Recently, we were invited to visit Celtic Manor in sunny Newport for a Welsh lamb masterclass with executive head chef Mike Bates.
No small matter, Mike is one of Wales’ finest culinary talents. The multi-award winning chef was chosen to represent the country in the Global Chefs Challenge and will compete in the semi-finals in Denmark this June.
The setting for the masterclass would be the plush self-catering Hunter Lodges. The very same Hunter Lodges that housed president Barack Obama during the 2014 Nato Summit, held at the Celtic Manor resort.
And if they’re good enough for Obama…
The Hunter Lodges lie within the Celtic Manor grounds, but tucked away from the main hotel and resort with a shuttle service running between. We arrived to find our lodge overlooking the beautiful Usk Valley and Twenty Ten golf course, which was built to stage The 2010 Ryder Cup.
Waiting for us inside were some kitsch-y milk bottles smoothies along with chef Mike Bates, who set us to task straight away on some welsh cakes – which are surprisingly difficult not to mutilate. Read the full welsh cake recipe here.
The Lodge itself was vast. Four double bedrooms each had their own en suite, plus an additional main bathroom with its own sauna. Although they’ve managed to make the living room feel cosy, with a real log fire and glut of cushions.
There’s also a befuddling ‘chill out room’ which comprises an empty space with four beanbags and wall-mounted TV screen. Although with a few kids and their gadgets thrown in there, the space might look less sterile.
Outside, a private hot tub and couple of sets of tables and chairs look out across the Usk Valley. And while there are neighbouring lodges either side, looking out to the back of the lodges, there’s nothing but hills, lakes and forest for miles.
The Hunter Lodges seem to have been designed with families in mind, but they’d also be a good bet for a hen or stag party.
Surprisingly, a stay in the Hunters Lodges comes in at a very reasonable cost, especially when based on eight adults sharing. A two-night weekend stay in June for example, would set you back just £48 a night – and significantly less if you can visit mid-week.*
It’s not the place to go if you want to get totally pissed up (you’d struggle to find a doner kebab anywhere on the resort), but for a more relaxing activities-based party, this would be a great spot.
The resort offers plenty of activities, including a high rope forest obstacle course, clay shooting, fishing and, of course, golfing.
There are also options to luxur-ify your stay, like hiring an X-Box One or a gourmet picnic hamper, which can push the price up quite quickly.
After a tour of the lodge and a quick champagne break, it was time to get on with the lamb masterclass, where Mike Bates would show us how to create the prefect salt-baked crusted Welsh lamb with a healthy quinoa superfood salad.
After all mucking in and finally getting our lamb in the oven, Mike produced one he’d made earlier and we tucked into the tastiest roast lamb I’d ever set my teeth on.
For dessert, we got our game faces back on for the ‘Eton mess challenge’. Mike presented us with assortment of toppings and told to make our own Eton mess, with the best presentation wining a prize.
Mine was judged the winner (despite a total absence of meringue) and I was presented with a monstrously large chocolate globe, filled with more chocolaty things and some smoked honeycomb from the Celtic Manor kitchens.
To work off our full bellies, we took a flask of hot chocolate and headed out for a woodland walk, taking a tour through the high rope obstacle course and some of the championship golf courses.
Finally, we returned for some cream tea and Penderyn whiskey and to say a sad farewell to the Hunter Lodges.
*Prices correct at time of publication