Sunday 21 February 2010

Look you, isn't it?

No idea, 12.0 units. Maybe Shropshire has been cunningly placed by the Wales Tourist Board to make visitors feel good about crossing the border. Despite the minor annoyance of having the road signs in gibberish, it looked very pretty under its light dusting of snow. With Northumberland in mind, and in particular the fact that there is now only one petrol station in Alnwick and none in Rothbury, I stopped to fill the car up with petrol in Welshpool; we then passed a filling station every five miles or so all the way to our final destination. I failed to suppress my boyish excitement at driving alongside the track of the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway, but luckily Mrs H has already made the mistake of marrying me, and there is no getting out of it now even on the solid grounds that I might be a bit of a train nerd.

We finally crunched up the gravel of Unpronounceable Hall at teatime, to be greeted by a diminutive Frenchman who missed a potential joke by introducing himself as the deputy rather than the under manager. He showed us up to a room called Hogarth, allowing Mrs H to ask whether they were all named after roundabouts, and he laughed as though he hadn’t heard that one before. It contained the only four poster bed in the hotel, apparently, which would have been good news but for the fact that it made it a bit too dark to read the book I had brought with me, Anthony Trollope’s An Old Man’s Love (guess the reasons for that choice) and Mrs H spent both nights desperately clinging to the side to avoid rolling into the huge cavity that opened up in its middle and threatened to absorb her forever. On the other hand, when they brought us some tea they proved to bake their own biscuits and they were out of this world, raising high and well-founded hopes for dinner.

A modest snack this, comprising:

1. Some canapés with our aperitifs, including a battered anchovy with a sweet chilli dipping sauce, a beetroot mousse with smoked salmon, and half a quail’s egg with tartare sauce (which sounds really peculiar, but was delicious).

2. A pre-starter of tomato jelly, smoked salmon and crab bisque, accompanied by a glass of Bollinger.

3. A starter of squab pigeon with French saucisson and foie gras, served with spiced puy lentils and accompanied by a glass of Chilean sauvignon blanc.

4. A second starter of ballotine of pork with langoustine, artichoke, baby carrot, quail’s egg and cider vinaigrette, accompanied by a glass of Beaujolais.

5. A third starter of cod with scallops on curried new potato with onion puree and shallot crisps, accompanied by a glass of Argentinian Torrontes.

6. A main course of an assiette of Welsh black beef, comprising fillet on aubergine puree with sugar snap peas, sweetbread on spinach, shin ravioli and a samosa with Asian spices, accompanied by a fine 1998 claret.

7. A selection of a mere 14 cheeses, with a glass of Dow’s port.

8. A “pre-dessert” of ginger ice cream with apricot puree and – shock, horror – no wine.

9. A proper pudding of pumpkin seed soufflé with a warm chocolate sauce, accompanied by a sweet Soave from the Veneto.

To be fair, the portions were small enough for us not to feel nauseous as we sipped our peppermint tea in the drawing room afterwards, though we would probably have exploded like Monty Python’s Mr Creosote if anyone had been so foolish as to offer us a final wafer-thin mint. We concluded that (a) we had dined extraordinarily well and (b) the Michelin star was thoroughly deserved, though wondering (c) how it could be commercially viable to employ a Michelin-starred chef to cook dinner for just four couples in the middle of nowhere.

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