Magazine article The Spectator

Restaurants

Magazine article The Spectator

Restaurants

Article excerpt

So, off to north Wales to stay with my in-laws, but this time I travel with some culinary hope in my heart. As you know, I've yet to find a decent eating-out experience in these parts. The Welsh just don't seem to be interested in good food, although I'm not sure why. Perhaps it's simply because they are too busy singing and blowing down wind instruments. However, just before we left home, I chanced upon a good-food guide, which highly recommended the Boat Inn at Erbistock, describing it as 'superbly situated' and with 'a kitchen that puts great store by good-quality local produce'. Worth a try, I think. What's the alternative, anyway? Another pub promising 'home-made' food, which turns out to be lukewarm tinned tomato soup followed by a revolting microwaved pie of some description? Sometimes the Welsh can't see the wood for singing and blowing down their wind instruments. On the other hand, they may simply be too busy ricocheting from one Eisteddfod to the next.

Anyway, I book the Boat Inn for a Sunday lunch, and go with my partner, our son, my mother-in-law and my sister-in-law. Alas, my father-in-law isn't feeling too good, so stays behind with my brother-in-law and his newborn baby daughter. My son has to be bribed to come with us, because he's besotted with his new cousin, has pretty much become her nursemaid, plus, being half-Welsh himself, has turned her into something of a wind instrument. Indeed, he has transformed winding her - which, in his case, means thumping her on the back with a vigour that makes my sister-in-law wince - into a fiercely competitive sport At one point, I was in the lead, having a achieved three burps and two farts, but just that morning he overtook me with three burps, four farts and a sneeze. I'm minded to insist on a drugs test.

The Boat Inn is, indeed, beautifully situated, right on the River Dee. It's been converted from two 16th-century ferryman's cottages, and inside it is just as delightful -at least initially: log fire roaring in the old kitchen range, low-beamed bar, stone flags. The bar offers good beer (Old Hookey, plus a special local ale made from plums) and good wine served in proper balloon glasses. A middle-aged foursome arc already well settled in here, with one couple telling the other that they saw Joe Pasquale perform in Northampton not once hut twice 'because he was that good, wasn't he, Sue?' Before Sue can re-enact the highlights - I can tell by the determined look in her eye that she is about to - we hop it to the lounge, where there is another roaring fire, lots of angling pictures and big squishy sofas, one of which is occupied by a couple (late fifties, I guess). He is tall and angular and balding and looks like my old geography teacher, Mr 'Wally' Wallin. She is rather over-made-up, rather mutton dressed as lamb, and possibly not free-range or organic at that. As it turns out, this is their first meeting through a dating agency. I know this because he talks in a very loud voice. 'One woman sent me a photograph that turned out to have been taken 20 years earlier. Is that fair?' Into the restaurant where, hurrah, Mr Wallin and his date are given the table next to us.

My sister-in-law and I are pleased because by now we are gripped as to how it is going to turn out. 'I'm considered quite a catch because I don't have a pot belly like most men my age. . . ' Yes, but you also have no hair and are an ugly old prat. 'I go to the gym at least three times a week. . . ' My partner says, 'Why don't you simply draw your chairs up to their table? …

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