Review: Black Pool Mill, Narberth, Pembrokeshire
January 2, 2024

[Disclosure: We were invited to Black Pool Mill as part of a review stay of Bluestone Resort. We went with friends, but two of our four meals were complimentary]

I’ve long been a proponent of the idea that a meal in a restaurant is about so much more than the food itself. That eating out is about the experience, the setting, the service, and all those little things that make it a special occasion beyond having tea at home – even if that tea is bloody brilliant.

That said, we’ve all been left deflated – angry even – at the places that try to distract you from a poor performance on the plate with a swish setting and jazzy soundtrack. Because restaurants, of course, are predominantly there to serve food. Not to give us a pretty place to sit with music we could find on Spotify.

Standing in front of the monolith that is Black Pool Mill was always going to bring that very debate to the fore. Built in 1813 to grind flour for the whole of Pembrokeshire, the building itself is impressive verging on intimidating. Four storeys high, you don’t really need to be told it’s Georgian to feel the history that oozes from it. And that’s before you even get inside.

Blackpool Mill

Once you step through the door, its history is laid bare to see, with the original mill machinery preserved and renovated in the same way the whole fabric of the building has been. Yes, the 19th century flour mill has been brought up to date and transformed into a restaurant befitting of the 2020s, but its heritage has definitely not been consigned to the history books. Instead, it’s been restored and renovated to create something that is impossible not to fall a little bit in love with whilst also being in awe of.

Owned by the same people that own the Bluestone Resort that’s virtually next door,  Black Pool Mill opened in 2023 with the aim of being a ‘heritage restaurant’. As well as its impressive backdrop, it promises “simple, seasonal, locally sourced food” to impress locals and visitors alike.

An afternoon visit ticks the box of the surroundings, along with the warm welcome from staff who don’t mind us wandering around all four floors of the building to take in the renovation in daylight. The main areas are exposed floorboards and big, meaty beams overhead, not to mention the milling equipment that runs through from floor to floor.

Blackpool Mill
Blackpool Mill
Blackpool Mill
IMG_3596

There’s also an opulent private dining area complete with mirrored ceilings. It feels a bit Palace of Versailles to me and I think I prefer the warmth of the wood-filled areas, but it adds a touch of decadence and reminds you that this really could be a place for a special occasion as much as a holiday dinner like we’re having.

I say holiday dinner, but when we arrive on a random Tuesday early in December it feels pretty special. It’s dark outside but the building oozes light from its many windows. It’s warm, physically and in atmosphere, thanks to the history and the way that, as I overhear  one member of staff say to another ‘the building wraps itself around you, giving you a hug’. Hear hear.

The menu is, as promised, simple and classic, with an array of seasonal dishes that you’d expect. Many are geared to the season, though some seem slightly more appropriate to a summer menu. No bad thing maybe, given we don’t all always want heavy winter fayre every time we go out between October and March.

Serving staff are young but earnest, many clearly new to the venue, and possibly to the job. But this is always going to be a challenge opening a fairly big restaurant in what is essentially a quiet corner of Wales. It’s also not a problem in the slightest when they’re as friendly and eager to please as this team. I’ll take inexperience and effort over the opposite any day.

Bread basket
Soft pretzel

Anyway, the food. The Black Pool Mill homemade bread basket is predictably good. And there’s something about tucking into it in the belly of a mill that appeals to my romantic side. Then again, a warm, pillowy pretzel served with warm cheese dip transports us away from Wales to the ski slopes of Europe and soon has us all fighting for the last chunk.

Starters are pretty good, though nobody’s socks are resoundingly knocked off. Scallops are cooked decently, as is a seared pigeon breast dish. But it’s a roasted beetroot starter that gets the most praise, complete with pine nuts to add a bit of chew and the whole thing a well-done balance of sweet and savoury, comforting earthiness and freshness.

Scallop starter

Pigeon starter

Beetroot starter

Moving on to the mains is like going from the support act to the main event – especially when it comes to the  two fish dishes of our four choices. A steak is full of flavour and well seared to give that trademark meaty, char. The fondant potato it’s served with is all the right combination of crispy on the outside and soft and supple inside, while a balsamic onion is sweet, sticky and simple. A Bearnaise sauce is superlative – all the right silkiness and richness, with a tang of tarragon that’s just right.

Welsh venison loin is tender and tasty. I could have coped with it being a tiny bit less cooked, but I reckon that’s very much personal preference. Carrots with it are sweet and cooked to perfection, but I feel somehow let down by my spinach puree and the jus that comes with it. There’s nothing wrong, per se, but I feel I just want more. More depth, more earthiness, just more. Especially from a dish with a £29 price tag.

Steak at Blackpool Mill

Venison

In contrast, fish dishes have our friends waxing lyrical. Haddock fillet with a new potato chorizo salad  and wilted spinach has a summery feel to it, but gets a firm thumbs up. Fish well cooked, the chorizo bringing a punchy heat, and a touch of the Mediterranean yet also a warmth that is perfect for a winter menu.

The salmon is dubbed ‘stunning’. Perched on a pile of spring onion mash with a stalk of pan-fried broccoli, it’s a classic dish of salmon, mash and veg elevated to restaurant standards. Then a bit more thanks to a champagne sauce that is sweet, buttery and rich, yet subtle and classy. The dish is a triumph – the stuff of food envy – and I can’t help but notice that it’s one of the cheaper ones on the menu at £23.50. Just goes to show it’s not all about the price tag when it comes to food.

Haddock

Salmon

If the main courses are the act we’ve come to see, the desserts are the grand finale. A clementine cheesecake has been deconstructed into quenelles of chantilly cream, and chocolate ganache all sitting on a sprinkling of chocolate crumb, with shards of honeycomb in between and a few slivers of clementine rind.

It’s childish, yet so so grown up. Each element just perfect, from the slight bitterness of the ganache to the tang of the clementine and the sheer indulgence of digging into a load of cream. Think chocolate orange but so much better and you’re nearly there. But still not quite.

Dessert at Blackpool Mill

Dessert at Blackpool Mill

Dark chocolate mousse with an orange and cranberry curd feels more grown up, but just as indulgent, with more of the chocolate orange vibe that reminds us we’re galloping towards Christmas at pace. It’s the perfect finale to a winter menu that focuses on classic flavours and combinations, decent ingredients, and doesn’t try to mess around too much.

The food’s pretty good and given the location, it’s unsurprising that a place like this serving up good quality food already appears to be popular. The service isn’t city slick – but the clear keenness from team members who don’t perhaps have decades of experience in hospitality but do have a clear desire to provide people with a great experience more than makes up for it.

And all that comes in a building that really does have a special magic about it. To see it brought back to life as a place where people can quite literally break bread together, whether that’s a quiet lunch, a special blowout meal, or a cosy dinner tucked away in this warm box in the middle of the blackness of Pembrokeshire is something special. Long may it last.

Blackpool Mill
blackpool mill
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