Ed Sykes leads us single file down a narrow alleyway to the converted stone and brick outbuilding that is now the home of Llys Meddyg Smokery. 'You don’t want to know what this used to be,' he says. Oh yes we do...
'A toilet' he mumbles, sheepishly disappearing into one of the small dark rooms to light the sawdust. 'It’s about selecting the right type of wood, everyone thinks of oak with smoking but it’s very dominant. I like to blend it - I use a lot of beech and fruit trees work well, cherry is good...generally if you can use the fruit you can use the wood...' His voice trails off as he emerges, only to shuffle out of sight again into a yet smaller darker space, this time foggy with wood smoke.
The neat little assembly of buildings which include shiny kitchen spaces, are just a hop and a skip from the much celebrated Llys Meddyg Restaurant with Rooms – a Georgian coaching house that Ed and his wife Louise have now run for over a decade. It’s a beautiful place in itself but more so because it basks in the glow of the surrounding area, its beauty and its culture. 'At the heart of what we do is our location' says Ed before talking of the fishing heritage that inspired him on the journey into smoking and curing fish.
Traditionally herring was a big part of our community, especially going back to the 17th century when we used to export lots. It would be so great to see them and other local fish back in our restaurants and bars."
Back in the smokery a couple of chefs busy themselves prepping mullet for sousing in a preserving mix of salt, sugar, vinegar and aromatics. Enthusiastic disciples in Ed’s preservation society, they’ll steep the fillets for five days in the carefully balanced concoction before the cured fish find their way onto the menu. 'We’re learning all the time – the nuances of what works best in the curing process, how to bring the best out in each species of fish. Most of what we use is a by-catch of other things being caught. People think of grey mullet as a lowly fish, it’s a bottom feeder and it has an earthiness but that earthiness works brilliantly with the flavour that comes from smoking. There’s a kind of magic at work here, one that’s centuries old – our task is to bring the magic back.'