The Celtic Manor Resort in Newport recently held a special pop up menu for National Insect Week at the Newbridge on Usk venue featuring Grub Kitchen who hail from St Davids in West Wales. The Grub Kitchen aims to educate people in the benefits and environmentally friendly importance of using insects in our diet compared to the labour and energy intensive cattle farming.
They have a restaurant in St Davids that features varies insects in many forms throughout the menu and they’ve also devised and packaged up insect based cooking ingredients such as ground mealworms that can be used to make pancakes and ready made cookies that can be purchased from their website. After speaking to one half of the Grub Kitchen team who happens to be a doctor and researched the use of insects for sustainable farming methods as part of her doctorate and they now do a lot with schools and education on their farm too.
The Celtic Manor decided to bring the grub farm team and owner/chef to cook up an I’m a Celeb esque feast for some lucky patrons and I was half happy, half terrified of accepting the invitation to join them for the launch of the pop up menu. I’ve been to both the other hotels under the Celtic Manor umbrella but this was my first visit to the Newbridge on Usk. After nearly launching my phone and google maps out of the car window for sending me several miles in the opposite direction, we arrived at the idylic riverside location. I was so suprised when we walked inside as it was almost tardis like in size compared to the outside as it looked quite small when we parked up outside.
We were treated to a choice of buggy drinks on arrival at the bar with the options of ant infused Eccentric gin and tonic, pimms with some critters floating on top or a non alcoholic mojito with something else from the insect kingdom taking up solice in the glass. Opting for one of each of the stronger options so we could try both. It wasn’t long until the creepy crawly laden canapes started to appear on trays to sample.
No worm and mud sandwiches in sight luckily and what we treated to sounded pretty good on the menu if you can get your head around the main centrepiece being something you would try and fish out of your plate or drink on any other occasion. The first bite sized nibble was the hardest to embrace but once you got over the initial fear they weren’t actually that bad.
The only one I couldn’t bring myself to try from the canapés was the vol au von with the mealworms as unlike the other dishes this looked a bit slimy and reminded me of mini gooey grub worms that explode slime when I’ve seen them eaten on I’m a celeb and it would of sent me over the edge.
After the initial canapés, some people left and those who stayed on were treated to a sumptuous three course meal featuring even more insects in its various forms.
Not shying away from the challenge I went for the Entomophagic tasting board featuring black ant and Pant-Ysgawn goats cheese croquette, curried cricket pakora, toasted cumin and mealworm houmous, bug burger bite and dipping sauces.
If I hadn’t been told I would never have known there were ground down insects in each of the items on the tasting board but because I did know, I was playing a constant battle with my brain to re-assure it I wasn’t going to die. Well at least I was hoping I wasn’t. I think if i hadn’t been told about the insects I would of wolfed everything down and enjoyed it more, it was just the thought of what i was eating made me a bit hesitant. I did polish most of the tasting board off though.
For mains i went for steak. This came with baby and pureed carrot, roasted lettuce and a vexo bolognese. Vexo is Bug Farm’s own creation and is a plant and insect based protein that can be added to meals. The steak was a whopper and cooked perfectly for me at medium rare. What I’d learned here is that the insects were a bit less in your face as the canapes and you could easily eat around them with the main meal if you were’t feeling brave. I was happy to give most of the things a go though as this was a great opportunity and very different experience i just had to take by the (cricket) balls.
The vexo was put into a little pan so to use at my leisure and being in control of how much I wanted on the plate instead of it being served to me swimming in the stuff and spoiling the whole meal had I not liked it. Obviously it wasn’t beefy like a normal bolognese but it was totally edible.
For dessert I went for the dark chocolate terrine. Oh don’t worry there’s a few additions lurking in there too with a toffee mousse, salted clotted cream and cricket ice cream. The chocolate terrine was heavenly and I tried my very best to have half a spoon of each item on my spoon as I went on a mission to destroy the plate of dessert but I failed half way through the ice cream.
I annihilated the terrine and the salted clotted cream but by this point I was all bugged out. I think if I hadn’t done the canapes I could of powered on through but the constant battling with my brain and pictures I kept seeing in my mind of the insects as I took a bite just took their toll. I got half way through the ice cream but there were just a bit too many crickets for me in the end. The other half on the other hand said it was the best ice cream she had ever tasted so there you go!
Ok so what did I think about the whole experience? I thought it was an amazing idea to be fair and they were so creative with everything from the ant infused gin, the canapes and the three courses of delicious food we were treated to. Having a chance to speak to the guys who run the bug farm and hearing the back story on how it all started, what they do now and dreams of the future. I love how they get the kids involved and do a lot with schools too.
It’s definitely an area we should start to explore too to try and cut down on the amount of energy and waste we go through in the world with traditional farming. I’m really glad I tried the food and the nibbles and would definitely recommend it either at the Bug Farm in St David’s or if The Celtic Manor put on a similar pop up again.
I can imagine kids loving the chance to eat some insects without being shouted at for digging up the garden in search for them by their parents and the majority of people on my table devoured everything on their plates. It depends how weak a stomach you have or how much your brain takes over when you are eating something you think you shouldn’t be and everyone is different.
I thought it was an amazing experience personally even if I was playing a constant battle in my mind but I did try my best and finished the majority of my food.
To see what other events and special menu’s are coming up at The Celtic Manor take a look here.