North Wales Life Luncheon - Croes Howell
PUBLISHED: 11:52 04 October 2011 | UPDATED: 20:05 20 February 2013
You'd never guess that Croes Howell, Llay's stylish new restaurant serving superb food with a French chef at the helm, was once a plain old pub serving pints to the village's thirsty miners WORDS BY RAY KING PHOTOGRAPHY BY JOHN COCKS
Some places change so little over time that our ancestors might recognise the familiar landscape, even the buildings.
Thats not so with the village of Llay, a mile or two on the Welsh side of the border with Cheshire. Its hard to imagine now that here was once the largest colliery in Wales employing more than 3,000 men and, by the 1950s, the deepest coal mine in Britain, delving 3,096ft below ground - almost as far as Mount Snowdon reaches into the sky. After the pit closed in 1966 it took six months to fill its two shafts with a 60,000 ton mountain of spoil.
More recently, things have also changed dramatically at the Mount Pleasant, a red brick Victorian pub a mile down the arrow-straight road from Llay towards Rossett, where local businessman Peter Hughes was a regular for more than 30 years. When the pub came up for sale almost three years ago, Peter and his son Jamie jumped at the chance of buying the place and launching a new venture.
While some of the old building parts dating back 400 years remains, the 1m-plus investment that has created the Croes Howell Restaurant Bar and Grill has transformed it into a stylish, contemporary rendezvous that, as guests at North Wales Lifes luncheon discovered, fulfils the potential that Peter and Jamie recognised from the outset. Fittingly, Wrexham architect Brian Lloyd, who engineered the remarkable transformation, was among the guests.
Croes Howell features an open kitchen where diners can see French head chef Mathias Rouvray and his brigade at work. Theres also a garden room and splendid terrace enjoying spectacular panoramic view across the Cheshire plain. Modern furnishings, contemporary decor and fine details ooze quality. Says Mathias: French chefs always like to use their local specialities and Croes Howell is surrounded by some of the countrys finest food producers, so I have been able to develop a wide ranging menu for lunches, afternoon teas and dinners aimed at appealing to all tastes.
Luncheon proved his aim is true. After canaps and flutes of welcoming champagne, we started with that Gallic favourite, terrine. Layers of moist Guinea fowl and pistachios, accompanied by a counterpointing rhubarb compote and brioche not only presented a colourful platter but an array of contrasting and complimentary flavours and textures. The accompanying New Zealand sauvignon blanc, a zippy, refreshing gooseberry flavoured white with a stab of lime, provided the perfect accompaniment.
The main course comprised a slick modern take on that old favourite surf and turf, though the pairing of monkfish and pork belly makes a lot more sense than steak and lobster ever did. Here the fish was pan roasted, served sliced in deliciously moist, flavoursome roundels while the pork belly had been slow-braised to melt-in-the-mouth tenderness.
Though in nature never the twain are ever likely to meet, on the plate the marriage worked very well, complimented by a silky mustard cream sauce and ab-fab dauphinoise potatoes. Fish and white meat equals white wine, right? Not when theres a slightly chilled, raspberry fruit-laden Beaujolais around and the Croes Howells inspired choice was one of the best a Fleurie from the best known of Beaujolais ten celebrated cru villages.
Pudding provided a classy finale to a memorable lunch. Lovely apricot Bakewell tart was served with apricot parfait and a syrup innovatively flavoured with fresh tarragon and accompanied by a deliciously honeyed but uncloying dessert wine from Sauternes, Bordeauxs finest. Try fitting that lot in a miners snap box.
North Wales Life Luncheon Menu
Layered terrine of Guinea fowl and pistachio nuts, rhubarb compote, brioche
2010 Orca Bay Sauvignon Blanc, East Coast, New Zealand
Pan roasted monkfish, braised pork belly, coarse grain mustard cream, Dauphinoise potatoes
2009 Fleurie, Louise Jadot, Beaujolais, France
Croes Howells apricot Bakewell tart, apricot parfait, tarragon syrup
2007 Sauternes, Lafleur Mallet, Bordeaux
Croes Howell Restaurant, Bar & Grill, near Rossett, Wrexham,
Tel: 01244 570570; www.croeshowell.com
Restaurant open noon-10pm. A la carte starters from 4.95; Light Bites from 7.95; grills and main courses from 11.95 (vegetarian dishes from 9.50); desserts from 4.25. Sandwiches from 6.25 available noon 5pm. Sunday Lunch 14.95 for two courses, 17.95 for three.