“ Cuisine: European a la Carte / Address: Llanwrtyd Wells, Powys, Mid Wales, LD5 4ST / Tel: 01591 610248 „
Whilst away over the New Year period, my boyfriend and I decided to treat ourselves to a meal at top restaurant. Whilst the area we were staying in offered lots of choice, many were closed for the holiday period. With the Good Food Guide and the internet we located Carlton Riverside Restaurant with rooms just over the border in Wales. As it turned out it was a bit further away than we first thought, but I think it is well worth a visit if you are in this part of mid-Wales. It is situated on the banks of the river in Llanwrtyd Wells, which claims to be Britain's smallest town. As you drive into the town, you cannot miss it as it is right by the bridge. We visited on New Year's Day and managed to park outside but I believe there is a car park across the road. The restaurant gets a 6 in the Good Food Guide (this may not sound much - but it is an honour just to be included) and the chef Mary-Ann Gilchrist earned a Michelin star in one of her previous establishments. The restaurant was voted in the UK's Top 100 in 2009. The restaurant is owned by Mary-Ann and her husband Alan. Alan greeted us, took our coats and showed us through to the lounge with a copy of the menu and took our drinks orders. We ordered soft drinks first of all and these were brought with a two small bowls containing nuts and olives. The lounge was comfortable with over stuffed armchairs and bookshelves of hotel and restaurant guides as well as recipe books and local food magazines on the table. Publications featuring Mary-Ann or the restaurant are also on the coffee table and we enjoyed browsing them and learning more about the ethos of the restaurant. As the books were their personal copies, it gave the lounge a more personal and welcoming feel than many hotel lounges. They don't class this place as a hotel, but as a restaurant with rooms - the emphasis is on the food, the rooms are for convenience. They offer two menus - the more expensive A la Carte menu (two courses - £34, three courses - £39.50) plus a cheaper Carlton menu (two courses - £19.50, three courses - £25), but you can mix and match for a supplement. I would describe the food as Modern British. Alan took our orders whilst we stayed in the lounge, and seated us in the restaurant closer to the time our food was ready. I thought this was a nice touch, especially as the restaurant was empty! He explained that after a busy Christmas and New Year period this was their last night before closing for two weeks during the January lull. The dining room is very contemporary with smart wooden tables and leather chairs, and slate placemats. We were seated by the window overlooking the river and the town which was a good spot. For my starter I chose the Cream of Mushroom soup from the Carlton menu, whilst my other half went for the salmon duo on the A La Carte menu (for a supplement). My soup was delicious - served in a huge, deep bowl, it was obviously fresh with a little bit of cream to keep it smooth, apart from small pieces of mushroom. This was served with fresh bread and butter. It was perfectly seasoned and probably one of the nicest mushroom soups I've ever had. In fact it could be a contender for one of the best soups ever. I couldn't eat it all, so elected to leave some to leave space for what was to come. My boyfriend really enjoyed his salmon served with a beetroot puree and an apple salad. Whilst most of their produce is sourced locally, we understood from Alan that the salmon was from Scotland, but smoked locally. They also try and use organic ingredients if possible, but the emphasis is on real, local foods. They buy their meat from certain local farms and their cheeses from Welsh artisan cheese-makers. Certainly their meals are all about the food - it is wholesome and unfussy. The food is unpretentious and tastes like what it is supposed to. For mains my boyfriend went for the Carlton menu steak (I believe there was a small supplement of £2). I believe it was 225g, which he requested medium-rare. Upon tasting he declared the steak to be perfectly cooked. It was served with Spanish potatoes, courgettes, mushrooms and grilled tomatoes. It was a large portion, but he never likes to leave food so soldiered on. I ordered from the Carlton menu the egg fettuccine with spinach and basil. It was basically a pesto dish and was massive. I actually find such huge portions off-putting, as I know I can't eat it all. I even passed some over to my other half but still got nowhere near finishing it. Taste wise it was typical of other pesto sauces in that it was strongly flavoured with the basil and was obviously freshly made. I found it too much of a muchness, I don't think you need a lot of something so strong in flavour. My boyfriend wasn't a fan, and thought it quite salty. It was served with a green salad which was garnished with salt! Salty lettuce is a new one on me, and I left it after two bites. For desserts my boyfriend chose Bread & Butter pudding brioche with Pembrokeshire clotted cream which got the verdict of 'very nice'. It was nice that they had done it has a brioche rather than regular bread. It was served in a massive bowl, but the portion size was more manageable. I chose the Chocolate and Orange tart with crème fraiche. It was served beautifully and was rich on flavour and texture, and was absolutely delicious. I'm not sure how I found room for it, but I managed to squeeze it in. As they were so quiet we were served by Alan, though I would think on busier nights they would have a dedicated waiting staff. I cannot comment on what service would be like at other times but we found Alan to be polite and friendly, the service slow and steady. I am not using the adjective slow as a criticism - Alan is a big chap, obviously fond of his wife's cooking, and speed is not part of his way of life. Plus I imagine he doesn't usually serve. Before leaving I visited the lavatory. The Ladies loo was small, no fancy décor, functional and clean with Neal's Yard toiletries and individual hand towels. In total the meal for the two of us came to £70. This included three courses with a supplement for the A La Carte Salmon starter and the steak, bar drinks and two glasses of wine. I actually think this was good value as the standard (my side salad apart) was high. I do recommend a visit if you wish to treat yourself and are in the area. We did not stay in the rooms, but this could be an option as the area is quite rural.