Finding this misshapen pub, a former tollhouse, in the tortuous lanes of Carmarthenshire is part of its charm – it’s literally a hidden gem. But once you step into the stylish, dark-walled dining rooms of Y Polyn, you forget the outside world to experience Welsh gastronomy at its gutsy best. In many ways this place is an example of how the perfect gastropub should be: nourishing dishes made from quality, seasonal ingredients that are “cooked simply and with respect”. And decor that’s stylish, yet simple and unaffected (there are books to read if you want to). Maybe that’s no surprise, as owner Mark Manson used to be a restaurant inspector for the AA, so has tasted his share of fabulous (and maybe also some not-so-fabulous-) food. If there’s one thing Mark knows about, it’s hospitality, which he provides with warmth, in spades.
Mark’s wife, Susan, cooks. I’ve eaten there a handful of times, but most recently while eating my way across Carmarthenshire for Olive Magazine. For starter I try to order something I’ve not tasted before, but end up returning to Susan’s epic fish soup (pictured), rich, savoury, and amply pampered with croutons, rouille and Gruyere. For the next course I ask Mark what his most local dish is and he guides me to the Welsh venison ragu with homemade pappardelle. It’s actually a starter, but no matter (as that leaves more space for pud). I love its simplicity – the homemade on the top is grated toast (pangritata) with a bit of Parmesan – and the deep meaty flavours from the venison (dispatched by a local). Other dishes on the menu are equally scrupulously sourced, from the Roast rack of Presell lamb with lamb belly and potato terrine to the Chargrilled Welsh sirloin steak with braised shallots and beef dripping chips (a great touch). But those will have to await my next visit.
I round off proceedings with what has now become Susan’s signature pudding: baked egg custard tart, served with a radiant raspberry ripple ice cream and a rich raspberry coulis. If you try nothing else, this is the dish. Creamy, decadent and well worth navigating the lanes for.
You can read my full article on Carmarthenshire’s food in the March issue of Olive.