The prodigal son
Following a busy lunch shift that's seen him plate up day-boat coley tempura, Welsh black beef pappardelle and Anglesey crab claw linguine in the open kitchen of Bryn Williams at Porth Eirias, chef Bryn Williams joins me at a table with sweeping views of Colwyn Bay. It’s half term and, as holidaymakers take to the beach with buckets and spades, I finish up a fortifying lunch of catch-of-the-day coley, ably accompanied by crushed peas and a satisfyingly chunky tartare sauce.
Bryn, who also owns Odette’s in London’s Primrose Hill, is something of a celebrity here, a prodigal son born in the nearby valleys who returned to North Wales after clocking up culinary experience in the South East as well as the Cote D’Azur. “When I was young, if you were interested in food, you had to leave to gain experience, but now you don’t have to — we’ve got a couple of Michelin stars and some fantastic restaurants,” he says of the region’s buoyant food scene, within which he plays a central part.
With its all-day menu and a modern, industrial aesthetic, this bright, waterside restaurant is modelled on European brasseries, yet the food is unapologetically Welsh. “Wales has one of the greatest larders on the planet. We’re surrounded by the coast and some magnificent seafood,” he says, pointing to the bobbing boats in the Menai Strait. “Then, if you go inland, there are some of the world’s best farmers, meat producers and allotment gardeners.”
The focus at Bryn Williams at Porth Eiria is very much on seafood, although Bryn says his soft spot for the “unbelievable” flavour of grass-fed, slow-maturing Welsh Black beef means it also makes cameo appearances. He buys fish, including slip sole, sea bass and coley from local fishermen, crab and lobster from Anglesey, and what he calls some of the world’s best mussels from nearby Conwy, with menus changing to reflect availability.
“For me, restaurants should always have a sense of place,” he says. “If you’re on the coast, you should be having a plate of goodness from the sea. I’ll always ask myself as a chef what I’d want to eat in a place like this and, to be honest, give me a glass of white wine and a bowl of mussels and I’m happy.” portheirias.com
Salt of the sea
It seems somewhat surprising, driving down Anglesey’s winding lanes, through red squirrel woodlands and sleepy villages, that around the next corner lies an innovative food producer beloved by American presidents and A-list chefs. Yet, in the village of Brynsiencyn you’ll find just that.
Halen Môn has been producing high-quality sea salt since 1997. Its founders, David and Alison Lea-Wilson first met while studying at nearby Bangor University. Initially supplementing their student income by cultivating oysters, they launched an aquarium in the 1980s — a popular but highly seasonal attraction. While searching for ways to make money over winter, they hit upon the idea of producing salt using the water already being pumped up from the Menai Strait for the aquarium. Since then, the duo have gone from strength to strength, with Halen Môn awarded protected designation of origin (PDO) status in 2014, making this salt to Anglesey what champagne is to northeastern France.
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