An award-winning Welsh wonder: Bryn Williams @ Porth Eirias, Colwyn Bay

You may remember Bryn Williams from The Great British Menu back in 2006, you may not.  But whether you’ve followed him from the beginning or not, it’s becoming widely recognised that Denbigh-born Bryn is one of Wales’ best contemporary chefs, becoming a celebrity chef in his own right.  This was definitely evident in his bistro at Porth Eirias in Colwyn Bay, which I had the pleasure of visiting for evening dinner earlier this week.

The bistro itself has a cool, relaxed feel; dimmed lighting, plenty of seaside decoration and a large open hatch between the kitchen and the bistro allowing you to look in on a bit of the action, which, for me, is always an exciting extra.  The staff were very friendly and welcoming, allowing us plenty of time to choose our drinks whilst we were busy getting excited over the main menu; we’d had a long look at this beforehand in order to really psyche ourselves up, only to realise once there that the menu had changed.  While this may sound like a complaint, it really isn’t!

Seasonal menu changes are something I love to see; making the most of local ingredients and whatever’s available that particular week, this is the kind of sustainability and support of local produce that I’m always babbling on about and I love it!  Let’s not of course forget that it’s a very clever way of getting you to come back to eat time and time again (which, of course, we do happily), yet it also plays to the chef’s strengths by constantly challenging them to change and adapt to new things.  Win-win, really.  In the words of Stacey Shipman: “Nice one, Bryn!”.

Now when it comes to drinks, obviously I had to try a local brew… Snowdon Craft Lager from The Great Orme Brewery based in the Conwy Valley (4.7%) was a lovely, smooth addition to the evening meal.  Not too heavy in its texture, or too strong in its flavour, but perfectly crisp and thirst-quenching – so much so that it almost disappeared before our food arrived, oops!  One of my company had a different brew from Great Orme: Atlantis IPA, an American style pale ale made with British hops.  “A very nice brew, that” was the reaction… which for those of you who don’t translate classic English Northern, means ‘lovely body and flavour, very enjoyable’.

And then came the food…  Despite being in a coastal and therefore traditionally fish restaurant, I decided to indulge in the only meat I actually eat – duck (strange choice I know, don’t ask).  Confit Duck Leg, braised red cabbage, glazed apple, green peppercorn sauce.  Oh, my.  The combination of the duck and the red cabbage alone was enough to make this dish an absolute treat, but once combined with the sweetness of that glazed apple and the green peppercorn sauce it was truly something really special.  I savoured every last mouthful.  And was the envy of my company for it!  When in Rome though, right?

Fish fingers, fries & crushed peas may not sound much like haut cuisine but when done in a coastal and/or seafood specialised restaurant, they really can be amazing.  I’m reliably informed that this dish was incredible, “the best fish fingers I’ve ever had”, and I don’t doubt it for a second.  I mean, just look at them!  Especially considering that these particular fish fingers were composed of Plaice, not Cod as is traditional; another thing I love about chef restaurants is making the simple things different and amazing, particularly when using local ingredients to do so – in this case, the Plaice.  Another fantastic fish feature was Smoked Haddock, crushed potatoes, poached egg & butter sauce (top-right of below); this also looked, smelled, and I’m told tasted B-E-A-utiful.  The same again for the Gilthead Bream with saffron orzo, crispy pancetta & braised kale (bottom-right of below): stunning in both appearance and flavour.  The only slightly negative comments any of us had about the meal was that we could’ve eaten it all again – because it was so thoroughly enjoyed!  Even for those traditionalists among you, I’m told the Porth Eirias 8oz burger with fries & coleslaw was no exception to this very high standard and top-class taste.

Now when it comes to dessert, it’s kind of common custom when you’re in a party of more than two or three to only get a dessert when someone else wants one so as not to be the only one keeping the party going.  Much to my delight, I was not the only one: a vanilla cheesecake with pineapple, passionfruit and lemongrass arrived for one of my company, who’s face was instantly one of confusion and uncertainty…  yes, okay, it was kind of a de-constructed approach to a cheesecake but I’m sure it tasted brilliant all the same!  Just wasn’t quite the big, hearty, bowl-full of pudding he’d hoped for… (Northerners, what can you do).  Two others went for the spiced apple compote, bayleaf custard and crumble which looked absolutely delish and more of the traditional type of dessert the cheesecake chooser would’ve very much appreciated.  Nevermind, pal.

My dessert, in my opinion, was still the very best choice: baked banana, chocolate and peanut butter with some peanuts sprinkled over the top as well.  Absolute dream!  It took me right back to my years growing up as a Girlguide when we used to do baked bananas in foil on the BBQ, but cut a slit in the middle and inserted a cheeky chocolate flake which melted and tasted altogether fantastic.  Just the warm comfort you needed after a long day making fires and building woodland shelters and all the fun outdoors-y stuff.  My only concern was the peanut butter to chocolate ratio, I would’ve preferred more of an even split myself, but this is just a personal thing and depends completely on your affections towards chocolate and peanut butter.  Not sure I could live without either, if I’m honest…

This concluded my wonderful evening of fine dining at Porth Eirias.  The strong sea winds of Colwyn Bay prompted sweet nostalgia of my university days up in Aberystwyth, whilst the quality and style of Bryn Williams‘ food, let alone its incredible and fresh flavour from high-quality, locally-sourced ingredients, really made the evening and the meal very special.  I would 100% go back again.  And I look forward to what new and different delights may be on the menu next time!

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

*special thanks once again to Juno Lounge for their hospitality for the second week in a row whilst I posted this, you truly are one of my absolute favourites I’ll be writing about very soon…

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