By James McKinney
As Neil welcomed us into the bar area, there was a sensation of going back in time. Forget gastro-pubs, nouveau cuisine, celebrity chefs and Come Dine With Me, this place was rooted in the previous century and (maybe this is an age thing), it felt just right to be there.
Complete with a guest ales blackboard, games room, regulars at the bar, and a good old-fashioned personal welcome from the owner, The Antelope took us back in time. And when we sat down with a glass of Thwaites’ Nutty Black (ABV 3.7% and justifiably a CAMRA category winner) to peruse the menu we definitely felt like we’d stepped into a time machine.
The menu listed our favourite dishes, concentrating on all the good things we had grown up eating for a family pub lunch or dinner, but it was the prices that really gave us that feeling of nostalgia. Neil and his wife Ellie, having taken on The Antelope this year, have decided that good old-fashioned values are what bring people back time and again, and when you’ve had dinner here, it’s hard to argue.
We enjoyed an á la carte three course meal, served impeccably, each dish just right, perhaps even a little over-generous with portions, and for less than £15 each (not including the ales). At the end of the meal we couldn’t quite finish our dessert, despite having arrived during a sudden and violent hailstorm and ravenously looking forward to a beer and a hot meal.
The homemade pâté was soft, decadent, full of flavour and just the perfect thing for onion marmalade on toast! The prawn cocktail really was a celebration of the 1980s, and really does go much better with fresh, buttered, brown bread than another other new twist or invention! The bar had been set quite high, but the entrées did not disappoint. The Steak and Ale Pie had beautifully succulent pieces of steak swimming in a rich ale gravy. Personally, I like kidney with steak pie, and I think they could have set off the steak. However, my dining companion disagreed, preferring mushrooms – each to their own. Hunter’s Chicken is a fabulous invention – splay a large chicken breast and cover it with naughty things like fired bacon, grilled cheese and BBQ sauce.
Delicious. Any measure of calorie control had been long abandoned, we felt wonderfully free to eat what we liked, comfortable there would be no nasty surprises hiding in a menu that absolutely has something for everyone, no matter which decade you like.
Homemade Pâté, with red onion marmalade, melba toast and salad £3.95
Traditional Prawn Cocktail, with fresh brown bread and butter £3.95
Steak and Ale Pie, cooked with onions and mushrooms in Thwaites’ cask ale, topped with puff pastry, £7.50
Hunter’s Chicken, butterfly chicken breast topped with grilled cheese, bacon and BBQ sauce, £7.50
Hot Chocolate Fudge Cake, with ice cream and strawberries, £2.95
The Antelope Hotel
With growing trepidation, we watched the weather front closing in from the west; snow was inevitable. Reading this now in the comfort of a spring day, such concerns will seem distant, but cast your mind back to late January. A cold blast of wind from the east had left the country a frozen waste for over a week, and was about to meet a band of wet air arriving over Wales. Heavy snow was certain, though fortunately for us, the roads remained accessible, and the valley and the West Arms itself were exceptionally beautiful in the snow.
It was the stellar reputation of the West Arms, and head chef Grant Williams – whose appearances on television have now earned him celebrity chef status, that convinced us brave the cold weather. People from Anglesey to Oswestry raved about the food when we mentioned where we were off to that Friday. Friends and colleagues rushed to say how they’re definitely going back – and how surprised they were. Well you can’t judge a dish by its cover. That said, it’s not every ancient drover’s inn tucked away off the beaten track can claim AA rosettes every year until there’s hardly room on the shelves for more!
Over drinks in the bar, we enjoy delicate salmon and pastry nibbles and peruse the menu, showing three choices only for both starters and main course. For the starters, the Thai fish cake on chicory, watercress and apple salad was a tasty, zesty classic combination, and the goats cheese with roasted pear and hazelnut oil was a beautiful combination - the creamy soft cheese with firm, clean pear all set off but the nutty dressing, absolutely delicious.
For entrees, the fillet of plaice, smoked salmon, spinach and scallops in a tarragon butter sauce was wonderfully presented, delicately cooked, and generous to a fault with the fillets, formed together around and over the spinach. The loin of pork with sweet potato, celeriac and bacon was a meaty treat – but the real star was the sweet potato! Just delicious, wonderfully seasoned and the perfect accompaniment to the pork, that fell apart in thick, succulent strips.
Leaving just in time to follow the snow plough back down to Glyn Ceiriog, Chirk and home, we gave thanks for our lucky timing – had our table been an hour later we may not have ventured out into a blizzard of saucer-sized flakes, and we would have missed a wonderful treat!
The Bill: 2 courses £27.95, 3 courses £32.95
The West Arms
Llanarmon Dyffryn-Ceiriog, Denbighshire, LL20 7LD, Wales
Tel: 01691 600665
Yattar Yattar went to soak up some of the atmosphere at the Bangor and Llandudno Fat Cat Café Bars, where we sampled some of the delights, and had a chat with the managing director, Matt Saunders.
‘We started in January 1992 in Bangor,’ explains Matt Saunders, managing director. ‘I had just finished my business degree in London. I’d always wanted my own business, and I worked in bars while I was studying, which started my love affair with the sector.’ So how did Matt end up in Bangor? ‘My mum had just moved to Penmaenmawr, not too far from Bangor,’ Matt explained. ‘It’s a nice part of the world, and I thought I could attract the students of Bangor University as well.’
There are now 10 Fat Cat Café Bars in Wales and England. ‘When we first started, we expanded quite quickly,’ Matt says. ‘Of course, that changed in 2008. The poor economy meant that people changed their going out habits – it was really a game changer. Despite the poor conditions, we’ve still had a good amount of growth in the last two years.’
We asked what sets Fat Cat Café Bars apart from other bars. ‘We have always focused on the service aspect,’ Matt tells us. ‘When we started, it was very unusual to get table service in a bar. We still do our best to set ourselves apart for service.’ To back up their high service standards, Fat Cat Café Bars do their best to deliver good value for money. There might be cheaper places out there, but not better value for money,’ Matt says. ‘We offer a lively environment, with good drinks and good food, and really give you a reason to spend your money.’
We headed to the Fat Cat Café Bars in Bangor and Llandudno to see just what the bars offer for ourselves. Both the Bangor and the Llandudno bars had a welcoming atmosphere, and both were full of people eating. Dinner was at the Bangor bar and restaurant. A glance at the menu told us that we weren’t in for the usual pub fare! For starters, we enjoyed the white bait, which was absolutely delicious! A fantastic Caesar salad proved to be good company for the fish, while the Greek platter that we also had was an unusual, but delicious choice. The highlight of the platter was really the lovely aubergine fritters and the chargrilled halloumi stuffed with vine leaves. For mains, we had the British staple of fish and chips, though this dish was far from ordinary. The beer-battered fish was delicious and light, and not greasy at all. Of course, it wouldn’t be fish and chips if it didn’t include some mushy peas and tartar sauce. Our second dish was the Cajun chicken burger, which certainly wasn’t short on delicious flavours! Overall, the food was fantastic, and the generous portions made sure that no one would go hungry.
2012 marked twenty years since the first Fat Cat Café Bar opened. ‘To mark our twentieth birthday, we did a serious of customer giveaways,’ Matt tells us. ‘We also invited people to celebrate their birthday with us, and gave 20% off to anyone holding a birthday party. This proved to be so popular that we’re continuing it this year.’
Of course, we couldn’t finish speaking to Matt without asking where the name came from! ‘When I started the business, my brother was reading a fictional book with a pub called ‘The Fat Cat’ in it. The name was memorable, and it’s certainly worked well for us!’
High Street, Bangor
Opened in 1992, Bangor was the first of the Fat Cat Café Bars. The restaurant is spread over two floors and has plenty of charm. The balcony offers somewhere to enjoy and dine al fresco during the summer months. There is also a canopied, heated terrace which can be enjoyed all year round.
The bar is open from 10am until 11pm on Mondays and Tuesday, 10am to 12am Wednesday to Saturday, and 11am unto 10:30pm on Sundays. Food is served every day from 10am until 10pm.
Mostyn Street, Llandudno
The Llandudno Fat Cat Café and Bar has an open dining area to the rear of the bar. Should you want to get a little fresh air, there is a Victorian terrace to the front the building.
The bar is open from 10am until 11pm Sunday to Thursday, and from 10am until 12pm every Friday and Saturday. Food is served every day from 10am until 10pm.
If you wish to dine like a prince, but pay like a pauper, then Maenan Abbey is the only place for you. With fine food, historic grounds and a live pianist tinkling away on the ivories while you eat, it’s easy to understand why Maenan Abbey stands at the summit of the provender pedestal all year round! By Cazz Jones
The Sunday lunch. A British tradition dating back to as early as the fifteenth century, when the seventh day of the week saw the royals and the rich sit down to great feasts of meat and vegetables (namely in those days, roast beef - so much so that even the French came to call us ‘rosbifs’ as a collective nation!) The royal kitchen porters would roast whole animals on great spits in the fires of the palace kitchen and then the meat would be consumed in its entirety! And here we are now, hundreds of years later, still rejoicing in the same tradition as our fathers, and there’s before them. In this day and age, where etiquette and mannered living are all but pictures in our history books, the great British Sunday lunch still remains, and long shall it continue to do so! It is more than just a lavish meal, it brings families together in celebration, where the trials and tribulations of each week can be spoken about at great length.
Page 1 of 3