For the second year in succession the prestigious AA Restaurant of the Year Wales prize was claimed by a Clwyd dining destination. That should be reason enough to start packing your stuff for a gastronomic trip to the ‘gogs’. But this latest north-east Wales triumph is a meaningful win for celebrity chef Bryn Williams; born and raised nearby in Denbigh, he made his name for himself in London before turning his gaze towards the green green grass of home.
Since opening in Bae Colwyn in 2013, Porth Eirias has maintained a stellar reputation. And by serving diners morning, noon and night it’s become a Welsh beachside bistro sensation. Having visited the restaurant a handful of times, I’m in awe of this proud Conwy success. And though I long for a branch to fly the flag in central Cardiff, I’m always excited to head up north to pay my respects.
The restaurant’s beach-side position faces the art-deco chic resort of Llandrillo yn Rhos, inspiring thoughts, come rain or shine, of a mini vacation. It was blowing a gale during my visit late autumn, but it was perfectly cosy inside, with teal coloured banquettes and floral touches inspired by Odette’s – Bryn Williams’ chi-chi brasserie in Primrose Hill. The high airy ceiling helps create a convivial atmosphere and lively chatter amongst guests of all generations, reminiscent, indeed, of Bryn Williams at Somerset House - his grand restaurant on the bank of the river Thames.
Having trained at The Criterion under Marco Pierre White, Williams learned the secrets of keeping things simple. The season-led menu – a celebration of local produce from land and sea – offers classy Clwydian comfort food. Perennial standards include smoked haddock and crushed potatoes – his father’s personal favourite - but also vegetables and beef grown and reared on his brother’s Denbighshire farm.
But it’s his time under the Roux brothers (at Le Gavroche in Mayfair, and Hotel Le Negresco in Nice) that accounts for an experience that embraces the ‘full package’ of dining pleasures – including, dare I say, the Welsh wallet-friendly prices. And while partly London-based Bryn is a frequent visitor to Colwyn Bay and keeps a watchful eye over all dining aspects, the restaurant is in safe hands with seasoned head chef Aaron Broster, who’s also a Denbigh native.
As for my recent mid-week visit, and following the usual heroic drive, I poured myself into my window seat, took in the view, and simply beamed with pride. I’d not been there five minutes before I was greeted by friends – a pair of foodies who popped in between Aberystwyth and Flint, who declared the confit duck ‘perfection on a plate’. My main dish therefore selected, I chose my usual, favourite, starter; a bowl of steaming Conwy mussels, drenched in parsley, cream and white wine. As Dewi Sant once said, it’s the little things that matter. As for me, this is a dish that makes life worthwhile and conjures a smile to melt away two hundred miles. The Edwards of Conwy-sourced duck that followed was indeed a hit, and delivered a jolt of pre-Christmas spice; served with lentils, Savoy and puréed red cabbage enriched with orange, cinnamon and star anise.
As the waves raged outside, I was perfectly content to peruse the pudding menu. It’s almost illegal not to order the seasonal Baked Alaska – a ‘wow factor’ dessert that gets me all hot and bothered, and pleading on its behalf for national treasure status. But mindful of the long drive home, I plumped for the peanut butter parfait with chocolate and banana, hoping for an injection of ‘marathon bar’ nostalgia. Struck dumb by a paroxysm of pleasure, I pondered if it would be breaking another law to drive in such a state of euphoria.
Readers, I made it home. But I implore you all to go, to experience a joyful expression of Welsh dining pride. Not only amongst the local, bilingual staff – including Anwen, Elin and Simone from Italy, at ‘front of house’ – but also the menu; a reverent tribute to local producers, presented with style, grace and gastronomic gusto. An award is always fêted and much celebrated, and the team deserves this glorious accolade. But the biggest prize is that a Welshman that flies our flag all over London came home to share his passion with us.
Bryn Williams Porth Eirias; The Promenade, Colwyn Bay, Conwy LL29 8HH; tel: 01492 577 525