2018 North East Wales Year of the Sea Food Challenge

This weekend, I travelled up to north east Wales to sample some of the dishes submitted by restaurants taking part in the 2018 North East Wales Year of the Sea Food Challenge. Well, it’s a tough job, but somebody has to do it, right? 😉

Funded by Visit Wales, the 2018 North East Wales ‘Year of the Sea’ Food Challenge seeks to raise awareness of the great food scene in the region, whilst also supporting local restaurants during the traditionally quiet post-New Year period. The annual competition takes on a different theme every year and sees local chefs and eateries work with local producers to develop a dish to get people talking and promote the thriving local food scene.

This year, restaurants have been tasked with concocting a seafood dish to entice diners into their eatery and discover more about the Year of the Sea. To enter, restaurants must either put their own unique twist on traditional fish and chips, or present their own bespoke take on classic surf n’ turf, using locally sourced meat and seafood. Each restaurant has to serve their dish from 15th January until 11th February, during which time they will each receive two mystery visits from experienced diners who will score their dishes according to presentation, taste, promotion of the dish and awareness of the Year of the Sea, ahead of a cook-off taking place in February.

This is where I come in. I was tasked with visiting five of the restaurants taking part in the North East Wales ‘Year of the Sea’ Food Challenge to sample their entry dish and discover more about the concept behind it. What follows is a brief rundown of the dishes I tasted, although I’m unable to go into great detail about what I thought of them, as I don’t want to give too much away at this stage of the contest.

The Holt Lodge Hotel, Wrexham

Our first stop was Rafters Restaurant at the Holt Lodge Hotel in Wrexham. Named ‘Chip n’ Fin, their entry dish consisted of plaice battered in Wrexham Lager and homemade chunky chips served in newspaper shaped like a boat, to reflect the ‘Year of the Sea’ theme. The dish was teamed with the chef’s take on French peas, ‘Peas de Gallos’ (peas of Wales) and featured plump petit pois, battered mussels, leeks, bacon lardons, samphire and garlic butter. It was served on a placemat made from newspaper headlined ‘Holt Lodge’ and including stories from across Wales, as well as an article about the North East Wales Year of the Sea Food Challenge.

We loved the presentation of this dish and the beer battered plaice and mussels were delicious.

Battered plaice and chips in boat-shaped newspaper wrapping, served with Peas de Gallos

Wrexham Rd, Holt, Wrexham LL13 9SW | 01978 661 002

Gales Wine Bar, Llangollen

Said to be the oldest wine bar in Wales, Gales of Llangollen (a.k.a ‘Gales Wine Bar’) seems like the perfect place for wining and dining. It has the best wine list I’ve ever seen, featuring pages and pages of Q and As about how to choose the best kind of wine.

The restaurant’s entry for the North East Wales Year of the Sea Food Challenge saw the classic surf n’ turf transformed into Pen y Lan pork belly sous vide and juicy langoustine, accompanied by crunchy pork crackling, saffron mash, American sauce (made with the langoustine stock), fresh chard and two quail eggs.

This was a real feast for the eyes and an absolute pleasure to taste, while the royal blue plating gave a subtle nod to the ‘Year of the Sea’ theme.

Belly pork, langoustine, saffron mash, chard and American sauce - Gales Wine Bar, Llangollen, North East Wales

18 Bridge St, Llangollen LL20 8PF | 01978 860 089

The Fat Boar, Wrexham

The Fat Boar’s interpretation of the ‘Year of the Sea’ theme was a jaw-dropping man vs. food-style food challenge consisting of an 18oz bone-in Celtic Pride ribeye steak, colossal crab claws, Perl Las cheese sauce, crispy spiralized Covent Garden potatoes (sourced from a local florist), Anglesey-salted roast tomato and Wrexham Lager-battered onion rings.

This was my first time eating crab claw, and I certainly did it in style! The steak was beautifully pink and succulent and I loved the homemade onion rings and spiralized potatoes. I didn’t quite have enough room to polish it all off, but my boyfriend managed to clear his plate and so he was invited to don the Captain’s hat and pose for a photo for the wall of fame!

18oz ribeye, crab claw, homemade beer-battered onion rings, grilled tomato, Perl Las sauce and Covent Garden spiralized potatoes

11 Yorke St, Wrexham LL13 8LW | 01978 354201

The Lemon Tree Restaurant and Rooms, Wrexham

In a contemporary twist on the time-old classic fish n’chips, The Lemon Tree dished up pan-roasted cod loin, cider-braised pig cheeks, pea puree, homemade crisps and saffron tartare sauce.

The presentation was flawless and the fish skin was moreishly crispy, while the flesh remained tender. We loved the idea of replacing chips with crisps to create a lighter version of this popular British dish.

Pan-roasted cod loin, cider-braised pig cheeks, homemade crisps, pea puree and saffron tartare sauce - The Lemon Tree in Wrexham, North East Wales

29 Rhosddu Rd, Wrexham LL11 2LP | 01978 261 211

The Royal Oak, Bangor-on-Dee

Perched on the River Dee in the idyllic little village of Bangor-on-Dee, this cosy traditional pub reinvented the traditional concept of surf n’turf and came up with the notion of a ‘surf n’slurp’. The Royal Oak’s dish was a real winter warmer, consisting of a hot, flavoursome broth brimming with melt-in-your-mouth pork and fresh Menai Strait mussels. To top it off, it was served with assorted bread rolls, freshly baked and shaped into miniature loaves, and a creamy garlic aioli dip.

This was a carefully thought-out effort, and one which truly embraced the hearty, welcoming nature of Welsh cuisine. Packed with everything from tarragon and bay leaves, to orange rind and celery, it was almost like a seafood twist on a traditional Welsh cawl.

Braised pork and mussels in a rich hearty broth, with fresh bread and aioli

High St, Bangor-on-Dee, Wrexham LL13 0BU | 01978 781 602

We had a lovely weekend in north east Wales and I wish the best of luck to all the restaurants taking part in the competition. It’s great to see how supportive the local community have been, with several restaurants reporting that their dish has been in very high demand.

Based on the scores submitted by all of the mystery reviewers, three of the 12 restaurants taking part in the North East Wales ‘Year of the Sea’ Food Challenge will go head-to-head in a cook-off on 16th February at Coleg Cambria Wrexham. Although I won’t be there in person, I will be keeping my eyes peeled for updates, and I will amend this post with details of the winning dish and restaurant as soon as possible.

In the meantime, keep an eye out for my upcoming post on the best things to do in Wrexham!

What do you think about North East Wales’ Year of the Sea Food Challenge? Which of these dishes would you most like to taste?

2018 North East Wales Year of the Sea Food Challenge

I was invited to north east Wales as part of a media trip, although the costs of  additional courses and alcoholic beverages were met by myself.


  1. February 1, 2018 / 7:32 pm

    I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never been to Wales. I’m now living in Canada so I’m not close anymore. When I do pop back for a visit I must make it a point to go because the history alone interests me and now this list of places to eat has peaked my curiosity too. 🙂

    • February 2, 2018 / 3:09 pm

      Aww I haven’t been to Canada either but I really want to visit Toronto someday at least. Wales is lovely, but I see what you mean, it is a far way to come! It’s worth it though, if you ever have the chance 🙂

  2. Joanna Davis
    February 1, 2018 / 7:56 pm

    I honestly wouldn’t know what to choose first, all of the dishes created by the chefs from each restaurants sound mouth-watering. I love the theme of the festival as I love sea food! If I had to choose one dish though, I would go for the hearty meal of The Royal Oak restaurant.

    • February 2, 2018 / 3:09 pm

      We absolutely loved The Royal Oak’s ‘surf n’slurp’ – it was so creative!

  3. February 2, 2018 / 1:30 am

    I can’t decide! Everything looks amazing and it would be so nice to get a taste of all of them. I think this event is something that I’ll enjoy since I love seafood!

    • February 2, 2018 / 3:06 pm

      It took me ages to work on my scores as they were all just so good!

  4. February 2, 2018 / 10:34 am

    So many great foodie ideas here – loving your welsh foodie finds – The fat Boar looks yummy x

    • February 2, 2018 / 3:05 pm

      We absolutely loved the food challenge at The Fat Boar! The steak was perfectly cooked too.

  5. February 2, 2018 / 12:08 pm

    I’m not a massive lover of seafood but The Fat Boar’s dish looks absolutely delicious x

    • February 2, 2018 / 3:05 pm

      I have really got into seafood over the past year or so, so I was so excited to be invited to judge in the North East Wales Year of the Sea Food Challenge for 2018.

  6. February 2, 2018 / 12:48 pm

    Wow all that food at the fat boar looks incredible, some wonderful places you were taken too x

    • February 2, 2018 / 3:04 pm

      The Fat Boar was great, we’d definitely go back there – all the places they sent us were fantastic, really.

  7. February 2, 2018 / 12:50 pm

    I have made a note of all of these my husband adores sea food let’s hope their is a veggie option for me x

    • February 2, 2018 / 3:04 pm

      I’m sure they’d be able to accommodate you both 🙂

  8. February 2, 2018 / 1:57 pm

    I certainly love to taste the dish from The Fat Boar that has man vs. food idea. It looks really appetizing and delicious.

    • February 2, 2018 / 3:04 pm

      I love a good food challenge! I didn’t quite manage to eat all of this though.

  9. February 2, 2018 / 3:45 pm

    The judges are going to have a tough time deciding by the looks of things! All the of the places you visited have done a fantastic job but I think I’d want to visit The Fat Boar first.

    • February 4, 2018 / 12:32 am

      It took me ages to finalise my scores! Every entry was outstandingly good. The Fat Boar was great and I’d love to go back and work my way through the rest of the menu.

  10. kirstyralph11
    February 2, 2018 / 4:34 pm

    I’m not a huge seafood lover but the Fat Boar restaurant with it’s man v food challenges looks amazing!

    • February 4, 2018 / 12:31 am

      I loved the challenge at The Fat Boar! It was my first time eating crab claw but it went down a treat.

  11. February 2, 2018 / 5:33 pm

    Such gorgeous dishes! I love how the UK has such a big seafood culture – so many inspiring recipes and restaurants.

    • February 4, 2018 / 12:31 am

      Seafood seems to be quite ‘in’ at the moment, and more restaurants seem to be dishing up fish and shellfish now.

  12. February 2, 2018 / 5:41 pm

    I am ashamed to say that despite living by the sea, I don’t like seafood. Great challenge to be part of though

    • February 4, 2018 / 12:30 am

      I only got into seafood over the last year or two, but now I’m hooked, although I’m still too squeamish to try certain sea foods.

  13. Dannii
    February 3, 2018 / 7:44 pm

    Oh wow, everything looks so good I would know what to tuck in to first. It all looks so lovely and fresh too

    • February 4, 2018 / 12:29 am

      It was all so delicious. It made it all the more harder trying to score each one!

  14. February 4, 2018 / 1:49 pm

    Oh dear lord I am so jealous, I could eat fish every day and all these meals look incredible. My favourite I think would be The Lemon Tree Restaurant and Rooms, I’m intrigued by the sound of pig cheek with fish

    • February 5, 2018 / 2:03 pm

      Ah yes, the braised pig cheeks and cod! It was an unusual combination but it worked pretty well!

  15. February 4, 2018 / 8:15 pm

    Aren’t they all incredibly well presented! What a fab event to be involved in x

    • February 5, 2018 / 2:02 pm

      All of the restaurants put a lot of effort in, and I loved how they presented their dishes. They all tasted fantastic, too!

  16. February 4, 2018 / 9:41 pm

    Oh my goodness, this food looks incredible, I’m sure it was very hard to give your final verdict!! I love sea food and as I’m getting older I’m trying and enjoying more and more xxx

    • February 5, 2018 / 2:01 pm

      I find I get more into seafood the older I get, too! 🙂

  17. February 5, 2018 / 3:27 pm

    Oh wow, what an amazing event. Everything looks so good…I’ve just had lunch but this is making me want to head to North East Wales!!

    • February 5, 2018 / 4:54 pm

      It is a lovely part of Wales. Beautiful countryside, and delicious local food. Well worth a visit if you ever get the chance!

  18. countryheartdeb
    February 5, 2018 / 3:30 pm

    Oh my gosh that all looks amazing. I could clearly eat my way around wales!!

    • February 5, 2018 / 4:53 pm

      You’d never go hungry here, that’s for sure!

  19. February 5, 2018 / 11:41 pm

    All of these food dish look delicious, It kind of sucks to be allergic to seafood. I would have to stick to the Fish only meals. I would love to visit anyway 🙂

    • February 6, 2018 / 11:56 am

      Aww that’s a shame, I would really hate it if I couldn’t eat shellfish.

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