A ‘white palace’ allegedly home to the first Welsh parliament. A Jacobean mansion won in a card game. A family home restored to its former glory by designer Laura Ashley’s family. The site that Llangoed Hall sits on certainly vaunts a colourful history. Now it’s home to a country house hotel with acclaimed restaurant, extensive gardens (walled, rose and fruit among them) and stunning bedrooms.
The hotel’s interiors are elegant, pristine and classy. A shiny grand piano, Ming vases, squishy patterned sofas, Persian rugs and a golden chandelier make the morning room luxuriously comfy. Arched French windows connect a smart reception room to a lush croquet lawn outside, and the billiard room is rich with antique globes, wooden beams and illuminated oil paintings. Even the landing is peppered with button-back chairs, some of them huddled around wooden chess tables. Indeed, Llangoed Hall doesn’t really fit the category of ‘hotel’. A stay here is more like visiting the lauded mansion of a rich and fashionable relative.
All 23 bedrooms were styled by Sir Bernard Ashley (husband of Laura and owner of the hotel in the 1980s and ‘90s) and have been painstakingly maintained by the current owners. The most beautiful are the master suites. In ours, tall, arched windows gave views of the croquet lawn and the idyllic Wye Valley beyond. A four-poster bed was carved with swirly details, duck-egg blue settees matched the wall behind, and an antique wardrobe and writing desk were artworks in themselves. Then there was the bathroom, which came with a stand-alone bath, parquet flooring and a corner armchair. It was the kind of room you fantasise about owning.
Other than the obvious – walks in the Brecon Beacons and a visit to book-lined Hay-on-Wye – you could spend good weather days exploring Llangoed Hall’s 17 acres of landscaped gardens (including multi-coloured wild flower meadows and a blooming kitchen garden). When it’s wet (this is Wales, after all), peruse Llangoed’s art collection (it displays works by James McNeill Whistler and Augustus John) or take afternoon tea in the morning room.
The dining room at Llangoed Hall is, as expected, a beautifully polished space with more views of the gardens, formal china crockery and fresh flowers in crystal vases on every table. It’s a fine-dining restaurant (water comes with a curl of cucumber, orange, lemon or lime), but the service, though professional, was friendly and welcoming – we never felt rushed, despite taking the last sitting.
For dinner, choose from a four-course or tasting menu. The former began with a lobster croquette appetiser, golden and crisp, surrounded by a moat of rich Parmesan sauce. Bread came with both butter and meaty Wagyu dripping (which tasted like the very essence of beef) and was served warm.
A starter of cod with onion, Epoisse (a particularly fragrant soft French cheese) and beurre noisette divided our table – one loved the daring combination, saying it was the most exciting cod dish he’d ever eaten; and another found the cheese far too bold to be platefellows with delicate, flaky white fish. Mackerel with pickled vegetables and tomato was loved by all, though, for its firm texture, juicy flesh and pretty presentation.
The next course – sous vide egg with ham hock and peas – was a triumph, the best course of the night. Vibrant peas popped with summertime freshness, the ham was a tangle of juicy pink pork and lovage gave the dish a lovely sweetness, cutting through the fatty egg yolk. Welsh black beef tartare, another ‘intermediate’ dish, showed off head chef Nick Brodie’s foraging talents – it uses wild mushrooms and pine tree powder, both sourced nearby.
A main course of plaice was pearly white and came with knots of crisp bhaji, more of those popping peas and tiny, sweet and salty battered mussels. Welsh lamb cutlet was well cooked and beautiful on the plate, with peppercorns, turnips and a sticky soy glaze for company. We’d recommend choosing from the old-fashioned cheese trolley for dessert (some of it Welsh), or one of Nick’s more refreshing, fruity desserts – peach, strawberry, lemon verbena and mint was the perfect tonic to a big meal.
Don’t miss the coffee and petit fours, taken in the morning room next door – the juicy, sugar-crusted fruit jellies were the best hotel sweeties we’ve had. And true to Llangoed Hall’s immaculate attention to detail, there were more said jellies waiting for us in our suite upstairs.
Written by Charlotte Morgan, July 2016
Image credit: Llangoed Hall