This was our third visit to WTLGI. Starting from a high level, it just continues to get better. Food is excellent but now seems also more fun. And the whole ambiance of the place is more relaxed, more hospitable.
There is much to like. Some places talk of having open kitchens but, here, there is just one big room with no dividing barrier between kitchen space and dining space. The seating is arranged so you face the cooking area so you’re spectators as well as diners. And it makes it easy for the chefs to bring you the dishes they have prepared.Some places talk of seasonal food but you do not get more seasonal than produce from their own small farm.
Some of that produce appears as you sit down on the sofa to look at the very, very short wine list and have a chat with the chef. It doesn’t get simpler – just a tiny carrot, one of the thinnings from the main crop, a dab or two of their own honey and what Sam Buckley describes as “weeds” – literally edible weeds which grown naturally on the farm.
You then move to your table, one of only seven (with 13 bums on seats that evening). You already know there’s no published menu, although at the time of booking you’ve been asked about allergies, etc. I did make a few quick notes of what we ate but wouldn’t claim that the following is fully accurate – we were there to enjoy ourselves not do a Jay Rayner review. What comes first is described as a potato poppadum – yep, that’s a very big crisp to you and me. And there’s little dishes of chutney, aubergine and raita. It’s as good a start here as it is in your favourite Indian restaurant.
Then there’s what must be about the last of this year’s English asparagus. It’s almost sweet, thinly sliced and dressed with peppery nasturtium flowers and leaves and some of the sharp tasting curds from making their own butter. I thought this was perfectly balanced between the contrasting flavours, my companion in life not so keen. What followed was what we both agreed was the least successful dish of the evening. Broad beans from the farm were delicious in themselves but they sat on a lightly set custard made from nettles which grown on the farm. Not at all keen on the texture of this and there wasn’t much flavour to it. A single oyster followed, dressed in the whey from the butter making process.
Not everything comes from the farm. Potatoes are bought from a “rare breed” specialist in Northumberland. We get two of them, one violet one purple, thinly sliced and dressed with a lovage flavoured cream. You wouldn’t think the simple spud could look and taste so good. A chilled white garlic soup follows – a bit like the Spanish ajo blanco (and it could have done with having more garlic like the Spaniards do). But the interesting thing here is the addition of finely diced shark’s belly.
At this point, the butter I’ve mentioned appears, accompanied by a really good sourdough bread. Flavoursome with a good crust. And piggy makes an appearance. They buy a whole organic rare breed saddleback and, over the course of time, use all of it. We’re in the northwest, so no surprise that they use the blood to make black pudding, slightly sweetened with apple. And they make a traditionally flavoured pastrami from the pig’s heart. Everything is delicious.
The blood appears in the next course where it’s been incorporated into a small taco shell which is filled with a crab salad, using both white and brown meat, and a spicy relish. It’s fab. Sam Buckley should trademark this – he could be a millionaire by this time next year. A serving plate featuring more piggy comes next. There’s cured shoulder and small slices of fat with the crackling still attached. The intention is that you make wraps using lettuce and big nasturtium leaves. There’s sorrel, parsley and mint to add, along with grated carrot and a miso dressing. This is, without doubt, one of the tastiest things I’ve put in my mouth in months. If that was fully “in yer face” flavour, the next dish was light and almost delicate. Two waxy potatoes served in a little fish soup and just poached cod flavoured with butter and the saltiness of dulse.
The final savoury course was a small wedge of griddled lettuce, sat on very northwestern Carlin peas (or, as we usually call them round here “black peas”). They dress this with a “miso” also made from the peas.
A granita made from gooseberry and nasturtium works as a palate cleanser, fashionably using savoury and sweet to link into the main dessert. Alan Jones farms sheep near Pwllheli and supplies the restaurant with milk (there’s a fascinating article about his farm on the restaurant website’s blog). It’s served, as a yoghurt, with strawberries and, alongside, a small sherry glass of the milk itself. They also make their own strawberry ripple ice cream in an old fashioned wooden hand churner. It’s fab and perfect with the housemade Belgian style stroopwaffel, the two biscuits cemented together with a caramel which uses the whey served much earlier in the meal.
It’s that sort of linking the produce and the seasons that makes WTLGI unique in the south of the region. It’s why we enjoyed our evening so much. It’s why we’ll come back.