It’s no secret that I love to travel for food, but recently I was reminded of just how much amazing food and drink is sitting right on my doorstep, when I embarked on a food-focused press trip across south-west Wales with Food and Drink Wales. We ate our way across the region as we explored the local food and drink scene, stopping off at farms, vineyards and restaurants in Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire, Swansea and the Vale of Glamorgan along the way. Here are the highlights of our culinary journey throughout south-west Wales.
- 1 Vineyard ventures
- 2 From field to plate
- 3 Britannia Inn Gower
- 4 Parting thoughts
Did you know Wales is home to over 30 vineyards and 20 grape varieties? Although wine probably isn’t the first thing that springs to mind when you think about Welsh food and drink, Welsh Wine has Protected Destination of Origin (PDO) and Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status. Only wines that originate from Wales can be referred to as Welsh Wines, based on their unique location, recipe, and heritage.
We visited two of Wales’ finest vineyards while in south-west Wales, including Jabajak Vineyard in Whitland, Carmarthenshire and Llanerch Vineyard in Hensol, Vale of Glamorgan.
Jabajak Vineyard – Whitland, Carmarthenshire
Situated on Banc y Llain farm in Whitland, Carmarthenshire, Jabajak Vineyard was established in 2004 and is said to have links to the White House.
The vineyard is owned by Amanda Stuart-Robson, who bought the farm while living offshore and lovingly resorted it with the intention of renting it out as holiday cottages. Eventually, she returned to Wales, drawn back by ‘Hiraeth’ (the Welsh word for a sense of belonging or yearning, often linked to the Preseli Hills and its famous blue stone terroir), and set up a ‘restaurant-with-rooms’, handing in her notice and volunteering herself for the role of head chef despite having no cheffing experience whatsover.
White House wines
Jabajak began producing wine in 2007 and today, the vineyard specialises in two varieties of wine, including the vintage White House Still White (2014) and the White House Sparkling Blush ‘Wine of Wales’ (2014). A blend of Phoenix and Seyval grapes, the White House Still White (2014) boasts fragrant elderflower and gooseberry notes, and won an internationally recognised silver medal upon its release in 2015. Priced at £34.50 per bottle, £6.50 per 100ml glass or £35 to takeaway, this isn’t the cheapest bottle of wine, but it’s money well spent.
Meanwhile, the White House Sparkling Blush contains Phoenix and Seyval grapes blended with house red Rondo to produce summery strawberry and peach tones, launched in September 2017 after three years of fermentation. Although it hasn’t been in competition yet, it was recognised by Oz Clarke in the 3 Wine Men Fizzical London show. The sparkling blush costs £45.60 per bottle or £35 to takeaway.
Looking to the future, Amanda has begun planting pinot noir. This variety of grape is normally synonymous with warmer climates, but as Amanda has discovered, it grows particularly well in Carmarthenshire too – although I don’t know of any other vineyards in south-west Wales which have been brave enough to give it a go!
Fresh food focus
Recommended by the Good Food Guide and awarded a five-star rating by Visit Wales, Jabajak Restaurant has been named one of the UK’s top six restaurants-with-rooms by the International Food and Travel magazine.
The seasonal dinner menu features fresh, local ingredients including herbs, veg, fruit and edible flowers from the on-site cottage gardens, and foraged foods wherever possible.
Highlights of our dinner included a creamy mussel and saffron soup served with caramelised onion and fried croutons, local Pant Mawr Brie bruschetta dressed with homemade gooseberry and elderflower chutney and micro basil from the garden (let’s just say I’ll never look at bruschetta in the same way ever again!), and a 5oz Celtic Pride fillet served with a tangy Perl Wen Blue sauce, dressed with wild wood sorrel.
An overnight stay for two with bed-and-breakfast at Jabajak currently costs from £110 and trust me, this has to be one of the nicest places to stay in south-west Wales. Read more about my stay in my upcoming review of Jabajak Vineyard.
Llanerch Vineyard – Hensol, Vale of Glamorgan
Nestled among lush green landscapes in the small village of Hensol in the Vale of Glamorgan, just a 20-minute drive from Cardiff city centre, Llanerch Vineyard is a modern wine producer offering a restaurant and bistro, boutique accommodation, self-guided vineyard tours and cookery classes (in the adjacent Angela Gray cookery school). Its contemporary decor is in stark contrast to the rustic farmhouse character of Jabajak, but it offers just as warm a welcome.
Dinner with wine pairing
Dinner at Llanerch was served in the Cariad Restaurant and Bistro, which beared all the hallmarks of a typical fine dining restaurant, from crisp white tablecloths and napkins, to elegant silver cutlery and leather seating.
The menu is dominated by classic Welsh and British dishes with an innovative twist, created using fresh, local produce. I opted for scallops with Granny Smith’s apple, celeriac puree, hazelnuts and sage to start, followed by seared duck with duck bhaji, duck crackling, potato galette and spiced carrot puree for my main, and strawberry and pistachio meringue for dessert.
My main course was, by far, the best meal I’ve had all year. The lean texture of the juicy, pink-centred duck breast contrasted beautifully with the perfectly crisp crackling, while the bhaji was deceptively meaty, complimented by subtle spicy tones. You’ll be able to read more about what I thought of my food at Llanerch Vineyard in an upcoming blog post.
Our meal was paired with a selection of Welsh wines chosen by wine expert, Simon Gatley including Llanerch’s own brand of Cariad Sparkling Blush (2014), Llaethliw Sparkling (2014), Gwinllan Conwy Pydew dry white wine (2015), WhiteCastle Siegerrebe dry white wine (2016) and Montgomery Rondo (2016).
While staying at Llanerch, we managed to squeeze in a vineyard tour with wine-tasting (priced at £12 per person for one hour). It was great to have the opportunity to explore the vineyard and see the grapes at different stages of growth, not to mention sipping on some of Cariad’s Dry White wine.
In total, the Cariad brand consists of five different varieties of wine, including the Cariad Sparkling Blush, Cariad Sparkling Brut, Cariad Dry White, Cariad Medium-Dry White and Cariad Rose. The wines are only available for sale at Llanerch, and the still wines are priced at £20 per bottle, while the sparkling wines cost £35 per bottle. All of the wines are also sold by the glass and for just £7.50, you can enjoy the ‘Taste of Cariad’ wine flight consisting of 50ml samples of three varieties of wine.
Wine, cheese and charcuterie tasting
Besides visiting Jabajak and Llanerch, we also got to taste some of the finest wines produced by other Welsh vineyards during our visit to south-west Wales, as wine expert, Simon Gatley hosted a wine, cheese and charcuterie tasting session just for us.
The line-up included the Llaethliw Sparkling we had for dinner at Llanerch Vineyard, which is grown on the west coast of Wales just inland from Aberaeron, as well as the Montgomery Rondo, which originates from Powys, mid-Wales and is grown in one of the highest points in the UK, just outside the village of Montgomery. We also tried Montgomery’s Solaris (1st Vintage); Gwinllan Conwy Pydew, a wine grown in one of Wales’ most northerly vineyards, produced using three grape varieties; and WhiteCastle Rondo Unoaked from the WhiteCastle vineyard just outside Abergavenny, owned by the Chair of the Welsh Vineyard Association, Robb Merchant.
We sampled six different cheeses from the Welsh Cheese Company, including Golden Cenarth, Abergiddy, Perl Las, Hafod cheddar, Teifi Natural and Pant Ys Gawn goats’ cheese. My favourite cheese was the Teifi Natural, a raw milk Gouda-style cheese made by Caws Teifi in Ceredigion which had a soft texture and a mild, slightly nutty taste.
In addition, we also enjoyed a range of charcuterie meats from Pontypool-based Trealy Farm and Cwm Farm in Swansea. If that wasn’t enough, we were also treated to fresh local bread, and chutneys and jams from Radnor Preserves.
From field to plate
You can’t fully explore the south-west Wales food and drink scene without stepping foot on a farm, and we managed to visit three farms including Windmill Farm in Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, Weobley Castle Farm in the Gower Peninsula and the aforementioned Cwm Farm in Swansea.
Windmill Farm – Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire
Owned by Farmer, Will Richards, Windmill Farm is based at St. Bride’s Bay in Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire and grows Pembrokeshire Early potatoes for Blas y Tir, a brand owned by Puffin Produce, who also have several other brands in south-west Wales.
Awarded PGI status in 2013, Pembrokeshire Earlies are grown in Pembrokeshire using traditional farming techniques. Windmill Farm grows two varieties of Pembrokeshire Early potatoes, including Maris Peer and Lady Cristal. These potatoes are well-suited to the mild, frost-free climate and the red sandstone soil that Pembrokeshire is so well known for, which helps to produce a small, bright white potato with a thin skin and a soft velvety texture. They have a stronger, earthier flavour in comparison to other potatoes.
We loved digging up our own potatoes to take home and enjoy with plenty of butter and fresh mint. The potatoes we picked were planted on 25th March, so they take around three months to grow. Batch codes are used to record which type of seeds have been planted and which pesticides have been used, allowing for traceability.
Cwm Farm Charcuterie – Pontardawe, Swansea
Visiting the Salami HQ, we sampled Cwm Farm Charcuterie’s nduja, laverbread salami, tomato and basil salami with a touch of fennel, and chorizo with brandy, in addition to a brand new product that’s currently undergoing testing – I’ll say no more, but watch this space, as you’re going to love it!
Ruth and Andrew are always looking for innovative new ways to develop their products and they are currently working on a leek salami, which was still drying out during the time of our visit.
Cwm Farm’s nduja is seriously addictive and I’ve practically become dependent on the stuff since Ruth gave us with some samples to experiment with ourselves at home. My first fix of the day takes the form of nduja soldiers dunked into runny boiled eggs. I’ve played around with a few different recipes and my upcoming blog post will also feature one of the dishes I’ve made using Cwm Farm’s products.
Weobley Castle Farm – Gower Peninsula, near Swansea
Welsh Lamb is one of the foods – if not the food -that Wales is most well-known for. Awarded PGI status in 2003, only lamb that is born and reared in Wales, and slaughtered at a PGI-approved abbatoir, can be marketed as PGI Welsh Lamb. In Wales, 86% of us choose to buy PGI Welsh Lamb instead of any other lamb and even outside Wales, 44% of shoppers prefer PGI Welsh Lamb (Food and Drink Wales).
Award-winning Gower Salt Marsh Lamb is the crème de la crème of Welsh Lamb. The meat has a deliciously distinctive taste, believed to be caused by the samphire, sorrel sea lavender and thrift that grow in abundance on the salt marsh land where the sheep graze. Furthermore, all Gower Salt Marsh Lamb is fully traceable as they are born on the farms where they graze and they are marked with a stamp to indicate which farm they belong to.
We paid a visit to the home of Gower Salt Marsh Lamb, Weobley Castle Farm, where we were welcomed by farmer, Will Pritchard.
Will gave us a guided tour of the farm, from the stunning panoramic views over the marshland from Weobley Castle, to the salt marshes where the sheep graze.
As Will told us the story behind Gower Salt Marsh Lamb, we foraged for wild samphire to take home and experiment with in the kitchen.
Before leaving the farm, we got to try some Gower Salt Marsh Lamb, fresh out of the oven, and it was much leaner than your typical cut of lamb, with a defined, sweeter flavour. Fancy getting your hands on some authentic Gower Salt Marsh Lamb? Visit Weobley Castle Farm’s website – they post throughout the UK.
Britannia Inn Gower
If you’re looking for somewhere to eat traditional Welsh food in the Gower, make a beeline for the Britannia Inn in Llanmadoc.
This picturesque pub is perched on a lush, grassy slope grazed by sheep from nearby farms, with breath-taking views of the gorgeous Gower coastline, just like a scene from a traditional Welsh postcard. Stepping inside was like taking a trip back in time, as the pub hardly seems to have changed over the years and still retains much its old-world charm to this day.
The menu was brimming with locally sourced ingredients and dishes included a salt marsh lamb burger with mint mayo and chips, Welsh cawl with crusty bread and mature cheese, and Howells (a local butcher) 8oz beef ribeye or rump with port jus, alongside several specials. The ‘Brit’ seafood pie from the specials menu was calling my name, and I didn’t regret my choice. Chunks of fresh salmon, cod, smoked haddock and tuna were joined by juicy cockles in an indulgent laverbread-infused cheese sauce, topped with a layer of creamy mash and golden, bubbly cheddar and breadcrumbs (£12.95).
Our culinary adventure throughout south-west Wales was both enjoyable and highly informative, and I ended our trip feeling extremely proud of the fantastic food and drink produce we available here in Wales. As I mentioned at the beginning of my post, it’s lovely to be able to visit so many different international destinations to explore other cuisines, but as this trip has shown me, you don’t have to travel thousands of miles to find the best food and drink; it can often be found a lot closer to home than you realise!
On a final note, thank you to Food and Drink Wales and the other bloggers who joined me on our journey across south-west Wales for helping to ensure I had such a memorable birthday!
What appeals to you the most about the Welsh food and drink scene? Have you ever visited south-west Wales? Leave me a comment to let me know your thoughts!