Three of the top eateries in North East Wales went head to head yesterday in the grand final of the Year of the Sea Food challenge – with Gales of Llangollen being crowned the overall winner.
Over the past month 12 eateries across Wrexham, Flintshire and Denbighshire have put their best fin forward to showcase the best of local produce and hit the rather tricky ‘Year of the Sea’ brief.
The challenge took inspiration from the 2018 Welsh ‘Year of the Sea’, with the North East Wales Tourism and Marketing team inviting local eateries to create a dish that would celebrate the region’s amazing coastline, epic inland waterways and great local produce.
Each restaurant has been visited by a mystery diner, including food bloggers from South Wales, local press (such as Wrexham.com) and food writers, who had the very difficult task of tasting and scoring the dishes.
While Year of the Sea may seem a difficult challenge for a semi landlocked North East Wales, all the participating rose the challenge and offered their interpretations of the classic fish and chips with a twist or their surf and turf dishes.
Yesterday saw the three finalists – The Fat Boar Wrexham, Gales of Llangollen and the Royal Oak in Bangor on Dee – compete against each other in a live cook off at Hafod in Coleg Cambria.
Each restaurant faced tough critique from a panel of experts and top chefs, including Kevin Lynn – Machine House, Kerry Thatcher – Food Division Visit Wales, Chris Nelson – Artisan Street Food Chef, Alex Jones – Bank Wine Bar Wrexham, Caroline Dawson – Welsh Seafood Cluster Manager and Tracey Hughes – Porters Delicatessen Llangollen.
Speaking yesterday Joe Bickerton, Destination Manager at Wrexham Council, said the standard of competition this year had been excellent – with all three finalists scoring a whopping 59/60 in the mystery diner feedback.
First up was The Royal Oak, with their ‘Surf & Slurp’ – a dish billed as a ‘winter hearty dish that will warm you up from the inside’.
Providing a background on the dish, Lee Williams, general manager of the restaurant, explained it was made of locally sourced pork from Lewis’ farm shop and Menai Mussels which were freshly delivered.
The competition entry was also described as being a hit with customers, with between 60-70 dishes being served over the past month, all of which receiving positive. feedback.
Next up was Gales of Llangollen, who also offered their unique twist on surf and turf with sous vide Pen y Lan pork belly, saffron mash, American sauce, a smiling langoustine and a couple of lovely quails eggs.
Finally was another interpretation of the classic surf and turf, with the Fat Boar serving up an massive 18oz bone-in Celtic pride ribeye, giant crab claws, Perl las sauce. Crispy ‘spiralised’ Covent Garden potato, Anglesey salted roast tomato and Wrexham Lager battered onion rings.
Explaining the inspiration behind the dish, Jamie and Mark from the restaurant said they wanted to take Year of the Sea to the next level and provide the ‘wow factor’.
While the dish was made for the Year of the Sea challenge, it has also created a challenge of its own in the restaurant – with before and after pics taken of anyone who attempted to take on the plateful of food. This, Jamie and Mark explained had resulted in people from far and wide seeing the dish on social media and coming along to try it for themselves.
After a lot of deliberation from the Judges, Gales of Llangollen was crowned the winner of the Year of the Sea Food Challenge – with judges describing their dish as having a ‘good use of local produce’ and the ‘visual wow factor’ – a vote that matched the verdict in room.
In what was a tough competition, the Fat Boar came in second and The Royal Oak third.
The head chef received a fishy themed trophy, and also gets the chance to serve up their dish at food festivals later in the year – along with further promotion and featuring across Wales and the rest of the UK!
The full list of entrants this year were: Gales of Llangollen , Old Wives Tales, Corwen , Fat Boar, Mold , Druid Inn , Fat Boar, Wrexham , Lot 11, Wrexham , Croes Howell , Royal Oak Bangor on Dee , Lemon Tree, Wrexham , Holt Lodge , Hafod Restaurant, Coleg Cambria and The Alyn, Rossett