[Conwy, North Wales] The Jackdaw

North Wales seems to be less well endowed with generally good restaurants than it was a few years ago, so it was a relief to see mention of somewhere new that was making an effort. It’d brighten up a short stay at the coast. A few days before our reservation, we got a phone call to confirm we were coming and to let us know that we’d find them above the old bingo hall on Conwy’s High Street. And it’s just as well that we got that location information as there is no exterior signage. You see an open metal grille gate and a staircase. Then you spot the small metal plaque on the wall which just has a stylised bird on it. So, up the stairs you go. There’s another door with another plaque. Then a dimly lit corridor. And another door which opens out into the restaurant. You’ve made it. The room manages to be cosy – there’s only 22 seats – yet there’s church style windows and old fashioned (or maybe just old) radiators. And it’s all hard surfaces, so the noise bounces about. But, there’s comfy chairs, some with fleeces tossed over them, and spacious tables. Service is friendly but with a background hint of old fashioned formality – it’s years since we last addressed by serving staff in the third person as “the gentleman” and “the lady”.

In the early part of the week, there’s a tasting menu which changes to a very short carte for Friday and Saturday. We went on a Wednesday. Now, it’s fair to say, that we’re not overly keen on tasting menus even those which, as here, modify for seasonality through the year, whilst retaining the basic structure of the dishes. . There’s always some courses which don’t work as well as others. And service at the Jackdaw is what I suppose you might describe as “banquet style”, effectively a single sitting. So, nothing really happens until everyone is seated (it was full when we went). Then everyone is served the first dish which is not cleared from the tables until the last person has finished eating. And so it goes on, through what becomes quite a long evening.

So, it took a while to get that first dish but it was excellent and well named as “bread of heaven”. A kefir bread made from flour produced at a small mill in mid Wales. And there’s homemade butter to slather over it. Fortunately, you’ve restrained yourself and have some bread left to load an excellent chicken liver parfait on to. That’s come with a fig “gastrique” – a lightly set sweet & sour jelly. It contrasts nicely with the parfait.

The next dish “Leek & Potato” was a bit less successful. The leek and spud veloute was excellent. Also in the bowl, a chunk of barbecued leek which was lovely but its texture divided us – one thought it overly crisp, the other thought it OK. But we were both agreed that the little cubes of confit potato were just undercooked. Or call it overly “al dente” if you will. That was followed by a piece of confit salmon, so a bit pappy in the way that confit fish always will be – but rescued somewhat by being finished in the pan. There’s a delicious fennel sauce and a parsley puree, both of which work very well.

There was then an imaginative take on the traditional Welsh dish of cawl. There’s four small same-sized cubes – one each of long cooked lamb, carrot, swede and turnip (?) – surrounded by a well made broth. The final savoury course featured a couple of slices of perfectly pink fillet from a wild fallow deer, from the organic Rhug Estate down the road in Denbighshire . There’s a very pokey peppercorn sauce – so peppery that you might think it wouldn’t work but it just stays on the right side. . There’s cubes of celeriac and sharp fruitiness from aronia berries (nope, me neither – I had to Google).It works.

A pre-dessert brought a granita made from local apples. Sharp as anything, it was a perfect palate cleanser. And, finally, a dessert named “Blaenau Slate” – Nick Rudge’s homage to the area’s traditional mining industry. Thin shards of smoked meringue decorate the plate as though they were shards of slate. And there’s poached rhubarb, sheep’s milk yoghurt and a scattering a pistachios which all combine to make a really good dessert, although one where most ingredients seem to miss a connection with the original intent.

We might have had coffee but they only do the filter version and that would have taken another 10 – 15 minutes, as it wasn’t switched on and ready, so we passed on that, by now needing a good stretch and walk back to the car, after being sat for over three hours. I’m sure that, if we were locals, this would be somewhere we might come a couple of times a year and we will, probably, be back at some point to try the weekend carte.