Tan y Foel, visit Snowdonia
There was panettone bread and butter pudding for dessert on our first night at Tan y Foel. Anton Mosimann's signature dish, I remarked to Peter Pitman, as he served us. “That was the chef who first inspired Janet”, he replied.
Mrs Pitman, that is, who cooks at this wonderful, family run, stone built country house hotel near Capel Garmon, in the hills above the Conwy Valley between Bettws-y-Coed and the small town of Llanwrst, on the edge of the Snowdonia National Park.
You see more of him than her, which is a surprise only until you discover that her art is all her own work. What remains surprising is that while she may have drawn inspiration from better known masters of the art, she is entirely self-taught. TV's Masterchef should have been around when she was learning. She would have walked it.
That first night she had worked her magic with a starter of goat's cheese soufflé with thyme, in a flat dish rather than a ramekin, to be attacked from the edge as it was still cooking in the centre. It was light and exquisite. Unforgettable. Next evening there was carpaccio of Welsh beef with walnut shavings and perl las (blue cheese), followed by a superb fillet of wild, locally caught turbot with couscous, caramelised chicory, red pepper coulis and white balsamic dressing. The chicory seems at first too sweetly powerful for the fish but the combination grew on me. Pudding was a cherry and frangipani tart with vanilla ice cream which (some praise this) would have given my late mother's Bakewell tart a run for its money.
It's not just the food that makes Tan y Foel special. Rooms are supremely comfortable, some with a glorious view down the valley, where the lights of Llanwryst sparkle at night. But for the birds and the sheep, the silence would be total. The décor has a touch of the Orient – the Pitmans try to escape the rigours of the North Wales winter for some r&r in Thailand – and some nice touches, such as the cardboard grandfather clock, in the breakfast room, designed by Giles Miller, who creates furniture and other items from recycled materials.
Close by are the summits of Snowdonia – magnificent walking country of course (if you want to take the train up Snowdon itself, prepare for a long wait). Hiking need not be tough. There's a lovely route which begins in Trefriw, over the elegant 17th century bridge at Llanwryst and a short way up the B5106, which leads you up through bluebell woods to the twin lakes of Geirionydd and Crainant (OS Explorer Map OL17). Bodnant Garden (National Trust) are a short drive north and Conwy Castle, perhaps the most impressive of that grim chain of fortresses built by Edward I to contain the Welsh, no more than 30 minutes away.
We had not visited for perhaps three years. Inevitably we wondered whether a hotel we had though near perfect would seem so again. There was one small disappointment – the understandable desire of the Pitmans that guests should choose dishes from the menu at breakfast time. But with only two possibilities for each course – it doesn't cater for vegetarians but often includes fish – it would hardly deter us from returning.
Oh – and now there's free wi-fi. Not, though Peter tells the story of a guest who emailed his wife from her room, that you should bother to take your laptop. Tan y Foel, as he stresses, sells peace and good food. Routine should not intrude.