tree, James Sommerin is quite simply one of the most
influential ambassadors of 'cooking' in Wales at the moment.
In my opinion he has been partly responsible for encouraging the rise of high
dining standards in Wales with the result that The Crown is now considered to
be one of the top dining destinations in the UK. Understandably, James is passionate
about what he does and wants to be the first to attain that coveted second Michelin
star for Wales.
It would have been easy to linger too long in our comfortable bedroom sipping
sherry, but the promise of a culinary treat soon had us descending to the beautiful
restaurant downstairs. After all, The Crown is meant to be a 'restaurant with
rooms' with the food taking centre stage.
The Crown's dining experience was an utterly relaxed and polished affair. Surprisingly
unstuffy, the restaurant is a fine-looking and elegant room complete with complementary
beams and a good variety of original artwork on the walls.
We decided to go with the recommendation and sample one of the 'tasting' menus
with a selection of wines by the glass chosen to match the flavours. Alex the
sommelier and Emma our waitress orchestrated the evening expertly with a seamless
stream of utterly delicious dishes and wines.
We've noted in other inspired and high-achieving restaurants to expect wines
sourced from many different areas, rather than falling back on the classics.
The Crown is no exception; every imaginative morsel of food was bursting with
flavour with the wines hitting just the right notes.
The essence of the very best of locally-sourced produce are married together
to produce bold, original flavours that are utterly sublime and are technically
very accomplished. Who would have thought of serving hare and almond cake together
or a spectacular poached lobster, ham hock and parsnip in a coffee and bisque
The oxtail and Hereford snails with parsley, lemon and pearl parley were tasty;
the rich dark chocolate cookies with golden raisins served with Sam Emilio Pedro
Ximenez delightfully more-ish.
The next morning we decided to explore, and our first stop was an elegant former
mill owner's house just up the road from The Crown which Denise Yapp has turned
into a gallery. Denise has let her home be pleasantly overrun with an eclectic
collection of pictures and bronzes, plus some modern pieces of furniture
there you will recognise the same style of the artists as can be seen gracing
The Crown's walls.
Wandering a little further afield will brig you to Tintern Abbey which, when
built, must have been an undertaking to equal to building the Firth of Forth
bridge. It is a massive structure with soaring walls, sadly now mostly roofless
but still mightily impressive. It is not just historically important but also
Visitors are truly spoilt for choice as there is simply so much to see and do
in this area. For the cultural 'vulture', there are ruined castles (and some
of the oldest hill forts in England), art galleries and, dare I say it, the
cider trail with cider and perry tasting. So, not just about 'country' pursuits.
Was it worth the 200-mile journey each way? Absolutely! I hate to say it with
a Royal wedding in the offing, but it would make a perfect honeymoon destination!
James and Tim McDougall, the chef from the sister Celtic Manor restaurant, have
just compiled a great sixty-page cookbook which has been published by The Crown.
This limited edition, full-colour book has recipes created especially for the
two restaurants and I only wish I had taken the opportunity to grab one during
our visit. You can obtain a copy of the book by visiting The Crown's website
If you have been drawn in as we have been with this part of Wales, do read the
article on the nearby Bell at Skenfrith.
It too offers a memorably good experience but it has its own style and approach,
so that these two welcoming hostelries perfectly complement each other rather
than compete. Bonnie and Tim Stevens
| skenfrith | tygwyncider