No word of a lie, I haven’t heard of half the ingredients on the menu at The Crown at Whitebrook.
Mugwort, meadowsweet, mallow cream, pickled pine berries, lesser celandine, scurvy grass, unicorn fart and fawn hoof are just a few examples.
Ok, I’m kidding on the last two but the others all feature on a menu of unusual and foraged ingredients which have recently earned Chef-Patron Chris Harrod a Michelin Star.
As a result, one of Wales’ most famous and celebrated restaurants is back where it belongs, a mere twelve months after reopening following closure due to the financial difficulties caused by a prolonged period of bad weather.
Whilst the unfamiliar ingredients on the menu make for unique tastes and textures, there’s something reassuringly familiar and comforting about Harrod’s food. It’s probably down to his classical French cooking technique picked up during time spent at Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons.
A pair of amuse-bouches were a serious statement of intent to kick off the 3 course meal (£54) – a hyper cheesy, oniony, melt in the mouth sable biscuit topped with nettle puree and a delicate chickpea crisp topped with spiced butternut squash puree, meaty pumpkin pieces and seeds were both excellent.
Brown and white breads were warm and fresh. Not different but delicious - I ate six slices.
A pre-starter of smoked fish roe mousse was light and smoky and studded with sweet beetroot, chicken skin crisps and a herb I’d never heard of.
Mrs G raved about her starter.
Wobbly Golden Cenarth cheese dumplings, intense duck gizzard, salty parmesan-like cheese shavings, crisp croutons, sorrel puree and soft salt-baked turnip combined to great effect. I didn’t even get a look-in.
In comparison, my starter was tasty yet not staggering. A couple of flavoursome pieces of sticky-glazed smoked longhorn featherblade were let down by their slightly stringy texture. As a result, the dish was a bit dry – the drops of nettle puree and sauce only partially helped lubricate the other excellent elements – soft snails, beer barley and charred baby onions and spring onions.
Both mains were off the hook.
Supremely tender belly and rack of suckling pig were capped with paper-thin crackling. A croquette filled with coarse pork stuffing and a cabbage leaf containing smooth sausage meat were both deftly spiced. Accompanying creamy kohlrabi puree, delicately tart and sweet poached greengages and finger-licking good gravy were also on the nail.
The other dish saw blushing pink pieces of melt in the mouth venison joined by earthy beetroots, wilted leaves of cavalo nero, roasted new potatoes, the sweetness of damson and another dazzling sauce.
A pre-dessert of fresh raspberries, crisp coco nibs, intense lemon verbena sorbet and airy raspberry mousse was another cleverly balanced dish.
My dessert proper was nearly a total triumph – soft poached plums, spiced ras el hanout nut crunch and an uber-smooth buttermilk ice cream would have been faultless on their own. However, a pool of what I’m pretty sure was ras el hanout mayonnaise was pleasant but… just a little too mayonnaise-y for pudding.
Mrs G rapidly hoovered up her dessert of light lemon mousse served with cider-like globes of apple, crunchy apple honeycomb and elderflower sauce.
A petit four of moist, sticky pistachio sponge with a delicate liquorice cream and candied pineapple was different and delicious - in keeping with the rest of the meal. However, just the one petit four felt a little stingy.
Excellent, interesting and comforting – I’m looking forward to returning to The Crown at Whitebrook to try the 7-course tasting menu (£65).
Furthermore, I’m sure they’ll be able to go from strength to strength thanks to their coveted star. Speaking to the maître d', it’s commendable they’re focused on maintaining standards before they consider increasing the number of covers to meet what I’m sure will be a higher demand for tables.
Address - The Crown at Whitebrook, Whitebrook, near Monmouth, Monmouthshire NP25 4TX
Telephone - 01600 860254