I was recently asked to attend a little known (to myself) restaurant in the heart of Wales called the Granary in Newtown, Powys to try their new 9 course tasting menu. Not knowing much about the restaurant at first I did a little bit of digging and found out that the head chef has worked at some very reputable restaurants on his journey to heading up the kitchen at The Granary including the one Michelin Star Ynyshir in Machynlleth, two Michelin star Noma in Copenhagen and even further afield at The Little Truffle on the Gold Coast in Australia. Ok, so you can judge a restaurant just by where someone has worked but the menu sounded absolutely banging and right up my street.
The only thing putting me off was the 5 hour round journey to get to the restaurant and back home. Seeing as we’re in the middle of one of the biggest heat waves to grace the land of song, I thought why not make a weekend of it and throw a bit of nature in with the epic scenic route meandering through the Brecon Beacons then up to Mid Wales and go camping whilst we were up there. As luck goes I found a camping spot called The Dolau Inn just two miles from the restaurant, which was situated next to a pub and cost just £5 per person so it was game on!
After a few fermented apple juices to hydrate ourselves after setting up camp, we took the 5 minute taxi ride into town and a short walk down a lane just off the main high street in Newtown to the restaurant.
The restaurant itself has been run by the same owner since 2009 and after speaking to some of the locals before we got there it has gone through a number of different directions since its inception with the most recent offering being tapas.
The re-branding, new menu and new direction under the guise of chef Seamus Russel has also seen the restaurant change its name to the Granary to tie in with the buildings original purpose being a bakers in the 1900 and selling grain during the 1950’s.
The Tudor style exterior flowed through nicely into the interior with exposed wooden joists and panelling throughout with stripped back low hanging lighting creating a warm atmosphere. We were the first to arrive and were offered a chance to grab a drink out the back first, which we inquisitively accepted.
Both going for a Gin Mare G & T, whilst we explored the peaceful and tranquil outside seating area that would be a summertime mecca if it was only located in Cardiff with ample an scattering of tables with rattan benches and cushions a plenty. There was even a snug up on a raised area with comfy sofas and a chance to shelter from the sun in the summer or warm the cockles up in winter with the connected wall mounted fire.
After embracing my inner Zen channelled through the Buddha statues dotted around outside chill out area, G & T in hand as backup we headed inside for a culinary journey through a foraged and fermented menu expertly curated by head chef Seamus.
First up on the menu was the hispi taco, prawn, lime, cucumber and ant. I’ve never been one to purposely journey on through a dish with insects in but seeing as it was national insect week and I’d been desensitised once that week already with the bug farm pop up at The Celtic Manor, there was nothing a little helping of ants as seasoning would do to hold me back.
This was a very clever dish with fermented limes used to cure the prawns a la ceviche style, sandwiched between carved hispi cabbage leaves and cucumber. The presentation was on point and gave us a little glimpse of what we were in store for, for the rest of the evening. The ants would have been right at home nestled amongst the edible flower coating. Even the rustic looking plates and tableware were handmade by a woman locally and added an extra special touch to the dishes.
Second course saw us delving into leek, shallot, parmesan, wild garlic. Each of the dishes was explained by the chef so that no detail was left unearthed, which I though was excellent as the menu reads very simply but the techniques and process behind executing each dish goes way beyond the main ingredients listed. This dish for example was powdered in fine particles of charcoal, adding an extra layer to the delicate ribbons of leak and silky custard like core of parmesan and fragrant but mellow linger of wild garlic.
I was a little disappointed at first when sitting down and not having a chance to carb up on bread, but to my delight it was delivered after the 2nd course. God I love bread! Especially when so much love and attention has been made with the cultured butter and the sourdough both taking around 5 days to produce I was told. This wasn’t just any old Hovis, that’s for sure. Being a champion of fermented yeast I adore its sour taste just as much in a sour beer as my bread and this loaf took some beating, slathered with rich, buttery, yellow mounds.
Not that it would have bothered me but the next course of pigs head didn’t come on a silver platter with an apple in its mouth. Instead if came crowned in something a bit more regal in the form of Osietra caviar, sat on a bed of squash surrounded in fermented barley with droplets of kelp. I would never have put pork and caviar together myself but when I think about my preference of pork, which would be adorned with glass like shards of heavily salted crackling it married together flawlessly. Sweetened by the soft squash and a pleasant umami hit from the kelp.
Another meaty dish was up next in the form of duck breast, blueberry, hazelnut and beetroot. Duck being one of my favourite meats if cooked correctly I was more than excited to see how it would be plated up. Even though my favourite potato sidekick to duck dishes, dauphinoise potato wasn’t anywhere in sight, the sight of me wiping the plate clean with my index finger after I’d savoured the last mouthful of duck I think it was fair to say I wasn’t too disappointed in the end. Cooked pink to perfection, the sweetness of the blueberry helped tame the gaminess of the meat.
Course 6 was a fusion of sweet and savoury before we went full steam ahead into dessert with pineapple, rapeseed, coal ricotta and rocket. I don’t know what sort of witchcraft they taught the chef at his previous posts but this dish was crazy. Sweet pineapple, savoury rocket granita, with a helping of dairy in the form of welsh gold infused ricotta. Simple raw ingredients yet executed brilliantly by transforming them with some well thought out techniques, lots of time and a little sprinkle of love.
The freshly foraged haul came into its own in the next few courses with rice pudding, oats, rhubarb and wood sorrel. This put my regular overnight oat breakfast to shame. Smooth pudding with added crunch and texture from the crispy oats with a spoonful of the sweetened rhubarb was divine. Topped off with hand carved hearts out of the wood sorrel that brought not only a visual touch but another layer of flavour too.
Having only tired elderflower in gin, it was about time I tried it in it’s fresh form with some strawberries, olive oil and drizzle of elderflower gel. Soft, fresh and fragrant. The strawberries were so sweet and a classic pairing with the elderflower.
Well what can I say… From not having heard of the granary to learning about the chef and then getting excited about the 9 courses on offer for the June menu this did not disappoint and was definitely worth the 5 hour journey there and back.
The flavour pairings and techniques used were so clever and after finishing our meals, we were allowed into the kitchen to speak to the chef and take a look behind the scenes. There were some very British ingredients on the menu but I loved how they were tweaked with Asian flavours and techniques with ferments like koji, which I’d learned about only the night before whilst watching “The Mind of a Chef” with David Chang on Netflix.
Nothing was just thrown in a skillet and plated up, everything in each dish required patience, time and nurture with some of the ingredients requiring days if not weeks to prepare. There wasn’t one thing that past my lips that I didn’t like.
I really hope the restaurant gets the rewards it deserves and from eating at some other Michelin star restaurants recently I can’t see any reason why The Granary under the direction of Chef Seamus Russel can’t reach the same heights any time soon and although I never ate at its previous incarnation, I think they’ve found the winning formula at last.
I hope the locals do give it a chance and check out the amazing food although speaking to a few in the pub after our meal it might just be ahead of its time in Newtown after describing some of the dishes and ingredients and they pulled a face and said it was expensive. I think it will take off it’s just there is nothing else quite like it around and once they walk through the doors and sample the food, it will do all the talking.
If you are onto something as good as this though people will travel for it. I travelled to Anglesey from Cardiff to go for food at The Sosban and Old Butchers for my birthday, which is 4.5 hours there and 9 hour round trip so this is nothing from Cardiff or Shrewsbury about an hour away.
The price of the 9 course tasting menu costs just £50, which by Cardiff Standards is bloody cheap as I’ve seen some veggie tasting menus recently for not much less. We ordered a bottle of white wine after our gin and tonics to go with the food as we didn’t realise they did a wine flight to go with the food too for around £30 each. Bearing in mind this is 9 courses and the portion size of the drinks was more than generous. We were gutted we didn’t know at the start or we would of gone for that but they did allow us to pair the rest of our dishes with the wine when we found out and they were paired beautifully.
Our food was complimentary and would cost £50 each and with our two gins, bottle of wine and last couple of paired wines our drink bill came to £60, which I though was very reasonable. So normally that would have cost £160 but in the end we paid £100 with a £40 tip to the chef and front of house.
To top it all off they even gave us the rest of the loaf of sourdough wrapped up in cling film to take home. That was breakfast sorted for the morning with my 40p tin of sausage and beans cooked on my camping stove back at the camping site.
The Granary Restaurant
17 Parker’s Lane, Newtown, Powys, SY16 2LT