Take A Foodie Tour of Wales

Llansantffraed Court chef, fine dining, restaurant

A hub of artisan producers, exciting restaurants and stunning boutique hotels, Wales is the perfect location for a foodie getaway.

There are few destinations that take the ‘eat local’ mantra more seriously than Wales. With stunning scenery, delicious food and a thriving restaurant scene, it’s fast becoming the location of choice for food lovers in the know.

The region has long since peeled off the ‘gastronomic desert’ label slapped onto it unfairly by critics who rarely ventured west of the Hammersmith flyover. In the sixties, it could even be argued that the esteemed Franco Taruschio – he of the famed Walnut Tree Inn at Abergavenny – was one of the first to popularise the concept of informal fine dining allied to the championing of fresh local produce.

So where’s the good food in Wales nowadays? And what are the trends that have seen Abergavenny become host to the best food and drink festival in the UK, and in the process acting as a barometer of the movement in Wales generally? One tried-and-tested introduction into Wales’s food scene is Welsh Rarebits, an exclusive collection of 36 hotels, membership of which is by invitation only.

When we say ‘hotels’ we don’t mean big, impersonal establishments and international brands. The vast majority of Rarebits are privately owned and run, and range from seaside hotels to country houses, historic inns to cool boutique boltholes, townhouses to restaurants with rooms. Since one of the criteria for membership is to be found in the kitchen, you can confidently expect to your chosen Rarebit to serve more than cheese on toast.

Restaurant James Sommerin, Penarth, Cardiff, Michelin Star

Here’s a whistle-stop tour of just a handful of Rarebits – a good cross-section to give you a flavour of what to expect.

At the gateway to Wales near Abergavenny stands Llansantffraed Court. Its owner, Mike Morgan, is well known in Wales for his passion for food – and it shows in his menus. Provenance and food miles are high on the agenda. “Luckily for us,” says Mike, “Monmouthshire is blessed with amazingly dedicated small producers.” Specialities include Welsh Black beef, organic pedigree Welsh mountain lamb and succulent Brecon venison.

It’s the same story at Felin Fach Griffin near Brecon, named Dining Pub of the Year – a country pub redefined and reinvented. Laid back and properly comfy, with nicely worn sofas, log fires and a cosy winter warmth the Scandinavians call hygge, it’s serious only when it comes to its food, which is on a different planet from typical pub grub. Great ingredients are sourced right on the doorstep (including their own kitchen garden), so expect daily and seasonal menus to feature Welsh beef and lamb, plus game from local estates.

Restaurant James Sommerin at Penarth is the creation of one of Wales’s Michelin-starred chefs. Ask anyone who knows anything about food in Wales and the name James Sommerin soon crops up. His track record as an inspired and uniquely talented chef speaks for itself.

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Seafood is another Welsh top-notch speciality – so much so that much of it ends up on plates in France and Spain as well as locally. Shellfish include crab, lobster, mussels, scallops and even oysters (not forgetting Penclawdd cockles sold fresh in Swansea Market, with – of course – dash of vinegar and pepper). There’s plenty of fish too – sea bass, hake, mackerel, turbot and sole to name but a few.

St Brides mussels

And since Pembrokeshire is defined by the sea it’s no surprise that Rarebits hotels here make the most of the local catch of the day – taste the freshness while soaking up the clifftop views from St Brides Spa Hotel at Saunderfoot on the south coast, or Newport’s Llys Meddyg in the north.

Glyn Roberts has been cooking up a storm at Castle Cottage, Harlech, for longer than he cares to remember. Not that he’s lacking any of his original passion for the profession. He’s a typical top-end chef – get him talking about his favourite subject (yes, you’ve guessed it) and you might be there until dawn peeks over the battlements of Glyn’s historic neighbour, Harlech Castle. His dishes are inventive but full of honest-to-goodness flavour, a testament to the integrity of the local produce.

On the Isle of Anglesey, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, is the colourful town of Beaumaris. The Bull has a destination restaurant renowned for its modern cuisine and boasts 3 AA Rosettes.  It’s a 400 year old Inn complete with original beams as well as having a trendy boutique hotel next door, The Townhouse.

The Bull, Anglesey, North Wales, fine dining, food

And any foodie tour around Wales has to take in Tyddyn Llan near Bala, where Michelin-starred Bryan Webb attracts accolade after accolade with the regularity of a metronome for the skill and quality of his cooking – not to mention the overall dining experience presided over by his wife Susan.

You don’t even have to travel to Wales to sample its bountiful larder; we haven’t mentioned its artisan farmhouse cheeses yet, which even the French have been known to praise. Rarebits’ ethos of quality has been applied to Gourmet Wales, a mail-order scheme that brings the best of Welsh food and drink to your doorstep. A variety of hampers for all occasions are available. Treats include top-quality meats, fine pies, terrines, coracle-caught smoked sea trout, marmalades, jams, pickles and chutneys, Anglesey sea salt, honey, waffles, shortbread, oatcakes, chocolates and an eclectic choice of wines – not forgetting those artisan cheeses.

And the award goes to…

Welsh Rarebits and Great Little Places members came away from the AA Hospitality Awards 2017 with a clutch of accolades last night.

The prestigious event was held in London and was attended by world-renowned chefs, prominent hoteliers and restaurateurs, hospitality gurus and key media. The Awards are a highlight in the industry calendar and recognises the excellent service provided by the very best establishments.

Wales’ first contemporary art hotel, Twr y Felin Hotel, was awarded AA Hotel of the Year, Wales.

The stunning Mansion House received AA Guest Accommodation of the Year, Wales.

Bryn Tyrch Inn is one of our newest members and triumphed in the Pub of the Year (Wales) category.

Michelin Star Restaurant James Sommerin scooped a whopping 4 Rosettes at the Awards.

These achievements reflect our Collection’s high calibre of accommodation and fantastic hospitality provided by our members. Our congratulations go out to all the winners.

Great Little Places with inspiring views

Wake up to stirring scenes – here’s a pick of Great Little Places with heavenly views:

Plas Rhos, Rhos-on-Sea

Stunning sea views and fresh sea air make this the ultimate seaside getaway. Located in the ‘North Wales Riviera’, Plas Rhos is an immaculate, warm and airy Guest House. For the full coastal Riviera experience, treat yourself to the Bay View Room, complete with its spectacular four poster bed.

The Kestrel Inn, near Crickhowell

Escape the hustle and bustle for relaxation, dramatic Black Mountain vistas and fresh air – walkers can step right into the National Park from the front door.

The Farmhouse at Bodnant Welsh Food, Conwy

Indulge with a book or breakfast in bed while taking in the view over the lush fields, hills and riverbanks of the Conwy Valley.

Elm Grove, Tenby

Rooms at the front of the house look out onto the lawns and grounds – Room 5 plays centre court with prime views over the grass tennis court and meadow beyond. All who stay here will enjoy lush green scenes from their bedroom windows.

Restaurant James Sommerin, Penarth

This award winning restaurant with rooms is located on the seafront at Penarth – many of the rooms enjoy expansive sea views.

Lasswade Country House, Llanwrtyd Wells

Located in a semi rural position with outstanding views of the cambrian Mountains, Epynt Hills and local Forests. Nearly all rooms have amazing views of the local countryside – guaranteed to leave you feeling calm and well rested.

Penbontbren, Cardigan Bay

An utterly peaceful rural location, where guests can immerse themselves in nature. The large attractive gardens are a sight to behold – they are the perfect spot to while away lazy afternoons.

Roch Castle, St David’s

A unique heritage experience – a carefully and lovingly restored Norman Castle with contemporary features. Luxurious accommodation throughout, with fabulous bedrooms – all take in the amazing elevated and far reaching views to the sea.

 

Rarebits Legends – Elm Grove, Tenby

This beautiful family-run grand house has a strong sense of tradition and continuity – with its panelled doorways, chandeliers, marble fireplaces, picture windows and high ceilings with exquisite mouldings blending seamlessly with it’s more modern features. Design and construction of Elm Grove started in the 1840’s and was completed in 1856.

Over the last 150 years the house has been home to a range of owners including Sirs, Captains and Majors. During World War II the main house also became home, and school, to a number of child evacuees from London.

The Rees family bought Elm Grove in 1958 and since this time it has been run as a guest house by 3 successive generations of the family. Currently approaching 60 years of welcoming guests to this beautiful location, Elm Grove has played host to a wide range of guests from walking and painting parties, couples and business travellers to families.

Jane and Alan Rees-Baynes (3rd generation) are currently at the helm of this characterful country house having taken over from Jane’s mum in 2008.

As well as running Elm Grove and it’s kitchen, Jane is also chairman of Pembrokeshire Tourism (the local trade association). Alan meanwhile spends any spare time in his studio, which is located at the back of the property. Many of his paintings can be seen in the bedrooms around the house and he’s more than happy to show guests around his studio. Some of his work can also be seen in Tenby Museum and gallery.

Rarebits rooms with a view

Welsh Rarebits hotels take the idea of a good view to a new level. Admire panoramic sea views, National Park sights and glorious gardens scenes – they will keep you pinned to the window of your room for minutes on end.

Harbourmaster, Aberaeron

You’ll be spoilt for choice at the Harbormaster – most rooms come with spectacular views of the beautiful Aberaeron harbour or look out over Cardigan Bay – the sunsets here are unmissable!

Penmaenuchaf Hall, Dolgellau

Located within the Snowdonia National Park and overlooking the beautiful Mawddach Estuary, it’s hard to find a room without a fantastic view.

The Falcondale, Lampeter

Wake up to lush valley views – scenic rooms are situated at the front of the building and overlook the beautiful garden and well-kept lawns.

Llansantffraed Court, Abergavenny

Indulge with breakfast in bed while taking in this scene – admire the hotel’s 20 acres of manicured grounds (complete with trout lake) and beyond to unspoilt rural Monmouthshire.

Porth Tocyn Country House Hotel, Abersoch

The hotel sits on a bluff high above the southern coast of the Llŷn Peninsula, commanding a stunning panorama that seems to take in most of North Wales – on a clear day you can see along the peninsula all the way to the top of Snowdon.

Gwesty Cymru, Aberystwyth

Located on Aberystwyth’s Victorian promenade, overlooking the blue waters of Cardigan Bay – most of the hotel’s rooms boast spectacular sea views.

Gliffaes Country House Hotel, Crickhowell

Set in a beautiful location, in the heart of the Brecon Beacons National Park. Views of the gorgeous surroundings are sure to leave you feeling calm and well rested.

Twr y Felin, St David’s

Tyddewi is the best room in house, located in the Windmill Tower. This two story suite has a spiral staircase leading you to the original observatory located on the highest floor of the hotel, which boasts spectacular 360 degree views of the St Davids Peninsula.

Warpool Court Hotel, St David’s

The hotel is situated in a magical spot overlooking one of Britain’s loveliest stretches of coastline – many of its bedrooms come with glorious sea views, soak up the views in the Skomer Room (above).

St Brides Spa Hotel, Saundersfoot

Most of the individually styled bedrooms have lovely sea views and balconies. Their decor is bright and contemporary, echoing the maritime scene outside.