[Narberth, Pembrokeshire] The Grove
As you might expect from a small country house hotel restaurant in the middle of nowhere and in midweek, it was quiet. In fact, it was one of those hotel dining rooms that’s probably utterly devoid of atmosphere even when busy. One of those rooms where you “chat” in hushed whispers, lest anyone think you are enjoying yourself. Which is a pity, as we enjoyed the food.
There were nibbles with aperitifs – good olives, local cured ham – salty and nicely chewy and a shortbread “sandwich” of perl las.
Then an amuse bouche – cod brandade (although actually chopped, rather than pounded) with the fish topped with a garlic cream. I didn’t like it. My partner did.
She thought her starter somewhat confused. A small fillet of smoked haddock with sweetcorn and apple. Alongside, a dollop of crabmeat. It felt as though two separate dishes were fighting for supremacy, rather than a single co-ordinated plate. All the elements tasted fine, though.
Scallops were much better, perfectly cooked, each sat on thin slice of pickled apple which gave a contrasting sharpness and crunch to the sweet softness of the scallop. A little celeriac puree added sweetness and a dab or two or chicken just added to the overall success of the dish.
Duck had all the makings of a cracking dish. A well seasoned piece of breast came with a mini spring roll of shredded leg. Alongside, a grilled spring onion and a soy/citrus sauce. And, a bit oddly to my taste, a slice of carrot cake. It was a bit weird by way of texture and bit weird by way of taste.
A fillet of line caught sea bass on the other plate was generally well cooked, although there was no hint of crispness to the skin. Chard stalks had been dusted in polenta before being fried and were really lovely. As was fennel, served two ways – first as a thin crispy slice and, also, as shreds of braised. Peperonata was well made and worked well with everything.
We passed on something sweet, opting for cheese. They offer around a dozen English and Welsh cheeses and we guessed that with the care in selection, they would also know how to look after them. And they did – all in perfect condition, not a sign of f ridge cold. Served with a delicious fig jam and home mad ebiscuits, the deal is you pick four from the selection. Between us, we went for Ragstone, Caws Preseli, Pwll Mawr (both of us), Boksburg Blue, Kirkhams Lancashire, Smoked Pwll Mawr and Hereford Hop.
The people who own the Grove, also own the recently opened Coast at Saundersfoot. But what a contrast in service. Here, it was confident, knowledgeable and friendly. And at Coast, pretty much the opposite.