Reporter LAURA LEA stops by the sweetest society in Gwent and meets the manager changing the image of his hotel one dessert at a time.
THE Cwrt Bleddyn Hotel and Spa in between Caerleon and Usk, has been hosting guests since the 16th century. Set in 50 acres of stunning land, the place is steeped in history and can even claim to have put up two of Henry VIII’s wives.
But on Thursday evening, I wasn’t visiting for the beds or the fairytale scenery. The Pudding society started in April of last year and has been meeting on the last Thursday of each month ever since.
This is one part of manager David Spoor’s drive to attract new people to the stunning hotel.
David, who joined as manager in July 2012, said: “The place is known for weddings, so we are trying to get it known for something else too – something different, so people don’t think of us as just that posh place on the side of the road.
“We want to change that perception.”
David said the selection aims to include something you’ve never tried before, something you haven’t had in a long time and something with a twist. As yet, there have never been any disasters that have been shunned by diners.
“It’s an informal, fun way to spend a Thursday evening and to meet people.
“There’s nowhere else doing it locally. “
Priced at £25 per head, people aren’t obliged to come regularly but many choose to attend every two or three months, with some travelling from Bristol. Bookings have already been taken for February’s meeting.
Coming from a chefing background, it’s not uncommon for David to get involved in the kitchen.
“I’ve pulled out some old recipes from my family.”
Menu choices are kept seasonal with fruit and vegetables sourced from the local area.
“It’s all about local products and being part of the community.”
David is confident the pudding society is one way to hook people in.
“Once we’ve got them, they will come back,” he said.
Over the months David said they have had a mix of foodies, cooks or just groups celebrating with a night out.
“It‘s just fun and we have a bit of a laugh,” he said.
“It’s the social side we are aiming for. It’s definitely a talking point.”
Diners started arriving from 7pm onwards meeting in the bar for a few drinks. It was a relaxed informal atmosphere with groups and families alike.
At 8pm they were called through to Morgan’s room – an intimate dining room with one large table. The 20 or so diners sit together in this unique setting creating a fun and unique restaurant experience.
A main course was served – on Thursday a choice between vegetarian biriyani, salmon and ginger fishcake and beef stew. Although delicious in their own right, this course appeases your guilty conscience, assuring you you’re not just eating pudding, before making way for the showstoppers.
A total of seven desserts were laid out in the corner of the room for people to go and help themselves too. The idea – which proves correct, is for people to return to try others and help themselves to more. In the name of a fair competition, I made it my mission to sample each and every one of the puddings.
The smell was incredible, the Sussex Pond suet pudding had three whole lemons inside infusing it with beautiful citrus layers while the toffee apple rice pudding took the old standard to a new level entirely. Similarly the rhubarb cheesecake was completely unique and delicious while the trifle, which resembled no trifle I’d ever seen, was a total reinvention of the classic.
Remarkably, I was told the head chef, who alone is responsible for all of the desserts, doesn’t have a sweet tooth.
Diners sat alongside the manager David and were later joined by chef, Sean Gibbs who modestly took praise for his creations and discussed them.
Each diner was presented with a voting sheet where they rated their top four puddings in order of preference. The winning pud gets to stay on the menu for the following month’s meet.
Some of the most popular recipes, including the Seville orange sticky pudding, have become part of the hotel’s restaurant menu.
There is a limit of around 25 places per month. This is to insure the intimacy is retained and it doesn’t become a “free-for-all buffet” –as David said.
It really is all about the food – with the setting of stunning manor house, an added bonus. Unsurprisingly, David said they will be working toward a rosette over the next year. The team will be serving up a four course meal over the Valentine’s weekend, an afternoon tea on mothering Sunday and a luncheon complete with egg hunt on Easter Sunday.
There was no hurry to leave, with some diners staying past ten o’clock after taking tactical “breathers” in between pudding rounds.
The verdict? It was a lovely evening and definitely something different to do with friends. For dessert-lovers, a no-brainer.
All I can say is from now on, pavlova and banoffee should always be served as a pair.
For more information or to book your place at a Pudding Society evening, call 01633 450521.
Toffee apple rice pudding
Mascarpone, madiera and raspberry trifle
Hot chocolate sponge
Rhubarb and custard cheesecake
Banoffee and praline pavlova
Seville orange sticky pudding