Rhedyn Guest House
Reviewed by Em Marshall-Luck
An old stone, whitewashed guesthouse, Rhedyn stands in a small plot in the middle of a farmer’s field, with its fecund gardens proliferating in both vegetables and flowers, and adorned with many inviting seats, tables and bird feeders of many varied types. Originally a forester’s cottage in the Cilmery Estate, dating back at least to 1849 if not much earlier, it is set in the valley which runs between Builth Wells and Llandovery, with green wooded hills either side, and one has a wonderful sense of the steep, glacially- eroded valleys and Welsh landscape. Sky larks and red kites abound, especially on the walk we found up over the moorland hills from nearby Garth.
One is warmly welcomed by affable and enthusiastic hosts Ciaran and Muiread on arrival, and invited inside, though the ever-open stable door. The inside of the house is quirky and individual – collections of carved religious wooden mother and son statues from different religions; a banjo, guitar and Romanian folk guitar placed at the top of the stairs; collections of ornaments, ranging from antiques to modern pieces and more exotic items possibly collected during foreign travels; a fair amount of modern art; lots of books (always a Good Thing) and plants (likewise). In short, the house is a curious combination of the old and the new; the dining room in particular is rather suburban in feel with pastel shades and PVC windows and French windows, and a modern light wooden table and chairs; while the sitting room is more traditional, with a wood-burner set in an old stone fireplace, and inviting sofas.
The bedroom is small and cosy with a large bed, the obligatory TV (but at least it is not prominent here, being of a sensible size and tucked away in a corner), some books on a rather nice bureau, a decent-sized wardrobe, table with teas, coffees and a little fridge beneath for milk and water; and not particularly appealing modern art. The highlight is the bathroom, with a strong coastal feel (blue wainscoting, boats, shells and the like), with a large and luxurious bath, by which are arrayed a pleasing choice of bath milks, gels, foams, salts and oils (some bottles, alas, empty).
We were pleased to find fresh milk provided and not to have to ask for it for once, but were less excited by the fact that PG Tips were the only black tea bags offered, despite a wide choice of herbal teas. Other small niggles were a bathroom bin that still had items in it from a previous occupant; a sachet of hot chocolate that had actually been opened previously and thus scattered its contents everywhere when I picked it up; and pillows and bedclothes with synthetic fibres and fillings, making for a hotter and less comfortable night’s sleep for those used to duck feather and pure cottons. Still, sherry was also provided in the room – a big plus in my book; and Welsh cakes as well, of which Tristan immediately wolfed down the majority!
After the aforementioned walk, we returned to Rhedyn for dinner, which can be arranged as an optional extra. As the premise is not licensed, one may bring one’s own wine, so a Neagles Rock 2008 washed down the meal very nicely indeed. This commenced with “essence of tomato and fennel” (a consommé, which did indeed taste very strongly of tomato and fennel, with a good bite of black pepper), with large chunks of slightly chewy asparagus and a frozen egg (defrosted, of course, by being run under running water, apparently, and turning a curious mousse-like consistency as a result). The accompanying bread was very good indeed – almost foccacia-like in consistency and delightfully strongly flavoured with garlic – and provided in decent quantities to last us throughout the meal, as well. The main course was duck – again, just a fraction on the chewy side, with blackberry sauce. As I like my meat well done, the complete lack of any hint of pinkness pleased me, but my husband found the cooking of this too robust. The generous portion of jersey royals as the side item for the main course was excellent, especially given the fresh chives and the lavish amounts of butter that doused the potatoes. Saffron poached pears were a pleasant conclusion to the meal; I was particularly impressed by the presumably home-made speculoos ice cream, which was crunchy and tangy, with a good bite of ginger from the crumbled biscuit topping. Tea and coffee and chocolates rounded off the meal well. A rather populist selection of classical works accompanied the meal – good for guessing what was coming next – Satie’s Gymnopedie no. 1, The Moonlight Sonata or The Lark Ascending, do you think? – and for providing some amusement and debate (why was The Moonlight Sonata being played in D minor instead of C sharp minor?); still, far better this than the unbearable and ubiquitous popular music.
Breakfast is served back in the dining room, and a goodly amount is on offer. One comes down to freshly-made compote, cereals, fresh fruit, juices and a wide range of jams and preserves; hot options are also available, from full Englishes through to Laverbread. We went for scrambled eggs and smoked salmon on muffins, which were very good.
After we left, we followed a recommendation in the visitor’s welcome book, which recommended a drive around a reservoir, which we duly took. The crowning jewel in this lovely drive was Soar Chapel, a Calvinist Methodist chapel set literally in the middle of nowhere, on a hillside with no signs of habitation for miles. An historical gem – with original box pews in place – this was also the most gloriously peaceful, tranquil and uplifting spot. Truly beautiful.
So Rhedyn then, although probably not a destination in and of itself, provides a comfortable and friendly night’s base and meal, and would be a good option if you’re travelling through the area.
Em Marshall-Luck is QR’s Food and Wine critic