Tuesday, March 02, 2010

... a gustatory jaunt around the Land of My Fathers,

I felt that Mrs Stuffy deserved a bit of indulgence and we do like an occasional weekend away, I was looking for alternatives to Burgh Island which has garnered a bit of negative press recently and came across one of "Britains most romantic hotels", the Bodysgallen hotel and spa near lovely Llandudno, it sounded ideal and having negotiated a special "Spa weekend" rate it occurred to me that a long weekend in Wales could involve introducing the lovely Mrs Stuffy to some very special places that mattered a lot to me as a youngster and, after twelve years of marriage, an opportunity to meet my father for the first time, (he chose not to attend our wedding).

So Thursday afternoon and we're away to our first venue, I discovered the Carlton Riverside by chance last year, it's a restaurant with rooms in Llanwrtyd Wells and I was blown away by the quality of the food and the award winning cooking. It sits on the river Irfon in a tiny village in the midst of some of the most beautiful countryside in the UK, (if you like your countryside, rugged, wet and windswept, luckily I do). It turned out that on Thursday evening we were the only guests and despite not being 100% health-wise the chef, Mary Ann delivered three courses of delightful, flavoursome eating and easily the equal of any meal I've enjoyed anywhere.
Mary Ann is quite a character, must be a dynamo in the kitchen and if the food she prepares was served anywhere other than the middle of nowhere you'd wait ages for a table. It's the basics that make the difference, really high quality meat and vegetables, all locally sourced, clean fresh and powerful flavours.
And so to bed replete, mellow, to the sound of the river and very little else...

Breakfast was another delight, local bacon, local sausage, mushrooms, fresh eggs, simple and practically perfect and to be honest I'd have made the 200 mile trip just for the whisky flavoured home-made marmalade. (By the way Lyn, the little black bird under the bridge was a dipper).

So, off to Haverfordwest for a lunch with my dear Papa and his lady wife. The weather was kind, bright spring sun and we made our way to "The Georges" for an introductory luncheon and historic first meeting of Mrs Stuffy and the sire of her hubby.

The venue was a curious melange of coffee shop, pub, restaurant, vendor of alternate therapy objects, bits of rock, Buddhas, bijou artifacts and crystals, and ornaments and crockery and small items of furniture and skin & beauty products. In addition it featured a style of ordering of food and service which the management would probably describe as "quirky" and I would describe as "bloody irritating". The food was pretty average pub grub and although one of the staff was amiable, witty and engaging that wasn't really enough. So, having been filial and familial it was onto the coast road to the North.

Bodysgallen Hall is owned by the National Trust, the place is lovely, an ancient house chock full of sofas, fires, flowers,tapestries and indulgent couples talking in hushed tones. Our room was very nice and the gardens, parkland and (as we discovered during a post breakfast ramble) the woods, hills and views of Anglesey and the Isle of Man were superb.

Dinner in the bistro was lacklustre on the Friday night and we resolved to sample the much vaunted main restaurant on Saturday following a few hours indulgence in the Spa.

Those of you as naive as I would assume that if a client booked a "Spa weekend" you'd see an opportunity to sell them various treatments in advance of their stay, or, at the very least reserve a couple of slots to allow them to enjoy their treatments, luckily someone else cancelled their booking so we were, at the last minute, offered the treatments we desired, pedi- and mani- curing for her ladyship and the vigorous rubbing of scented oils into my hirsute torso by an unlucky young lady.

The spa was ok, the treatments were ok and the interminable waiting, (obviously we couldn't expect helpful scheduling) made bearable by my possession of a good book and my discovery that wine was available.

Mrs S has a view of the experience based on a recent trip to the Sanctuary which "makes one feel spoilt and privileged", whereas the North Walian version was more "like a golfer's wife from the Wirral.

Dinner was quite formal for this day and age, but the room was busy and agreeably buzzy, the food beautifully presented and perfectly cooked but despite the care and attention lavished upon it lacked the sense of clarity of taste, of the perfectly judged flavour that we'd enjoyed at the Carlton. It was fine dining, very well done but not worth making a 400 mile trip for.

The whole experience of the Bodysgallen was, just a little, sub-optimal, it may be the National Trust ownership that generates a lack of commercial awareness of the importance of the client.
The service was a case in point, acceptable but lacking the edge, the extra thought, or training or attitude that makes the difference between people doing their jobs and people taking personal responsibility for making your expensive weekend a truly enjoyable experience.

I like an argument but I don't want to have one (with a jobsworth waiter who assumes we're non-residents but doesn't think to ask) just to get some afternoon tea and scones. And even if we were non residents, it's a spoiled opportunity to impress, to serve a customer, to get money.

I like driving but if I've just spent 4 hours on the road I'd like you to make it easy for me to find the overspill car park, don't just stand there, looking at a CCTV monitor and telling me there's room, that young man standing there is doing nothing except waiting for me to park and bring my bags in, send him with me, direct me to the car park and carry the bloody bags.

There that's better...


At 2:41 pm, Blogger IzinSing said...

Aiyu! as the Singaporeans are wont to utter. This is Stuffy at his no-holds-barred best. Good to see you on form, Steve. Sad that Burgh Island has lost form; Chris and I stayed in the Noel Coward room for the weekend for our first wedding anniversary and had a wonderful time. Things change.....

At 9:00 am, Anonymous The Health Tricks said...

Good review..i like yours..


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