Key milestones in life are often accompanied by celebratory meals. Mrs G and I’s engagement in Abergavenny was accompanied by a brace of delicious meals at The Walnut Tree and The Hardwick. However, a trip to a Thai restaurant for my 18th birthday was memorable for all the wrong reasons. A nut-allergic friend was rushed to A&E after his first mouthful of food. Thankfully he was ok but it certainly put a dampener on the evening.
Yesterday saw the end of another era in my life; a brief but memory-packed 3 years as a secondary school Science teacher. To mark the occasion we paid a visit to The Park House.
Since the hugely talented Roger Jones took over as consultant chef earlier this year, he’s spent time working with head chef Jonathan Edwards and trained members of the team in the intricacies of running a Michelin starred establishment. His style of classical French technique with Asian influences is evident across the menu and a number of his signature dishes from The Harrow at Little Bedwyn also make an appearance.
2 evening menus are available. The a la carte consists of starters (£10), mains (£26) and desserts (£7/10) which are uniformly priced across the board irrespective of ingredient cost. We opted for the 6 course tasting menu (£59) as we were dining using a group discount voucher. We chose the matching wines (£25) to go with it.
The 5 glasses of accompanying wine were excellent and matched the food precisely. Standouts included an Australian Riesling, an Argentinian Malbec and a Chilean dessert wine. The extensive wine list also includes a large selection of vintage champagnes and a number of hand-picked featured wineries. It’s unsurprising the wine is of such a high-standard as the owner Adam Pledger travels the world in his role of wine buyer.
The bold pricing, expansive wine list, smart dress code and classical style of cooking clearly set out Park House’s stall in the fine dining camp. With high prices comes a raised bar against which things must be judged.
The dining room at Park House has the feel of old fashioned opulence. Wood panelled walls, oil paintings, a baby grand piano and bottles of vintage champagne dotted around the room all add to the atmosphere. In general it’s a success but it doesn’t all quite work - the contemporary leather sofas and black tables in the bar area jar somewhat with the rest of the classical décor.
Service was efficient throughout the evening. The pacing of courses in the tasting menu was just right so as to avoid the risk of a relentless food bombardment. However, it fell short in places. When Mrs G knocked over a pre-dinner glass of champagne and she made her apologies, it was dealt with in steely silence. Similarly, when I asked questions about the food during the meal, responses given displayed either a lack of knowledge or enthusiasm.
Excellent, fresh brown bread infused with porcini mushrooms and white bread with subtle notes of chilli and ginger kept the wolf from the door.
We started with an amuse bouche of sweetcorn veloute and tomato relish. Smooth, creamy and unashamedly sweetcorn tasting, this was a cracking soup. Flavour-wise, the spicy and smoky tomato relish was the perfect foil for the creamy veloute. However, the textural combination was a little odd and the intended way of eating the dish was unclear; a member of the serving team was unable to shed any light.
One of Roger Jones’s signature dishes was up next; St Brides Bay lobster fish finger. Sweet, tender lobster was coated in a crisp, light batter and accompanied by mushy peas and an intense tomato ketchup. This was a very good dish. The only issue – I’d experienced a similar tomato hit minutes earlier.
The feeling of déjà vu continued into the next course. Unctuous, crisp black pudding was bathed in a rich, meaty sauce of foie gras and topped with smoked mushy peas and a delicate, jelly like onsen egg. The egg was certainly one of the most unique things I’ve eaten lately and when I enquired as to whether it was prepared in a water bath, a rather brief, un-engaging response was given.
Next up was chilli squid and caramelised Kelmscott pork with chilli jam and carrot puree. This dish was the prettiest of the evening. A nucleus of belly pork was surrounded by complementary orbitals of sweet carrot puree and fiery chilli jam. Perched on top of the pork were daintily placed pieces of soft, battered squid. The dish was let down by the pork’s slight lack of tenderness and crisp crackling which retained an element of chewiness.
The primary meat course came in the form of a duo of Highland Shorthorn beef. Tender, flavoursome fillet of beef was topped with unctuous shredded shin, coriander yoghurt and crisp shards of poppadom. Beneath the fillet lay earthy tarka dhal and a curiously meaty piece of abalone mushroom. This was a fine piece of seasonal cooking but unfortunately the season this dish belonged to wasn’t summer. This was all the more apparent in light of yesterday’s rare sunshine.
A dainty pre-dessert of strawberry jelly, vanilla panna cotta, strawberry coulis and a miniature donut came next. Whilst the contents of the shot glass were all on the nail, the donut was a tad dense and dry.
Dessert fell into the trap of incompatible dishes unsuccessfully trying to work as one. A mini kilner jar of coconut panacotta was one of the best things I’ve eaten all year; I defy you to find a better representation of coconut. Equally, a booze-packed, refreshing mojito sorbet was reminiscent of the ubiquitous frozen cocktails I drank by the gallon full in the baking heat of Las Vegas. However, its potency pummelled the panna cotta into submission. An excellent pineapple and chilli salsa was literally caught in the middle.
Don’t get me wrong, we had an excellent evening at The Park House. The food, wine and company were all excellent. It was the details that let the experience down and sadly this is what makes the best fine dining establishments so special. Reflecting on the tasting menu, the recurring appearances of ingredients such as tomato, pork and pea left each dish without a distinct identity. Equally, the dominance of browns and beiges across the menu gave the impression of Winter rather than Summer - a bit like this year’s unseasonal weather.
Address - Park House, 20 Park Place, Cardiff, CF10 3DQ
Telephone - 029 2022 4343