Over the hills and far away

October 29, 2010

Julie hosts the Griffin. If you didn’t already know. Back in the Spring, before the concept of England winning a world cup had been exposed as a fraud, she decided she would cycle the Taff Trail, between Brecon and Cardiff some time in 2011. For the story of her heroic achievement, with her willing accomplice James Spencer, please read on.

“Oh, did I really say I’d do that…….

A number of months ago I signed up to a sponsored bicycle ride along the Taff Trail from Brecon to Cardiff. The day unexpectedly arrived last Monday, 25th October. I chose to support Breakthrough Breast Cancer’s Go Pink campaign, even buying a very fetching bright pink cycling top… although the -4 degrees reading as we left Brecon precluded actually wearing it.

Winding our way from the Theatre at Brecon to Talybont Reservoir was breathtaking. The mist was rising over the reservoir and frankly looked ethereal and a bit spooky!

Leaving the reservoir and its faeries behind, we started the extremely long incline to the highest point of the ride at Torpantau. Whichever way you go this is where you begin to breathe again and go downhill. The trail then takes you through Taf Fechan Forest along Pentwyn Reservoir, Pontsticill Reservoir, through Pontsticall and on to Merthyr.

At this point you might think “Great, half way there!” Thanks to the charming locals defacing cycling signs in Merthyr this section can be a battle to stay on track though. Overcoming these challenges, we headed towards Pontypridd along some more lovely river views.

Our subsequent journey was only shortly interrupted by rather strange child who seemed to want to use a metal detector against James’ head as we rode past. Had I not been a bit out of breath I would have (a) dismounted and given him a clip around the ear with the same metal detector and asked him how he liked it or (b) shouted loudly at him (his mum was a bit scary but she seemed to feel that this was an acceptable way for her child to behave.)

We struggled on towards Cardiff with frozen knees and what seemed like frostbitten toes and fingers. As we approached Cardiff we were asked if we wanted to do the high level route around Castle Coch or the low level route. Not a difficult decision. Pushing on to Cardiff Bay we were slightly stunned to find that the end of the Taff Trail is actually in a pedestrianised (!) area of the Bay. We dismounted and were determined enough to take our starving bodies past a well known sandwich chain.

We found the end of the trail and I promptly called my mum to tell her that I’d just cycled 54.27 miles. Would I do it again….in a heartbeat but not on such a freezing cold day!

I’d like to pass my Thanks on to James & Simon Spencer for their help as my support team on the day as without them this would not have gone ahead!

To date I’ve raised nearly £700 and the just giving site is still active if you’d like to contribute. http://www.justgiving.com/Julie-Bell2

We will also be raising money in a raffle to be held at the pub on Friday 5th November at our Guy Fawkes evening. Come along and join in the fun!”

A huge well done to both Julie and James. We are hoping that more of our team will participate in similar ventures over the next year or so. More anon.

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Awards Season

October 7, 2010

Awards. Pesky things in this industry. It’s that time of year. Enough to cause some strange behaviour. And rashes. Or so I’m told.

You never seem to win them when you think you deserve them. You persuade the people you work with that they don’t matter. They sometimes go to the place you’ve just visited and thought quite the worst pub in the world. But when you are on the receiving end of them, the whole system suddenly seems the most just and appropriate in the world.

In sum, the awards season in this industry is a good time to observe the human condition. Envy, schadenfreude, ecstasy, anger, disappointment, frustration. Rarely humility, except the most forced kind.

The Griffin and Gurnard’s Head both won awards this morning. Dining Pubs of the Year in Wales and Cornwall respectively according to the Good Pub Guide 2011. These are awards worth having from a guide with integrity. We know from experience that it will throw out any establishments it thinks not worthy. So this is an achievement for our teams to be proud of. And for us to shout about a bit as the opportunity does not come along very often.

But should we be misguided enough to think that this makes us perfect? Definitely not. Going in the right direction: probably. An award is the perfect excuse to look again at what you do and think about how you improve it. Resting on those laurels is not an option. Communicating this message to a team is not easy. It can occasionally seem unfair. But it is so important.

Anyway, must start preparing that acceptance speech…..

Sue Vide? Never met her.

September 27, 2010

For a year or two our kitchen team awoke preposterously early every Sunday morning and prepared our Sunday roasts under a method known as sous vide. It involved cooking the meat at relatively low temperatures. The result was to preserve the flavour of the meat and make it unbelievably tender. We thought we were terribly sophisticated and waved aside the more than occasional criticism or unemptied plate as a refusal to keep up with the times.

Beware the restaurant that doesn’t listen to its guests. It took time but we realise that our guests were right all along. So WELCOME BACK TO THE ROAST. We now cook our lamb, beef and pork more traditionally at high temperature. The way you have grown up to love it. And the reason why it used to be difficult to secure a table at the Griffin on Sundays. Let’s see how it works out.

In a Bristol back street

September 22, 2010

To the Bristol home of one of our favourite wine suppliers, Nick Brooks of Vinetrail. A frisson of excitement as his tastings never fail to throw up something we want to shout about.

Apart from the odd New Zealand orphan, his list is sourced in its entirety from within the hexagonal boundaries of France. Mostly small domaines focused on great winemaking, more often than not using organic or biodynamic principles. Wines with real purity, yet jumping with character and texture. Nick talks about the impact of geology on wines in a way no-one else we know does. A fascinating afternoon.

Five of us tasting, converging from Brecon and from the Gurnard’s. Rarely a concerted reaction to a bottle: concord would be a boring thing when it comes to wine. The lists at each of the Griffin and the Gurnard’s vary, as they should, reflecting the individuals, the food, the landscape.

Which wines talked to us this time? For me: a Cote de Brouilly that will sit happily on the Gurnard’s list, Gamay with a stony edge to it. A Roussette de Savoie of which only 70 cases or so are made each year. I hope we can take one of them. Rich but in no way oily. Truly beautiful when we tried it later in the evening. A St. Chinian from the Languedoc, given backbone by more than a slug of Mourvedre, like a dose of national service perhaps. Brilliant for early winter lunches in the Beacons. And a Sauvignon de Touraine that gives its posher Loire cousins a kick up the behind.

Afterwards, supper at Flinty Red, one year old progeny of our friends from the Gurnard’s Head, Matt Williamson and Claire Thomson, and the owners of Bristol wine shop, Corks of Cotham. Our first visit, and as brilliant as we hoped. If you are in Bristol and hungry, it should/must be your first choice.

A few days off in Cornwall

September 9, 2010

A few days off in West Cornwall near the Gurnards (www.gurnardshead.co.uk). A week that starts with apocalytpic skies and forecasts that allow little room for optimism. A wife who wonders “will it be like this all week?”

Nature makes fools of the best of us and it has ended up being a magical few days in this beguiling part of the world. I feel only a bit guilty in wondering whether the rest of the country is being gently showered by nature’s watering can while we bathe in September’s benevolent sun. A time of year when this landscape is at its very best.

The two sides of Cornwall’s coast today.

A bucket and spade beach in St. Ives. A proper seaside town with beaches at its heart. The water at its warmest of the whole year, bringing no more than the slightest grimace to the face. I do wonder why so few of the massed throngs actually make it to the water though. A question for another day.

And then on to pay homage to the Atlantic rollers at Sennen Cove. The Spring Tides were imbuing them with a little extra juice to give a good beating to the coastal defences. A handful of very serious surfers fighting nature on our behalf. All best seen from the Beach Cafe which continues to do its thing really very well.

Another thought. A good dinner last night in another local restaurant. But were we flattered to see our carefully thought through introduction to the Gurnard’s Head’s wine list paraphrased, at best, or copied, at worst, in their own wine list? I’m not sure, but left a little depressed that people’s imagination and independence of thought can be so dilute.

Back to Wales tomorrow.

Kitchen Garden Tourism

August 26, 2010

A wet Friday evening in the Beacons. Our second Kitchen Garden Tour and Barbecue. Doppler radar suggests little let up in the rain, but we go ahead with a small gazebo protruding from the tack room door and barbecue smoke filling up the car park.

A tour around the kitchen garden. Joe at the centre of his audience, hooded and mackintoshed, and espousing our organic principles. This week he’s justifiably proud of his red cabbages, sweetcorn and squashes. A huge crop of jerusalem artichokes sways in the wind, awaiting it’s late Autumn harvest. Perfect for a classic winter soup.

Supper. Only the barbecued meat comes from away from the Griffin and its associate garden at Felin Newydd. Tabasco made from Felin Newydd chillis is dropped liberally into a home made Tomato Juice. No one tells me if there is any vodka in there. Roasted onions, squashes and courgettes. Potato salad from our new beds near the river. Coleslaw, a nostalgic reminder of school days. A blackcurrant ice cream from July’s brilliant berry harvest. Truly an authentic kitchen garden supper.

Our inaugural two tours have achieved more than we could have hoped for. No doubt some teething problems that we will learn from, but generally a very positive response from those attending, almost 40 on each evening. We are hoping to do three next year. For now, it’s time to put some of the garden to its winter sleep.

The Hotel Inspector

July 16, 2010

While the real one turned up this week and we were as underwhelmed as ever by his feel for the industry, Channel 5’s own Hotel Inspector soon publishes a book of her own hotel favourites.

The good news is that Alex Polizzi thinks both the Griffin and the Gurnard’s worthy of inclusion. With only 52 hotels in the book, that is something for our teams to be really proud of. It’s a glossy book, with some great photographs and an eclectic collection of hotels. On sale at the Griffin from 6th August at £20.

Of the Griffin, she says: “Quirky curios, photos and artwork combine to give the room warmth and humour and make you feel immediately at home. Indeed, while drinking your complimentary pot of tea, you may perhaps start to ponder why the words ‘totally relax’ are not part of the motto.”

From a business point of view, inclusion in independent guides such as these is a real boon and of far higher value than the advertising we are encouraged to take by local magazines and newspapers. We resist the latter very firmly. There seems something very flawed about the quantity of advertising being more important to the local press than the quality of their content, but perhaps that is the reality of the digital age. Local newspapers should be an important part of a community, publishing items of interest and originality, but it doesn’t seem to be that way any more.