In Woody Allen’s Play it Again, Sam Dick Christie is the pre-Blackberry-era yuppie who always earnestly rings in his location to head office. If the 1972 character were a real-life person, he’d hate this stylish gastro B&B. The Drawing Room definitely inspires you to kick back and never think of work.
The first thing you notice about the Drawing Room? It is, in fact, just like a drawing room: there’s the eclectic selection of literature, open fire and a handbell that you ring for service (ideal when it comes to getting what you want, when you want it, without that usual smaller-establishment awkwardness). While Mrs Smith freshens up for dinner, I have an appointment with a G&T and flick through some tourism leaflets for the obligatory confirmation whether there’s an owl sanctuary within striking distance. I fight the urge to give into handbell-tinkling temptation.
To set the scene: this reviewer, due to a bizarre kitchen accident, is on crutches. So, there’s no walking for us, plus we’re driving a hired automatic: a very sensible vehicle which seems to encourage upright-riding positions and middle-lane-Charlie paces. Still these are perfect conditions for taking in the scenery en route to our Welsh boutique B&B. The journey to the Drawing Room, from pretty much wherever you come from in the UK, is a big part of the experience. ‘The countryside is stunning,’ swoons Mrs Smith. ‘Yes, I love how Wales is all slopey,’ I hear myself say. (If the Welsh tourist board is reading this, you can have that one on me.)
Truth be told, when I initially enquired about arriving without wheels, we were told by a helpful Melanie to rebook when we did. When I asked this half of the Drawing Room’s husband-and-wife team about WiFi (needing to send An Important Email), I was also politely told that broadband was deliberately not among their offerings. So it is early on that we discover that the Drawing Room is all about relaxing and eating excellent food, prepared from ingredients you can see gambolling beyond your window…
It’s more a destination restaurant with comfy rooms, than a traditional hotel: indeed they have reduced their covers in order to maintain the high standard of cooking, as this is their true passion. (There’s an extensive wine list too, which is clearly a labour of love, and Melanie is happy to explain some of the less well-known selections on her list.)
This being a UK upland high-end restaurant, the spectre of TV show The Trip’s Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon could loom large. But as foodie-focussed as this is, it’s totally sans pretension: the locally sourced menu is three choice and three course – nothing is a foam or served in a spoon. Such provenance pedigree is a breeze when you’re in the Wye Valley: black beef, mountain lamb and rare-breed pork all graze these slopes. Actually, do pigs graze? I resist the temptation of ringing the handbell to find out. With so much of Wales hilly or by the sea, it’s like one glorious larder.
And so to bed. This pair is in Oliver – the room, not the musical – which features Fired Earth bath bits (including a freestanding tub with a view), quirky prints and the world’s comfiest dressing gowns. The Drawing Room has that thing I call Sleepy Magic™, inducing that delicious ‘Why am I so tired when I’ve been doing nothing?’ feeling. It’s a mix of the wrought-iron bed, total food satiation, fresh air, lack of sirens and general slowing down, guaranteeing the city dweller a decent night’s kip and more-vivid-than-usual dreams.
Breakfast? It’s as hearty and as first-rate as dinner. I moot concern to Mrs Smith there’s a very real danger I’ve become physically addicted to the Welsh rarebit. And I’m sure forever more I’ll do a Homer-Simpson-near-a-doughnut dribble remembering that bacon. A detail that demonstrates serious class too is their provision of top-notch wheat-free bread despite us ringing this intolerance at the eleventh hour.
Refreshed, we are ready to begin a day of car-based exploration. It’s worth noting that they do want you out during the day – there’s only two of them and they have stuff to do: a business model which ensures quality control and gets you exploring.
Now: The Important Email. It certainly seems to matter less in the scheme of things than the day before, but we pick up a signal in Builth Wells which comes to the rescue. A small market town, this point in Powys doesn’t have heaps else to offer, apart from a pleasingly chaotic junk with occasional antique store in an old church where Mrs Smith stocks up on distressed furniture for the garden, and I poke about among vintage fishing rods and 1920s magazines.
Next up, the Elan Valley, which is for some reason less famous than the Brecon Beacons. People love it for walking, but it’s also spectacular driving terrain. They let you pootle across massive reservoirs and rickety iron bridges and there’s hardly any traffic – it’s proper car-advert country, with spectacular red kites circling above... In the other direction it’s a bit more lowland and Englandy, although Hay-on-Wye is worth a potter for book-shopping, even outside of the June festival.
More amazing food dining lures us back to our restaurant with rooms. As I tuck into the Brecon mountain lamb we agree that that staying here for a few nights is definitely worth it if you can. We’re getting dangerously used to all this greediness – but if we tried to stay longer people might start to notice our absence. We retreat home a little heavier, a lot more relaxed, and ready to fire up the broadband and tell everyone about our great Welsh escape.