Earlier this month, the five-star Celtic Manor Resort opened its first Asian fine dining restaurant, Cen (pronounced ‘sen’) at Celtic Manor with Larkin Cen, 2013 BBC Masterchef finalist and former co-owner of Hokkei, a popular pan-Asian pop-up and takeaway based on Crwys Road, Cardiff that went into administration in early January.
Whilst I was sad to see Hokkei go (there are no words to describe their triple cooked crispy beef!), the launch of Cen at Celtic Manor certainly helped to lessen my disappointment.
The restaurant is based within The Manor House – an elegant, 19th century country house full of historic character and charm. Inside Cen, however, the decor is contemporary and vibrant with an Asian vibe created by an elaborate floral centrepiece, wooden shutters and a white linen ceiling canopy.
There is also a private dining room to seat up to 14 guests, pictured below.
The menu centres upon dishes from Chinese, Japanese and Thai cuisines, but British influences can also be seen in options like triple cooked chips, sirloin steak, Welsh beef rib roast and even a trifle for dessert. There isn’t an overwhelming range of choices – four small dishes, two salads, four filled steam buns, six main courses (for one) and three sharing dishes for two, followed by four dessert options. However, the focus definitely seems to be on quality as opposed to quantity.
The Asian theme extends to the drinks menu, which boasts a variety of Japanese beers, sakes and wines. We sipped on a glass of champagne each as we examined the menu.
We also shared some crispy, golden prawn crackers and a sweet chilli dip.
A starter of scallops with bacon dashi (£8.50) consisted of three plump scallops, fried until golden and served in a silky, broth-like bacon dashi, topped with Japanese Bonito fish flakes and decorated with edible flowers. The scallops were scrumptiously succulent and the bacon dashi was delicious.
Meanwhile, a tender roast duck salad (£8) was served with Pomelo (like a large grapefruit, but sweeter and not as bitter), pomegranate seeds, beansprouts, fresh green leaves and coriander, drizzled with citrus-y Ponzu dressing.
In addition, we shared a portion of Korean chicken bao £7; two light, fluffy Taiwanese steamed milk buns, filled with deep-fried spicy chicken, spring onions, kimchi, Gochugang chilli and tangy Yuzu mayonnaise. These were so good, I’d have happily ordered them again for my main course if I could.
As we moved on to our main courses, a duck tamarind curry (£24) contained slices of lean, pink duck breast in a strong, thick and slightly spicy tamarind sauce, topped with lotus root flower crisps and fresh pak choi.
The curry was accompanied by a generous serving of triple cooked chips. A deep golden brown in colour, the chips had a crunchy coating and a soft, fluffy centre. They tasted pretty good as far as chips go, although they were a little too crispy.
As much as I enjoyed the chips, it would’ve been nice to have had the option to switch them for rice. It felt strange eating a curry without rice and triple cooked chips aren’t the healthiest of choices for any guests who might be trying to eat a better diet.
My guest ordered the sirloin steak (£27) for his main course. Medium-cooked as requested, the steak was so tender that the knife simply slid through it. It was served with a fiery, yet creamy wasabi dijon mayonnaise, spring onion, black bean jus and triple cooked chips.
For dessert, I opted for the Welsh honey and yuzu cake (£7); a moist, zesty sponge accompanied by yoghurt ice cream and bubbly, aromatic honeycomb, finished with edible flowers and drizzled with honey.
Fancying something chocolate-y, my guest went for the aptly-named ‘chocolate’ (£7); a rich, dark chocolate torte served with chocolate ganache, chocolate aero, malt ice cream, chocolate brittle and mandarin sauce. This looked very appealing and it would be the ideal dessert for any chocolate lover, although it would have been too sickly for me to eat as part of a three-course meal.
I really enjoyed my first visit to Cen and it certainly won’t be my last, although with main courses costing around £25 each (and £40+ for sharing dishes), I would only attend the restaurant if I happened to be staying at The Celtic Manor Resort, or for special celebrations like birthdays.
Cen at Celtic Manor
The Celtic Manor Resort
The Usk Valley
(0)1633 413 000
I was invited to CEN as a guest and our food and drink was provided complimentary. However, I was not obliged to write a positive review.
Do you like Asian food? What’s your favourite dish? Leave me a comment below 🙂