Egg on Face

Penarth can be a bit of a snobby place – and none more so than Marine Parade. Some of the residents of this “Millionaires Row” are so snobby that they put in strenuous objections to Holm House’s application for a non-residents licence. Now that that licence has been obtained, anyone visiting Holm House will see that it is unlikely to be a place frequented by lager louts and binge drinkers. So the aforesaid residents may have egg on face –or given the quality of the restaurant, probably Eggs Benedict!

Holm House (www.holmhouse.com) can rightly be described as a luxurious boutique hotel. The building and the interior have been renovated and refurbished to a high and sumptuous standard. The Bar has something of the atmosphere of a Gentleman’s Club bar (but in no way fuddy-duddy) with a sort of updated Art–Deco feel. There is a dramatic spiky metallic light fitting above the bar which CDC said reminded her of Christ’s crown of thorns – so we won’t be visiting on Good Friday! The Dining Room which is split into two sections, one with an area which would be ideal for a small private party, has the most striking wallpaper and excellent views over the beautifully restored gardens and onto the Channel. The Gents is a must-see!

The Dinner menu in Neale’s restaurant (named after the company who built the house originally) is a fixed 3 course menu which is priced at £39.50. This is admittedly top-end pricing but it does include generous canapés, served in the Bar, and a Chef’s Gift served before the starter. Our Gift was a portion of rillette served with some leaves and on a bed of bright yellow pureed piccalilli – not as your grandmother knew piccalilli!

There is a choice of 4 dishes for each course so you would be unlucky not to find at least one that immediately attracts you. My Cornish crab parcel was the right balance between richness and sharpness but perhaps the smoked salmon wrapping was a little overpowering. Both the filling and the pastry of CDC’s Leek and Gorwydd Caerphilly tartlet were beautifully light. The bread was warm, interestingly shaped and absolutely moreish.

For a main course I chose the Welsh Lamb which was described as being a fillet and shoulder. I had visions of a joint being served but, for the shoulder part, the meat had been roasted and shredded and was served in a cylindrical shape – elegant to look at and it really brought out the taste of the lamb and complemented the pink fillet extremely well. CDC’s duck breast was nicely presented on a bed of braised red cabbage and apple and cooked with a proper sauce – she runs a mile at the appearance of the word “jus”! The crispy potato served with the duck was a slice of boulangere potatoes with an extremely crispy (probably just not burnt!) finish.

My dessert of panacotta contained a generous amount of vanilla seeds – not quite as good as my own but getting there! I was able to raid CDC’s generous plate of Welsh cheese and especially share the moist bara brith served with other interesting biscuits and chutney.

Being in such wonderful surroundings and with attentive service at just the right level, I feel churlish to criticise and the only criticisms I can think of are probably so minor that you would not even think of them if you were in a lesser establishment! I accept that I may not be experienced in navigating through a Wine List but I had great difficulty locating a Rosé which, despite the cold and wet evening, we felt we needed as an aperitif. At least the Barman had similar difficulty for a short time and then located it in the Red Wine Section! The bottle was little time coming – there seemed to be some dispute behind the bar as to who was in control of the corkscrew – but when it came it was a very good salmon pink Provencal. Obviously, you are not going to get wines under twenty pounds here; the rosé was £22.50 and we also had a more than acceptable Argentinean Pinot Noir for £23.50 from the reasonably sized list of house wines.

I was also slightly puzzled by the cloth place mats; they just didn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the elegant table wear. There – you see how picky you have to be to find fault here!

Don’t be put off by the prices – for a special occasion, I can think of nowhere better to go to in the Cardiff area and, if you can stretch to a night in one of the intriguing bedrooms and have use of the dramatic looking spa pool, all the better!

Richard Fisher

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