There’s an inexplicable lack of expectation at times in mid-Wales.
We once set up a deli-counter at the Newtown Food Festival to showcase amazing food products made within 10 miles of the event … a festival-goer picked up a box of handmade buttons from a renowned Caersws-based chocolatier and was heard to mutter “made locally? But they’re so professional“.
As I say, a curious lack of expectation but an incentive – if ever one was needed – to keep pushing the bar higher and to celebrate at every turn local happenings that scale the heights even when measured against the very best the country has to offer.
Which brings us neatly to Seamus Russell, a young chef whose exquisite culinary offerings will surely lead recently-opened Newtown restaurant The Granary to national recognition.
Friday night, discerning foodie friends … it has to be the Tasting Menu at The Granary. There’s a calming pleasure in letting someone else decide what you’re going to eat, a relaxed “hey, you’re the Noma-trained chef, show us what you’ve got” kind of a mood that settles over you and your companions. Our confidence was oh-so-perfectly placed as every morsel that emerged from Seamus’s kitchen WOW’d each one of us.
When I say wow’d, I really mean
Every element of every dish shouted attention to detail; sublime flavour combinations, clever plating on handpicked ceramics from Vicky Ware, regular appearances by the Head Chef to explain what he had prepared … this was the finest of fine dining. For our table of four, the perfectly balanced portions combined into the totality of the tasting menu gave us a feeling of ‘just the right amount‘, the focus wholly on taste sensations. We were replete but dazzled.
Even a scamper through the starter plate is enough to get taste buds tingling with the memories. Hispi taco stuffed with prawns dressed in fermented lime and reduced cucumber – bish! Koji brined chicken deep-fried in koji flour, oyster mayo and pickled sea vegetables – bash! BBQ artichoke, yeast paste and coal-infused ricotta – bosh … hitting it out of the park, Chef.
If Mr Deli had had an interesting enough life, his autobiography would be called ‘The Reluctant Vegetarian‘. So, the pigeon with fermented blueberry ketchup and salt baked beet, the 2-day cured Salmon with celeriac puree, pickle caviar, puffed rice and wild cress and the duck with barley cooked in fermented mushroom juice were always going to sing some high notes.
But hold on a moment, move over Mr Meat, there’s a vegetarian superhero in town.
Unashamed love from all four diners on our table for the sublime Leek, with Parmesan custard, onion mayonnaise, Parmesan crumb and leek ash. Be still our beating hearts. That dish looked a million dollars and tasted utterly exquisite.
There was never a question but that the sourdough bread would be milled on site, the maple loaf would be melt-in-the-mouth light and the cultured butter would have been made at The Granary. Everything is sourced carefully; it is practiced, practiced and practiced again; and every component screams culinary excellence.
Puddings … we were so SO spoilt. Chocolate tart, miso and banana caramel, banana foam and a basil granita. Sweet and savoury – it so shouldn’t work; but it does … holy banana and basil, it really does.
On this occasion, Seamus Russell can’t resist a little extra dessert … as it turns out, nor can we but when it is Mascarpone curd, mascarpone granita, peanut cake purée, vanilla mayo and a peanut crumb, who can blame us. One ‘waffer-thin’ lemon and white chocolate fudge with lemon curd and caramelised white chocolate. Turns out we could eat another thing.
Sublime … exquisite … tingling taste buds … culinary excellence.
OK, mid-Wales, time to recalibrate those expectations. With the arrival of Seamus Russell and The Granary, we have a whole new dining experience to relish and celebrate.