Wales' rare bits: Far from the St Davids tourist trail is a small inn, waiting to be discovered. But is the food worth a detour?
Llys Meddyg, East Street, Newport, Pembrokeshire
Sunday 13 December 2009
St Davids is the Padstow of south Wales – picturesque, popular, trendy and traffic-clogged. When I plan my winter break in Pembrokeshire, the littlest city in the nation is where everyone tells me to eat out. The streets are lined, apparently, with pretty little bistros and traditional restaurants. Perhaps it's perverse, but I prefer to try to find something right off the beaten track, so I avoid St Davids...
Instead, I try everyone's dream of pootling along a country road and stumbling upon the welcoming exterior of a little inn. Well, strictly speaking I did ask for a suggestion – that's how I end up in the small town of Newport (not to be confused with the Blade Runner-esque industrial wasteground that is Newport near Cardiff), standing outside Llys Meddyg.
On the main road, an elegant Georgian house sits as if waiting for unsuspecting townies to discover it and claim, if not ownership, then certainly weekend visiting rights. With my raggle-taggle family, we go inside, unsure whether we'll be welcomed or whether we're in for the same reception we got at the nearby antique shop (frosty).
Louise, the co-owner of this restaurant-with-rooms, charms us immediately. She shows us into a beautiful blue-painted dining-room that is "rural formal", if such a genre exists. We are, alas, the only people having lunch, but it is a damp Wednesday, so it's not too surprising. While Louise tells the children wild stories of her evil twin waitress sister (a conceit that entertains the kids right through our visit), I um and ah over the set lunch – which seems a bargain at £18.50 for three courses (in which there are three choices per course).
Luckily there are four of us, so between us we cover all the dishes from a menu that wears its Welshness lightly – descriptions mercifully stop short of telling us which allotment produced the potatoes. There are local sprats with home-made tartare sauce; fig, ham hock and Caerphilly salad; or pumpkin and Parmesan soup to start. Main courses are gnocchi with perl las and pine nuts, game pie with root-vegetable mash and sprouting broccoli or fishcakes with a poached egg and hollandaise sauce.
Before all of the above, excellent home-made bread on a piece of Welsh slate and a bottle of Brouilly (£27.50) arrives, along with a yarn about how the house used to be the local doctor's surgery – apparently the occasional visitor has memories of long-ago ailments jogged by the room.
I decide the children will be better off with the £15.50 two-course version and their mains come with our starters (a restaurateur's practice I'm in favour of, to stop hungry grouchiness at the table).
My adventurous daughter piles into the gnocchi and although it's unusual, the blue-cheese sauce works beautifully with the soft potato pieces. Across the table, the truculent teenager visibly brightens as he digs below the crust of his game pie. Meanwhile, the meaty sprats are crisp and not greasy, a neat trick. The pumpkin soup is almost too rich (perhaps a heavy hand with the cream and cheese in the kitchen) but the added cheeky salad to share is well balanced with a pomegranate dressing that marries the three elements beautifully.
My game pie, served in a dinky, cast-iron casserole dish, is all killer, no filler. That is to say, big chunks of venison and pheasant with a rich gravy topped with meltingly soft pastry (no great big mushrooms or onions taking up space). The fishcake is packed full of flavour, good texture and is, crucially, what Mr M calls a "man-sized portion". The chef, Scott Davis, clearly knows how to execute simple dishes well, which is a refreshing change from striving for an over-complicated concept.
To fuel a lengthy walk across nearby Newport Sands, the children each polish off orange pannacotta with chocolate cannelloni, greeted with "coooorrrrs" of Gregg Wallace proportions. I flit between lemon posset with warm mulled berries and treacle tart with clotted-cream ice-cream (I know, furred arteries alert). They're both delicious – although the marriage of cool posset with warm berries just has the edge.
The combination of warm welcome, attractive room and excellent food makes me wish we had booked in for a night or two – the upstairs bedrooms look fab. Quite why the owners decided on Newport rather than ritzier St Davids is a mystery, but Llys Meddyg is reason enough to travel 20 miles up the road for a meal.
Scores: 1-9 stay home and cook, 10-11 needs help, 12 ok, 13 pleasant enough, 14 good, 15 very good, 16 capable of greatness, 17 special, can't wait to go back, 18 highly honourable, 19 unique and memorable, 20 as good as it gets
Llys Meddyg, East Street, Newport, Pembrokeshire, tel: 01239 820 008 Lunch, Weds-Sat; dinner, Tues-Sat. £60 for two, including wine
Second helpings: More Welsh wonders
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A beautifully located and welcoming restaurant-with-rooms where the menu may be long, but is consistently realised to an outstanding level
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The comfortable modern brasserie attached to this ancient inn offers very decent food at attractive prices; upstairs, there's a small but rather chic restaurant
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A real Welsh treat - a wonderfully situated restaurant-with-rooms that makes meticulous use of local produce to create melting dishes
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