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Rostra rating: 3.5
In order to be close to the ferry port where we were to embark for Ireland, we decided to stay in nearby Newport, Wales. We selected the Cnapan hotel and restaurant both for the convenience and the reputation of its restaurant.
And we enjoyed our stay. Judy and Mike Cooper are superb hosts, while Judy is also the chef for Cnapan’s acclaimed restaurant.
We got into our room early while the staff tended to our car, juggling it within the small car park along with three other guest vehicles.
Cnapan’s five rooms are jewel box charming. The bed was quite comfortable and our room had a small adjacent sitting room that was very useful for storing baggage and doing some work without disturbing a sleeping partner. Judy got one of the young men on her staff to lug our bags up the steep stairs without us having to ask and supplied a nice map and an even better briefing on the town itself.
The only problems with the room were the bathroom door, which was badly designed. Its glass panels flooded the bed room with very bright light in the middle of the night when in use (although the brightly lit bathroom mirror had a pretty cool effect on making the user’s pupils appear to have white squares around them), and the internet connection, which was fine when it connected but tended to drop out randomly for no discernible reason.
By the way, the two restaurants Judy recommended during our stay in Newport (the Golden Lion and Blas de Fronlas) were very good, though not as good as hers, and the sights she pointed us to were interesting.
Breakfast was very good: a buffet of granolas and cereals with fresh fruit, fresh blue berries, and raspberry compote, as well as Greek yogurt followed by cooked breakfasts. The Full Welsh was good, but the fried egg was overcooked (a common problem in the UK, best to order poached, but even then). The scrambled eggs (available with smoked salmon), however, were some of the best I have ever had. The kitchen had no problem with special orders.
SPOILER ALERT! As of the start of 2017, Judy and Mike are downshifting to a B&B and discontinuing their dinner service. If you can put together a group of fifteen plus, however, they will cater a dinner for you. Otherwise read the descriptions below, check out Patti’s wonderful food porn, and eat your hearts out.
Butternut squash soup with sweet pepper and coriander: sweet, dense, good stock base, A-.
Slices of cheddar bread loaf: different, but not really in a good way. With the exception of Alex Gooch, they just do not get bread in Wales.
Cnapan spicy seafood chowder: not a chowder by any definition I am aware of. Basically an Asian-themed fish soup that needed more heat and funk (as in Sriracha and fish sauce) given the amount of arrow root/corn starch used to thicken it. The mussels, salmon, and prawn were all fairly fresh but a bit overcooked and thus a little tough (this is what you do with day old fish after all).
Wild sewin: (a sea going brown trout, like steelhead) with tomato garlic salsa and buttered samphire. Perfectly pan fried fish with a mild salmon-like flavor. The salsa was very good and the samphire the best I have ever had (in Portland these are called sea beans and the key is to use very young and tender sprigs and cook them al dente).
Morgan: What happened to the photo of the roasted breast of duck, Patti?
Patti: Don’t know. I must have been busy eating it. Too bad.
Honey roasted breast of duck with a sour cherry and port sauce served on a cannellini mash: was very nice but had a couple flaws: 1) it was a bit overdone (requested medium rare and got medium) and the skin was not uniformly crisped (patches of light colored skin that was a little rubbery). Also, why serve a whole breast when it could be fan cut after resting and make for a much better presentation and easier eating?
Taters dauphinoise: classic, no error.
Beets and crème fraîche: very good and parsnip mashies with dill and crème fresh: excellent, star of the sides.
Veggies: carrots, zucchini, and cabbage were all well executed, but all needed salt.
The cheese plate consisted of four local Welsh cheeses that were each quite good. Served with a selection of (English) biscuits instead of bread (thanks be to Adephagia).
The small wine list was well curated and reasonably priced.
Chablis Premier Cru Fourchaume: slate nose, lemon peel and mineral spine, medium long citrus finish.
House white from Gascony: decent plonk.
House red: decent fruit forward single dimensional red that went well with the cheese plate.
Service throughout the meal was attentive without hovering. In general the presentation of Cnapan’s dishes was very nice.