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.
We needed somewhere to meet Nephew Nick, and the Cross Foxes cannot be easier to find or park at.
Bethan and I used to teach at the college in Dolgellau years ago, and we’d shake our heads sadly at the state it was in for such a promising location.
We were very pleased with the transformation. Serious money has been spent on it, and spent wisely.
The new glass reception area is tastefully modern, and the first step into the bar is welcoming and warm.
Nick is a big real ale fan, so was initially disappointed to see only two real ales on.
But when it turned out they were Wye Valley’s award-winning Butty Bach and another from local micro-brewery Cader Ales he was very happy (and happily surprised to rate the unknown local ale the winner)
It was surprisingly quiet for midday Saturday, and the barman caught us eyeing the recently vacated lounge area. Quick as flash he was out clearing away the coffee pots and wiping the table for us.
The menu was different to the one on their website, ranging from the conservative (trio of local sausages, Welsh Black burger, fish and chips, all around £12) to something for the more adventurous (crab linguine with garlic, ginger, coriander, £14).
Once our food was nearly ready we moved into the new dining room.
That real Welsh slate floor would have cost a few bob, and it looks lovely.
But when the room is quiet it makes for a bit of an echo (particularly with children in the room), and it felt cold at first.
It soon warmed up, however, and we enjoyed the view over the terrace even with the rain lashing it. The Cross Foxes has a suitably sophisticated gastro-pub ambience.
We had just enough time for a drink before our plates arrived.
I thought Nick would have gone for the local sirloin (12oz, £20) or butcher’s faggots (£10) but he felt that he couldn’t turn down the chance to have venison since it always makes him feel like Henry VIII.
There was a generous amount of meat, flavourful without being gamey.
The sauce was pleasantly spicy with a hint of sweetness.
Nick insisted I use the word “hearty”, so there you are.
He liked the rice too, described himself as “very happy”, and I’ve already telephoned his Mum to say he ate all of his lunch.
For £11 this was the best value meal.
The most accomplished dish was Bethan’s pan-fried mullet (what else are things fried in?) on a bed of crab and lemon risotto.
It looked wonderful and the skin was crispy without the fish being over-cooked.
The risotto did taste mildly of crab (not a powerful taste), but certainly not of lemon: maybe that’s what the lemon slices piled on top were for. (Note to chef: lemon wedges are much easier to squeeze over your food without getting your fingers mucky.)
Bethan would have swapped some of the rice for a bit of green veg (perhaps steamed spinach or samphire) for a contrast of flavour, colour and texture.
This was the most interesting dish, and worth its £16.95.
I’m less sure that my “Local Lamb Chops Marinated in Rosemary, Garlic & Lemon” was worth £18.
Lamb chops are expensive, and often under-meated, but these had plenty of lean meat on them – whoever sourced them can be very proud.
But they were over-cooked, leaving them a little dry and I certainly couldn’t taste rosemary, garlic or lemon. A good lamby taste, of course, but if they were a little pink as the Lord intended they would have been taken to another level.
The “fries”, meanwhile, were very poor. We’re in Britain – we want chips. If in France or MacDonalds these would be acceptable but we weren’t so they’re not.
Soft in the middle, crisp on the outside – as well they should be for £3 – these would have been the perfect accompaniment to my lamb chops, or indeed, anything.
However, the only real disappointment was the Vegetable Carbonara.
Ten or twenty years ago,this would have been fine.
This was what you gave veggies in the old days: pasta with a sauce and some vegetables in there. We knew no better and neither did they.
Now it’s different: even Gordon Ramsay tries to accommodate them. Sensible chefs have realised that it’s commercial suicide not to offer a good vegetarian range.
I was a little embarrassed as their online menu had had several options (such as vegetable skewers) whereas when we visited there was only this.
And if you only offer one option, why not make it a good one?
It was properly cooked with both pasta and vegetables al dente, well-seasoned and there was plenty of the creamy sauce.
I believe that carbonara should be a little smoky and I was curious to see how they managed it. (Personally, I’d have used a smoked cheese.) But they just didn’t try.
The giant pieces of broccoli were inelegant and the dish looked like it was driven by profit over palate.
This meal is inadequate from a Home Economics perspective – where is the protein? Rose had walked up & down Snowdon the previous day and there was no protein in this.
A poor effort for £11.
So we went into the desserts in a positive frame of mind, and here I must admit to making a mistake myself.
I foolishly went for the Belgian Waffle with Toffee and Chocolate sauce for £5.45.
I should have ordered the chocolate fondant as it is a great way to test a kitchen (particularly one that over-cooked the lamb).
What could this teach me about their kitchen? That they can put things on plates? What was I thinking?
The Belgians did a decent job with the waffle, the ice cream was OK, and the sauce was saucy.
Nick ordered better with his sticky toffee pudding.
Rich and sweet and flavourful: he thought “monumental” and with lots of “delicious” toffee sauce
The jug of thick custard may have had some help from Mr Bird, but as with his main course, he was happy.
And I was happy to see him eat it all up.
I haven’t mentioned the service because it was very efficient. Things came and went at the right times, the staff seemed people I’d happily hire myself. Sadly service is rarely noticeable when it goes well.
We all felt pleasantly full, even though no one had three courses, and £89 seemed fair for four.
We had an excellent time. The Cross Foxes is a safe location for a meal out and I would happily take people again.
On our vist there were people from young to old, from near and far away.
But the question remains: what sort of restaurant do they want to be?
The kitchen is efficient and turns out the food as it should be.
There are too many pub staples on that menu – if people are coming to the Cross Foxes for burgers & sausages, then the pub will be in trouble if Mr Wetherspoon ever comes to Dolgellau.
There isn’t enough on their menu that you couldn’t do yourself at home.
The kitchen can cook, so why not let them cut loose with the sort of interesting dish that a chain restaurant can’t offer?
They need to be more adventurous to justify meals around £18.
Nicol & Dewi have worked really hard to create a destination gastropub from nothing in such a short time.
Their success in the rare feat of getting into both the Good Beer Guide and the Good Food Guide is to be commended.
A little more adventure in the menu would protect their investment, finish their project and make the Cross Foxes the destination restaurant it deserves to be.