"I didn't realise there was such good food in Wales," is the general reaction of overseas visitors to Fairyhill hotel and restaurant, enthuses joint proprietor Andrew Hetherington.
The 18th-century mansion on the Gower Peninsula has undergone a complete refurbishment since changing hands last year. It is now owned jointly by Hetherington, his sister Jane Camm and husband Peter, and chef Paul Davies. The team aims to make it "one of South Wales's top country house hotels".
After seven years running a successful wine bar in Mumbles, near Swansea, Fairyhill offers Hetherington the chance to run a more demanding business and Davies the opportunity to develop his cooking style. The Camms joined the team to manage the accommodation side of business, and also plan to tap the small meetings and conference market.
"We grow our own herbs, and being on the Gower Peninsula we have access to a wide range of local produce," says Hetherington. Fairyhill also benefits from its own lake and trout stream.
Davies, with sous chef Kate Cole and two assistants, uses local produce extensively on the menu: Gower lobster and seafoods; sewin, a local sea trout; wild salmon from Carmarthen Bay; Welsh lamb and beef; and game from the neighbouring shoot.
Hetherington describes his cooking as "modern British with traditional ingredients". Menus change daily. The £24.50 three-course dinner offers a choice of eight starters and main courses. Average spend including wine is £35 per person, and no service charge is made.
A three-tiered fixed-price lunch is offered with one, two and three courses costing £6.95, £10.95 and £13.95, respectively.
House specialities include chicken and almond terrine spiked with Fino sherry as a starter. Davies says he uses the sherry to enhance the flavour.
He expresses a keen interest in laverbread, a seaweed which is a local speciality. He serves it hot in a form of quiche, made with egg and cream and accompanied by crispy smoked bacon.
The 325-item wine list, although centring on French vintages, has a truly international scope, including 15 Californian and Australian vintages, respectively. Five Welsh wines also feature, including local white wine, Mewslade. Recommended wines for July include a 1993 Côtes du Rhône from the Grand Moulas domaine (£12.50), and a 1993 Mewslade Madeline Angevine (£12.50).
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