By Niall Griffiths
The connection between Llanidloes and the Chartist movement is a fascinating one; Google it, or, better yet, peruse the information available in the Trewythen Hotel’s stylishly understated and inviting restaurant, Chartists 1770, because then, after edifying yourself, you can eat like the king that sent the soldiers in to stamp on such uppity ideas as universal suffrage (except for women; they had to wait until 1919 for the right to vote).
Llanidloes has been needing a restaurant like this for quite some time; its curries and chips and kebabs are all well and good but this place, as befits its quality, should be welcomed and feted with a fanfare and a flourish. The wine list hovers around the twenty pound mark, the menu is innovative, the service is attentive without being obtrusive, and the food is wonderful. To start, a knot of smoked salmon sits amid a galaxy of tart capers in a milky way of creme fraiche, a beautifully balanced combination; a little wheel of Welsh goat’s cheese lightens the crunch of herb toast and roasted walnut, the citric grassiness of it undercut by the sweetness of grape. These flavours sound big and brash but the pairing of them is done with great care and cleverness; nuances are attended to so that contrasts complement rather than clash.
On to mains. Crispy sea bass skin curls like a fern away from the mother-of-pearl flesh; buttery spinach oozes from some enticing depth. A mushroom, halloumi and asparagus strudel like a spring roll on steroids, lifted by a tomato and basil puree which, again, skips out from some hidden pocket of loveliness. The filo gives with a crunch and the asparagus follows on the yield of the cheese and how nice it is to see halloumi treated this way, rather than simply griddled. This is considered and bold cooking with mostly familiar ingredients, done with great skill.
And the puds; oh, the puds. Not burdened with a big sweet tooth, dessert must be something truly special to get my lyricism to wax. I will one day write an epic poem about the egg custard tart with raspberry sorbet and Garibaldi biscuit; more like a flat Welsh cake, perfectly caught at that moment between caramelisation and carbonisation, this is a thing of true beauty. I was lamenting its loss even as I ate it. The coffee brûlée with vanilla ice cream and shortbread achieved that magical state of almost umami-ness in ostensible sweetness; this is a nirvana-like condition that few dishes seek, let alone reach. Bitterness and sweetness and crunch and cream all in one mouthful. Startling, perfect. Yet more reasons to visit Llani.
Chartists 1770, Great Oak Street, Llanidloes, Powys, SY18 6BW tel: 01686 411333 www.trewythenhotel.wales