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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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?