Aberystwyth has a lovely harbour.
Anywhere else in the world there’d be seafood restaurants, hotels and pubs with outdoor seating.
Here, however, there’s a big building that was intended to be a hotel. It would have been great as, say, a Premier Inn upstairs and a Wetherspoons downstairs.
Instead, one half is the court (so the crims get a lovely view when being asked not to nick stuff) and the other half is an empty building owned by the Welsh Government. This is what happens when an area has no private sector.
However, one person is trying to buck the trend.
You know Sophie? You do, she took over the Upper Limit caff and dragged it to respectability.
She’s now added the long-neglected Boat Club Bar to her empire, installed her lovely boyfriend in the bar with her, and is trying to add it to the Aber bar scene.
So, with the wind howling in off the sea and the sun long gone, Bethan and I donned our big coats and went to see what was going on.
The Cross Foxes is well-located on a popular junction 4 miles outside Dolgellau.
It looks great following its major overhaul three years ago, but I’ve heard wildly differing feedback on the food.
So Bethan and I took some tourists from the Big City to lunch there to find the truth for ourselves.
Over the summer, Bethan and I visited two very good Cardiff restaurants that specialised in the hot on-trend food of the moment: barbecue.
We enjoyed them a lot, and sadly thought how if we were twenty years younger we’d open a BBQ place in Aberystwyth.
And just as the nights are lengthening, and we start to miss that unpretentious meaty goodness, Backyard BBQ opens up.
But can they match the best Cardiff has to offer? And do the citizens of Aberystwyth want it?
It’s forty years since Bethan & I first cooked for the public, so we’re always delighted to see a pair of ladies starting down the same road.
Samantha & Shauna are at the early stages of their career, and have got the important stuff – what they want to cook – nailed down.
They took a big trip to the US to learn to cook Southern BBQ food, and after the success of our trip to Pontcanna SmokeHouse last week we wanted to give them a try to finish our visit to the capital.
They don’t have a place of their own yet, so are popping up in other people’s kitchens – they do one evening at Porters in the town centre and one evening at The Canadian pub in what my estate agent friend calls “Up & Coming Splott”.
So how did it compare to last week’s excellent Smoke House?
The “dirty food” revolution – gourmet versions of BBQ, burgers, hot dogs – doesn’t seem to be coming to Aber any time soon.
But you don’t need to go abroad to that London - you just need to swap Aber’s streets of litter and student vomit for Cardiff’s streets of litter and student vomit.
We were in town anyway, and the capital now has several interesting American-style eateries.
So we put on our vintage sneakers, grew our hair, and got on our fixed-wheel bikes for The Smoke House in hipster-central Pontcanna.
Well, this is the Aberfoodblog, so although we try to keep it in Aberystwyth, we thought we’d stretch the definition to Abermule near Newtown.
Monty’s brewery has been a great success, with a range of excellent beers, and now they have three pubs of their own.
The Abermule Inn is the newest, and they have teamed up with a local farmer who supplies Welsh Wagyu beef.
This Japanese breed is noted for the fine marbling of the meat, giving more flavour with less fat. They are traditionally fed beer too (hence the link with Monty’s).
So did Monty’s make our trip so far east worthwhile?
As much as we love Ultracomida’s food, we love their business model even more.
The great produce in the deli is a reason to visit the restaurant.
And the great food in the restaurant is then a reason to visit the deli.
Symbiosis. It’s made Ultracomida a thriving business with a hatful of awards.
And if they’re going to offer good-value evening meals, then how could we resist?
‘Med Delight’ is a replacement of the unlamented ‘Agra’ on North Parade.
However, with the Morrocan ‘Casablanca’, Greek ‘Olive Branch’, several good Italians and tapas bars in Aberystwyth, we now have more Mediterranean restaurants per capita than Algeria or Zante.
So has this newcomer done enough to make itself heard in the noisy west-Wales Kasbah?
Llanfihangel y Creuddyn being such a mouthful has to be a good omen for the food in this rural gastro-pub.
It’s always in the posh papers, it’s in the CAMRA and Good Food Guides, and everyone seems to have been.
Can Y Ffarmers live up to the hype?
Ynyshir Hall is one of the grandest dining experiences in Wales, so losing that Michelin star would have have hurt.
We went to see how they’re trying to win it back, and whether their lunchtime offer of 3 courses (with a glass of wine) for £25 is as good value as it appears.