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Mostly Food & Travel Journal

Blas at Twr y Felin Hotel

Penrhiw Hotel St Davids

Roch Castle Hotel


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Travel Reviews
- Wales

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Blas at Twr y Felin Hotel

Penrhiw Hotel St Davids

Roch Castle Hotel

Penrhiw Hotel St Davids

penrhiw St Davids will tick so many boxes for those looking for a quiet retreat for a few days. A corner of the UK with natural charm, history, fresh air, good food and quiet – at least outside peak summer popularity.

St Davids has its beautiful Cathedral, making this small town technically a city and the smallest city in the UK. It’s perhaps at its most beautiful in the spring with a backdrop of blue sky and the yellow sheen of daffs all around. And autumn brings its own tapestry of rust hues. The coast isn’t far away, with its magnificent beaches and walks.

But where to stay? Penrhiw Hotel St Davids is just a few minutes’ walk from the cathedral door. That isn’t estate agent speak for a brisk canter of a brace of miles. This former vicarage truly is conveniently placed for both town and cathedral, but with the tranquillity of nature as far as the eye can see.

Penrhiw was acquired by the Griffiths Roch Foundation in 2009 and reopened as a luxury eight-bedroom hotel in 2012. It’s a hotel but with the persona of a home. Granted, that home is grander and better situated than the abodes of many of its visitors, me included, but it has that air, nevertheless. It was built in the 19th century amid acres of private gardens, with mature trees, woodland paths, a river, and views over the surrounding countryside.

Penrhiw Hotel is a lovely example of Victorian architecture in a style which has been described as Tudorbethan, although the house dates back to an era before that phrase became popular at the turn of the 20th century. There are also two beautiful fireplaces with decorative tiles by William De Morgan, the celebrated Arts and Crafts ceramics maker. Its interior has been splendidly restored, retaining features of its semi-ecclesiastic past. There are niches, gothic doors, woodwork aplenty and neutral colours.

penrhiw The public rooms are cosy and all rooms are well-proportioned. The walls are hung with contemporary art canvases and all mod cons are here, as one would expect from 5-star accommodation. There is an honour bar in the dining room, and a tea and coffee station. There isn’t a restaurant, although a cooked breakfast is served here. Don’t miss the Welsh speciality of laverbread. There are complimentary transfers available to the AA-2-Rosette Blas Restaurant at Twr y Felin for dinner; it’s also part of this group of notable hotels. Luggage transfers are available for guests staying at either of the sister hotels, the abovementioned former windmill Twr y Felin, or 12th century Roch Castle. (See my reviews here.)

penrhiw The staircase is carpeted with leather and there are rugs of the same material in some of the bedrooms. The owners have made all three of their hotels comfortable for those with allergies. There are six rooms in the main house. Our room sported a large and comfortable four-poster but a modern take on that bed. The bathroom was as big as many a lesser hotel bedroom, with a shower cubicle of considerable size. Penrhiw Hotel, St Davids, was awarded AA Five-star Gold guest accommodation in 2016 and it’s easy to see why.

Penrhiw Hotel is an ideal bolt-hole for a quiet weekend away but one can also hire the whole place for a family reunion, a wedding or celebration of anything for the discerning. It offers privacy with amenity and seclusion, with all the trappings of a city, albeit the smallest in the UK, just 10 minutes’ walk away. We will return.

Penrhiw Hotel
St Davids
SA62 6PG

Phone: +44 (0)1437 725 588


Visit Penrhiw Hotel here

food and travel reviews

Blas at Twr y Felin Hotel

BlasThis striking and high-end hotel seems contemporary but it has a long history which is camouflaged by its light, modern and immaculate presentation. But part of this building has been around for more than a couple of hundred years. Originally known as Felin Wynt, Welsh for windmill, the still-remaining and iconic tower was built in 1806.

Yes, a fine hotel and one with a fascinating restaurant. It’s called Blas which means ‘taste’ in Welsh. The untutored might be expecting an over-themed rustic eatery with accent of sheep and nuggets of coal and the like. Well, my dear blinkered reader, Wales has an amazing culinary bounty, heaps of style, and piles of aesthetic good taste, and here it is at Twr y Felin Hotel.

Blas is a beauty. The walls are hung with artistic gems which are Pure Evil - that is to say, they are masterpieces by the artist called Pure Evil. Charles Uzzell-Edwards is a celebrated graffiti artist and gallery owner who has the pen-name (or should it be brush-name?) Pure Evil. Perhaps you don’t know the name but his work is instantly recognisable and unique. His canvasses can be seen on the walls of Blas but also around the hotel.

blasThe restaurant, along with the hotel, is relatively new but it has already achieved two AA Rosettes and they are well deserved. The menu reflects the location: it’s not far from the sea and there are farms all around. The staff here know the producers and that relationship must help with quality, continuity and seasonality. This area offers Welsh lamb, longhorn beef, ducks, fish and seafood as well as fruit and vegetables. Don’t miss laver bread which is seaweed and versatile. OK, granted, the wines might not be local but they come from Berry Bros. & Rudd, who are trusted wine suppliers in London.

Blas is open to both residents and non-residents for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner as well as drinks. This is a lovely hotel in which to stay (review to follow) but also a delightful place to meet friends for outstanding food with complementing wines.

Dishes at Blas use Welsh produce but they are as sophisticated as dishes found in the best restaurants anywhere in Europe, and beautifully presented. My guest ordered Goats Cheese with Beetroot, Pear and Walnuts. This was well-balanced in both texture and taste. Sharp cheese enhanced by sweetness from both fruit and beets.

blasMy choice was Braised Pork Belly, Apple, Black Pudding and Mustard. This was a melting triumph and not to be missed when it’s on the bill of fare. It was hearty and appropriately fatty in the best way. I was tempted to ask for a second portion as a main course. But along came the chef’s amuse bouche which was a whimsical interpretation of Coronation Chicken. One might call it a ‘constructed’ Coronation Chicken, garnished with an onion bhaji and crispy chicken skin. This small bowl gave a nod to the reason why those rosettes were forthcoming.

Barbary Duck Breast with a seasoned Duck Croquette was my companion’s main course and by this time he was expecting something a little different. He got it in delicious fashion with a dish that showed complexity and respect for the basic ingredients, and was well-crafted.

blasMy main course was Turbot. I am so often disappointed by fish but the rest of the meal was so impressive that I wanted to try that fish here. Solva is a coastal village famed for its seafood. It has a sheltered harbour and is part of the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path. Crab is landed here and it napped the linguini that coated the perfectly pan-fried white fish. The delicate seafood was dressed with bright green samphire which has a slightly salty edge, and there was plenty of butter, which added to my joy. This should be a signature dish!

I finished with a selection of Welsh cheeses - Perl Las and Perl Wen are cheeses which are impossible to find outside Wales. They are as good as any French cheeses; I believe the board changes with availability but there will always be blue, goats, soft and hard cheeses on offer.

My guest opted for a slightly more exotic and a lot less local Pistachio and Olive Oil Cake which was flavourful, moist and green. But along with that there was Merlyn, which is indeed Welsh. It is (lowers voice to a whisper) a bit like Irish cream liqueur, but I honestly preferred this as it was much lighter and less cloying. Served over ice it made a perfect end to a perfect meal.

blasBlas at Twr y Felin Hotel was outstanding. The food was as good as one would expect (or hope for) at an awarded restaurant. The staff were young but charming and well-informed. Blas deserves a visit a few times each year to see what’s new. The seasons change and so do the ingredients but it’s the skill and the imagination of the chef which will ensure continued success.

Blas Restaurant
Twr y Felin Hotel
St Davids
SA62 6QT

Phone: +44 (0)1437 725 555
Visit Twr y Felin Hotel here

food and travel reviews

Roch Castle Hotel

Roch Roch Castle (in Welsh: Castell y Garn) is a 12th-century castle, located at the village of Roch near Haverfordwest, in Pembrokeshire, Wales. Yes, we have all visited castles. Britain is peppered with them, indicating our somewhat turbulent history. They tend to offer two main facets – half museum and half ruin.

But we were going to stay in this one and I was somewhat sceptical. My expectations were modest. There would likely be iffy plumbing installed by Victorian owners. Heating, this being Wales, would probably consist of a sheep as a foot-warmer. Entertainment would be watching heavy floral curtains flapping in the draught from the ill-fitting windows. Plenty of fresh air, though, whistling around replica suits of armour. The reality was far more comfortable, beautiful and tasteful than any other castle I had ever visited. In fact it is, without reservation (although reservations would be recommended), the most characterful hotel in which I have ever stayed.

The castle is perched in imposing fashion on a rocky outcrop on the edge of the village of Roch, between St Davids with its stunning cathedral, and Haverfordwest, and just a few minutes’ drive from the spectacular Pembrokeshire coast. As castles go Roch has impeccable historic credentials. It was built by a Norman knight called Adam de Rupe in the second half of the 12th century and was probably one of the outer defences of ‘Little England’ or ‘Landsker’, as it is near the border separating the once-English enclave and the Welsh area of Pembrokeshire.

Roch Roch Castle was taken over in the 17th century by the Walter family. During the English Civil War the Walters sided with King Charles I. The castle was captured by the Parliamentary forces and burned in 1644. The castle remained mostly in ruins until 1900, when it was bought by John Philipps, 1st Viscount St Davids, who restored it.

The castle was purchased in 2008 by Keith Griffiths for the Griffiths-Roch Foundation and was refurbished to its present luxurious state by the Retreats Group. Completed in 2013 it’s now a six-bedroom 5*hotel. The restoration was designed by Keith Griffiths, who is actually an architect, and Acanthus Holden. It was named Best 5-star Hotel in Wales by Trivago just a couple of years after opening, and it’s easy to see why. Roch Castle is positively uncommon in every way.

Roch Castle isn’t a castle-themed castle. It’s the real thing but presented in a contemporary way with light and neutral colours. The original architectural lines are followed, so thick walls are evident, small (but non-draughty) windows with those magnificent views add authentic charm, wooden floors are warm and practical, as are the leather mats. The hotel has been designed as a hypo-allergenic property although it doesn’t have the sterile ambiance of a laboratory. This is comfort writ large and it’s all in the best of taste.

Bathrooms are just as sumptuous as the rooms and some have both bath and shower. A mattress with hypo-allergenic topper, duvet and pillows and 300 thread-count linens may lull the dozer into possibly missing breakfast, although one wouldn’t shouldn’t.

Television offers the best TV package I have come across in any hotel. This might not seem an issue but Wales is lush and green for good reason: it’s the rain. But these rooms offer the opportunity to snuggle in the warm with all mod cons. There is a DVD player, digital radio, iPod dock and wi-fi. This is better than a home from home.

Roch The castle doesn’t have its own restaurant. It only has half a dozen rooms but the hotel staff will arrange transport to their sister hotel where one can enjoy a Two AA Rosette meal at Blas Restaurant in hotel Twr y Felin (review to follow). There’s a help-yourself honesty bar, and free tea and coffee, in the Sun Room extension, with vistas over the countryside to the sea.

But one can have a cooked breakfast at Roch Castle and you wouldn’t want to miss it. Try the Full Welsh fried breakfast which uses the best of local ingredients. The bacon is outstanding and there are all the other usual items filling the plate. But the small pot nestled between the black pudding and the sausage might be a bit of a mystery. That’s lavabread which is Welsh seaweed, and I love it. Try the traditional dish of cockles, bacon and lavabread. It’s addictive.

The main sitting room, called The Court Room, tempts with suede sofas, bespoke vases and a tapestry illustrating the history of the castle with the recurring emblems of the salmon and the raven. Both the vases and the wall-hangings have been commissioned for the hotel and give a nod to its past.

Roch Roch Castle Hotel ticks just about every box. Granted, one has to eat out but transport is arranged so that isn’t a big problem. It’s the most thoughtful hotel I have ever reviewed and the most impressive, in subtle ways. No cost has been spared to ensure a memorable visit. Staff are friendly and nothing seems too much trouble. This isn’t a bling-infested hotel with mirrors at every turn and gold bath taps. Roch will be adored by those with an appreciation of genuine charm and unique good taste.

Roch Castle Hotel
SA62 6AQ

Phone: +44 (0)1437 725 566

Visit Roch Castle Hotel here

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