When North East Wales Tourism commissioned me to write about fine dining in the region, I was literally spoilt for choice when it came to choosing which restaurants to feature. As I’ve discovered in previous blog posts about the coastal dining scene in north east Wales and the 2018 north east Wales Year of the Sea food challenge, this region of Wales is home to a number of leading restaurateurs and food and drink producers. While researching restaurants for this post, however, it soon emerged that Denbighshire in particular is a real hub for north east Wales’ fine dining scene, so it made sense to focus on unearthing some of the best places to eat out in the county, including options to suit all budgets.
The best fine dining restaurants in Denbighshire
One of seven Michelin-starred restaurants in Wales (having held a star since 2010) and the only Michelin-starred venue in north east Wales, Tyddyn Llan is highly rated in the Good Food Guide and Good Hotel Guide, and former ‘True Taste North Wales’ Restaurant of the Year. Based just outside the small village of Llandrillo, this quaint restaurant with rooms is housed within an elegant Georgian home that was once a shooting lodge for the Dukes of Westminster.
Arriving at the restaurant, we are welcomed by Co-Owner and Head of Front-of-House, Susan Webb and ushered into a cosy sitting room for pre-dinner drinks and canapés of coronation chicken vol-au-vent, quail egg Scotch eggs, smoked salmon mousse, and leek and truffle arancini.
Susan is so friendly and welcoming, the whole experience feels more like popping over to a friend’s house for dinner (a very well-off friend at that!) than dining in a fancy restaurant. As we ponder over the menu, we sip on Franck Massard’s Mas Amor Rosado (£30/750ml) from an extensive list of well over 250 wines from around the world, with a choice of local beers, ales, wines and spirits also available.
Locally sourced, seasonal produce is at the heart of Tyddyn Llan’s offering and with produce being delivered fresh daily, it doesn’t get much fresher than this. Both the lunch and dinner menus are carefully crafted by Susan’s husband, Head Chef/Patron, Bryan Webb (Head Chef at revered London restaurant, Hilaire for 14 years before taking over Tyddyn Llan in 2002) every day to reflect the range of available produce.
Many restaurants brag about their commitment to keeping food miles down without really delivering on their promises, but Tyddyn Llan is truly dedicated to using local meat and game from a local butcher, and fish sourced from the north Wales coastline. Where there is a need for produce to be sourced from outside Wales, Bryan obtains the best possible ingredients direct from source, like Scottish diver-caught scallops, Somerset smoked eel and Buffalo Mozzarella from Naples.
After devouring our canapés, we’re led into the restaurant. Decked out in calming shades of pale yellow and green, this is an elegant space oozing with cosy country house charm. After a lavish lunch earlier that day, we opt for the two-course dinner menu (£58 p.p) as opposed to three courses (£70 p.p), or even the six- (£80 p.p.) or nine-course tasting menus (£95 p.p), crossing our fingers for the miniscule portions typically served up in fine dining restaurants.
In reality, albeit perfectly plated, our food is anything but light; with hindsight, however, this is actually a good thing as it’s all so irresistible! Once seated, we savour an appetiser of Jerusalem artichoke soup with truffles served with a basket of fresh white and wholemeal bread, and some crunchy breadsticks.
I’d heard about Bryan’s wild bass and laverbread prior to visiting Tyddyn Llan and when I spot it on the menu, my tastebuds begin tingling in anticipation. A fillet of wild, line-caught bass is served on a bed of fresh spinach, the fish cooked skin-down and finished off in the oven to suck all the moisture out of the skin, leaving a slightly charred, crispy sliver behind, while ensuring the boneless flesh within stays tender and juicy.
The bass-topped spinach sits in a duo of sauces, with a slightly tangy beurre blanc (French for ‘white butter’; a combination of white wine, vinegar, shallots, butter, cayenne and lemon juice) on one side of the dish, balanced by a laverbread and cream-infused variation opposite. Dunking the accompanying al-dente Jersey Royals into the sauce, my dining etiquette falls well below the standards I normally uphold at fine dining restaurants; it’s just so good, I find myself losing all sense of restraint!
My mother’s fillet of peppered aged Welsh black beef au poivre is served in a rich, meaty gravy with a cheesy gratin dauphinois and steamed seasonal vegetables. If the mouthwatering morsel she begrudgingly bequeaths to me is anything to go by, this is a faultlessly cooked, quality cut of beef. Luckily, she struggles to finish the gratin dauphinois and I take great pleasure in polishing off the leftovers, layer-by-layer.
Our meal ends on a high with a dessert of poached juicy peach and homemade vanilla ice cream in a pool of Champagne, in addition to a traditional creme brûlée with a delightfully crunchy, brittle surface and a mildly sweet custard interior.
Besides serving dinner from 7pm until 9pm from Wednesday to Sunday, Tyddyn Llan is open for lunch from Friday to Sunday from 12.30pm until 2pm at a cost of £32 for two courses or £39 for three courses. A discretionary 10% service charge will be applied to your final bill. The restaurant also boasts twelve boutique guest rooms and one garden suite and if you’re planning on treating yourself to one of the tasting menus, I would strongly advise booking a room so you can just roll into bed afterwards. Rooms are priced from £130 with a full breakfast during the week, and from £170 with breakfast on weekends. Whether you’re booking a meal or a room, do it well in advance in order to avoid disappointment.
Tyddyn Llan (Restaurant & Rooms) | Llandrillo, Corwen, Denbighshire LL21 0ST | 01490 440264 | www.tyddynllan.co.uk
On the Hill
Arriving in Ruthin on the back-end of Storm Ali, somewhat cold and famished, the lovable rustic charm and snug atmosphere of On the Hill greets us like a warm hug. The compact 16th-century building still bears many of its original characteristics including dark wooden beams, oak flooring, cushioned church pews and intimate lighting, the walls adorned with paintings created by Rowan’s great-grandfather to further reinforce the olde-worlde feel. The warm, laid-back atmosphere is intended to resemble a bistro and visiting the restaurant on a busy weekend lunchtime, bustling with locals and alive with the constant clink of cutlery, it seems like the ultimate spot for relaxed dining in Denbighshire.
Like Tyddyn Llan, On the Hill is run by a husband-and-wife team, Head Chef Rowan and Head of Front-of-House, Imogen Hodgeson. The duo are celebrating a decade at the helm of the restaurant this year and to mark the occasion, they’ve been named Best Restaurant in North Wales in the Food Awards Wales 2018, as well as being listed in the Michelin Guide yet again for 2019.
The restaurant serves a set lunch menu featuring around six to seven starters, mains and desserts priced at £13.95 for one course, £16.95 for two courses or £19.95 for three courses, while the evening menu takes an à la carte format with starters priced at approximately £8, mains for around £18 and desserts for around £6.25. A house bottle of wine will set you back by £16.50.
The food takes the form of classic British dishes with a subtle gourmet twist, often presented as a trio of tantalising tastes and textures. Rowan and his team are constantly tweaking the menu, so regardless of when you visit, there’ll always be something fresh and exciting that catches your eye.
We kick things off with a complimentary sharing bowl of homemade crunchy cajun tortilla chips, served with a red pepper houmous for dipping.
A piquant fusion of velvety cauliflower, smoked cheddar and apple finished with freshly baked croutons and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, my soup starter is simple yet satisfying.
That is, until I catch a glimpse of my mum’s starter and I’m hit by a tidal wave of food envy. A slab of homemade black pudding, interspersed with chunks of meaty pork in place of the usual lumps of fat, is paired with a caramelised ham hock ballotine and tangy tomato and red onion relish, finished with a honey mustard dressing.
The real talking point of the dish, however, is a free-range poached egg encased in a bubbly deep yellow batter, the liquid gold yolk flowing over the plate as the knife slides into it.
When it comes to our main courses, however, I feel like I’ve hit the jackpot with the beef pie from the daily specials menu. A mound of slow-braised local beef brisket sits in shortcrust pastry topped with creamy mash, teamed with celeriac puree, rich red wine jus, homemade chips and al-dente steamed vegetables. This is autumnal comfort food at its finest!
Opposite me at the table, my mum’s Welsh pork duo consists of slow-cooked, unctuous crispy belly pork and crispy pork shoulder bites with apple relish, braised leeks and buttered carrots, butter bean and bacon puree, Marsala wine sauce and sautéed new potatoes.
By the time we make it to dessert, we’re fit to burst, but the pudding menu is impossible to resist. We opt to share the citrus trio; a zesty combination of lemon mousse cake, lime cheesecake, lemon-infused creme caramel and lemon ice cream, this leaves our palates feeling cleansed and refreshed.
Lunch at On the Hill is served from 12pm until 2pm from Monday to Saturday, while dinner runs from 6.30pm until 9pm from Monday to Thursday, and from 5pm until 9pm on Friday and Saturday. The restaurant is closed on Sundays. While there is no designated children’s menu, each dish can be served as a child’s portion and there were several families in the restaurant at the time of our visit. During the evening, however, the restaurant only accommodates children aged over seven-years-old.
Our meal at On the Hill is one of the best I’ve eaten at a restaurant in a long time, and at just £42.85 for two courses each with a bottle of wine, it’s phenomenally good value for money – I can see why the locals love this place so much!
On the Hill | 1 Upper Clwyd Street, Ruthin, Denbighshire. LL15 1HY | 01824 707 736 | www.onthehillrestaurant.co.uk
Manorhaus: the ultimate base for a foodie stay in Denbighshire
With two unique boutique guesthouses in the historic market towns of Ruthin and Llangollen, Manorhaus is the ideal base for a gastronomic stay in Denbighshire, with an in-house restaurant recognised by the Michelin Guide.
Established in 2002, the hotel is run by Gavin Harris and Christopher Frost, whose joint passion for art and architecture guides the look and feel of this contemporary, eclectic venue. To-date, the hotel has been recognised by Welsh Rarebits, Good Hotel Guide, i-escape, Historic Hotels of Europe and Rick Steves Guide to Great Britain.
Staying at Manorhaus Ruthin during our time in north east Wales, we are particularly impressed by the quirky decor and abstract feel of our room, although we can’t quite understand why the walls are adorned with paintings of Morrisons plastic carrier bags.
While staying at the hotel, we are free to enjoy unlimited use of the sauna, steam room, library and mini cinema.
Situated in the heart of Ruthin town centre, the hotel is just a short walk away from most of the town’s landmarks including Ruthin Castle, Ruthin Gaol and the oldest timber house in Wales, Nantclwyd-y-Dre.
If you don’t fancy leaving the comfort of the hotel, book a table in the hotel restaurant, open for dinner from 6.30pm until 9pm from Tuesday to Saturday. Expect to pay around £25 for two courses, or £30 for three courses.
At £80 for the night excluding breakfast, which costs an additional £10 p.p., our mid-week stay at Manorhaus Ruthin was a little over-priced, although with all the food we ate during our trip, I doubt we’d have had room for a full English (or Welsh) breakfast in any case.
10 Well St, Ruthin, Denbighshire LL15 1AH | 01824 704830 AND Hill St, Llangollen LL20 8EU | 01978 860775 | www.manorhaus.com
More recommended Denbighshire restaurants
What are your impressions of the food and drink scene in north east Wales? Did you know Denbighshire had so many fine dining restaurants?