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Wye bother

Published 5 July 1998
Style Magazine
260th article



What a carry-on: Stuart Weale, Michael Winner and Philip Amadeus at Llangoed Hall (Vanessa Perry)

Sir Bernard Ashley, husband of the late Laura, owns Llangoed Hall, in Llyswen, Wales. "It has always been my ambition," he writes in the brochure, "to find a country-house hotel that would successfully re-create the atmosphere of an Edwardian house party. Here, guests would arrive, tired from their travels and the workaday world, to be greeted and cared for by their hosts as if they were indeed guests and not people simply renting rooms and patronising the restaurant. When you arrive there is no reception desk, no-one demanding a hostage credit card, just friendly staff to take your coat and carry your bags." Boy, is that a joke.

My helicopter landed at the time I'd told the general manager, Andrew Brockett, I would arrive. One hotel porter represented the "friendly staff". He alone could not take all the luggage, so the pilot, Philip Amadeus, grabbed some and we trekked into the hotel. There, nobody else greeted us. The porter led us to the room and left. I can't think when I last entered a hotel without the manager, or at least the receptionist, welcoming me.

We went to the deserted lounge for tea. The same aged porter told us there were sandwiches and cakes. We ordered those, plus earl grey tea. After a while, cakes arrived and tea that was not earl grey. No sandwiches. I went into the hall and found an English lady, who said she'd deal with it. The staff are almost exclusively not Welsh. Warmth is not high on their list. A recently frozen eclair was poor; the fruit cake was okay but bland; a shortbread biscuit superb.

Another couple entered and a young man took their order. Our correct tea came with unexceptional sandwiches, which were also cold, as if the bread had been in the fridge. The new arrivals got tea with cakes, sandwiches and scones with home-made jam and cream. "I never got scones," I said, peering at theirs. "Well, you didn't ask for them," said the man. "Nor did you," I replied. "I heard you order. You asked for an assortment." The gentleman kindly offered me one of his scones. I took a bit of it. It was the best I've ever eaten.

Llangoed Hall has an attractive, faded elegance, and excellent Edwardian oil paintings and drawings. Wild flowers grow through the cracks in the stone steps leading to the lawn. The view of fields, sheep and hills is first-rate. Walk outside and you hear the roar of the nearby A470. Go further and you hit the noise of engines dealing with the septic tanks. Only when you reach the river Wye and the rapids after a small waterfall does that noise drown out the sound of traffic.

The restaurant, an elegant, yellow room, has a Michelin star. I would describe the staff as snooty. An atmosphere so restrained nobody dared talk above a whisper. "Boring," said Vanessa.

My first course was salad of quail with sauteed scollop (sic), foie gras and balsamic dressing. You can have foie gras with quail or scallops. But quail and scallops - ugh! Individually, they were adequate. It was an enormous portion. Vanessa liked her three large pan-fried scallops. Next I had black Welsh beef and Vanessa had salmon. Both were all right, but the whole thing totally lacked the finesse and imagination of say, Raymond Brown, with his Michelin star at the Canteen.

Dessert was stated to be strawberry millefeuille. Millefeuille is thin layers of puff pastry; it dates back to the late 19th century. This one dated back to June 1998. It had hard, sweet biscuits in two layers with strawberries and cream. It was awful. I left most of it.

Vanessa had some cotton trousers ironed, and I've never seen anything like it: great ridges and furrows - unwearable. The room was nice, the bathroom large, the bath too small even for normal people.

At breakfast one of the two pots of home-made jam (very good) had a big blob of congealed, old jam on the side. I removed it with my finger and then had great difficulty dislodging it. Eventually, I rubbed it off under my chair. The service was very slow. Again, the atmosphere was frigid. If this is an Edwardian house party, thank God nobody asked me to any.

Andrew Brockett left me a letter saying: "If I or any of my colleagues can help, please let us know." Mr Brockett was only there for a fleeting moment on Sunday morning, having been absent on Friday and Saturday and again on Monday.

When I left, I passed Sir Bemard Ashley coming in. "You took my helicopter pad," he said, smiling pleasantly.



Letters

I was interested to note the "pay for bread" comments of Sioned Harper (Style, June 14). On a recent visit to Wiltons, London, we were subjected to a cover charge of £3. I was reluctant to question such an insignificant amount on such a significant bill. "Cover charge" can mean anything or nothing, and I'm sure that every establishment has a well-rehearsed explanation in the event of diners having the audacity to speak up. Perhaps Mr Winner could use his influence to blow restaurants' cover.
Kevin Donovan, Trentham, Staffs

Tim Newton (Style, June 14) prefers "napkin", because it is "thoroughly British", to serviette, which he finds "utterly loathsome". Perhaps he should reconsider. English speakers have used both words for 500 years, although at the beginning of this century "nappy" was adopted as an informal alternative to napkin. One of the joys of the English language has to be the eagerness of native speakers to deplore as inappropriate usage that is both long established and correct, often because it is thought to be an Americanism.
Peter Wardley, Bishopston, Bristol

As someone who frequently dines out in London restaurants, I have noticed a worrying trend towards waiting staff whose weak grasp of the English language means they have difficulty understanding the customers. I'm sure this is all terribly glamorous and cosmopolitan, but it does nothing to help the standard of service. Should there not be a language exam for those who wish to be waiters?
M Lowe, London SE24