Food and Drink March 5, 2011
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Shaun Hill: Wales' finest

South Wales has a long and honourable tradition of producing fine ingredients. The game, rare-breed pork and Welsh lamb and cattle are exceptional, and there are plenty of market gardeners producing quality fruit and vegetables. There are foragers who will search out properly wild mushrooms, sorrel and wimberries when they are in season. Fish landed here is as good as anywhere in the world, with shoreline cockles and shrimps an excellent extra. For those who like it, there’s even laverbread – it doesn’t do anything for me personally, but has become emblematic of food in Wales. And the traditions of home cooking have refl ected the quality and integrity of this produce, rather than it being hidden by fancy footwork with garnishes and swirls of sauce.

The restaurant scene has been slow to catch up. Perhaps the talented Welsh chefs cooking for diners in London’s West End and the countryside’s grand gastronomic hotels took a while to notice there was an interested and knowledgeable market waiting back home. Now times are changing and the restaurant scene is blossoming.

What first struck me about the restaurants around my base, Abergavenny, was the enthusiasm of those who cook in them. The person in charge of the kitchen is likely to have been trained at one of Britain’s most famous restaurants, but will have been inspired by what’s all around, to cook in sympathy with this produce rather than just tinker with it.

Most importantly, there are people living nearby who are willing to pay reasonable sums to eat in these restaurants. We are not geared solely for the tourist trade – on a winter’s evening a restaurant in South Wales needs to attract Messrs Jones, Griffiths and Williams to make a living and stay in business. So the added bonus for those who are travelling in the summer months will be decent value, a real pride in what’s local and a fine choice of spots to eat in.


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