When the Celtic Manor Resort invited me along to review their newest restaurant, The Rib Smokehouse and Grill at Coldra Court Hotel in Newport, South Wales, I didn’t really know what to expect.
The number of smokehouses in and around Cardiff has been slowly increasing over recent years, no doubt inspired by the success of Hangfire Smokehouse (a popular local pop-up turned permanent restaurant, with a 3-month waiting list and a published cookbook). Today, we have The Smoke House in Pontcanna and The Smoke Haus on Mary Ann Street (a smokehouse by name, but perhaps not by nature), with rumours circulating for some time now that Cardiff will soon be blessed with its very own Grillstock.
However, it’s not often you see a smokehouse open in South Wales outside of Cardiff – especially not at a 5-star hotel like The Celtic Manor Resort. I was eager to discover how the Celtic Manor, with its staunch reputation for fine dining in elegant surroundings, would approach the smokehouse concept.
Arriving at The Rib Smokehouse and Grill, I could already notice slight differences between this restaurant and the Celtic Manor Resort’s other dining offerings. With laminate wooden flooring, warm lighting and sofa-style seating, we felt cosy and ‘at home’ as soon as we sat down. Being able to see the chefs cooking in the open kitchen and eye up the different dishes emerging under the pass was an added bonus.
As we pondered over the à la carte menu, trying our hardest not to drool all over it, we sipped on a cocktail of plum, raspberry, cranberry, blackcurrant and lime-infused gin, served in a dainty glass teacup and saucer.
The menu resembled that of a traditional smokehouse with house-smoked, slow-cooked staples like chicken, steak, ribs and burgers. However, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it also included a number of veggie options – some of which sounded almost as appealing as the meat dishes – like hickory and Applewood smoked vegetables, and grilled halloumi with risotto. Meanwhile, seafood lovers will praise the inclusion of dishes like seared salmon and flame-grilled prawns.
Fancying some seafood myself that evening, I eventually settled upon the lemon and chilli prawn popcorn (£10.50) to start, although I was very tempted by the ham hock bruschetta. Succulent king prawns were encased in an aromatic lemon and chilli-infused batter; the crispiness of which contrasted beautifully with the tenderness of the prawns. The prawns were served atop gem lettuce leaves, salted cucumber and pickled watermelon, and dressed with a tangy, BBQ take on Thousand Island sauce.
My guest got stuck in with the paprika, lime and coriander chicken wings (£6.95). Larger than your average chicken wings, these were coated in a zesty, fragrant marinade and served with a smoky, creamy chipotle mayonnaise which served to neutralise their vibrant, citrusy flavour.
When it’s done well, nothing beats a bit of pork belly. Pork Belly Louisiana Style (£14) was done very well indeed. House dry-rubbed and slow-smoked with hickory wood, the meat simply fell apart as I slid my knife through it while the fat had a deep golden brown coating which released velvety, smoke-infused juices every time I bit into it. This was pork porn at its finest. To top it off, the pork belly was drizzled with a slightly sweet, BBQ sauce interspersed with morsels of apple and teamed with chunky, skin-on chips (the menu said fries, but I was more than happy with the chip counterpart) and colourful, crunchy slaw.
Opposite from me at the table, Welsh Lamb Rump steak (£16.00) was accompanied by crisp, peppery rocket and boiled new potatoes tossed in a silky herb butter. Although this dish would usually be served with house fries, the restaurant were more than happy to accommodate my guest’s request to switch these for potatoes. Cold-smoked with hickory and herbs, the lamb had a distinctive, woody flavour and it was so pink and juicy, just looking at it was enough to make my mouth water.
A side of Mac ‘n’ Cheese (£3.50) was brimming with al-dente macaroni smothered in creamy cheese sauce, topped with a layer of just-melted cheddar cheese, so dense that every forkful of macaroni was accompanied by a string of soft, stretchy cheese. Whatever you order at The Rib, make sure you order the Mac ‘n’ Cheese with it.
After a flawless starter and main course, I was very much in anticipation of what the dessert would be like. Only too often, I’m blown away by the first two courses of a meal, yet disappointed by a mediocre dessert menu that ends my meal on anything but a sweet note. The Rib’s dessert menu balances British classics like apple pie, sticky toffee pudding and almond Bakewell tart with more innovative creations.
Jelly and Custard (£6.50) consisted of a fresh vanilla slice, halved and finished with authentic honeycomb, set homemade custard, burnt white chocolate and smooth, intensely flavoured strawberry jelly.
My guest rounded off his meal with the Peanut Butter Parfait (£6.50); a round, lightly sugared shortbread biscuit topped with indulgent chocolate mousse, caramelised banana, strawberry gel and crushed peanuts. By this point, I was beginning to feel like the fat man in Monty Python’s Life of Brian who eats so much that his stomach explodes, so I thought it best to turn down my guest’s polite offer to try some for myself. However, this looked like an absolute corker of a pudding and I wouldn’t hesitate to order it on my next visit to The Rib.
It’s great to see the Celtic Manor Resort break away from their usual restaurant style and I wouldn’t hesitate to return to The Rib – although the Hangfire ladies will always be the queens of the South Wales smokehouse scene, in my opinion.
The Rib Smokehouse and Grill
Coldra Court Hotel by Celtic Manor
I was invited to The Rib Smokehouse and Grill as a guest and our food and drink was provided complimentary. However, I was not obliged to write a positive review.