I paid for this meal myself and they had no idea I was a blogger (you may get bored of reading this, but get used to it)
Once upon a time I have rather starved than sit on my own in a restaurant eating a meal. I couldn’t think of anything more cringey than having to explain that no, I wasn’t waiting for anyone, of perusing a menu alone without having someone to confer with, of being looked at and possibly talked about, and of eating a meal without having someone to ooh and aah with.
A few work trips away and eating alone in hotels or restaurant became a necessity. You might call it good practice. After all, it wasn’t my choice, just something I had to do. And then a few years ago I found myself alone on my birthday and decided to take myself for lunch. It was wonderful. A quiet glass of champagne, wonderful food at The Tame Hare in Leamington (which I am yet to return to), and an all-round great experience.
Since then, I haven’t found eating alone daunting at all. It’s rather liberating. It’s all about you. A place that suits you, food that suits you. You pick the wine, you sit on whichever side of the table you want, you take as long as you like. Goodbye compromise, this is a journey of self-love.
Where’s all this going? Well, recently I embarked on my first solo trip in our camper van. Just me and the dog, a weekend in Wales, filled with long walks, books, films and the odd glass of wine (for me not her). It wouldn’t be a weekend away without a food stop so I consulted fellow blogger The Plate Licked Clean for a place near to where I was staying, and was pointed in the direction of the Felin Fach Griffin.
Not far from Hay-on-Wye, the Felin Fach is nestled in the spectacular landscape of Wales between the Black Mountains and the Brecon Beacons. Just the drive there is impressive, and it’s one of those buildings that somehow manages to make you feel like you’re coming home.
It calls itself a dining pub with rooms, providing the helpful suggestion that food is a priority here and a quick look at the menus confirms this. Lunch, supper, and a playful ‘eat more’ section for all those times you get carried away relaxing and dare not to comply with our English set meal times.
The food is all the things places claim to be – simple, seasonal, sustainable and locally sourced, yet somehow here it feels more authentic than most places. I’m guessing that’s why it comes so highly recommended.
The pooch and I visited for late Sunday lunch (easily booked online, easily amended on the phone when it was just too cold to explore a nearby town for any longer – both things that I find often grease the wheels when it comes to enjoyment of a place). It already has an OFM Readers’ Award under its belt for Best Sunday Lunch and at £22.50 for two courses and £27.50 for three, it’s also epic value.
It was fairly packed when we visited but Brandy and I were helpfully shown through to a quiet room where we couldn’t disturb too many other people. There I had a sun-drenched corner where I could bask in my solitude and peruse the menu.
The wine list deserves a mention, too. Not only is it comprehensive, but it’s a clever blend of playful and stunningly serious, instead of being categorised like so many other establishments’ offerings you’re greeted with evocative titles like: ‘More Bounce for the Ounce’, ‘Exhilarating Alternatives’ and ‘Eat Me, Drink Me’.
I started with bread and butter and if there is one single criticism for this whole wonderful experience, it is that the butter had come straight out of the fridge. Not an enormous issue, I know, but it’s such a shame when the pleasurable experience of smearing top quality butter over perfectly-executed bread is turned into a messy scrap between butter and bread that leads to chunks of the former decimating the latter.
Happily, that is the only negative comment I have about this experience. To start, I opted for smoked duck celeriac remoulade and pickled berries. The duck was lightly smoked without any bitterness or acridity. The berries plump and juicy, balanced between sweet and sour thanks to the pickle. And the remoulade was crispy and refreshing. Quality produce, prepared simply, balanced well, with thought not only to flavour but also to texture. All the textbook signs of a great dish.
If the starter was good, my main course was the stuff of food dreams. I had been tempted by the roast rib of Welsh Black beef, as well as the roast leg of Welsh lamb. Sea trout was also calling to me. But it was the pork belly that lured me in – a suggestive mixture of traditional and slightly leftfield with additions of Glamorgan sausage, parsnip, tenderstem broccoli and dukkah.
I’ve had pork belly a couple of times of late, and I’m aware that it’s clear that I have a bit of a penchant for this fatty delight, but this may well be the best I’ve ever had. Each forkful of pork was an eye-roll-inducing melt-in-the-mouth moment encased in the lightest caress of crispiness on the outside studded with crispy toasted nuts courtesy of the dukkah.
The veg was a masterclass in cooking even the simplest elements to perfection. Broccoli crispy without being raw, parsnip sweet and tender, and a silky parsnip puree. I’ve never had Glamorgan sausage before, and I have a horrible feeling I may not get quite so good a one again. A rich mixture of leek and Gruyere cheese, with a slight heat of mustard, encased inside golden breadcrumbs.
It should have been too rich on top of the belly pork yet somehow wasn’t. Instead it was a delight. And one delight among a plate on which every element was as close to perfect as an amateur like me can identify. A shoulder-shrugging, eye-rolling delight that highlighted one drawback of doing this stuff solo – that part of the joy is in the sharing and without anyone to share it with, you’re left grinning insanely on your own looking like a bit of a loon.
That said, it didn’t stop me from continuing and risking more crazed smiling in my little corner courtesy of dessert. Especially since I had a few sips of my glass of rather lovely classy Chianti left.
I opted for the bitter chocolate torte with blood orange sorbet. No pastry, just a neat brick of smooth, rich, bitter chocolate torte, complete with a glistening scoop of tart blood orange sorbet. In case there was too much smoothness on the plate, chunks of honeycomb put to that, while raspberry coulis picked out the raspberry notes of the blood orange. A grand finale to an epic Sunday lunch.
And so my solo lunch came to an end, along with my weekend. It goes without saying that the food at Felin Fach Griffin is great – so much so that I’m already planning a return with Mr M. It’s refined without being fussy, simple without being boring, and full of flavour and aesthetic beauty.
On top of all this, the setting is fabulous and the service second-to-none. I know this because nowhere is good service more apparent than when you’re on your own. With nobody to distract you and no other human company, each interaction counts. Add that to the fact that you’re already probably slightly uncomfortable, so those serving you need to work doubly hard to make you relaxed.
The guys at Felin Fach Griffin have this down to a tee. Not only was I make to feel as comfortable as if I’d been in a local pub surrounded by people I knew, but the dog was treated like royalty too – always a winner.
So there you have it. Many thanks to the Felin Fach Griffin for feeding me well, making me feel comfortable, and treating me and my dog like Queens for a few hours. And thanks too to the Plate Licked Clean for an excellent recommendation.