Posted by: mikeydude | October 29, 2009

The Crown @ Celtic Manor Newport Restaurant Review revisited (8.5/10)

I knew my return to the Crown at the Celtic Manor would be sooner rather than later due to the memory of that fantastic lunch I had there a few months ago (see my review here). Anyway it was the Mrs’ Birthday and so I had to bring her somewhere special yet not too far from our base in Cardiff as she needed to get up early for work the following day! What better place to take her than this place?

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Once more as we walked into this flagship dining establishment I was greeted warmly by the french Maitre D’ who led us to the ‘sofa area’ to select our courses. I ordered a Peroni’s and she had a Pimms. The menu that night had 3 options: Tasting (£65), A la carte (£47.50), or ‘midweek 4 course dinner’ (£28). I was intrigued by this fixed 4 course meal for only £28 and was keen as to what quality of food this relatively cheap price could get me. So we opted for that along with A la Carte for some variety.

No sooner than we had done our ordering did our first set of amuse bouche arrive. Unfortunately I cannot remember their exact details, but what I can tell you; they were delicious.

Amuse Bouche #1 (left to right): Warm Beef Consomme, Foie Gras on Biscuit, Mild Cheese Ball with Apple and Grape Slices, Salmon mousse on Toasted Brioche

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Each of these mouthful sized delights were delicious and really stimulated the appetite for what was to come. The salmon mousse was wonderfully smooth and light which combined excellently with the crispy brioche. The cheese ball (sorry I forget which type) was also very smooth and served with the classic apple and grape mix to give the most pleasant aftertaste. Foie Gras? What can I say…. deliciously soft but not enough of it (ha). The Beef consomme was warm and served as a palate cleanser for me as it wasn’t that ‘beefy’. The Mrs liked it very much, but then she’s always a fan of warm soups, particularly with noodles 🙂

We were then shown to our table, once more beautifully set. Well I guess one would expect no less from a fine dining establishment such as this. Our second freebie was quick to follow…

Amuse Bouche #2: Fennel and Potato Soup with Drizzled Honey

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The fennel was a mild subtle flavour (thankfully as I’m not the biggest fan of strong aniseed tastes!) and the soup was again flawlessly smooth. What made this sublime however was the drizzle of honey that gave it the slightest touch of sweetness. The result was a delicious creamy soup with a hint of fennel and the sweetness of the honey. Wow I never thought that would work! I tried to slowly enjoy it, but unfortunately it was gone within 2 minutes.

Bread

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If you read my previous review you will remember me raving about how great the bread was. Well… things have not changed. The bread was once again outstanding. You have the standard 3 options; Walnut and Raisin, Rosemary, and Plain. All are freshly baked on site, deliciously warm and soft, and excellent with the room temperature served butter. I think the boss had 3 by the end of the evening!

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Starter #1: Salmon Ballotine, Cucumber, and Horseradish

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The Mrs had this but I had a mouthful. Presentation was interesting. The salmon was essentially a small fillet of raw salmon flavoured with herbs and topped with creme fraiche. This was served with an almost tagliatelle cut piece of cucumber and salad with a few salmon roe scattered over. The salmon was very fresh. I was told the creme fraiche was nicely done. I’ve always loved those small orange roe balls when in sushi as they burst with fishy flavours once you bite into them. Delicious.

Starter #2: Squab Pigeon, Honey Soused Baby Vegetables, Hazelnut Praline

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I would have to say that this was one of the dishes of the evening. Haven’t eaten pigeon for a while since the Crown at Whitebrook (too long ago), and this was a magnificent dish. Beautifully presented breast and leg of pigeon topped with crumbled hazelnut praline and jus, and served alongside honey sauteed baby vegetables. The pigeon was cooked rare and so the meat was as tender as top quality fillet mignon. The excellent jus along with the sweet praline gave phenomenol gamey and sweet flavours mixed with the slightest crunchy texture. The vegetables were excellent too. I really could not fault this dish even if I tried, but would happily order it over and over again.

Main #1: Welsh Lamb Leg, Cous Cous, White Raisin Vinaigrette

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The lady always loves lamb, and this was of no exception, although we tend to prefer the tres expensive loin meat due to its almost melt-in-mouth texture. Nevertheless I did try it and glad to say it tasted great. I’ve slowly come out of preferring new season spring lamb for its tenderness and leaning more towards middle season lamb which may not be quite as tender but had much more flavour due to its age. This was the latter quality and released excellent ‘lamby’ flavour as well as tender flesh due to its cooking technique. However I must say that it was no better than the lamb I had a few nights back in London at the disappointing Gastropub Hereford Road. Regardless of this my dining companion enjoyed it very much and welcomed the addition of cous cous sitting at the bottom of the dish.

Main #2: Welsh Venison Loin, Kidney and Shoulder, Chestnut Squash and Pancetta

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I chuckled when I saw this dish was it reminded me of one of the excellent bistros in Paris called Chez L’ami Jean (review here) which served its main courses with crispy pieces of ham. This was slightly more artistic with the almost perfectly flat piece of crispy pancetta leaning on the potato cylinder. I just love the way western chefs try to make their dishes look so pretty. It really does add to the whole enjoyment of the dish. This is contrary to what my dad thinks; saying that Western chefs focus too much on presentation and often forget the exquisite tastes that the top chinese chefs achieve. Dad… I have to disagree with you here!

Anyway I digress. There were 3 elements of the venison on this dish as listed in the title. The loin was simply seared and finished in the oven I think. It was served medium-rare. I think I would prefer rare but nevertheless the textures and flavours of the loin were top notch and the jus was excellent once again. The shoulder was braised and full of flavour because of this. Probably my favourite of the three. Not quite so nice in my opinion was the kidney, which I had never tasted before. The textures were nice enough, but the flavour of kidney is very strong indeed. It almost brought me back to image of stables and cows mooing due to its earthy cattle taste and smell(!). Definitely not to everyone’s taste. Still that should not take away the other outstanding elements of this dish. The pancetta was nice and crisp and added some saltiness to the dish. The chestnut squash was smooth and sweet which combined well with the strong flavours of the venison and sauce. Another top notch addition was the garlic enclosed in its own wrapping. Most of the flavour had seeped out into the sauce I presume, which left a very mild and soft piece of garlic which was a delight to eat. All in all a great dish, although I could see the potential for a diner to be completely put off by the overpowering cattle tastes of the kidney.

Cheese Course: Goats’ Cheese, Honey, Pickled Walnut, Green Apple

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The goats cheese was presented as a single grilled slice served with small chunks of pickled walnut. I liked it, but the Boss found it too strong. I don’t think goats cheese is for everyone, but I found the strong flavours well balanced with the acidity of the apple and walnut pickle. Not my favourite by any means, but no complaints here.

Pre Dessert: Chocolate Brownie Stick with Peach Mousse and cream with ?Strawberry Sauce

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I think I need to start writing these off-menu items down as they serve it as they usually containing lots of ingredients and fancy terms which I can never remember. Anyway this was another freebie that the Mrs helped herself to. I tried it and liked the crunchy texture of the chocolate brownie. The mousse was perfectly textured and wonderfully light. Presentation again was top notch.

Dessert #1: Chocolate Fondant, Pistachio Ice Cream

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I think this was the best looking dish of the evening. Just look at it. By this point we were very full and so quantity wise this was perfect. A mini tower of chocolate fondant sprinkled with icing sugar and sitting next to a curly strip of biscuit, 3 purple cherries, and a scoop of pistachio ice-cream with a dash of chocolate sauce. As Michel Roux would say…. (all too often at that!)…. “As pretty as a Picture”. Anyway the fondant was done nicely; chocolate sauce oozing out the centre as soon as the fork cut through it. It tasted very chocolaty and the pistacchio ice-cream was excellent as well I was told.

Dessert #2: Lemongrass Crème Brulée, Thyme and Ginger Ice Cream

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This was a top class creme brulee, although perhaps a little too enthusiastic with the blow torch at the end leaving a slightly burnt crust. However that did not compromise the taste by all means of the brilliantly smooth and (glad to say) subtle flavours of the lemongrass. This was welcomed as an overpowering lemon grass taste would rid any chance of being able to taste the subtle flavours of thyme and ginger ice-cream, which was excellent. I really enjoyed this dessert, and would argue it was nicer in taste than the chocolate fondant. My dining partner however would beg to differ.

Petit Fours: Madeleine, Mini-macaroons, Caramel Biscuit, Shortbread, Truffle, ?raspberry pastille, chocolate coated caramel

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Again I apologise for the inexact details of the petit fours. All I can say though is that they were an excellent way to finish the meal. I was surprised it was served given that we never ordered any coffee but glad nonetheless. Little mouthfuls of sweetness brought an end to an excellent meal that I recommend to anyone.

So then, overall conclusions? Upon writing this review I’m still utterly wowed by that pigeon starter. The chefs here are really top notch and amongst South Wales finest. It continues to be one of my favourite restaurants in South Wales shadowed only by its bigger brother in Whitebrook. However its proximity to Cardiff would make me choose this place nearly every time. The persistent excellent standards of this place (I’ve been around 4 times now) has demonstrated consistency which so many places lack in this day and age. Service is friendly and non-intrusive. Food is almost flawless. Another big well-done to James Sommerin and his team.

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Total price: £82 including service charge and drinks (oh and leisure club discount).

Contact:

The Celtic Manor Resort
Coldra Woods
The Usk Valley
Newport
South Wales
NP18 1HQ

Tel: +44 (0)1633 413 000

Opening Hours:
Tues to Saturday: 12:00 – 14:00 & 19:00 till late (22:00 last orders)

http://crown.celtic-manor.com/Crown-Restaurants.aspx

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