Monday, 13 February 2012

The Pony and Trap, Chew Magna nr Bristol, Restaurant Review

It’s questionable whether any restaurants in Cardiff are going to win a Michelin star anytime soon. So where are the closest Michelin starred restaurants if you fancy splashing out? If you’re prepared to drive for an hour there’s a wealth of options. The Walnut Tree is 35 miles away, The Crown at Whitebrook is 42 miles, Casamia is 41 miles, The Manor House is 53 miles, The Pony & Trap is 54 miles, Lucknam Park is 55 miles, Bath Priory is 57 miles and Whatley Manor is 61 miles.

Having visited the 4 restaurants closest to Cardiff on the list above (unfortunately 3 of them before I started the blog) it seemed only logical that Mrs G and I should visit The Pony & Trap in Chew Magna as a Valentine’s treat (really a notional excuse for us to splash out). Under the stewardship of the locally born Josh Eggleton, a former Gordon Ramsey College scholar who has spent time working at The French Laundry, The Pony has won and held a Michelin star for the last couple of years.

As Mrs G and I had travelled so far for our supper, we felt it only right that we opted for the tasting menu which we had to pre-book in advance. £45 bought us 7 courses (+ bread & petit fours). This is certainly one of the cheapest tasting menus I’ve ever encountered. The wine list too is rather phenomenal value and accessible to wine ignoramuses like me (detailed tasting notes accompany each entry). Mrs G and I started with an excellent fragrant Marsanne Viognier costing a bargainous £14.95 per bottle. A number of other excellent value wines by the glass kept us going throughout the rest of the evening.

The closest comparator to our meal at The Pony & Trap was our recent trip to Tom Kerridge’s Hand & Flowers. Both pubs serve up Michelin starred food which demonstrate to the world the humble British pub can serve up more than just pickled eggs and mini cheddars. However in almost every regard The Pony beats The Hand hands down (I couldn’t resist the pun). Whereas the Hand & Flowers feels like a high end restaurant masquerading as a country pub, The Pony & Trap is a proper country pub that also happens to serve Michelin starred food (farting farmers drank ale at the bar whilst we were eating our starters). Whereas the Hand & Flowers crammed the punters in by adopting some form of table Tetris, The Pony provided space for you to move your elbows (we sat downstairs so I can’t comment on the upstairs dining room). Finally, The Pony’s food delivered on its 1 Michelin star. In contrast the 2 starred Hand & Flowers served us food which was 1 star at best.

A farting farmer
Amouse Bouche – Three spoons of various goodies kicked off the evening’s gluttony. These were some of the best appetizers I’ve eaten. Hazelnuts, blue cheese and lightly pickled vegetables were perfectly balanced, a scallop wrapped in bacon was precisely cooked whilst a spiced venison faggot with pumpkin puree was well seasoned and intensely gamey & offaly.

Bread – Olive focaccia with salted butter.

Second Course - Textures of Beetroot with Homewood Cheese, Apple and Toasted Pine Nuts - A perfectly balanced winter salad. The creamy goat’s cheese complimented the slightly sharp pieces of beetroot and apple. Pine nuts and red onion added an extra dimension to proceedings whilst the lightly pickled apple was a cider-like revelation.

Third Course – Full English Breakfast – A cooked breakfast like no other I have ever experienced. WOW. Soft poached hen’s yolk, homemade black pudding, crispy bacon, girolle mushrooms, fried potatoes and vinaigrette jelly cubes cut through the richness. If only I could get something this good from my local greasy spoon.

Fourth Course – Fillet of Sea bass with purple sprouting broccoli, brown shrimp & caper butter, pesto and celeriac puree -  It’s a bit of a cliché now on Masterchef when Gregg or John exclaims that a dish tastes amazing but the main ingredient is lost amongst the other ingredients on the plate. This was exactly the case here. Every flavour on the plate sang together in harmony except for the sea bass which was lost. This dish would have been just as incredible without the sea bass. In fact it was the broccoli which was the star of the show here; perfectly al dente with almost chargrilled like qualities.

Fifth Course - Breast of Wild Mallard and Confit Leg with Red Cabbage, Potato Cake and Blackberry Gel – The only disappointment of the evening. Whilst the soft, truffled potato cake was spot on and the accompanying vegetables and sauces cut through the richness of the meat perfectly, it was the mallard itself which was the real let down. The mallard breast was a little tough and lacked flavour. Meanwhile the confit leg was a challenge to eat without picking it up. When I finally got to grips with it, I struggled to find any meat worth eating without getting a mouthful of bone or gristle.

Sixth Course – Apple sorbet with granola – Delightfully fresh, a perfect palette cleanser.

Seventh Course – I’ve got a very big soft spot for the unstoppable trio of chocolate, peanuts and salt. Here they combined to produce an absolutely brilliant dessert. On top of a gooey chocolate brownie sat salted peanut butter mousse and glistening chocolate ganache. It’s the kind of dessert you can’t eat without getting it all over your face (ok maybe that’s just me). On the other end of the plate sat gingerbread, gingerbread ice cream and a sesame caramel tuile. This cleansing combination balanced the richness of the chocolate at the other end of the slate.

Petit Fours – A pleasant combination of chocolate flapjack and incredibly wobbly yet too subtle piece of lemon Turkish delight.

Looking at The Pony’s a la carte menu, starters begin around £5 and main courses around the £10 mark. I’d question whether there are any better value Michelin starred restaurants in the UK. Pony & Trap is well worth the trip from Cardiff. If you can’t be bothered to drive back after all that food (like us) then I’d recommend The Carpenter’s Arms for overnight accommodation which is a five minute taxi ride away. 

Our bedroom (number 12) at The Carpenter's Arms
The details:
The Pony and Trap, Newtown, Chew Magna, Bristol, BS40 8TQ
Telephone - 01275 332 627
The Carpenter's Arms -

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