Food to try in North Wales: Menai Bridge

In the second installment of our blog mini series we’re headed across the Menai Strait to the picturesque waterfront town of Menai Bridge on Anglesey.

With lots to see and do, including the historic Suspension Bridge, the beautiful gardens of Plas Newydd and some lovely private shops, Menai Bridge should be on your must-see list. Add into the mix some fabulous local food and drink and you have all the makings of a memorable day-out.

Known as the ‘bread basket of Wales’, Anglesey is a flat and fertile island, idea for all types of food production. With fresh seafood straight from the sea, locally-reared meat and poultry, homegrown fruit and veg, plus some truly ingenious culinary creations, you’re in for a treat!

Events

Anglesey Farmers’ Market

If your visit falls on the third Saturday of the month, you’re in luck. At this monthly farmers’ market you can sample of taste of Anglesey, all in one place.

You’ll find a huge selection of tasty local fruit and veg, freshly-baked goods, and irresistible seafood (including – our favourite – crab from the Anglesey coast). Those with a sweet tooth are particularly well-catered for here. Browse stalls of homemade cakes, puddings and ice cream – perfect for a picnic afternoon tea on the beach!

Menai Bridge Food Slams

The next food slam takes place this weekend – Friday 2 June, 5pm – 10pm!!

Food slams make an appearance in Menai Bridge in both summer and winter! These Far Eastern inspired night markets are a must-visit for entertainment, fun, and, most importantly, great local food. With locally-brewed craft beer and spirits and delicious street food, such as Welsh lamb burgers and Celtic-style tapas, we guarantee there’s something to whet even the most discerning of taste buds.

During the winter months, proceedings take on a seasonal slant with Menai Bridge Christmas Food Slam. Expect more of the same but with lashings of mulled wine, festive produce and a good sprinkling of Christmas cheer. Choirs, a brass band and Santa are on hand to provide the entertainment, making this a truly family-friendly event. Dates for this year’s Christmas Food Slam are yet to be announced. Keep an eye on the website for updates.

Restaurants

Dylan’s

Boasting an enviable position, right on the water’s edge alongside the Thomas Telford bridge, the name Dylan’s has become synonymous for good eating in North Wales. Serving delicious, locally-sourced and seasonal produce, it is a firm fixture in the Michelin guide and a destination restaurant that attracts locals and visitors from miles around. Menu highlights include Dylan’s famous wood fired pizzas, seafood sharing platters, and the house speciality – Menai mussels served a variety of ways.

Sosban and the Old Butchers

Charismatically located in an old Butcher’s Shop – complete with original hand-painted tiles and Welsh slate – Sosban rewards foodies with a unique dining experience. At Sosban, diners sample dishes from a 7 course surprise menu! Ever-changing to make the best of local and seasonal produce, it promises ‘distinct flavours’ and ‘boldly-flavoured modern dishes’.

Locals have described it as fine dining ‘without all the fuss’, claiming you won’t find better food for miles – this might explain how it’s won itself a Michelin Star! It’s essential to book well in advance as there is a lengthy waiting list.

The Straits

The Straits is a well-established Menai Bridge restaurant that offers a really popular fixed-price menu. To keep things interesting it changes every three weeks and uses fresh local ingredients, many with a Creole twist. Head chef Phil was born and raised in New Orleans and the passion and heat of the city is reflected in many of the dishes.

Freckled Angel

The place to go for tapas in Menai Bridge – yes, you read right, tapas! Rated number one on TripAdvisor with only excellent reviews, this small and friendly restaurant is a hit in the town. Imagine if you will, refined tapas-style dishes made with excellent quality Welsh ingredients. Head chef Mike, only 24, has been dubbed a Michelin contender of the future – so best get there quick!

Pubs

The Bridge Inn

Recently under new management, this is a classic Welsh pub serving good food and real ales. On the menu you’ll find all the pub classics plus some quirky new dishes, a nod to head chef Ashley’s background in local fine dining establishments. With an outside terrace boasting a fine view of the Menai Bridge on sunny days and a cosy, real fire for inclement weather, it’s a family-friendly pub at the Gateway to Anglesey.

The Liverpool Arms

Known locally as ‘The Livvy’, this recently refurbished pub has a nautical theme, in keeping with its location close to the Porth Daniel Boatyard. They serve pub meals made with the finest local ingredients and this combined with a packed schedule of weekly events makes it a great destination pub. Oh, did we mention it features in CAMRA’s Good Beer Guide 2017 so the booze is good too!

Local food producers

Benjamin Lee Chocolatier & Patissier

For those of you with a sweet tooth, a stop off at Benjamin Lee’s chocolate shop is a must on any food tour of Menai Bridge. It’s located in the heart of Menai Bridge and is so easy to find – just follow the enticing aroma of chocolate! Here you can sample (and purchase) delicious handmade chocolates and truffles, and view some of Benjamin’s amazing celebration cakes. We defy you to come away empty handed!

Bonny Confectionery

The Bonny ideology is simple: take a traditional and, let’s be honest, dull confectionery and reinvent it for 21st century tastes. Run by sweet-loving mums, Jackie and Cordie, Bonny’s produces a rainbow of flavoured gourmet marshmallows, hand made in Menai Bridge. From marshmallow melts to dip in your hot chocolate to bags of fluffy mallows, these sweet treats are enjoying a revival – all thanks to two passionate Welsh foodie mums!

Halen Mon Sea Salt

If you’ve enjoyed your culinary sojourn of Menai Bridge, why not take a memento home with you? We suggest some Halen Mon sea salt, because food doesn’t come more local than this. The salt is made from Anglesey seawater taken direct from the Menai Strait. The award-winning family-run business believes that people who appreciate good food should season with good sea salt and this Welsh condiment ranks among some of the finest in the world.

The next stop on our food tour of North Wales takes us to the historic town of Conwy – be sure to keep checking the blog so you don’t miss it! In the meantime, mwynhewch eich bwyd! (enjoy your food!)

Image courtesy of © Robin Drayton (cc-by-sa/2.0)

The dragons of North Wales and where to find them

The symbol of the dragon is inextricably linked to Wales, and North Wales in particular, where dragons have been both our champions and our greatest foes. There are many legends about dragons right on the doorstep of the Royal Victoria Hotel but dare you explore?

Where did the symbolic Ddraig Goch (Red Dragon) come from?

  • > The red dragon has its origins in the tale of the Three Plagues of Lludd Llaw Ereint (see below);
  • > it returns in the myth of Merlin and Vortigern’s struggle to build a fortress at Dinas Emrys near Beddgelert;
  • > Owain Glyndwr raised the dragon as his standard during the revolt against Henry IV, echoing its role in Arthurian mythology as a symbol of struggle and resistance;
  • > Henry Tudor flew a flag emblazoned with the red dragon of Cadwallader as he marched his troops through Wales to Bosworth to claim to the crown. The image of the red dragon was flown on a field of white and green (Tudor colours);
  • > the very same flag of a red dragon on a field of white and green was flown from Tudor Royal Navy vessels;
  • > in 1901, the dragon became the official symbol of Wales;
  • > in 1953, a new royal badge with the motto “Y Ddraig Goch Ddyry Cychwyn” (“the Red Dragon Inspires Action”) was commissioned;
  • > in 1959, the Welsh flag as we know it today was officialised.

Dinas Emrys: dragon’s den

Lludd Llaw Ereint, known as ‘the Silver Hand’, is a legendary hero from Welsh mythology. He most likely originates from the British King Lud who features in the History of the Kings of Britain written by medieval chronicler Geoffrey of Monmouth.

The story goes that Lludd was experiencing a succession of plagues in his kingdom. One was a plague of dragons which culminated in a fierce battle between the red (symbolic of the British people) and the white (symbolic of the Anglo-Saxon invaders) dragons on May Day. The white dragon began to win out against the red, and the red’s cries of pain were heard across the whole kingdom. Lludd was disturbed by the sound and sough to end the battle. He dug a deep pit in the centre of his kingdom, a hill known as Dinas Emrys, and placed a cauldron of mead within. Then he waited.

Distracted from their ferocious battle by the enticing scent of mead, the warring dragons flew into the pit and drank their fill before falling into a drunken stupor. Lludd quickly filled in the hole and buried the dragons deep within the earth, where they slumbered on.

Many years later, Saxon chieftain Vortigern attempted to build a fortress atop Dinas Emrys – on the very spot the dragons were entombed – but every night the stronghold’s walls mysteriously crumbled… read the full story here.

Visit: Dinas Emrys is an idyllic spot occupying a rocky, wooded hillock near Beddgelert in Gwynedd. The region is rich in Welsh folklore, having strong links with Arthur, the Welsh Dragon and the tragic hound Gelert, to name but a few. Beddgelert is a lovely village with a wide selection of shops and restaurants plus a scenic and accessible walk to the grave of Prince Llewellyn’s faithful dog.

In the footsteps of Arthur North Wales

The Afanc

The Afanc was a legendary Welsh water beast with a fearsome temper – strong enough to break riverbanks and cause floods! It lived in the River Conwy, its lair rumoured to be a deep pool just outside Betws y Coed, known today as the Beaverpool.

Its rough scales were impervious to man-made weapons so, after many failed attempts to slay the beast, the townsfolk decided that, as they could not kill it, they would relocate it instead! They selected a mountain lake on the slopes of Snowdon, Llyn Glaslyn (the higher of the two lakes you pass on the Miner’s Track to the summit). It was deep enough to house the creature comfortably and far enough away that it wouldn’t bother them again.

To entice the Afanc from its lair, they used one of the most powerful weapons of all – feminine charm! The Afanc adored fair maidens, so the townsfolk enlisted the help of the most beautiful girl in the village. She sang a lilting Welsh lullaby to the Afanc until it fell asleep.

Sound asleep, the Afanc was dragged out of the water by a team of oxen and transported through the Lledr Valley towards Snowdon. Along the way, one of the oxen strained so hard under its heavy burden its eye popped out! The tears shed from the wounded eye-socket pooled to form another Snowdonian lake, which became known as Llyn Llygad yr Ych (Pool of the Ox’s Eye) in honour of the brave bovine.

Reaching the shores of Llyn Glaslyn, the Afanc was roused and released from its chains. On tasting freedom it dived into the lake and swam away, never to be seen again. Where did it go? Does the Afanc still swim in the mountain lake in search of prey, or did it disappear into the depths of a lake that many believe to be bottomless?

Visit: Beaverpool, just outside Betws y Coed on the A470 towards Dolwyddelan; there’s a tight bend in the road where a small bridge fords the river, below the bridge is the Beaverpool. For Llyn Glaslyn, take the Miner’s Track up Snowdon.

The Denbigh Dragon

The market town of Denbigh was of strategic importance to both the Welsh and the Normans and a castle has stood sentinel over the town for many centuries. However, if a local legend is to be believed, the castle has a darker side too.

Legend has it, the ruined castle was the lair of a venomous dragon. It would venture forth and attack unsuspecting townspeople and livestock, flying at them and burning them with breath of fire. Terrified of the creature – which they had nicknamed the Bych – the townsfolk enlisted the help of a local warrior, by the name of Sion Bodiau, or Sir John of the Thumbs.

Sir John was a bit of an enigma, a local landowner possessed of two thumbs on each hand – a physical feature the superstitious townsfolk felt sure would give him the superhuman edge over the beast!

Understandably, Sir John was non-too-keen to take on a fire-breathing monster, thumbs or no thumbs, but dressed in full plate armour and riding his keenest charger he found himself galloping towards the castle, lance tilted.

In the end he was more afraid of what a riotous mob of Welsh would do to him if he refused than of a hungry dragon!

The dragon spied Sir John approaching and sprang from its lair, ready to deal the killing blow, but was bought up short by the knight’s strange hands. It paused and gazed in puzzlement at Sir John’s extra digits but, as it did so, the knight took his chance and plunged the lance deep into the dragon’s chest, killing it instantly.

Sir John was hailed a hero and the people of the town celebrated his victory with the cry ‘Dim-Bych!’ which means ‘No more dragon!’ If it sounds familiar, it should. This is the legend of how the town of Denbigh (Dinbych in Welsh) got its name.

But that’s not the end of the story….

In the early 1980s, sheep in North Wales began dying under mysterious circumstances and in alarming numbers. The corpses were always found close to water, many with puncture marks in the flesh, and often a large, snake-like trail was seen in the grass or mud close by. Autopsies performed by a local vet found that the sheep had been killed by venom.

The Denbigh Dragon may have been killed by the Knight of the Thumbs but did it leave behind a nest of baby dragons that have survived in the wilds of Wales… to this very day?

Visit: beyond the confines of the Snowdonia National Park in the pretty Vale of Clwyd, Denbigh is a lovely town with many boutique shops and cafes. Take the scenic route through Snowdonia and over the moors, it’s a road trip worth making!

So there you have it; from flag to fable, dragons rumble in the deep in North Wales to this very day.

The Royal Victoria Hotel makes the perfect base for your very own Welsh adventure. The question is, are you brave enough to follow legendary heroes and ferocious beasts?

Images courtesy of: Welsh flag by Matthew Wilkinson via Flickr, 2014. ‘The Battle of the Dragons’ by Unknown – 15th century manuscript of Historia Regum Britanniae. Llyn Glaslyn by Eric Jones via Wikimedia Commons. Denbigh Castle and town by Doug Elliot via Wikimedia Commons.