Published 13 September 1998 Style Magazine 270th article
No place like gnome: Jessica Bridgeman, Sean Gerard and Michael Winner at the Nantyffin Cider Mill Inn (Vanessa Perry)
When I go somewhere new I'm hyperactive. I want to see it all, however much driving, map-reading, research and ill temper when things go wrong it involves. Thus while at Llangoed Hall (ugh!) I imposed on the landlord of the nearby Griffin Inn at Llyswen (superb!) to plan the following day. Richard Stockton suggested I go over the Black Mountains to Crickhowell, lunch at the Nantyffin Cider Mill Inn and return through the Brecon Beacons.
The next morning my rented Ford Scorpio twisted and turned up to Hay Bluff and Lord Hereford's Knob, where we stopped to take a photo, heard the car gurgling and noticed green liquid pouring from underneath. Even I could deduce the water was boiling over, in spite of the gauge showing it at normal temperature. I called the RAC to meet us at the Cider Mill Inn and drove on, nervous of some terrible explosion.
The Cider Mill Inn is owned by Sean Gerard and Jessica Bridgeman. There's a big restaurant in a barn, but that was too smart for me. They'd reserved a table in the bar with the common folk, rightly assuming I'd prefer it. This bar had a gas stove in it, whereas in the adjacent bar, for people even more common, they have a proper log-burning one.
Jessica offered home-made lemonade, to which I said "yes"; Vanessa ordered a Pimm's, as I noticed this place won the 1997 Welsh Food Pub of the Year award.
Vanessa then asked for orange, avocado and mint salad followed by whole, warm cracked Cornish crab served with new potatoes and salad. I chose grilled langoustine with a herb-crumb coating and garlic butter followed by roast leg of Welsh lamb with roast potatoes and mint sauce. Vanessa observed: "This is a very good wine list."
As there were no French wines, I thought it rather uninteresting. But Sean is a connoisseur of American and South American wines. We ordered Hedges Red Mountain Reserve 1992, "probably the purest fruit we have ever tasted, a stunning array of flavour". It was all right. Give me a Lafite '61 any day.
I settled back to watch people coming in and out of the dining room. Some recognised me and stopped for a chat. It was like having lunch in a lobby. I was dictating details into my tape and tried to identify the flowers on the table. "What are these called, madam?" I said, raising my voice, to a lady sitting by the window. "It's very rude to shout," she said. "I'm not known for my manners," I replied. "I'm asking what the daisies are called." The lady, wearing a purple, lightweight suit, said: "Gerberas. Very much a hybrid." I noted I had two of them. She only had one.
The bread was very good, made in Crickhowell to Sean's recipe. The cutlery came wrapped in a paper napkin. You get one napkin with the first lot and another paper napkin with the second lot. I don't like paper napkins anyway. Sean said: "Go in the kitchen and frighten them." I replied: "I'll go afterwards and thank them." He said: "Don't thank them, throw a tantrum. Say the car's broken down and you're in a really bad mood." I can't imagine why people think I do that sort of thing.
The ﬁrst two courses were excellent. Vanessa followed with bread-and-butter pudding. I had coconut parfait with apricot salsa and ice cream. I dictated, quietly: "Superb bread-and-butter pudding and home-made lemonade." I could have had American-style baked raspberry cheesecake. But it seemed silly in the middle of Wales. Don't the Welsh have a cheesecake of their own? The bill for two was £122.50. Must've been the wine. At early-evening dinner you get three courses for £11.95. This is the sort of place that gives Welsh food a good name.
Meanwhile, Portofino is on strike. The entire town closed one recent Saturday in protest against a government plan to "green" the area. Boats, except for small ones, would be barred. I feel for the locals who'd lose business, but up on the hill at the still wonderful Hotel Splendido a virus approaches. It is called cruise-ship people. One hundred of these odd creatures were encouraged to leave their horrid floating prisons and attend an olive-oil-tasting lunch one Sunday. The 140 hotel guests reeled in horror. I fled. The next day, as I lay by the pool, I was assailed by the grossest sexual ditty sung by adjacent cruise-ship invaders. The Splendido's superb manager, Maurizio Saccani, must prevent this sea slide before it engulfs us all.
As a retired detective inspector, my pension does not permit me to eat in the more upmarket establishments, but my wife and I frequent a whole range of moderately priced eateries in and around Eastbourne. Our experiences recently have all been bad, with over-the-top prices for both food and wine. Have you ever considered reporting on these mid-range establishments in which the vast majority of people eat?
Peter White, Eastbourne, E Sussex
Michael Winner may be an expert on films and gourmet eating, but I'm afraid that, like a great many other townies, he is certainly no expert on the way food is produced. The Ty'n Rhos Country House and Restaurant (Style, August 23) would be quite justified in claiming that "their meat comes from Welsh farmers who rear their animals with pride and skill". Just because chickens are reared indoors does not make Welsh farmers "factory farmers". And no Welsh cows or lambs are factory farmed. Many spend their whole lives grazing naturally in fields. Those that are not fat are often housed in the winter, and fattened on grass silage and grain. It's not "factory farming", it's good, humane animal husbandry.
L J Jenkins, Cardigan, Dyfed
Why does Michael Winner always shoot himself in the foot? Most people might agree that the decor at Henllys Hall Hotel (Style, August 16) is in need of attention and that the staff, while courteous and friendly, need training in the finer art of hotel management. But to describe a view that extends across parkland down to the Menai Strait and Beaumaris, and a panorama stretching from the Ormes Head along the Snowdonia range towards the Lleyn Peninsula, as "not bad" is beyond belief.
Dafydd M Thomas, Y Felinheli, Gwynedd