Mike Morgan has owned Llansantffraed Court for 17 years and has developed it into a thriving business. With ambitious plans afoot to re vitalize the well-known restaurant, including developing a cocktail bar, brasserie and small cookery school, Mike spared a few minutes to share his favourite places and foodie secrets.
What first attracted you to Llansantffraed Court in 1997?
I was looking to buy a hotel in the area and wanted to review the competition. The agent showed Llansantffraed Court to me on a fantastic morning, with the beautiful Monmouthshire surroundings in their full glory. The sun was shining, the daffodils were out and I fell in love with it. It needed a lot of TLC but I could see the potential.
There’s loads of great places to visit in Monmouthshire, where is your favourite place to recommend to guests?
I always suggest joining the Otter trail, which is directly accessible from the bottom of the hotel drive. The Usk Valley walk takes people along the stunning river and then they can visit the array of great pubs in Usk. This is particularly popular with guests. Another day out leads to Llanthony Priory, and for the more ambitious guests and climb up to Gospel Pass and Hay Bluff which has spectacular views and is near Hay on Wye, with its world-famous bookshops and excellent cafes.
Being in the hotel industry you’ve probably hosted many dinner parties. What is your staple dinner party dish?
You can’t beat well aged Monmouthshire Beef Wellington, which is popular with everyone. I normally serve it nice and rare with boiled pink fir apple potatoes and fresh vegetables from the garden.
What would be your main advice to somebody hosting a business lunch?
Look for somewhere where the service is impeccable and the restaurant understands the customer’s needs. For example, depending whether the customer wants privacy or a nice table in the garden, it is important that your requirements are met. When booking a business lunch, let the restaurant know what size table is needed, what time the lunch needs to end and so on. At Llansantffraed Court, we always ensure people on a business lunch get away on time. Having spent many years in the hotel trade, I know how important an express lunch is to busy business people!
You have a large walled garden at Llansantffraed Court, what is your favourite seasonal ingredient?
I can’t wait for the runner beans to start cropping, as they are delicious. In the winter, I love butternut squash as it is a fantastic comforting ingredient and is lovely in warming wintery soups.
What seems to be the most popular wine among your customers at the moment?
In the hot weather, people love a cold glass of Ancre Hill Sparkling rosé on our terrace, made just a few miles up the road. I always recommend a nice glass of dry Riesling with seafood, which is lovely.
There is a growing ‘foodie’ scene in Wales, and in Monmouthshire in particular, how have you tapped into this market?
I am proud to have played a part in establishing the foodie scene here in Monmouthshire. I was on the board of the first ever Abergavenny Food Festival. The restaurant and food festivals go hand-in-hand, as food festivals help to publicise the restaurant s. Our close proximity to great local produce and ‘foodie’ events means we are in a perfect location for those that are passionate about food. We are seeing a huge growth in Food Tourism with guests coming to the area for a few days to try all the fab eateries
You’ve got some fantastic food festivals on your doorstep, which is your favourite and why?
The Abergavenny Food Festival is my obviously my favourite. It’s true to its roots as it is a farming and artisan-produce driven event. Whilst it is now a big festival, it is not overly commercial and hasn’t ‘sold out’ like some of the bigger festivals.
If you could invite anybody in the world to have a drink at Llansantffraed Court, who would it be?
I’d like to invite Carwyn Jones, the First Minister, as I think it would be interesting for him to see what’s available on his doorstep. I’d also like Katherine Jenkins to visit, as she is a talented homegrown singer, and would add a touch of glamour to our dining room!