Editor's note: The Crown at Whitebrook closed, due to financial difficulties, in March 2013. In August 2013 The Catereer reported that the premises were bought by Raymond Blanc-trained chef Chris Harrod, with a view to reopening in Octoiber 2013.
The Crown at Whitebrook is tucked away in the Wye Valley in an area that our satnav system essentially marked as “there be dragons” before giving up (and good luck finding Whitebrook in the index of your road atlas), so I recommend taking careful directions before setting off. James Sommerin (not present at our dinner) has been cooking at The Crown since 2000. The dining room is a long, narrow room with a conservatory area at the back. The dinner menu was £49.50 for three courses, while there were also six or nine course tasting menus at £55 and £70 respectively.
The wine list comes in a thick, heavy tome, 56 pages in length with detailed notes for most of the wines listed. Cornellana Estate Chardonnay 2009 was £22 for a wine that costs £6.50 in the shops, Chateau Musar 2000 at £60 for a wine that retails at £20, up to grander choices such as Chateau d'Angludet 1996 from St Estephe at a hefty £110 for a wine you can pick up in the shops for £26 and Ornellaia 2005 at £270 for a wine that will set you back £113 retail. The wine list seemed to have quite high mark-up levels, especially compared to other restaurants that we tried in Wales.
Amuse bouche comprised: a lovely bacon risotto beignet (17/20), very good Parmesan cheese gougere with plenty of Parmesan flavour (17/20), buttenut and nutmeg veloute (16/20), a pea risotto beignet (16/20) and a spicy tomato tapioca with an unusual texture, reminiscent of caviar (15/20).
A further amuse-bouche was snail tempura, langoustine jelly and dill mouse. The tempura was quite light, the dill mousse having smooth texture, though I thought that the langoustine jelly, based on a stock made with brandy, white wine, carrots and basil, had a slightly bitter off note (15/20). Bread was made from scratch: sourdough (nice crust but a fraction dry), onion and thyme, onion and laverbread and organic bread, which was the one I most enjoyed (16/20 bread).
Next were a pair of diver-caught scallops from the Welsh coast, with Iberico ham crisp, parsley foam and chicken stock jus. The Iberico was nice but strikingly salty, even for someone like me who likes quite salty food, and this rather overwhelmed the dish (15/20).
White and green asparagus was served with morels and sage and a pleasant cheese mousse. The asparagus itself was seasonal and had nice flavour, the morels were good, but the asparagus was not very carefully prepared, with stringy bits that I would have normally expected to be peeled off prior to serving (15/20).
My main course was 21 day aged beef from the Usk valley, served with bone marrow jus, curried sweetbreads shallots with parsley jus and turnip. A daupinoise lacked enough flavour for me but had good texture, and the beef itself was excellent (17/20).
Sea bass was served with artichokes, pumpkin, langoustines (cooked a little too long), sea spinach, salsify , turnip and a drizzle of curry sauce. The sea bass skin was flabby rather than crisp, the fish itself reasonable but interestingly has worse flavour than the one we tried the night before at the Hardwick. (14/20).
We did not try the cheese board, but it appeared to be all Welsh, which was a nice touch. A “chocolate sandwich” was made up of dark chocolate, milk chocolate, hazelnut and praline and popcorn, and was very pleasant (15/20).
Rhubarb jelly was thinly sliced, filled with a vanilla mousse, topped with a lemon cheesecake snow, lemon crumb and finished with rhubarb consommé, vanilla and lemon. I did not think this dish worked, the texture of jelly being a little strange, and the consommé poured over it made the dish into rather a mush (13/20). Much better was rich dark chocolate fondant, condensed milk espuma, cookie crumb on top, Pedro Ximines ice cream, finished with a little Barbadillo Pedro Ximines – a rich and enjoyable dish (16/20).
Lemon and coconut tuiles were light (16/20), passion fruit jelly had good texture (17/20), but bubblegum pannacotta seemed to me a bad idea (10/20 for me, though this may be a personal taste thing). Butternut and dark chocolate lollipop was well made (16/20).
Overall I was a little disappointed with the meal here; given its Michelin star I would have expected a more consistent experience, and although the produce was definitely of good quality there were some slips. However the best dishes, such as the beef and the petit fours, show that there is certainly ability in the kitchen.