North Wales may not feature very prominently when it comes to the world’s most famous gourmet destinations, but the little town of Conwy is a real treat for food-lovers everywhere
With its beautiful castle ruins and pretty bay area, Conwy is a small town that’s worthy of a short break, and seems to cope well with the tourist trade, without allowing tacky souvenir shops to dominate the streets. Provided you have a car with you, you’re also perfectly situated for access to traditional seaside towns such as Llandudno, some amazing beaches on the island of Anglesey and plenty of fresh air and amazing walks in Snowdonia.
However, the real surprise for us was the fantastic food on offer. After a long drive, and what seemed like an even longer time finding a parking space, we were keen to relax over a good meal and a glass or two of wine. Whilst circumnavigating Conwy several times before parking the car, we had spotted a little restaurant hidden away on Chapel Street called Bistro Bach. The Welsh name and dragon logo suggested Welsh cuisine, and whilst, to my shame, I had no idea what that might involve, it turned out to be a pretty good choice.
The service in Bistro Bach was at best lacklustre (not rude or particularly unpleasant, but think teenage girls with no grasp of the basics of waitressing and seemingly no ability to smile). Thankfully, the starters - we both opted for fish dishes - more than made up for the poor service and the fact that the wine was dumped on our table and left for us to pour. I should point out that I’m quite capable of pouring my own wine, but given the mark-up in restaurants, having the first glass poured for you is surely the least you should expect. Anyway, the fresh, perfectly cooked fish was followed by delicious lamb chops and quite possibly the biggest meal I’ve ever been presented with – a monster shoulder of lamb. With the accompanying vegetables, it really was enough to feed a family of four and actually came with a warning at the time of ordering, something along the lines of ‘I hope you’re hungry’. After such a ridiculous amount of meat, dessert was out of the question, though we did manage to squeeze in a complimentary glass of mead and home-cooked Welsh cake, which pretty much finished us off for the evening. All in all, a bit of a mixed bag, but a good introduction to the fantastically fresh produce that’s available in Wales.
The next morning began with a full Welsh breakfast at our delightful B&B, Gwynfryn, situated right in the centre of Conwy, close to the train station and just off the High Street. It seems that a full Welsh breakfast is, well, exactly the same as a full English, only the ingredients at Gwynfryn were all locally sourced. Healthier options were also on offer, as were Welsh rarebit and porridge. In contrast to the previous night, our breakfast was served with a smile from the friendly, helpful owners at the B&B, and set us up for a day of sightseeing in Conwy and the surrounding area.
Having skipped lunch, it was time for more culinary delights in the evening, and it was recommended that we try the Castle Hotel on the High Street. Unfortunately, the restaurant itself was fully booked, but food is also served in the bar area, which was more relaxed but nevertheless had some fantastically attentive waiters. With a focus on quality over quantity, and making the most of the local produce on offer, the Castle Hotel is serving some really special dishes. It's also the only restaurant where I have ever enjoyed eating black pudding. The award-winning Head Chef, Graham Tinsley, deserves all of the praise he gets – for the sake of the Castle Hotel, I just hope that Conwy doesn’t become too small for him!
For those who prefer their food less fussy, the simple joys of fish and chips can also be found in Conwy (I saw at least two places claiming to be the best fish and chip shops in North Wales) and there is also a mussel museum where you can get your fill of these cheap, delicious shellfish. As in many UK tourist towns, there are also plenty of cream tea and cake options, as well as a great delicatessen and a couple of lovely little chocolate shops if you’re intending to take a sweet taste of Wales home with you.
For all the great food on offer, it’s perhaps surprising that the one thing Conwy lacks is a truly great pub. There is no shortage of places where you can get your pint of Brains, but whilst I can’t say we visited every pub within the ancient walls, those we did venture in to tended to be ordinary at best, and at times quite dingy and grotty. Should anyone ever open a pub in this town that combines great food with a quality pint (that doesn't stick to the table when you put it down), it will undoubtedly be the icing on the Welsh cake.
So visit Conwy, enjoy the beauty, love the food - and if you’re feeling guilty about the calories, the view from the top of nearby Mount Snowdon is outstanding.