Monday, 15 June 2015

Bodnant - The Hayloft Restaurant

Tonight I'm going a little off-message. This was no jaunt around prehistoric sites or spreading beaches, but the rarest of things - a meal out as a couple, without the children.

One of the lovely benefits of having a Bodnant loyalty card is that they offer you a free three course meal for your birthday in their Hayloft Restaurant. This helps to offset the shock and horror that hits you every time you see how many points you've logged on your card and realise just how much you've spent in their shop on exquisite artisan bread, fine cuts of meat, and rollmops. It's Mr PlacesWhereWeGo who has the loyalty card, and since he celebrated his birthday a few days ago we decided to take Bodnant up on their kind offer and go for his free meal.

The restaurant is set in a lovely location, partway up the Conwy Valley and just over the road from the River Conwy, in 'Furnace Farm,' a group of buildings at the bottom of Bodnant Gardens which had stood empty and derelict for most of my life, until they were renovated by the current estate manager. The Welsh Food Centre was opened by Prince Charles in 2012 and has gone from strength to strength. If you avoid the ridiculously overpriced items (artisan crackerbread, penny sweets wrapped up fancily with a price to match) and pick and choose, you can get some wonderful food there. We'd been to the cafe before (a pretty nice place but with a few issues), but this was the first time we'd visited the restaurant. I didn't have my camera, only my phone, so the pictures are more like a stealth investigation than anything else.

I didn't think to take a photo until I was halfway through my Conwy Crab Tortilla (with an anchovy swipe and a pink grapefruit salad.) Apologies for the rather horrible picture. The food was nice. But eating off slate? I've had scones served by them on a slate, but you don't find yourself having to touch your cutlery to that. Try cutting through a crab-filled tortilla wrap, without scraping the time-pressed alluvial mud beneath. It's impossible. I ate with my teeth on edge. It's nice, very rustic, very 'Welsh,' but like nails down a blackboard.
A pretty empty restaurant all evening - maybe we can think of it as exclusive? The decor was self-consciously rustic, with various antique hay making equipment fixed to the walls. Antique hay makers probably would have laughed, but the decor works well in a trendy mock-rustic way, and there are some nice artworks on the walls too, in generous frames. The seats, I'm sorry to say, were quite uncomfortable, a bit like a toilet seat with some padding stretched across the top. The staff were very attentive, almost creepily so in some cases. We joked on the way home that we wouldn't be surprised if we'd heard someone clearing their throat and looked round to see our waiter perched on the back seat of the car, leaning in a little too close.
Charred Dirty Pork Loin Steak (served with a pea & pineapple risotto and Welsh ale BBQ sauce.) I enjoyed this. It was very nice. I don't know why the pork was considered 'dirty,' but it made me feel rather naughty to order it. It was tender and very tasty, and the hot pineapple underneath was exquisite. Mr PlacesWhereWeGo had the 28 Day Dry Hung Beef Topside, and that was melt-in-the-mouth too, although his chips were very greasy. Thank god the mains were served on china, so I didn't have to wince. The portions weren't huge, but I feel pleasantly full up after my three course meal, and what's the point of having more on your plate than you can eat? Why a Welsh ale BBQ sauce with a decidedly Caribbean sounding meal? I have no idea. Perhaps this is Welsh-Caribbean fusion food.
Dessert for me was a White Chocolate & Custard Pot (with a shortbread crust, finished with cream and fruits). This was very tasty. I'm not much of a person for white chocolate, but I was disappointed at the lack of cheesecake on the menu (the menu on the whole was quite restricted) and this seemed the closest thing. It was fresh and tasty, if a little sweet towards the end. Hardly their fault. I don't have much of a sweet tooth. Prettily presented in a ramekin that didn't quite sit on the saucer and with a spoon almost as big as the pot. We thought the presentation choices were a bit odd all round. Why have candles on the tables but not light them? Why serve desserts with spoons almost as big as the bowl? Why insist on using slates as place mats and plates, just because we're in Wales? We also had a lipstick-marked glass to contend with, and my husband made mutterings about their not steaming the cutlery, but the glass was dealt with very nicely, and who steams their cutlery, anyway?
I popped across the room to try to get a photo of the gorgeous view outside. If we'd been sitting by a window I would have been gazing out of it a lot as the summer sun slowly lowered onto the western horizon. The light coming in through the windows was like liquid gold.
After a pleasant (small) cappuccino we wandered outside, knowing we'd have to return to real life and children who didn't want to go to sleep. It was nice while it lasted. The meal cost £70-something, but over half of that was deducted due to the birthday offer. I wouldn't have been so happy had we paid the full price. It was a lovely place and a lovely evening, but there were just too many little oddities for it to be a really fine dining experience. The lipstick glass, missing cutlery, toilet doors with broken locks, uncomfortable seating, slightly overbearing, if very friendly, staff.
I really wish I could get a better picture of the sun setting over the mountains. I wish photographs didn't flatten the mountains out to tiny blips on the horizon. Rest assured, it was beautiful.