Chicken Katsu – Ynyshir, Powys
Ingredient led, flavour driven, fat fuelled, meat obsessed is the mantra at Ynyshir, the mid Wales restaurant with rooms where chef Gareth Ward’s bold-flavoured, Asian-influenced cooking has been recognised with two Michelin stars and the title of Best Restaurant in the UK in the National Restaurant Awards 2022.
Their tasting menu features over 30 dishes, many of which are cooked over charcoal. Arguably the standout is a chicken katsu skewer. Chicken leg and compressed chicken skin are coated in a sticky roast chicken glaze and crisp panko crumbs and drizzled with curry-twanged katsu ketchup.
Pork belly cubano - Wright’s Food Emporium, Carmarthenshire
Wright’s Food Emporium, in Llanarthne near the National Botanic Garden of Wales, is a shrine to the best Welsh produce. This cafe and delicatessen serves killer sandwiches, salads and freshly baked cakes as well as hearty heat at home meals such as pies and lasagne.
Wright’s pork belly cubano is a sandwich whose reputation precedes it. Soft and crusty home-baked ciabatta is stuffed with golden pork belly, thick cut ham, cheese, warming sriracha mayo and richness busting jalapenos and gherkins. It’s an absolute beauty.
Afternoon tea - The Angel Hotel, Abergavenny
The afternoon tea at The Angel Hotel was once named the best in the UK in the tea industry’s equivalent of the Oscars. Overflowing tiered stands of freshly baked quiches, sausage rolls, cakes, choux buns, custard slices, sandwiches, meringues and more are washed down with the perfect cup of loose leaf tea.
Tea brined fried chicken - Thomas by Tom Simmons, Cardiff
Tom Simmons’ eponymous Cardiff restaurant serves some of the most technically accomplished cooking in the capital. And with its relaxed atmosphere and approachable menu of brasserie dishes, it’s the kind of place you could easily visit every week.
Impressive mains, which showcase Welsh produce, include fillet of Welsh beef with a mushroom and truffle tartlet and Welsh lamb shoulder with black garlic. But it’s their snack of tea brined fried chicken that is always a must order. Ridiculously juicy chicken pieces are coated in a crisp and rugged crumb with a background chilli heat and are balanced by a perfectly judged lime mayonnaise.
Scallop, seaweed and burnt butter - SY23, Aberystwyth
Nathan Davies does wonderful things with fire at SY23, a tiny upstairs restaurant located in the middle of Aberystwyth. The critics agree too as it’s been awarded a Michelin star and was also named the Michelin Guide’s best new restaurant in 2022.
An open kitchen with a charcoal grill provides the focal point for SY23’s intimate dining room and it’s here where Nathan and his team cook a tasting menu with a big focus on local produce. One of the highlights is a gigantic hand-dived scallop that’s ferociously seared on one side to develop a caramelised crust. It’s served with a sweet, savoury and zippy Japanese sanbaizu sauce, toasty brown butter, briny pickled sea vegetables and a clever crisp crumb made with dehydrated scallop.
Bacon cheeseburger - Hills, Brecon
People travel far and wide to eat the burgers from Hills in Brecon. And it’s easy to see why. As well as the restaurant’s stunning views of the Brecon Beacons, Hills have dedicated a lot of time and energy into perfecting the fine details required to make a top notch burger.
A sturdy yet pillowy toasted and steamed challah bun is stuffed with seriously juicy, fat rich bronze crusted smashed patties and topped with a huge ooze of creamy and tangy Monterey Jack and American cheese, crisp bacon and essential richness balancing tangy burger sauce.
Crab linguine - The Hardwick, Abergavenny
Located in Wales’ gastronomic heartland of Abergavenny, the Hardwick’s generous, technically accomplished yet down-to-earth food is cooked by chef-owner Stephen Terry, who trained under the legends Marco Pierre White & Michel Roux Jr.
Time and time again I order the crab linguine, an intensely comforting combination of pasta topped with crab, shrimp, courgette, radicchio, anchovy, warming chilli and the crunch of toasted breadcrumbs.
Chip butty - Pete’s Eats, Llanberis
Wales’ most famous walkers’ café, Pete's Eats, can be found in the village of Llanberis at the foot of Mount Snowdon. Crowds of intrepid explorers line their stomachs with hearty home-cooked food before or after climbing Wales’ highest mountain. Pete’s chip butties see golden hand-cut chips piled between buttered thick white sliced bread. I recommend washing one down with a pint of tea and following it up with a date slice.
North Pole - Joe’s Ice Cream, Swansea
Munching on an ice cream while strolling by the seaside; if there’s a more idyllic match then I’m yet to find it. Joe’s Ice Cream, in the swanky Mumbles area of Swansea, has been serving their uber-creamy Welsh-Italian ice cream since 1922. While Joe’s serve a range of flavours, you really must order the vanilla ice cream which is churned on site fresh daily. A signature North Pole comprises of vanilla ice cream sandwiched between wafers and topped with sauce (I’m a fan of the strawberry marshmallow), sprinkles and chopped nuts.