There’s a revolution underway and involves foodie experiences in Wales. Sussing out the best places to eat in Carmarthen and around revealed a seriously hidden truth: food in Wales is now cool.
Talk about Welsh food and most people draw a blank, even if they’re from the UK.
Hard pressed, they’ll come up with leeks (more an emblem than a dish.)
Laverbread (hey, it’s something to do with seaweed!)
Or cockles amid the laverbread, harvested from the southern coast around Swansea.
If you’re on a roll (ignore the pun,) let’s talk about Welsh rarebit, albeit often mislabelled as cheese on toast.
And if they’re feeling really fancy, you might hear about juicy lamb and slow-cooked cawl to boot.
Well, it’s time to start recalibrating the record. And I started doing that by spending a weekend in Carmarthenshire…tucked up in a lovingly restored 18th century Welsh House and roaming around the countryside in search of good bites to eat.
A cawl crawl in Carmarthen invigorated taste buds and lingual gymnastics at the same time, while a food festival threw in crunchy sugar-coated Welsh cakes, tea-and-raisin bara brith and swathes of cupcakes awash with daffodils and dragons.
But that much I expected.
What was new to me was the gastronomic revolution that’s been quietly gathering pace in Wales, and in particular in Carmarthenshire.
The truth is that the food scene in Wales… is now cool!
Gone are the days when nothing but weak tea and stale scones filled the green-black hills and rugged coasts (well, partially gone.)
No, these days even Londoners manage to break free of their city cage to travel west in search of good Welsh food.
So, here are some of the highlights from my trip: quirky, local, international and all exceptionally good places to eat in Carmarthen and around.
A few steps from the shadowy gatehouse of Carmarthen Castle, the lavender-fronted Blasus Deli stands out from its neighbours for reasons that venture beyond the purple.
Inside, it creates a visual treat before moving on to the edible, combining local specialties like Caerphilly cheese with roast cherry tomato salsa from Italy.
I chose a crayfish baguette and munched it in the shade of a castle. Now that’s a welsh way to have lunch.
(Pssst. I think you pronounce it Bl-eye-ss. But I’m, awkwardly, not 100% sure…!)
Bare stone walls, wooden floorboards, a flaming fire and a wet, Welsh, winter’s night outside. The Forest Arms provided a welcome refuge on our first night in Carmarthenshire – with a gastro twist to boot.
Welsh tapas has become a thing, it would seem, and the Forest Arms delights in creating a tapas menu from locally sourced produce. Popcorn cockles in tempura batter with chilli vinegar. Brechfa-honey chorizo. Welsh beef meatballs – and more.
Reach the 6th century village of Brechfa by day and work up an appetite by walking in the countryside nearby.
Or, just arrive by car from the east at night and tuck in anyway, like, er, a friend of mine did… That’s right. A friend…
People say the Ginhaus stocks over 240 types of gin but the owners are not amused.
It’s nothing like that, they say. “It’s more like 180.”
The misers ;-)
And indeed they do, cramming bottles in to this sloped-ceilinged, uneven-walled chocolate box of a building in the picturesque village of Llandeilo.
They, too, used to offer Welsh tapas but they’ve now simplified their menu to focus on home-baked pizza and, in their words “aspiring to be the best delicatessen in Wales.”
Surprisingly cosy and brimming with character, Llandeilo is worth day trip all on its own.
A spot in the Observer Monthly’s 40 Best Restaurants certainly made others sit up and pay attention to Wright’s Food Emporium, just a stone’s throw (with a catapult, admittedly) from the National Botanic Garden of Wales.
The deli section stacks ripe tomatoes, fennel and bananas in Wright’s wooden boxes while jams, pickles and chutney jars line up like servicemen on the floor-to-ceiling shelves.
Out back, dining is a more casual affair, focusing in on juicy hot sandwiches with the crunchiest gherkin, the chunkiest meats and the springiest bun.
I feel hungry just writing about it…
Cawl itself rounds up wild garlic, leeks and welsh mutton and lamb from the Black Mountains, with a few secret ingredients thrown in. It can take all day to cook and occupies a place on the hearth of traditional olde housewives, modern day gastro emporiums and the St David’s Day menu of my former neighbour and travel writer too. Authentic, heartwarming stuff.
For the cawl crawl, buy a dedicated cawl bowl and crawl around Carmarthenshire in search of the stew you like the best. Or is it more of a soup? Or would the word casserole be more appropriate…Or… Or…Or?
One thing’s for sure. It’s pronounced cow-l not call. Now you can boldy go forth and ask for some more!
I visited this part of Wales as a guest of Discover Carmarthenshire. Along with discovering more about Welsh food,
However, throughout, as ever, as always, I kept the right to write what I like. Otherwise, what is the point?
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