Thursday, 15 September 2011

The Grove Narberth, Pembrokeshire Review

The Grove at Narberth
With friends visiting from the Big Smoke, we decided to get away to West Wales for the night. Managing to bag a last minute bargain (£150 for a 3 bedroom lodge) for one night at Bluestone (West Wales’ Center Parcs equivalent), we spent the day sheltering from the rain and reclaiming our youth whizzing down water slides at the Blue Lagoon water park located on site.  Having escaped the swimming pool before the start of the tweenies pool party, we dried ourselves off, put on our glad rags and made the short taxi journey to The Grove at Narberth (£13 fare from Bluestone) where Mrs G and I spent the first few nights of our honeymoon earlier this year.

Our lodge at Bluestone
One of our bedrooms at Bluestone
I’d noticed on Twitter earlier in the day that Duncan Barham, the talented head chef at The Grove, was going to be out the kitchen for the evening because he was cooking at the Chef’s Night Out charity dinner in Cardiff. As a result, I must admit I felt a slight sense of trepidation as to whether the food would reach the high standards set on our previous visit......

I’ll caveat what comes next by saying that overall we had a hugely enjoyable evening at The Grove. The new Garden room where we sat has a relaxed yet sophisticated atmosphere. We drank a couple of lovely, reasonably priced bottles of wine (I’m going to order some of the wondrously floral Alma Mora Viognier). Also the serving staff were exceptionally friendly, good humoured and professional. However, on this occasion, the food did fall short. It’s not that it wasn’t good, but in comparison to similar level establishments and our previous visit, there were a number of niggling things amiss.

An amuse of spiced onion soup was a little curry in a cup; an absolutely delightful way to start the meal.

Starters were a mixed affair. Mrs G’s twice baked pea and parmesan soufflé was crisp and light yet lacked flavour on both pea and parmesan fronts. My exciting confit of belly pork was a pork sledgehammer of flavour. Unfortunately the pastry of the accompanying black pudding sausage roll lacked crispness, as though it had been sitting under the pass for too long. The Bon Vivant Buju (he thought he should come up with a food blogging alter ego) described his home smoked salmon as very good but the cold broth on which it sat was rather too vinegary, distracting from the focus of the dish. Most successful was Lozza’s starter of Welsh goat's cheese salad with fennel; a perfect balance of textures and flavours.

Confit belly pork and black pudding
Welsh goat's cheese
Onto the mains and once again a fair few let downs. My lovely piece of halibut was overwhelmed by an incredibly powerful brown shrimp risotto, intensely smoky chargrilled aubergines and a black olive salsa. In addition the contrast of the cold salsa with the other hot components of the dish didn’t work for me. Meanwhile, Mrs G’s vampirishly rare venison lacked flavour and tenderness but the accompaniments, including a superb shin dumpling, were top drawer. There was a letdown too with Lozza and Buju’s lamb cutlets with lamb belly.  The lamb cutlets were delicious, soft and pink, but the lamb belly was a little too chewy. The Bon Vivant Buju noted that “in a reflection of the starter, the generally high standard of the dish was let down by one or two quite noticeable flaws”. 

Dessert however was the standout dish of the evening on my part. My carrot and walnut fondant was absolute genius. It was without a doubt the best carrot cake I have ever eaten (even though I do make these claims very lightly). The oozing middle of carroty walnutty goodness blew me away. Mrs G also had a delicious plate of Welsh cheeses and crackers. The let down on the dessert came from Lozza and Buju who plumped for the almond choux bun, praline cream and cherry puree (it was the standout dish from our honeymoon visit).  However on this occasion it didn’t quite hit the mark. As you can see from the photos the dish didn’t have the light refinement of our previous visit. The pastry veered towards the stodgy and left the Bon Vivant Buju's mind wandering off towards Beard Papa's Cream Puffs.

Carrot and walnut fondant - UNBELIEVABLY GOOD
Choux bun this time round - disappointing
Choux bun on honeymoon - A breath of fresh air
Reading back the review it all seems a little negative. However, we genuinely had a fantastic evening. Hopefully the errors we experienced were just a one off blip in quality. Otherwise, I’m not sure they’re quite ready for the Michelin star they certainly have the potential to get. 

The details: The Grove at Narberth,, The Grove, Molleston, Narberth, Pembrokeshire, Wales, SA67 8BX,  Tel: +44 (0)1834 860 915

If you enjoyed this post and your looking for other places to visit in West Wales then check out my honeymoon posts here, here and here

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