Holy cow(s?)! Mrs. B.B. has ordered a meat dish at Seren Diemwnt

An overlooked gem in Llandaff, or digital pretence? We braved the elements on a cold, wet Saturday evening to find out why Cardiff’s food bloggers are on mute when it comes to Seren Diemwnt – and Mrs. B.B. braved the beef main! (I didn’t want to spoil the surprise for you with the main image.)

With the expense of Green Man – and four days of festival food stalls – on the horizon, I had resigned myself to, at best, a home-made stir fry this Saturday night.

But as Mrs. B.B. rightly pointed out (why didn’t I do this years ago?!), “now that the blog’s live, we have a duty to spend large and stuff our faces at least once a week.”

We did agree – with four days of continuous boozing also on the horizon – that perhaps we should be sensible and go alcohol-free. As a result, we had the car, and opened up our horizons from the limitations of the Rhymney to Penarth line.

Err, we went to Llandaff.

 

A seren (or star) in the making?

Trying our best to find a restaurant which hadn’t been championed to death (it will be a while before we make it to Tommy Heaney’s new gaff) by Cardiff’s foodies, we eventually came across the website for Seren Diemwnt.

How did we not know about this place?

Why isn’t every South Wales food blogger waxing lyrical?

It certainly looked the business, with references to Michelin and #madeforinsta food photos – plus a menu promising 4-bone rack of lamb!

I was sold.

 

Did we visit the wrong website?

No – I checked as soon as we returned that evening, but anyway…

It’s been far too long since we visited High Street, Llandaff, but considering it is home to both Porro and our favourite Chinese (Summer Palace Restaurant), we’ve come to expect a certain standard – professional-looking website or not.

Our expectations were tempered somewhat when we arrived to see this sign out front:

seren-diemwnt-cafe-outside

…it was hardly indicative of haute cuisine.

Inside, the room was open, but the décor was unassuming and unnoteworthy – although Mrs. B.B. was a fan of the light bulbs:

seren-diemwnt-ceiling-lightbulbs-llandaf
A sense a trip to Ikea coming on…

It had a café feel, so we weren’t surprised when our table included flyers promoting the breakfast and lunch time takeaway deals.

seren-diemwnt-inside-diners-reaction
A fellow diner sums it up!

Bizarrely, given the restaurant was largely empty when we arrived (and we wouldn’t see more than four tables dining at any one point), they had made up our table in the centre of the room, but right next to the ‘bar area’ (or the cafe’s till) – this is also where the three people on service spent much of their evening darting back and forth.

With the door also ajar wide open when we arrived (it was lashing it down outside and more than a little chilly), Mrs. B.B. asked to be moved without hesitation – although that did lead to some confusion as our waiter for the evening struggled to communicate where we could sit as an alternative (at least we didn’t end up on the very uncomfortable looking high chairs at the back).

“All three failed to tell us about the evening’s specials.”

He didn’t seem all that comfortable when we asked to order the non-alcoholic wine either – although, perhaps, that’s understandable. It wasn’t that bad!

Service switched between himself and two female waitresses – the younger of whom was very polite but mainly nervous.

At least one of the trio appeared like she had experience of interacting with the public. In fact, she was quite charming – for that reason alone I feel a little guilty for what I’m about to write.

But all three failed to tell us about the evening’s specials – we overheard them informing another table after our starters had arrived.

 

Please look away if you are easily offended

Six starters and nine mains: surely enough choice for most people – although no sign of the rack of lamb (it was a totally different menu to what I’d viewed online), and it was slightly random (crispy duck with hoisin sauce, Indian spiced chickpea potato cake, soup of the day, cheese souffle… you get the idea).

The price point was reasonable (mains from £10.50 to £16.50 – add a few quid on top for a steak…who goes out to a restaurant for steak?!), but it all felt like it was being done on the cheap.

“It was a waste of a duck’s life.”

There were no nice subtle touches to elevate the experience (surely a couple of rolls and wedge of butter wouldn’t have set them back too much?!), our cutlery was wrapped in paper napkins, the table water tasted…well, put it this way, we drank all the non-alcohol wine!

Starters

Crispy duck is one of my all-time favourite guilty pleasures.

Any joy had been removed from this version. Crispy? I’d say incinerated.

It was a waste of a duck’s life – just adding grease and saltiness to an otherwise fresh-tasting salad.

The hoisin sauce provided some necessary sweetness, but it wasn’t anything special.

duck-hoisin-seren-diemwnt-starter

The pic does it way more justice than it deserves – and it was tiny. Gone in a few mouthfuls.

Mrs. B.B. faired a little better with her cheese and leek souffle, shallot and tomato salad.

cheese-souffle-seren-diemwnt-starter

Not really what you’d hope for from a souffle – dense and airless, it held its shape enough to have been extracted from the typical ramekin we expected to see.

It was more like an omelette in texture, but it tasted nice enough, with a strong cheese flavour – although the unadvertised mustard dressing was overpowering.

Mains

Despite the luxury of TWO vegetarian options to choose from – Mrs. B.B. went for the meatiest thing on the menu. And when I say meatiest, I mean obscene:

beef-brisket-seren-diemwnt-myview
Apologies for the nightmares!

Not what I used to visualise when I thought of beef brisket – unfortunately, it is now.

It just looked wrong.

And whilst it was moist enough, it didn’t taste all that dissimilar to tinned stewing steak.

There was far too much of it in relation to the other elements on the plate. And if you are serving up this many cows on one plate, you really need to provide a jug of thick gravy vs. a barely there red wine jus.

“The best thing about this dish was a wedge of red onion.”

The butternut spiced puree was served cold. The crispy carrot and parsnip looked nice visually when the plate arrived but became lost in the eating. The potato fondant was soft and buttery but outshone by a wedge of red onion that was packed with flavour.

I repeat: the best thing about this dish was a wedge of red onion.

My pheasant breast rolled in poppy seed, lemon and chili sounded so promising. But I’d be embarrassed if I’d cooked this myself – if I’d cooked it FOR myself.

pheasant-main-seren-diemwnt

It didn’t look that great – although you can see they are trying. With three tiny potatoes, three beetroot crisps, two (maybe the chef plated too close to the edge so I lost one) roasted tomatoes dotted around the plate – and a splash of chocolate jus – it had the first round of MasterChef: The Professionals written all over it.

Based on the cooking, the chef would struggle on the amateur version.

“I was tearing it apart with my knife and fork.”

The pheasant was overcooked to the point I was tearing it apart with my knife and fork – it took a fair bit of effort I can tell you! The beetroot crisps were like pieces of card. And the buttered potatoes were undercooked and lacked any buttery flavour.

The best part of it was the chocolate jus – nice and bitter – but there was so little of it. A crying (I was on the verge) shame when the meal was so dry.

I didn’t mind the seared red cabbage, but I couldn’t taste the sherry pearls or the lemon on the pheasant – the poppy seed dominated.

For such a simple dish, you really need to nail every single element – the fact there was gristle and cartilage still attached to the pheasant summed up the lack of skill and attention to detail.

There wasn’t much to leave, but there was enough to raise questions.

The plates were nervously taken away – the younger waitress seemed flustered when we spoke to her. We smiled.

Desserts

Given the measly portions to that point, there was room in my tummy for Seren Diemwnt to make it up to me with a knockout dessert. Mrs. B.B. had less room in hers (did you see her main?!), but she isn’t one to be left out – plus there was an unexplained half-hour delay, which helped.

Disclaimer: under normal circumstances, we would have left the restaurant at this point – and I would have expected a refund for the main I received (at least). Given this was to form part of a review, I was keen to complete the ‘experience’ without influence.

Her summer pudding was a simple delight. Very light, not too sweet – with a hint of tartness from the berry fruits. It was the first dish to deliver:

summer-pudding-seren-diemwnt

Unfortunately, it was the only one…

My lemon & white chocolate mousse wasn’t a mousse at all. It wasn’t light or airy – it had a texture more akin to a posset (I’m being kind). And it was a deceptively large portion.

white-mousse-seren-diemwnt-dessert

The cinnamon meringue added some nice texture if nothing more, but the real star was the tart candied lemon peel, adding more than just crunch and decoration.

I would have liked more of the raspberry sauce to tame the sweetness of the faux mousse. It wasn’t the worst thing I’ve ever tasted, but finally the ordeal was over…

 

Time to spread the word?

To be honest, I left feeling a bit confused. On reflection, I felt cheated – what they are promoting vs. the reality is miles apart. And for north of £60?!

From the waiting staff to the food served, it was pretty amateur, which suggests this was more than a ‘bad night’.

So…now we know why nobody is talking about this place.

Maybe more people should be.

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No surprises: It’s The Walnut Tree Inn

A birthday meal at an unnamed location. We had to drive – so I knew I wasn’t getting Cliff at Frankie & Benny’s this year! It was somewhere I’d always wanted to go – so I knew I wasn’t getting Cliff at Frankie & Benny’s this year! I had to wear a shirt – so I knew I wasn’t getting Cliff at Frankie & Benny’s this year! Ok, ok, I know it’s in the title, but I needed an intro…

As mystery’s go, it probably wasn’t the hardest to solve for me either. There were a few clues – “we must drive,” and “it’s about an hour away” being the most obvious…

Leaving the house and heading towards Ponty confirmed my suspicions – and I was onto a ‘dead cert’ when we took the exit signed Abergavenny off the roundabout (although I admit to being thrown off the scent a little when Mrs. B.B. later missed a few turnings – couldn’t think of anywhere in Hereford!).

So, yes, finally, after several years of online drooling, but thinking we couldn’t use up our monthly dining budget on one night out (clearly lacking the average food blogger budget), we were about to have our first meal at The Walnut Tree

 

So far away… well, not really

Given the unintended detour, The Walnut Tree appeared even more remote than the reality – when we also got lost on the return leg, we found its location in Llandewi Skirrid is actually very close to Abergavenny town centre – which only served to heighten my expectations on arrival. If people are willing to come all this way, it has got to be amazing.

“I maybe even wanted to feel out of place by the pretentiousness of it all.”

The Michelin-star, celebrity chef, recollections of eyewatering prices online, and the brand-new sports cars and land rovers parked outside (I assume the kitchen and waiting staff aren’t that well paid) all added to the prospect of an uncomfortable evening – I maybe even wanted to feel out of place by the pretentiousness of it all.

In fact, I felt right at home.

The lavatory I visited on the way in may have had flannels to dry your hands, but it was a bit shabby, with a wonky toilet seat and an awkward layout…

The inn itself is impressive enough, but “informal” is certainly the right word, as you enter onto a small bar area (no beers on tap!) and a warm if unfussed welcome from whichever staff member was tidying up at the time.

Mrs. B.B. wasn’t drinking so we didn’t stop for long, but there is the option to sit near the bar before moving into the dining area.

 

On your marks, get set…

The dining room (split by a dividing wall) was tidy if unremarkable – quite a few tables given the floor space and quite a few abstract pictures given the wall space.

walnut-inn-diners-tables

If you happen to be seated (like ourselves) near the door to the kitchen, it does feel quite cramped and busy, with staff members sprinting back and forth – definitely, no time to enquire about your meal.

The couple nearest clearly weren’t happy and asked to be moved about 10 minutes into their service. Not the best place for a romantic evening, then.

We were seated next to each other against the wall, so it wasn’t quite as irritating, but it was a noticeable distraction – and made capturing photographs without unblurred individuals more of a challenge as the room filled up.

As did the dimmed lighting, which I guess pairs with the general, relaxed vibe they are aiming for – but didn’t achieve on this busy evening.

 

You finished yet?

We were presented with an extensive (and increasingly expensive) wine menu book as we sat down. Mrs. B.B. was on mineral water, so I enquired about the beers – only two and both disappointing: Estrella and (I think – it may have been Budweiser) Budvar (I knew it wasn’t worth asking for clarification, put it that way). I would have expected more support for Welsh craft breweries, but I guess they rely on the wine mark-up.

“My options were limited somewhat by Mrs. B.B.’s reactions to calf’s brains and pig’s head.”

The menu itself was more extensive than I would have expected from a fine dining establishment, but my options were limited somewhat by Mrs. B.B.’s reactions to calf’s brains and pig’s head. As tends to be the case, I went for the meatiest sounding options and Mrs. B.B. went veggie for the evening.

Swiftly after taking our orders (the only thing they seemed reluctant to deliver on the night was the bill), we were presented with an aperitif:

cheese-croquette-pre-fork-walnut

A cauliflower cheese stuffed croquette. You really can’t go wrong with cauliflower cheese, and I wouldn’t have expected a Michelin-starred restaurant to fail me now.

cheese-croquette-walnut-inn-ooze
I wish this was the actual size!

Crispy on the outside, mushy on the inside, with an intense cheesy flavour. It was gone in a mouthful – but not to worry, here comes the bread!

I’m not sure if etiquette is to save the bread to accompany your other dishes – as the more refined looking diners appeared to be doing – but me and Mrs. B.B. dived in. Tearing the buttermilk bread in two and lashing on the butter.

What’s not to love about soft warm bread – especially when it’s as luxurious as this (verging on a dessert). Although there was an overwhelming saltiness not just from the butter.

Starters

I was tempted by the deep friend porthilly oyster with chorizo and chilli mayonnaise – although seeing the amount of chew effort a fellow diner had to put in, I’m glad I opted to play it safe with:

quail-starter-walnut-tree-inn

Confit quail with grapes, morteau and madeira.

For me, this was the standout dish of the evening.

Every part of the quail was on the plate and cooked with real care – the meat was moist and the skin slightly charcoaled giving it a slightly smoked flavour. Every other ingredient complemented – whether it was the smokiness of the morteau sausage or the almost BBQ flavour of the madeira sauce.

It was delicate and precise cooking – you could imagine someone laying this out with a set of tweezers in the kitchen – but crucially it tasted wonderful. The only downside of eating somewhere with this price tag is Mrs. B.B. wouldn’t let me pick up the bones to consume the tiny morsels that remained.

After a little education from the waitress, Mrs. B.B. went for farfalle with courgettes, chilli, garlic and parmesan:

pasta-starter-walnut-tree-inn
There is pasta under the Parmesan – promise!

Farfalle is ‘bow-tie’ shaped pasta. It was layered with slivers of courgette, smothered in a punchy chilli sauce and finished with a light sprinkling of parmesan. The courgette added a lightness, whilst the sauce had the perfect amount of heat to leave your mouth tingling and wanting more.

Mains

I was almost swayed by the five-spice duck with sticky rice, soy and sesame, but who turns down rack of lamb when they see it? (Even if Mrs. B.B. had treated me to her home-cooked version the night prior!)

lamb-rack-walnut-tree-inn

It arrived almost immediately after we finished our starters. Again, the cooking and the presentation were neat and tidy – is there someone in the kitchen cooking these peas individually?

“The mint was so subtle I was questioning whether it was even there.”

The lamb rack was a touch pink and melt in your mouth tender (shame they weren’t bigger – Mrs. B.B. did make a reference to the “poor little lamb”), the veg (peas, broad beans and broccoli) was firm to bite but not hard, and the chips / roast potatoes were crisp, fluffy and buttery.

But it wasn’t perfect. The rich lamb shoulder was a bit tough in places, and the sauce didn’t really add anything at all – the mint was so subtle I was questioning whether it was even there. Overall, I felt it lacked seasoning.

High quality meat and high-quality cooking – and I’d be more than happy if I had this at a restaurant charging <£20. But for £29, I was expecting the best lamb dish I’d ever had – and it wasn’t.

Mrs. B.B. seemed to get better value with her £16 summer vegetable target with quail eggs and coulommiers:

veg-pie-main-walnut-tree

To say Mrs. B.B. was impressed when this arrived is understatement – cue 4000 photographs from every possible angle.

So here’s another one:

veg-tart-angle-shot

The collection of vegetables was beautifully assembled alongside the quails’ eggs on a delicately thin and crispy cheese pastry case. This was atop a pea puree and served with a side dish of baby Anya potatoes.

The variety of perfectly cooked veg – carrot, beetroot, broad bean, asparagus and courgette, to name just a few – was impressive and the rich cheese sauce within (watching that ooze out was a sight to behold) just brought everything together without overpowering any element.

Desserts

One of the great things(?!) about fine dining is you pay 33-50% more, but you feel 33-50% less satisfied, which means we had room for a pudding.

Our indecision played into our favour. To that point, each dish had arrived just as we finished our last. You don’t want to hang around too long between dishes, but when you are paying big bucks for the ‘experience’, you kind of want to take your time over proceedings. With the general busyness of the room, we did feel a little rushed.

The frontrunners were the white chocolate and caramel fondant, and the chocolate, peanut and toffee delice, but I didn’t want to finish on a sickly note and opted for the cherry soup and almond ice cream.

Now it was a bit of a risk, but I thought, surely, they wouldn’t just serve me some cherry sauce with fresh cherries and a blob of ice cream in the middle. Err:

cherry-soup-dessert

I appreciate it may all be about the ingredients and the flavours vs. ‘cheffy’ designs, but it was an uninspiring end to the meal.

“At least I’d had one of my five a day with the plump cherries, I suppose.”

The ice cream was nice – although I didn’t get the almond flavour from that at least. The cherry soup was very thin and a bit too sweet – just a hint of alcohol – although it went well with the ice cream (of which there wasn’t anywhere near enough). At least I’d had one of my five a day with the plump cherries, I suppose.

I slurped it up and splashed my shirt a few times, but found myself staring longingly at other diners’ blackberry summer puddings and pistachio cakes. I’d have left more content after a dense piece of sponge, I’m sure.

Mrs. B.B. lucked out with the gin and elderflower jelly with gooseberry ice cream:

gooseberry-jelly-dessert-walnut-inn
You need to track down the video on Instagram for the best jelly wobble ever!

When I spotted gin and gooseberry – two staples of Mrs. B.B.’s diet (in her dreams) – I knew this would be her choice. And she didn’t let me down.

I think Mrs. B.B. had concerns the elderflower jelly would be overpowering, but it matched well with the gooseberry. There was no mistaking the gooseberry flavour of the ice cream (or the compote), but the biscuit and red sauce (Mrs. B.B. was sure this was gooseberry flavoured also) were probably unnecessary. Still, her last words were, “that was divine.”

 

Whose birthday was this?!

Clearly, Mrs. B.B. had a better present for my birthday than I did.

“The starter will live long in the memory and the main, well, it was rack of lamb…”

I wouldn’t say it was a bad meal by any stretch – the starter will live long in the memory and the main, well, it was rack of lamb and it was cooked perfectly.

But when you are paying £100 (no wine, one beer), you want to feel wowed and leave a bit giddy – not thinking, “man, I’m tired and we’ve got an hour’s drive home now.”

It felt a bit safe… Dare I say, it was a bit boring?

I didn’t feel the passion or the love for the food that was being served up. I didn’t feel excited once. It was a very nice bit of grub. But I expected more.

Follow us on Instagram and Twitter to see more pictures from this meal and to keep up-to-date on our other adventures.