Break out the daffodils. Pull up those leeks. St David’s Day is upon us once more (March 1). The annual celebration of Wales’ patron saint may have you reaching for the bara brith but why restrict your cawl, lamb or welshcake consumption to St David’s Day? Here are five great gourmet experiences to inspire a trip to Wales whatever the time of year.
Currently one of five Michelin-starred restaurants in Wales, the dining room at Ynyshir Hall, near Aberdovey’s beautifully wild coastline, creates culinary magic with Welsh lamb, local Wagyu beef and organic pork; they’re such sticklers for detail that the hotel’s breakfast sausages are even prepared to their own recipe. Much of the produce comes from the hotel’s own kitchen garden, while mushrooms, samphire and elderflower are foraged. No wonder chef Gareth Ward was named the Good Food Guide 2015 Chef to Watch. Bedrooms are equally striking, idiosyncratically but luxuriously decorated in jelly bean-bright colours.
For an expertly crafted pie to wash down your pint of Monty’s Mischief, you’re in safe hands at the Felin Fach Griffin, near Brecon. The Good Food Guide’s Welsh Country Dining Pub of the Year 2015, it also holds a Bib Gourmand award and is one of three Sawdays Hotel’s of the Year for 2015. This is comfort food done with a light touch; warm pork, apple and black pudding terrine, perhaps, or local duck breast with butternut squash, potato gratin and kale. A run of cosy bedrooms on site means you don’t have to rush home afterwards, either.
If it’s seafood and seaviews you’re after, two of the country’s most sophisticated recent openings are both set close to the waves. In Penarth, just outside Cardiff, Restaurant James Sommerin bagged itself a place in the Good Food Guide’s Top 50 UK restaurants within three months of opening; Michelin stars are already being talked about. Meanwhile, in Pembrokeshire, ex-La Bécasse chef Will Holland has also made a large culinary splash at Saundersfoot’s new Coast restaurant.
The passion for small plates is taking Wales’ kitchens by storm. Nowhere more so than at Bar 44’s two tapas joints, in Cowbridge and Penarth. Owned and run by brothers Tom and Owen Morgan, both branches are under the direction of head chef Tommy Heaney (with input from Jose Pizarro); most of what’s on the menu is either house-made or imported from artisan Spanish producers and the drinks list has an equally strong Spanish flavour, from sherries and wines to cava cocktails. Look out for seasonal specials, too; if you fancy a change from leeks, the end of March sees the bars hosting a calçotada festival.
For something slightly less grand but equally indulgent, try Llys Meddygin Pembrokeshire. Smart modern bedrooms are paired with a kitchen that takes provenance deeply seriously but clearly has fun in the process. It’s dog-friendly, too.
Some extra bits to take home…
And lastly, If you’re after food gifts to take home, put GinHaus Deli, in postcard-pretty Llandeilo on your itinerary. Stop off for a lunch of Welsh cheeses or a bowl of lamb cawl, then stock up from shelves laden with some of the country’s finest produce. Among our favourites are Coaltown Coffee and Da Mhile seaweed gin. In the same area, don’t miss Wright’s Food Emporium.