Went to the Black Lion for the first time on a cool, midweek, October evening. Expectations were high having read some excellent reviews. We'd also read the menu on the website and there were many dishes which would have been to our liking. I noted that, for the area, it was a tad expensive, but that only heightened our expectations.
We arrived soon after opening time and were warmly greeted by the gentleman behind the bar, I think his name was Aled.We were seated in the bar area, and although we were the first to arrive, it wasn't long before another two tables in the bar area were occupied.
Having described our initial welcome as being 'warm', which it certainly was, we were struck by how 'cool' it was in the room. There was clearly a need for some heating, and it was evident that it wasn't just our opinion as it was very noticeable that some occupants of all three tables kept their coats on throughout their meal!
The cold feel was added to by the decor and ambiance. The expectation when seeing the building from the outside is that the inside would be a warm, cozy environment. An ideal place for an autumn evening meal, with a fire in corner. What we found was quite the opposite.Cold whitewashed walls, a cold slate floor, sparsely furnished, and the only dash of colour was a cold blue colour in an alcove, which matched the colouring of the bar. The bar itself seemed totally out of keeping with it's surroundings. It was a cold blue colour and appeared as though it had been knocked up from pieces of MDF. The lighting was uncomfortable too. Those exposed strong clear bulbs were harsh and blinding, and no doubt added to the 'cold' feeling.
The room was not a pleasant place to relax. It had an emptiness and coldness about it. Indeed I passed comment whilst there that voices echoed around the place as though it were a cave. If it was a new fledgling business I might have considered the place as 'work in progress', but that isn't the case.
The tables and chairs were probably best described as a country farmhouse style, obviously well used and slightly distressed, but in keeping with the building. My initial impression of the table was that it was a bit 'tacky'. It felt a bit sticky to the touch as though it wasn't clean. On it were small slate placemats, which, although looked in keeping with the surroundings, are not at all practical when you have a hot porcelain plate or dish sliding about on it. The salt was in a 'halen mon' porcelain pot with a wooden spoon attached. The rim of the lid where a wire attached it to the pot was filthy and it just added to the feel that this was a particularly unhygienic way of providing salt. Do all the customers make use of that little spoon?.The pepper mill alongside it just looked very tired and should have been replaced.
On to the food. For starters we chose the camembert dish and a stuffed mushroom dish. At about £7 each, we expected better. Best described as underwhelming and bland. The sort of thing that you could easily knock up in your own kitchen. Just a drizzle of balsamic dressing would have made a big difference and lifted the mushroom dish.
For main course we chose the braised lamb and the sirloin steak. The lamb dish was lovely and was thoroughly enjoyed. The steak was also good and cooked as ordered. Accompanying the steak were chips and onion rings which, whilst looking appetising, had a strong taste of oil. Clearly both would always be deep fried, but I've never experienced the taste before, which was so strong it even overpowered the taste of onion. The lamb dish was nicely presented and at around £17 represented good value for money. The steak dish was less impressive and, given the surroundings, was not good value at £23.
We didn't try the desserts.
The total cost, £66, including a couple of points of beer and a coke.
To sum up. The overall dining experience was a disappointment. The decor and ambience we have given 2/10. The food was probably a 6/10, the service, thanks to Aled, deserves a good 9/10. It's a shame, but we won't be returning. The web site makes much of local produce being used and the fact that dogs are welcome. We've no issues with either of those, but there are more fundamental issues that need addressing before we would consider a return visit.
As we drove home we stopped at the traffic lights in Valley. Across the road was the Valley Hotel, a place we have visited on several occasions. We both thought how warm and welcoming it is compared to the Black Lion. They too use local produce but a similar meal there would have cost about £10 less, in a much cosier environment.
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