The first time I went to the Charthouse it had been open about 6 weeks and quite frankly, it showed. Not that there was anything really wrong with the food, it was just that you could tell that front of house wasn’t quite a well oiled machine yet. I almost reviewed it at the time but held back feeling that I really should give them the chance to settle in and iron out the wrinkles before making another visit.
Checking my notes I see that on my first visit I liked the ambience, the décor and the friendly staff. To eat I started with a rich, creamy pate while MrsA had linguine with crab sauce which she felt was sumptuous. For main MrsA had Venison Wellington; the venison was beautifully cooked but the pastry was undercooked. I had a steak that was okay, a bit sinewy and needing its fat to be more rendered. Not the best steak I’ve ever eaten but far from the worst. My dessert was a nice, light Tiramisu that just lacked a little bit of something. MrsA’s had a brulee that hadn’t quite caramelised properly.
Overall, we felt that the Charthouse showed promise. It was nice to see a new place so busy and we were aware that they appeared to be pitching a price point a little lower than some of the other, more well know, places in the area. The final words I wrote on my notes of that night were “go support them”.
So let’s wind forward six months or so, from that sunny summer Saturday evening to a cold winter Friday. It’s my friend T’s birthday and my previous experience has led me to believe that the Charthouse menu is going to be pretty well suited to his preference for meat and not a lot else. So as I’ve been looking for an opportunity to re-visit, a table is duly booked.
Tonight it is a bit quieter than last time, which is a shame, but probably just as well; as front of house is being looked after by only one member of staff as the rest are off sick. I’m pleased to see a new menu since last time which backs up their claim of being seasonal.
With only one member of staff on duty it’s hard to tell if front of house has gelled but my impressions are that the kitchen certainly has. I also have the impression that there has been a slight increase in the cost of the courses, although I didn’t keep a copy of the previous menu to compare. If there has, then it is certainly a price worth paying and if there hasn’t then Chef/Owner Wesley Harris has done a splendid job of knocking his suppliers into shape; as the quality of the ingredients certainly seems to be a cut above what was on offer last time.
OK let’s get down to dinner. T who doesn’t eat fish or offal of any kind chose the Baked Saint Marcellin cheese & salsify chips. The cheese arrived very, very runny. In fact it was almost drinkable but T assured me that this didn’t distract from the flavour in anyway. MrsA had Trealy Farm cured meats, warm toast, pickles. Well you can’t really go wrong with anything from the multi award winning Trealy Farm and she didn’t. I chose the Wood Pigeon, pork & pistachio terrine, warm toast, apple & artichoke puree and very good it was too, with a good depth of flavour and a nice textural crunch from the pistachio.
Moving on to the main course T opted for the Local fillet of beef, potato rosti, spinach puree, red onion marmalade & glazed carrots. This was certainly a cut above my previous steak both in terms of quality and presentation. A lovely thick piece of meat but perfectly cooked, exactly as ordered. MrsA plumped for the Wild Cornish Sea bass, chicory tart tatin, buttery mash potato, Champagne sauce. The bass was ever so slightly overcooked and I mean ever so slightly, but the stand out part of the dish was the chicory tart tartin. MrsA thought it was “absolutely lovely”. In fact she would have preferred more tart and less mash. I chose the Roast loin of local pork, pan fried bubble & squeak, braised red cabbage, grain mustard sauce. When it arrived I thought for a moment that such a sizeable piece of meat might be a little dry, but I need not have worried. It was sweet, juicy, tender and very flavourful. Nicely complemented by the bubble and squeak and with the sauce bringing both a touch of richness and texture to the dish it was frankly a delight.
Well we’ve certainly been riding on a high up to this point, but alas all good things must come to an end and at the Charthouse it’s desserts that appear to be the Achilles heel. T opted for the Peanut butter parfait, with dark chocolate sauce. This was a sizeable piece, rich in the extreme and really needed something more than the chocolate sauce to help cut through it’s richness. MrsA chose the Vanilla & rum poached pineapple, ginger ice-cream, almond & white chocolate cookies. Although that day there were no cookies and so it was served, on our agreement, with a kind of pistachio biscotti instead. Whilst there was nothing really wrong with it, it was just a plain ordinary dessert with no highlights. I decided on the Warm Seville orange & almond tart, with creme fraiche. There isn’t much I can say about this dish other than it just wasn’t very nice. In fact I left most of it uneaten on the plate and I can’t remember when I last did that. Credit to the waiter who noticed and asked if there was a problem, but all I could really say was that it wasn’t to my taste.
So to summarise it all, I think that a few months have made all the difference to the Charthouse. Desserts apart, the quality of the food has definitely improved noticeably and I would think this is down to a combination of better produce and everyone and everything having had time to bed themselves in. Whilst they have been very happy to promote themselves as “the No. 1 Restaurant in Abergavenny” due to their showing on Tripadvisor I would personally doubt that Chefs Hill, Terry and Tebutt of the Walnut Tree, Hardwick and Foxhunter respectively are losing too much sleep right now.
To my mind the Charthouse is a welcome addition to the Monmouth Foodie Triangle and I am hoping that Mr Harris probably has enough drive and ambition to keep improving. Time will tell! I’ll be giving it another few months and re-visiting as for the most part I really enjoyed my meal and am sure I will again, although next time I’ll probably just go for cheese and biscuits and not a sweet dessert.
Wesley Harris has taken a big risk in opening a restaurant in this economic climate and is to be applauded for it. I think the best advice I can give you is probably the same advice I would have given you had I written my original review all those months ago – “Go support them” but if you’re a so called Food Tourist you might want to try the others first.
The Charthouse Restaurant
Llanvihangel Gobion, Abergavenny, NP7 9AY.
Telephone 01873 840 414