Cookery Demonstration at the Crown at Celtic Manor

There are four Michelin Starred restaurants in Wales at the moment, but a couple of years ago there was only one – The Crown at Whitebrook.  When this was the case as a special birthday treat, my family and I drove all the way out into the Monmouthshire countryside to visit The Crown.  We had an amazing meal which I still remember and talk about to this day.

Ahead of the Ryder Cup coming to Wales, a second Crown restaurant was opened at Celtic Manor, helpfully named The Crown at Celtic Manor.  This is still under the control of James Sommerin (He’s the Executive Chef) although James spends most of his time at Whitebrook leaving Head Chef Tim McDougall in charge.

With Celtic Manor being a fair bit closer and much easier to get to, I have visited The Crown at Celtic Manor on quite a few occasions since it opened.  The food has always been of an exceptional quality, despite not yet having its own star, and I have always enjoyed myself immensely.

Last year the restaurant introduced a series of Gourmet Cookery Demonstrations, each based on a different theme.  These involving both James and Tim cooking a series of dishes, which was then followed by champagne and canapés with a three course meal with wine.  I attended two, and would have gone to more if they had not been fully booked. Priced at £49.50 per person, these have always proved to be very popular!

Given their previous success, another series of demonstrations has been scheduled this year and I signed straight up to attend the first one: Late Winter Food and Wine Pairings which took place at the end of February (I won’t be in the country for the others unfortunately).

The day started at 10.30 (actually closer to 11 since we were running a little late) and upon arrival we were provided with tea and biscuits.  Not long after it was then time to take our places for the demonstration itself.   The tables were removed to allow a semi circle of chairs to be placed facing along demonstration table on which the chefs cook.  The chairs in the restaurant are very high and at the previous events we had established that if you couldn’t sit in the front row, standing up at the back was best. In this occasion we were at the back, but I was able to perch on a shelf for much of the demonstration.

Tim with a pigeon

James with some fish

The demonstration itself was fascinating.  Between them Tim and James cooked five main courses and two desserts., These including a pan fried fillet of turbot with slow cooked pork belly, lobster and slow cooked pigs head. The meat was served, not the whole head. There was also a pigeon cooked in an Asian type broth, which I really fancy a go at with a partridge I have in the freezer.  For once the fire alarm was not triggered (as has always happened in past) but this was at the expense of the warmth of the room as the doors were opened.

The mains demonstrated

Unlike food demonstrations I have attended elsewhere, at the end of the demonstration we were all invited to tuck into the dishes that had been made.  This is a great chance to try some of the new ingredients to which we have been introduced.  Although some of the food had gone cold it was all still delicious.  My only complaint (apart from having to share the food with around 40 other people) was that not everything made was easy to eat with just a fork!

It was then time to move outside the restaurant (allowing it to be rearranged for our dinner) to the hotel lobby for a glass of Champagne and some canapés.  On this occasion the canapés were a carrot and cumin veloute (served in a shot glass), a cheese beignet with cranberry and a salmon and seafood mousse served on a small spoon with cucumber and crème fraiche.

The champagne and canapes

The soup was exceptionally smooth rich and full of flavour.  It was easily my favourite of the three.  The cheese beignet was nice, but not overly exciting or memorable.  Being so small, I felt there wasn’t really enough to have a good taste of it.  The mousse was delicate light and rich, the crème fraiche and cucumber added a nice sharp clean contrast.

At 1.30 it was time to sit down for our dinner.  Tables were arranged in eights and you just sat down where you liked.  I was lucky enough to end up in a beautifully sunny alcove.  Our menu reflected the theme of the day and each course was accompanied by a suitably paired wine.  Things started off with the offer of bread, a choice of freshly baked white, rosemary or walnut rolls.  We were also offered more later on so I got to try both the walnut (sweet and deep) and the rosemary (fragrant!).

Seared Scallops with blue cheese and a romanesco veloute

Our starter was two (giant!) seared scallops topped with melted blue cheese and surrounded by a romanseco veloute.   This was paired with a Chilean Riesling.  The scallops were tender and the slightly bitter earthiness of the romanesco (a brassica similar to cauliflower) emphasised their sweetness.  The salty blue cheese added another dimension when you got a chunk, but I felt the dish could have done with some more as it was hard to detect most of the time

Welsh rump with braised ox heart, parlsey root and mash

As a main we had a rump of Welsh beef accompanied by some braised ox heart, mushrooms, parsley root and the smoothest, richest mash potato.  This was accompanied by a soft and peppery Shriaz Cabernet.  As with the scallops, the rump was extremely tender.  The parsley root was not something I had tried before; although it looked very similar to a parsnip the taste was much sweeter and nutty with just a hint of “green” about it.  It reminded me of a cross between celeriac and Jerusalem artichokes.

Another new experience for me was the ox heart, although I was less impressed with this.  Although it had been braised I still found it quite tough and chewy. It didn’t have a great abundance of flavour, unlike everything else.

Chocolate mousse and mandarin sorbet

For dessert we were treated to chocolate mousse with mandarin sorbet and sweet chilli sauce accompanied by a Lebanese Moscatel.   The mouse itself was encased in a chocolate shell which appeared to have been sandblasted on.  Inside this crisp outer layer was a rich mouse with a huge hit of deep chocolate bitterness.  The mandarin sorbet was exceptionally fresh and zingy perfectly offsetting the mousse.  My only complaint would be that there seemed to be very little chilli in the sauce, the only time I could taste it was when I scooped the entire of one of the two blobs onto my spoon and even then it was very mild.  I wasn’t too concerned though as the mousse and sorbet were divine.

The petit fours

The petit fours

Dinner was rounded off with a selection of petit fours served on slate and tea and coffee.  On offer we had mini shortbread biscuits, a rich deep jelly square (a very posh fruit pastille!), an extremely dense square of chocolate ganache and something with desiccated coconut.  Desiccated coconut is one of the few things that I cannot eat so I did not sample that, but the others were a lovely end to a great meal.

I have to say that, although this was still a great day, there has been a slight drop in standards from last year.  When we arrived out coats weren’t taken, there was only one type of tea on offer and we ended up having to pour our own champagne as the staff all seemed to have disappeared when we finished tasting the demonstration food.  In addition to this we weren’t given the recipes of any of the food cooked as we had on previous occasions.  These are small niggles, which along with the difficulty in being able to view the demonstration due to the extremely high chairs, prevent this from being perfect.  It as however still an outstanding day, and I feel, very good value for money.

You can’t see the menu for the day before you go, you only know the theme, so this might not suit picky or nervous eaters, but I’ve never been served something I felt I couldn’t eat (except desiccated coconut).   The remaining demonstrations for this year are all largely sold out, so I’m obviously not the only person to enjoy them!

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