In a nutshell
The Crown at Whitebrook in Monmouthshire was Wales’ longest-standing Michelin-starred restaurant up until its closure three years ago. (It’s old head chef, James Sommerin, now has a fine dining restaurant in Penarth on the outskirts of Cardiff.) But, with a new owner and contemporary rebranding, The Whitebrook reopened to the public in October 2013.
And it didn’t take long for new chef patron, Chris Harrod, to reclaim its coveted Michelin Star: less than a year. In January 2014, renovations were made to the accommodation, offering boutique lodgings to match the dining, which brought new merits from the AA and Welsh Tourist Board, grading the restaurant with rooms with five stars.
Once protégé of Raymond Blanc, chef patron Chris Harrod, can count stints at Reading’s Michelin-starred L’Ortolan and The Grove Hertfordshire among his top credentials before joining Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons to work under the revered French chef. Harrod then took the role of consultant chef at Denbighshire’s Rhug Estate Organic Farm, before moving to Monmouthshire in his first solo venture at The Whitebrook.
Now, finally realising a lifelong dream of owning his own restaurant with rooms, Harrod is free to shape his own kitchen and menu, cherishing what has become his familiar style of cooking; each plate driven by the season and locality with highly technical yet playful combinations.
What Wales’ rural Wye Valley lacks in population, it makes up for with its abundance of foraged edibles. A self-confessed locavore at heart, Harrod looks to the rich Welsh landscape for inspiration in his fine-dining menu, so expect to see plenty of wild leaves, flowers and herbs from the Severn Estuary and surrounding Monmouthshire woodlands.
Our seven-course tasting menu brought the surrounding valley to the table with the likes of charlock, pennywort, hogweed, mugwort and maritime pine. With a list of local suppliers that would make any London chef green with envy, Harrod uses his rustic location to paramount effect, pairing humble ingredients with just the right amount of slate plates, fancy foams and forest rubble, to make each visit a memorable yet relaxed celebration.
Lunchtime diners can choose from an enticingly priced set menu (two courses £25, three courses £29) or five-course tasting menu £47, with matching wines an additional £37. Evening options include a set menu (three courses £54) or seven-course tasting menu £67, with matching wines an additional £47.
What’s the room like
The restaurant’s countryside tranquility is thoughtfully mirrored in the dining room’s muted shades of green, original timber frames and wooden furnishings. There might be white linen on the tables but there’s not a hint of pretention amongst the charming and well-informed staff, who will enthusiastically talk you through all the local ingredients served in each dish.
Starters of roasted caramelised Jerusalem artichokes with tangy goat’s curd (pictured above), trompette mushrooms, nuts, seeds and forest findings set the bar high for subsequent courses. So perfectly capturing the essence of the bucolic backdrop, it came as no surprise to learn that the dish was the very first creation Harrod approved for his menu. Further testament to his culinary artistry came in a playful palate cleanser of Seville orange and bergamot fizz.
With a description that overlooked the complexity of its preparation, the delicately perfumed iced roulade melted on the tongue while a bed of citrus sugar chunks added sour crunch. Those choosing to bed down for the night should also make time for the breakfast of exceptional Trealy Farm applewood-smoked bacon, local organic eggs and homemade nut granola.
Wine pairings are offered with all meals, with restaurant manager and sommelier Andy Stoneley offering his extensive knowledge to diners keen to know more about the art of food-and-wine pairing (currently 40% of the wines are organic/biodynamic).
A 4.4% premium stout from Tintern’s Kingstone Brewery and cocktails from Stoneley’s curated Winter Collection – try the Welsh Garden, made of maritime-pine-infused Brecon Gin, fresh mint, cucumber and elderflower – got our evening’s feasting off to a good start.
What else we liked
It’s all in the detail here; plush Sedburgh Soap Company products in the bathroom and warm-from-the-oven Welsh cakes are delivered to your room on arrival.
Located among some of the finest agricultural land in Wales, The Whitebrook is primed to deliver a menu befitting of the country’s finest rare-breeds, organic poultry and heritage vegetables. With a little help from nature’s larder, Harrod and his well-chosen team continue to prove the worth of their Michelin-Star status.
When you’ve got produce as fresh and local as this, there’s a responsibility to make it shine; Harrod achieves this with infinite gusto and the Welsh food scene is significantly better for it.
The Whitebrook, Monmouthshire, NP25 4TX
Words by Sophie Rae
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