Llugwy River Restaurant - North Wales
During my stay in Betws-Y-Coed in Snowdonia, I stayed at the Royal Oak Hotel. It is nothing luxurious but it suited a small family down to a tee: the rooms spacious with wi-fi, a downstairs bar to chill out during the evening and most importantly, the breakfast deserving of kings with some of the finest sausages I have eaten in a long time (the quality of sausage is directly proportional to the quality of hotel - fact).
On one evening I booked a table at their Llugwy River Restaurant on the ground floor, principally because it stated that all their meats were sourced from the Rhug Estate. This is one of the largest organic farms in the UK, one of those historic estates handed down through generations from one Lord to the next, until one generation decided to put that cast swathe of land to good use. (You can actually dine there, but I only had time to visit the butchers.) The meat is expensive for sure, but then again it is less than what you would pay at the numerous Michelin-starred restaurants that procure its prime beef, lamb and pork. Dining at the hotel appeared a more wallet-friendly way to sample their produce. Twenty-five quid for a set three-course meal is a bargain and they allowed me to take my own bottle of wine, charging just a £5 corkage. The waiter was almost apologetic when he informed me. He should see the amounts that some restaurants charge to open a cork in London!
For starter, I opted for the tian of oak-smoked salmon with soft cheese and celeriac, and a pan-fried loin of rabbit with vanilla-infused risotto and a port wine reduction. The salmon was superb: fresh and palate cleansing, the celeriac lending it a pleasant spiciness without overwhelming the fish. The rabbit was satisfactory even if the risotto might be superfluous to requirements. For main course, we obviously chose the most carnivorous options on the menu. Firstly, new season Wild Glasfryn Estate mallard breast with caramelized red cabbage, the duck cooked well and not overdone, simple to make but delicious on the plate. I chose the char-grilled fillet steak with leek dauphinoise potato, roast onion purée and carrots. Again, the meat was absolutely superb: so tender that you are left in no doubt that that cow was happy before it booked a one-way ticket to the abattoir.
To finish, I was craving some Welsh cheeses that came with a homemade fruit chutney and bara brith. I have always had a penchant for Welsh cheese and these were excellent. These included an extra strong local Cheddar with the unsubtle title of Black Bomber, though my favorite was Perl Wen, a Brie-like cheese from Caws Cenarth that I had never come across before. A local specialty it would seem, it was creamy in texture but had just the right amount of tangy flavor.
On the wine front, out of courtesy I ordered a wine off their list. I followed this up with a 2009 Château Siran, a Margaux that is probably still about 24 months too young, but is so delicious... what the hell? Layers of blackberry and cedar fruit on the nose, wonderful balance and great depth, this 2009 is far superior to the vintages that I tasted throughout the 1990s and early noughties - kudos to proprietor Edouard Miailhe who has really turned it around.
Overall this was a satisfying experience. No, it is not going to win any Michelin stars, but what it delivered on the plate was fresh and demonstrated well-sourced ingredients. Sure the menu plays it safe, but you were still licking the plate clean. For £25 per person, there is no arguing from these quarters.
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