Although it opened in the summer, its only in recent weeks that I’ve had a chance to explore the Bodnant Welsh Food Centre. A twitter follower mentioned it was coming at the beginning of the year and later I received a couple of emails telling me to keep an eye out for the opening. I followed development with interest and hoped to attend the opening, but typically I was mad busy and away working so its only now that I’m becoming acquainted with the place.
Bodnant Welsh Food Centre is more of a Welsh food hub and has lots of different parts. The first thing you come across when entering the courtyard is the Furnace Farm Shop which sells an extensive array of Welsh food. They produce and make a lot of what they sell in the shop and serve in the tea room, plus a wide variety of goods from local suppliers.
The tea room across the courtyard has spectacular views over the Conwy Estuary and Carneddau mountains. You can sit and admire them with a warming drink, from a comfy sofa, knowing you are sitting where the cattle once stood. You also know that just next to the old cattle byre talented artisans are baking and making the ingredients for your lunch. The centre boasts its own dairy, butchery and bakery. You can’t get produce much more local than that!
The National Beekeeping Centre of Wales purpose-built visitor centre is just next to the tea room. You can visit and speak to the dedicated expert staff, visit on site apiaries, view bees in their natural environment at work via the live webcam and generally learn all you need to know about keeping bees. I always thought you needed lots of land and plenty of distance from other houses, but I’ve since discovered that you can pretty much have a bee hive anywhere, apparently they have them on the top of the Waldorf Astoria in New York!
For a more substantial lunch you can visit the The Hayloft Restaurant. Its situated above the Furnace shop and has its own entrance and outside seating area (for when the weather warms up again). If you climb the stairs again you come to the The Bodnant Cookery School where a variety of cookery courses are held, usually at a weekend, although there are some midweek too. Of course since the centre is only in its infancy the programme is still under development ( I have recently attended a course there, but that deserves a post of its own!).
If this wasn’t enough there is also guest accommodation, a training/event room for hire and of course the most stunning views you can imagine!
Personally I’m thrilled that these once run-down farm buildings have a new lease of life . Their restoration has been sympathetically carried out and they are beautifully styled and decorated having retained every bit of their earthy traditional charm. You can sit by the open fire in the restaurant lounge and view original beams throughout, while little unique touches such as the antler chandelier on the stairs and the reclaimed wood tables give a modern yet rustic feel. It’s also good to see the place so busy. The quietest time was when I first visited midweek; small amounts of building and finishing work were still going on and you could tell it was still not yet complete, but now that is all done and at the weekend it’s absolutely packed!
I recently dropped in for lunch at the Hayloft restaurant, eager to try their food after hearing good reports from friends. I booked a table just in case it was busy, but there was no need. I guess at the weekend it might well be fully booked, but on a Thursday lunchtime there was plenty of space. This may of course change as their reputation grows.
The lounge area is beautiful and the refurbishment project has really brought out the best in the buildings. The roaring open fire and comfortable sofas create a homely relaxed atmosphere. I could have sat there drinking gin and tonic all day and not felt any pressure to move on.
The restaurant itself is bright, modern and pleasant. My dining companion dislikes music in restaurants, he finds it distracts from good food and conversation so he was pleased at its absence, although I thought the jazz in the lounge was rather nice. I also liked that there was a variety of clientele; families with young children sat alongside retired couples, others had clearly dropped in for lunch after having a walk but no one looked out-of-place and staff were friendly and attentive, helpful and polite.
The lunch menu is not extensive, but offers enough choice for everyone to find something they like. I opted for Menai mussels in white wine, cream and garlic and my dinner partner chose pan-fried pigeon breast with orange and beetroot salad with ginger dressing.
Menai mussels with cream and garlic
Pigeon breast with orange, beetroot & ginger salad
The mussels were creamy and delicious. The sauce was quite rich and heavy and could have been too much had the portion size been larger, but it was spot on leaving me plenty of room for my main and not over filling me. The rich gamey-ness of the pigeon breast worked nicely with the sharpness of the salad. The contrast of sweet, bitter, sharp and meaty worked very well, although there could have been a little more ginger in the dressing as it wasn’t so obvious.
For my main course I chose Bodnant steak burger with juniper and morello cherries, salad and root vegetable shavings and my dinner partner chose a slow cooked shoulder of lamb on mashed potato, with garlic and rosemary sauce. I have to say my dining partner was very happy, no miniscule portions here! A really good hearty lunch put a big smile on his face; the vegetables were perfectly cooked, the lamb fell tenderly from the bone and his only gripe was that there wasn’t more sauce to soak into the mash.
My burger was sweet and juicy, well-flavoured with the juniper and cherry and the root vegetable shavings were deliciously crisp with a hint of sweet and salt. A small salad accompanied and a bun baked on site. The only thing missing was a dressing or relish for the burger. A home-made burger without any relish can veer on the dry side and as the salad not dressed either it just needed a little something. I wondered if I would be offered anything but after a minute or two I decided to ask the waitress if there was anything to go on the burger, or if she had any dressing of any kind. She offered a mustard dressing for the salad, which was very tasty.
Of course we couldn’t resist dessert, even though we were pretty full. I went for a lighter choice, the white chocolate and lemon parfait with raspberry coulis and home-made tuille while my partner (to my amazement after all that lamb) chose blackberry and apple crumble with fresh egg custard. Apparently he just HAD to go for all the winter options because it was cold outside. That’s his excuse!
The parfait was light and delicate but I could hardly taste the lemon in it. The coulis matched beautifully with the white chocolate and the crisp tuille finished the dish perfectly. The crumble was nice and crunchy, the apple well cooked; still holding its form so it had a good texture but not too crunchy, however it was quite tart (which I like, but others with a sweeter tooth may find a little too sharp). The egg custard was, well eggy and delicious.
The only criticisms we had, as I said above, were quite minor things really and mostly related to the finishing touches and rather cautious use of flavourings. They certainly didn’t detract from quality or our enjoyment of the meal. As for cost, we both had three courses, a drink each and I finished with a coffee. The total bill came to £42.00 which I think is excellent value for money.
As a whole Bodnant Welsh food centre has impressed me. It makes a great stop off while exploring the surrounding area, a fab lunch destination and an interesting place to visit in its own right. I’m looking forward to checking out the Bee Centre and what courses they have on offer and I’m already booked on a course in the new year. I think there are still some pricing inconsistencies that might put people off; yes the restaurant is excellent value, but some of the products on sale in the shop are quite expensive in comparison to other outlets in the area, and courses are not cheap either. I know it’s still early days, but I suppose my hope is that Bodnant Welsh food centre becomes widely known both in and outside of North Wales. If it can make itself accessible to more than just those in a particular wage bracket or the tourist industry and raise awareness among locals of the food we have on our doorstep its on to a winner. Hopefully then we will see this rather unique centre thrive and grow.
Bodnant Welsh Food is open from 10.00am – 6.00pm, Monday to Saturday & 11.00am – 5.00pm on Sunday.
Hayloft Restaurant is open Mon-Wed 12pm-3pm, Thurs-Sat 12pm-9pm and Sun 12pm-4pm
Bodnant Welsh Food, Furnace Farm, Tal-y-cafn, Conwy, LL28 5RP T: 01492 651100