Earlier this year, you may remember reading about my experience of judging in the north east Wales Year of the Sea Food Challenge, set up by North East Wales Tourism to promote the range of fresh fish and seafood produce available in the region.
Following from this, I’ve been invited back to north east Wales to explore the coastal dining scene in collaboration with North East Wales Tourism as part of its Routes to the Sea project to further reinforce Visit Wales’ ‘Year of the Sea’ theme for Wales in 2018, aiming to promote our stunning seascapes and encourage visitors to explore the Welsh coastlines.
The first stop on our journey takes us to the seaside village of Talacre near Holywell, Flintshire, home to an award-winning sandy beach, golden dunes and the iconic Point of Ayr lighthouse.
Surrounded by holiday parks and caravan sites, amusement arcades, a bowling alley, cash and carry, fish and chip shop and a handful of pubs, I’m suddenly 10-years-old again, wandering around Trecco Bay holiday park in the coastal town of Porthcawl, South Wales with my family.
Lola and Suggs
After parking near the beach for a mere 20p for two hours, we walk along the public footpath until we reach Lola and Suggs, a little beach cafe on Station Road. Everything about this place makes you feel like you’re sitting in a little beach shack beside the seashore; from the whirling waves painted onto the ceiling above us, to the rustic wooden flooring and the beach-inspired wall art. Named after the owner’s dogs, the cafe is also dog-friendly, making it the perfect place to stop off for a coffee or snack while walking the dog on Talacre Beach.
Offering breakfast, sandwiches, daily specials, ice cream sundaes and baked treats, the menu is in line with what you’d expect from a typical beach cafe, with fairly reasonable prices. A slice of hot toasted bara brith (£2.50), a rich, velvety cappuccino (£2.20) and friendly service make for a warm Welsh welcome.
During the summer months, Lola and Suggs is open from 9am until 4.30pm, but when the season dies down it tends to shut by around 2pm.
Talacre Beach and Lighthouse
Did you know Wales was the first country ever to construct a designated footpath along its entire coastline? Talacre Beach forms part of the 870-mile-long Wales Coastal Path built from Chepstow in the south, to Queensferry in the north, making it a popular spot for hikers and ramblers. Having refuelled our energy supplies at Lola and Suggs, we go for a walk along the miles of golden sand and dunes.
As we approach, we can see the 18-metre tall Point of Ayr lighthouse keeping watch over the beach.
Built in 1776, this Grade-II listed building is the oldest lighthouse in Wales, said to be haunted by the ghost of an old lighthouse keeper. Although it was decommissioned in 1884, the historic lighthouse draws hundreds of visitors to Talacre every year, and you may recognise it from a 2011 national TV ad campaign for Dulux.
Talacre Beach is also a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and home to an RSPB nature reserve featuring the rare species of natterjack toads. Furthermore, with its proximity to the Dee Estuary, the area is popular among bird watchers with migrating Terns, Gannets, Skuas, Leach’s Petrel, Kittiwakes among the birds reported to have been spotted.
After our stroll along the beach, we head back to Station Road for lunch at The Point, a pub and restaurant next door to Lola and Suggs, run by the same owners.
Quite possibly the quirkiest pub I’ve ever stepped foot in, The Point is filled with furniture and items carefully chosen from vintage reclamation yards in Manchester by owners, Lyndon and Lisa Mulhearn. The bar itself is fashioned from brightly painted wooden doors, which apparently took Lyndon months to find because he wanted to ensure they were completely in line with his vision for the venue.
Meanwhile, seating includes church pews and plane seats.
Other highlights include a vintage cinema-style popcorn machine, retro arcade games, a booth made from corrugated iron and car doors affectionately titled ‘Alfie’s Shack’, 70s band memorabilia and a set of doors sourced from an old vestry.
It’s often said that you can judge a place by the toilets and when one of the bar men beckoned me into the men’s, I was intrigued to say the least. Never in my life have I been so willing to step inside a men’s pub toilet! Once inside, it emerges that the urinals have been made using old beer kegs. Apparently, Lisa had more of an input when it came to the ladies toilets so they’re slightly more glamorous.
When it comes to drinking, The Point claims to have the biggest gin collection in north Wales and the bar serves a range of beers, ales and ciders on draught and by the bottle, besides the usual spirits and wines.
The food menu features all of the usual pub grub suspects like pie, steak and bangers n’ mash, with a handful of gourmet dishes like sticky pork noodles with aniseed carrots and crispy potato ribbons, and sea and river shellfish chowder with a Spanish twist. I’m pleasantly surprised at the number of veggie dishes available and with options like Malaysian sweet potato, spinach and butternut squash curry, and Cheshire cheese, potato and onion pie, I’m tempted by a few of the meat-free options myself.
However, all that sea air has got me craving some traditional fish and chips and being as we’re at the seaside, I figure it’d be silly not to indulge. A fillet of tender, boneless cod is encased in a crunchy, beer-infused batter, teamed with thick-cut, triple-cooked chips, slightly dried-out mushy peas and tangy homemade tartare sauce (£10.95).
Opposite me at the table, my guest chows down on the Butcher burger; a meaty, 6oz beef patty served with crispy bacon, beer-braised sticky onion rings, melted cheddar cheese and dill pickle in a brioche bun, accompanied by a fresh salad, homemade slaw and perfectly crispy-coated, soft-centred French fries (£9.95).
While a range of scrumptious starters and desserts are available at The Point, we’re fit to burst after polishing off our mains and with dinner to fit in later on as well, we skip the additional courses.
I don’t often get to spend time with my mum and it was lovely to visit The Point together. I could tell by the look of sheer wonder on her face that she had been taken over by a wave of nostalgia and as she gazed around the pub with a big smile on her face, it was as though she was reliving aspects of her youth. As we left, she told me, “That’s the best pub I’ve ever been to in my life”, and she’s already planning a trip to Talacre with her friends.
On weekdays, The Point serves lunch from 12pm until 2.30pm, and dinner from 5pm until 8pm, while the kitchen is open continuously from 12pm until 8.30pm on weekends. On-site car parking is available at a cost of £2.
Getting to Talacre
To reach Talacre by car, follow the main A548 coast road and take the Talacre exit on the roundabout, follow Station Road over the bridge and continue to Talacre Village. Alternatively, if you’re travelling by public transport, you can either catch a train to the nearest railway station, Prestatyn and catch a taxi for the short car journey from there, or check bus routes on the Traveline Cymru website.
No journey along the north east Wales coastline would be complete without a trip to the seaside town of Rhyl, Denbighshire, just a 20-minute drive from Talacre. In its heyday, Rhyl was a popular beach destination attracting thousands of tourists and day-trippers from all over the UK Although it has decreased in popularity over the past 10-20 years, the Promenade is well-kept and still brimming with things to see and do including the landmark light beacon, the Sky Tower, Rhyl Harbour and Pont y Ddraig Harbour Bridge, Pavilion Theatre, Rhyl SeaQuarium and Rhyl Drift Park, complete with water fountains, a playground and a mini golf course.
Other attractions in Rhyl include the Offa’s Dyke Path, Rhyl Miniature Railway and Rhyl Marsh Tracks.
Rhyl Beach is around two miles long, stretching from the Clwyd Estuary to Splash Point. The East stretch has won a Seaside Award – a sign of good water quality and health and safety facilities. The Irish Sea was a little choppy during our visit thanks to the back-end of Storm Ali, but I think you’ll agree the beach looks stunning nonetheless.
During the time of our visit, work was underway to build a £15 million water and adventure park on Rhyl Promenade, bringing an extra 250,000 visitors to the town every year.
Where eating out is concerned, Rhyl is home to a highly acclaimed new restaurant in the form of 1891 Restaurant and Bar, based at Rhyl Pavilion Theatre.
1891 at Rhyl Pavilion Theatre
Located on the first floor of the Pavilion Theatre on Rhyl Waterfront, 1891 Restaurant and Bar offers breathtaking views over the north Wales coast, across to Snowdonia and beyond. Although the awe-inspiring views can only be seen by day, this historical venue is just as beautiful by night, when the front of the Pavilion Theatre is lit up in different colours and the restaurant is transformed into a glamorous dining space complete with twinkling fairy lights.
1891 takes its name from the year the first Pavilion was built in the town. Originally, it was based on the Promenade at the end of Rhyl Pier, but it was destroyed by fire in 1901. The second Pavilion was built in 1908 and replaced in 1991 with the current Rhyl Pavilion Theatre.
Run by Denbighshire Council, the restaurant sources quality ingredients within a 30-mile radius of the restaurant or, wherever possible, from elsewhere in north Wales. Described as a ‘bistro-style’, the menu features creative dishes created using fresh produce, with a focus on pretty plating. An Instagrammer’s dream.
The metaphorical ‘Botanical Gardens’ starter is a delicate arrangement of wild mushrooms cooked in olive oil served with pea shoots, edible petals and herbs on truffle and garlic toast, while the green vegetable and lentil soup has a pleasant pea flavour and comfortingly thick texture, paired with freshly baked bread and salted butter.
For our main course, neither of us could resist the sound of the sesame-seeded sea bream, served on a mound of crunchy stir-fried veg in a lemon grass, prawn and coconut milk sauce, with two generously sized deep-fried crispy rice balls on the side. Bream is my favourite fish because I just love the meaty, flaky texture and this tasted moist and lean, without a single bone in sight. The sauce is fragrant and the prawns so juicy, they may as well have been caught fresh from the sea right there and then. The rice balls are a bit of a let down, though – similar to the arancini I know and love, but the coating is thick and chewy, and the filling somewhat bland.
I rounded off my meal with another dish that looked so pretty, I almost couldn’t bear to bring myself to eat it. A freshly baked pavlova was topped with summer berries and mango chunks, topped with a dollop of vanilla whipped cream – I’m salivating just thinking about how delectable that was – and finished with a sweet berry sauce, a plump raspberry and a sprig of fresh mint.
Feeling full but not wanting to admit defeat, my mum ordered the trio of ice cream. The ice-cream sundae placed in front of her was certainly a lot bigger than she was expecting, but she happily wolfed it all down nonetheless, her face lighting up when she realised there was fresh cream in the glass.
Priced at one course for £13.95, two courses for £18.45 and three courses for £22.95 (with a £4 supplement for steak), the evening set menu at 1891 offers exceptional value for money.
Why not combine your visit to 1891 with a trip to the theatre? Today, Rhyl Pavilion Theatre seats over 1,000 and offers a broad range of visiting productions including the likes of Mrs Brown’s Boys, Chicago, Little Mix and John Bishop.
Getting to Rhyl
As Rhyl is a relatively big town, it has reasonably good transport links by both bus and train, benefiting from its own railway station. The town is also easily accessible by car via the A55 and A525.
Other top spots for coastal dining in north east Wales
This post touches on just two of the best spots for coastal dining in north east Wales, but there are a number of restaurants and cafes worth checking out along this section of coastline.
My other top picks include the Eagle and Child Inn in Gwaenysgor, Prestatyn and although an unsuspecting choice, The Cafe at Abakhan Fabrics in Hobby and Home, Mostyn seems to be a real hit with the local community.
Where to stay
Based on Rhyl’s East Parade, just a short drive away from Talacre and less than a five-minute walk to 1891, The Pier Hotel was ideally located for our stay. The nautical-inspired decor was in keeping with the coastal theme of our visit, with the headboard on our double bed handmade using old oars from the boathouse at Rhyl Harbour and flanked by two original wooden plaques from HMS Rhyl.
The bed itself was covered in a seagull-print blue fleece throw, while the fresh white towels were folded in the shape of ship sails.
Complimentary toiletries included a beautifully fragranced body oil and shower gel produced by local vegan toiletry brand, Bubble Off and our room had one of the most well-stocked mini bars I’ve ever seen.
Sitting on the comfy leather armchairs next to the window, we could see out to sea for miles and it was quite relaxing to watch the waves roll in.
At just £80 for the night including a light continental breakfast with tea or coffee, our room was very affordable and we would happily stay there again in future.
2019 – Year of Discovery
It’s been an honour to work with North East Wales Tourism on their Routes to the Sea project to promote the Year of the Sea for Wales in 2018. In the last few days, Visit Wales have announced the theme for 2019 as the Year of Discovery and I’m already looking forward to finding out how North East Wales Tourism will interpret this in their tourism strategy for next year – not to mention exploring new parts of Wales myself in 2019!
If you enjoyed this post, make sure you check out my post on the fine dining scene in Denbighshire, north east Wales!