by Ron Bernthal
Skenfrith, a tiny Welsh village of 500 residents, is surrounded by green hills, thousands of grazing sheep, and small farms. The picturesque ruins of a 13th-century Norman castle stand in the center of the village, and the free-flowing Monnow River, a natural habitat for trout, winds its way through idyllic pastures. From spring to fall, purple crocus, golden rod, red clover and other wildflowers carpet the valley floor, creating a stunning quilt of colors.
No, this scene is not storybook fiction, but what I viewed from my second floor bedroom at The Bell at Skenfrith, an upscale but rustically decorated pub, restaurant and inn located in southern Wales. Business travelers from London (2 1/2 hours by car) or Birmingham (1 1/2 hours) make time in their busy schedules to drive here for a taste of the Rump of Monmouthshire Lamp or Pan Fried Breast of Local Duck. The vegetables, herbs and salad greens are all organic, much of it coming from The Bell’s kitchen garden. The wine list is a 33-page informational menu written by owner William Hutchings, who describes his obsession for Cognac, and latest buying trips to Champagne, in a wonderfully written preface.
The dining room, with its stone floor and fire place, wood tables, fresh flowers, black and white framed photos, and large windows overlooking the Welsh countryside, is decorated by William’s wife, Janet, who makes sure that everything at The Bell, from the kitchen to the bar to the eight upstairs bedrooms, runs as perfectly as it looks. Janet’s touches, like the beautifully framed trout-flies outside each room (my room was Little Marryat) are part of the inn’s simple, yet sophisticated charm.
My lunch starter, consisting of grilled goat’s cheese, roasted red peppers, and green olives was superb, as was the main course of wild mushroom and spinach risotto, soft poached hen’s egg, parmesan shavings, beans, and basil pesto. Next to my table was a blackboard indicating the local producers that supply the inn’s kitchen: free-range duck from Madgettes Farm; pork from Bower Farm; free-range chickens and eggs from nearby Galway; and fresh cream from the herd of Jersey cows down the road. Naturally, the menu changes daily, what farmers and suppliers bring in fresh that morning is on the tables for lunch or dinner that day.
Michelin named The Bell at Skenfrith the 2007 Pub of the Year and, although most pubs do not have four-poster beds and luxurious toiletries in their bedrooms, this public house also knows how to please drinkers as well. The local ales sold at the bar including Freeminer Bitter, Timothy Taylor’s Landlord, Hook Norton, and the popular Stowford Press cider, qualify The Bell as a Welsh country pub with panache. (Main lunch and dinner courses 13-17 Euros, approximately $18-$24; room rates 110-220 Euros, approximately $157-$220, includes breakfast and tax for two persons).
The Bell at Skenfrith
Skenfrith, Monmouthshire, NP7 8UH
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