We moved to Wales 2.5 years ago, and for all that time, I’ve known of the existence of Restaurant 1861 in Cross Ash. Indeed, we used to drive past to visit local friends, when we still lived in London. It’s taken me all this time to finally visit, and now I’m ruing all those missed opportunities for deliciousness that I can’t get back!
Run by husband and wife team Simon and Kate King, 1861 is named for the historical building in which it is located, formerly a pub which the Kings have sympathetically refurbished to create a clean, fresh look whilst retaining the beautiful character.
Simon, a chef with many years of experience in some of the UK’s very best restaurants – including the Waterside Inn at Bray, and Letonnie in Bristol and Bath – runs the kitchen, and Kate (who he met whilst head chef at Llansantffraed Court Hotel) runs front of house.
Simon and Kate are dedicated to sourcing high quality local produce and creating excellent food at reasonable prices. They aim for provenance to be as local in order to reduce carbon mileage. Indeed, most of their fresh vegetables come from Kate’s father’s nursery, which is just around the corner from where we live.
One touch we really appreciate is the commitment to providing a great dining experience to those with food allergies and intolerances or following restricted diets. Accordingly, our dining companions advised the restaurant that they are vegetarian on booking, and are presented with a pescetarian- and veggie-friendly version of the menu, instead of our omnivorous one (below).
The menu is divided into an A La Carte section, a Tasting Menu and a Set Sunday Lunch Menu, but guests are invited to order individual courses from across all the sections if they prefer.
Note that the prices shown against each dish are for ordering a la carte, but if you order whole the Tasting Menu or three courses from Set Sunday Lunch Menu, they will add up to less – for example Pete’s salad of courgette tempura, ballotine of chicken and floating island are priced at £45 but billed as £35 as per the Set Sunday Lunch.
On the table as we dither over the menu are elegant Mini bread sticks and slivers of Fried potato.
A thick slice of Bread, warm from the oven, arrives with room-temperate butter – one per couple, it’s very good.
A complimentary amuse of chilled Tomato Jelly with Chives arrives after the bread. The subtle flavours and soft slippery texture are a gentle introduction to the meal.
My starter of Scallop Ravioli, Lobster Sauce (£15) is an outstanding dish, the thin wrinkled pasta stuffed generously full of scallop, and served over green leafy vegetables in a deep, rich and silken lobster sauce.
Pete is equally enthusiastic about his Salad of Courgette Tempura, Sweet Chilli Dressing (£11), the courgettes are perfectly cooked within their shells of batter, and the salad pleasingly enhanced by the dressing.
From the Set Sunday Lunch Menu, Pete’s Roast Ballotine of Chicken, Stuffed with Sage and Onion (£25) is a thing of beauty. Two generous pieces of tender, flavourful chicken are generously filled with a stuffing that’s a world away from your Paxo boxed mix, and served with roast potatoes and a selection of colourful seasonal vegetables. This plate has all the simple pleasures of home cooking but everything is notched up a level in terms of flavours, textures and presentation.
I splurge on the Fillet of Beef Rossini (£35) and am not disappointed! The fillet is beautifully cooked, and with far more flavour to the beef than is sometimes the case for this cut. Alongside, a potato pavé topped with a slippery-savourous slice of foie gras, a pile of perfectly cooked seasonal vegetables, and a dribble of rich gravy. My only quibble with the dish is a longing for more sauce.
Before desserts, we are served a pre-dessert espresso cup of Ginger and Melon Soup. Warm in both temperature and fiery ginger heat, and gently sweet from the melon, this provides a pleasing passage from main to dessert.
As soon as I read Stem Ginger Floating Island in a Sea of Rhubarb (£9) on the menu, I know Pete will order it, combining as it does a favourite French dessert and his classic childhood favourite of rhubarb. It is, apparently, exceedingly good!
I reckon I’m the winner though with my Pineapple Tart Tatin, Vanilla Ice Cream (£10). The caramel is taken right to the precipice without tipping over; perfectly balanced bitterness against the sweet, caramelised pineapple and glossy ice cream. The depth of flavour in this dish is phenomenal!
Because this dessert has to be ordered in advance (when your starters and mains are taken), I nearly missed out, not sure at that point if I’d have space for a sweet. Don’t hesitate, order it!
I also want to give you an overview of the vegetarian dishes our friends order. A starter of Courgette Flower Stuffed with Goats Cheese (£12) has the very lightest of batters, a deeply savoury goats cheese stuffing against the sweet flesh of the courgette, and a punchy sauce beneath. The Beetroot and Lavender Risotto (£11/£25) is startlingly vivid, and cleverly balanced in flavours. For dessert, the Hot Raspberry Souffle, Chocolate Ice Cream (£11) is declared light and soft in texture with none of those eggy, under-cooked bits one can sometimes find within; the ice cream, we think, has been swapped for an equally welcome mousse which is decadently viscous and intense. The Plum Fritters, Yoghurt Ice Cream (£9) provide a pleasing combination of sweet and sharp, served warm and crisp in their batter.
All four of us are in fine disposition after such a tantalising menu so skillfully delivered. Each dish is wonderful in concept and execution, adding up to an exceptional meal indeed.
I’m so delighted that we have another absolutely top quality restaurant within close reach, and predict many more meals at 1861 to come!