Culinary Causerie

with Lesley Williams

MK @ The George

One of my very first jobs as a teenager was as a waitress at The George in Mumbles. It was short lived, but it gave me a very great respect for anyone working in the hospitality industry. The George has gone through many changes in the intervening years since I waited at tables, and I was delighted to note that it had recently been taken over by local chef Michael Knight. I have to confess that I had never eaten at any of his restaurants before, but I have friends who used to rave about Knights some years ago.

One Tuesday evening last month, when the sun was out, and summer was in the air, we decided on an impromptu trip to Mumbles with the family. We were fortunate to be able to get the last walk-in table at MK @ The George. It was very heartening to see the restaurant already filling up at 6.30 in the evening – possibly a sign that things are returning to some semblance of normality.

The menu is in two parts – one of tapas and the other the fish specials. There seems to be a fashion at the moment for tapas or small plates to be on offer. I love this concept of ordering several plates to be shared amongst the table, it gives you the chance to try lots of different things without having to plough through a full plate. Firstly though, we had to make sure the youngest member of the family could be accommodated – there was no problem here. While they didn’t have a dedicated children’s menu, the waiter offered a choice of chicken or fish goujons, sausages or pasta which was perfect.

The fresh mussels were some of the best we have ever had, plump and juicy with plenty of homemade bread to mop up the creamy, garlicky sauce. The dressed salad of smoked mackerel, prawns, cockles, tomato, cucumber and red onion was pronounced delicious by ‘Mr I don’t do salad’, who cleared his plate. Deep fried cockles seem to be a thing in Swansea at the moment and make their appearance in many restaurants – I prefer them like this more than just cold and served with pepper and vinegar, but the ones served here in Cajun spices with whitebait were on another level. The cockles had retained their softness while still having the necessary crunch – the bar has been raised.

When I order scallops I’m never quite sure what I’m going to get. Will they be plump and juicy complete with their coral or will they be the sad little frozen type? I almost did a little dance when my plate arrived – huge creamy white scallops complete with their little pink corals – and masses of them along with king prawns in a creamy sauce, sun dried tomatoes and spinach. The accompanying green vegetables retained a little bite and were the perfect foil for the rich fish; the sautéed potatoes were an unexpected bonus, but I have to confess they were too much for my appetite.

My family had decided to be sociable and have some sharing plates of braised fillet steak mac ‘n’ cheese along with triple cooked chunky chips and a couple of risotto dishes – this proved to be far too much food for two as the portion sizes were very generous, so I have made a mental note for the future. The steak was melt in the mouth tender – I would never have considered braising such a tender cut of beef but it certainly works – this was a very indulgent plate of food. The chips were as you’d expect – deeply golden and crunchy on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside – two portions disappeared very quickly.

Not only was the food really good, but the all waiting staff were attentive, friendly and seemed genuinely happy to be back in a busy restaurant.

MK @ The George, 706 Mumbles Road, Swansea SA3 4EH Tel: 01792 368129

Dine like a duchess

The sun had come early to the party and it was as warm as a summer’s day, even though it was mid-March, when I took a little trip down into the Bishopston valley to The New Gower Hotel.

I was accompanied by two friends and we were going to indulge in an afternoon of cake and savouries in the bright and airy hotel conservatory.

Regular readers will know that I have a bit of a thing about cutlery, china and glassware; failing on the quality of any of these can make or break my restaurant experience. The New Gower Hotel owner Linda Clayton-Evans evidently shares my views and has sourced a very beautiful bone china tea service by Aynesley in a pattern entitled cottage garden. This along with pretty table decorations, starched linen tablecloths and napery completed the picture-perfect table setting – and that was even before the food arrived.

Afternoon tea is very much in fashion, but it dates from the 19th century when it was introduced by Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford in 1840. The evening meal in her household was served fashionably late at eight o’clock and Anna would become hungry in the late afternoon, so asked for a tray of tea, bread and butter and cake to be brought to her room at about 4 o’clock, and she often invited her friends to join her. It became quite the social event in fashionable society.

Tea at The New Gower Hotel is traditional but with some very modern twists. Along with sandwiches the savoury selection includes hoisin duck wraps and crab and spring onion cones, and the cakes and sweets, all made by Linda’s chef husband Mark, were as delicious to eat as they were beautiful to look at. Light as-a-feather choux buns filled with fresh cream, Victoria sponge, traditional fruit cake, fresh fruit tartlet, petit fours and biscuits all displayed on a presentation stand.

We were making the afternoon more indulgent with the addition of a glass of prosecco – we had upgraded to the Royale Afternoon Tea as we were taking advantage of the special offer voucher in Bay last month.

Afternoon tea is served Monday to Wednesday and must be pre-booked. It’s the perfect afternoon out for celebration get-togethers for all the family. Unlike the Duchess of Bedford, I’d suggest forgoing lunch as this is a very substantial meal which will certainly keep you sustained until dinner.

The New Gower Hotel, 11 Church Lane, Bishopston, Swansea SA3 3JT Tel: 01792 234111

Luxury Afternoon Tea from £17.95 pp – Royale Afternoon Tea from £22.95 pp. Booking is essential

St Brides Spa Hotel

I’d seen several posts on Facebook, where friends had been enjoying a luxurious stay at the St Brides spa hotel in Saundersfoot. The infinity marine pool looked amazing with its views over the beach below. Booking a room wasn’t easy because it is so popular, but I persevered and it paid off when I managed to get a room with a sea-view, albeit for a Wednesday night. We had just celebrated our wedding anniversary the week before, so this was going to be a special treat.

Saundersfoot is one of my favourite destinations, when we fancy a road trip and fish and chips on the beach. I love to take the scenic route and hug the coast travelling through the seaside towns of Wiseman’s Bridge and Amroth.

St Brides Spa Hotel sits high above Saundersfoot perched on the cliff top. We parked in the car park and made our way through to the reception where we were greeted by friendly faces. Our room was on the first floor and had a view of the sea. Tea and coffee making facilities included some delicious toffee waffles and a dinky little bottle of fresh milk in the fridge – I don’t take milk in my coffee, but it was a nice change from the ubiquitous tiny pots of UHT milk.

We were booked into the spa for 90 minutes during our stay as part of our B&B deal, so we donned our swimming costumes and fluffy white bathrobes and made our way down to the spa. Apart from the therapy pool, there are saunas and steam rooms as well as treatment rooms for massages and beauty treatments. The thermal pool is heated to 33 degrees so being outside in February was no hardship. From the edge of the infinity pool we could watch people down on the beach, sheltering from the wind and rain while we were being gently simmered.

Our table for dinner once again had the view over the beach, but this time it was just the twinkling lights of the town that we could see. The restaurant was full and there was a lovely buzz of fellow diner’s conversation – something that I have sorely missed in the past couple of years.

The menu featured locally sourced produce and of course included fish and seafood. We dined on ham hock terrine, mushroom soup, cod with mussels and of course steak with triple cooked chips, all very elegantly presented and quite delicious. Our waiter Seb was consummately professional but equally friendly and charming, and obviously very hard working as he was still on duty when we went to bed at 11 o’clock and was in the restaurant again to serve our breakfast in the morning.

The breakfast menu was extensive and it was difficult to decide between eggs Benedict or scrambled eggs with smoked salmon, but the poached egg with avocado and crème fraiche won the day, along with a full English for Simon.

As we drove out of the car park, I was already planning on a return trip for my birthday later in the year – what better excuse for a little bit of luxury and pampering?

 

St Brides Spa Hotel, St Brides Hill, Saundersfoot SA69 9NH Tel: 01834 812304

 

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