By EssentialsMAG food critic SALLY ANGLESEA
The Plassey, Eyton, Wrexham, LL13 0SP
Cost for three course meal, for two people, without drinks: £55 - £65.
My Mum has always told me to trust my gut instincts and more often than not, her advice is absolutely (and irritatingly) correct. As I grow up, or at least attempt to, I’m learning to trust my inner instincts more and more: if it feels right, I’m probably onto a winner; if it feels wrong, I’m probably going to go for it anyway and then seriously contemplate my life choices. So, whilst some may follow their hearts or their minds, I’m learning to remain loyal to my gut…I should include that in my next Valentine’s Day card actually:
Roses are red,
Violets are blue.
My instinctive gut
Lead me to you.
Form an orderly queue, gentlemen.
I must say though, when it came to The Shippon, my gut was torn - not literally, I hasten to add.
Located in The Plassey, a Holiday Park and Retail Village in the heart of North Wales, my expectations were less of artistic cuisine, and more of local handcrafted carpentry, burnt bangers on disposable barbecues and children dancing gaily around may poles. (Can you tell I’m not the camping type?) Upon arriving at the restaurant, however, these visions of Brady Bunch holidays and singed sausages were quickly replaced, as I was welcomed into the warmth of a rather charming old cow shed…
Yes, you read correctly. The Shippon occupies the space of an old milking parlour – and elegantly so. Trendy, modern touches compliment more traditional elements that reflect the history of the building and add character to what is an undeniably beautiful space to both drink and dine within.
Our waitresses, Lauren and Jamie, were faultless: attentive, friendly and knowledgeable about both the food and drink. Upon Lauren’s recommendation, I opted for the Welsh ‘Aber Falls’ gin with elderflower tonic, which was genuinely one of the nicest gin and tonics I’ve ever tasted – and I’ve devoted many selfless hours to G&T explorations. I was also pleasantly surprised to be presented with some complimentary bar snacks, including one of my favourite nibbles, wasabi peas. Top tip though: wasabi is a powerful Japanese mustard, so don’t chuck a whole load of them in your mouth at once. If you do, your nasal passage will feel as though it has literally caught fire, and you will spend the following minute or so desperately wishing you’d just stuck to the dry roasted peanuts.
In fear of experiencing this, Mum and I appeased our hunger by ordering a small dish from the Snacks section of the menu, whilst we enjoyed our drinks in the bar. Our Crispy Chilli Beef arrived in a small pot, satisfyingly stuffed with strips of glistening beef and upon first taste, I was in heaven – crispy, tender meat in sticky sauce, offering up a salty, sweet flavour with a satisfying kick of chilli. As I hastily reached for my second sample, however, that kick quickly progressed into more of a punch in the face…followed by a full body slam. Now, I’m not a Korma gal, I can handle the heat but this was a little too heavy handed for me. I felt it distracted from the delicious depth of Oriental flavour that was initially prevalent and despite desperately wanting to, I was unable to eat more then a couple of bites.
Upon the Chef’s recommendation, we then proceeded to order the Local Pen-y-Lan Pork Cheek and Cod Cake; both of which are labeled ‘Signature’ - and as we soon discovered, justifiably so. Topped with swirling shoestrings of crispy potato, the sweetly glazed pork cheek fell apart at the mere sight of a fork. Petals of pearl onion scattered the plate; their distinctive taste contributing a welcome addition to the delicately flavoured meat and creamy chive emulsion that polka-dotted itself around the dish.
After devouring more than my fair share, I begrudgingly handed my deliciously cheeky number over for Mum to try, and turned my attention to the Cod Cake. This starter comprised of a sizeable hunk of cod, which was cooked beautifully, and cubes of pickled cucumber, which cut through the soft, mellow fish in both crunch and pickled punch. The star of the dish though, had to be the ‘cake’ element: a golden potato and dill croquette that I accidently-on-purpose demolished before Mum could get a second look in (you snooze, you lose). I fiercely detest dill, or so I thought, so whilst my adoration for this crispy cake was delightful, it also prompted me to seriously consider my dill-less life choices thus far. As I’m sure you can imagine, this was an emotional process.
My herby woes were soon abandoned, however, as I was presented with my main course: Deconstructed Beef Wellington. Now, I’ll be the first to say that culinary deconstructions irritate me immensely. The idea of taking a beloved classic and unnecessarily tampering with it often proves to be a self-indulgent and inevitably disappointing exercise. I hark back to that age-old saying: “If it ain’t broke, just eat it”. On this occasion, however, lured in by the promise of beef fillet and pastry, I ignored my gut and embraced the deconstruction…
Ten minutes later, whilst contemplating whether I could get away with physically licking my plate clean, I came to the conclusion that sometimes, just sometimes, deconstruction is wholly acceptable.
Boulders of blushing, butter-soft beef nestled themselves amongst shards of salty, peppery, buttery pastry, the crispness of which beautifully paved the way for the contrastingly smooth creamed potatoes. Vibrant tenderstem and earthy portobello were the ideal veg accompaniments, and the beef reduction was plentiful in both flavour and quantity. The traditional pate/fois gras element was acknowledged with a whipped chicken liver. Despite sounding rather unappetising and looking disturbingly at home within the cow-inspired surroundings, it’s rich, irony flavour was far from perturbing. Forget undercooked, soggy pastry and unpredictably cooked fillet, THIS is how Beef Wellington should forever be served.
Unfortunately, no other main course stood a chance of competing with this dishy deconstruction, although the Roast Cod Loin made a valiant attempt. Presented atop artistic smears of squash puree and swirls of sharp balsamic, crispy-skinned cod loin crowned a satisfying mound of sticky saffron rice. Sweet with fresh peas and smoky with very lightly spiced chorizo, this plate of food sung a pretty sweet tune. Granted, it was as a backing singer to the Wellington Wonder, but hey, what’s a main lyric without an accompanying ‘sha la la’?
At this point, my gut was screaming: ‘For the love of all that it wholly edible, stop eating, woman!’ But I’m a trooper and dessert awaited, so I ignored it.
I also ignored my gut instinct to choose Chocolate Fondant (those of you who know me will know that this is absurd, bordering on concerning), in favour of Lauren’s dessert recommendations: Lemon Meringue Pie and Banoffee. Thankfully, Mum and I favoured different ones, otherwise a physical fight would have undoubtedly ensued. She may have allowed me to demolish that dill croquette earlier, but when it comes to pudding, she takes no prisoners. And nor do I.
The Lemon Meringue was Mum’s preferred pud and though I’m not a lemon dessert enthusiast, I could certainly see (and much to Mum’s annoyance, taste) why. Firstly, it was stunning: a centerpiece of lemon tart, concealed beneath billowing clouds of scorched meringue and topped with a perfectly spherical scoop of fuchsia pink sorbet. Secondly, and unlike many reality ‘stars’ of our era, its aesthetic appeal wasn’t compensating for a lack of depth – the raspberry sorbet offered up that awakening zing that catches you in the back of your cheeks, whilst crisp, chewy meringue provided sweet relief. All of this was then brought together beautifully with toasty, buttery pastry that encased a creamy lemon tart filling. I was immediately transported to my Nan’s kitchen, eating lemon curd and butter on toast, accompanied by a boundless supply of sugary tea. And I wonder why I was an overweight child…
Despite the wonders of this nostalgic pie, it was the Banoffee that really rocked my world: pillars of crispy caramelised banana towered majestically above sweet swirls of soft caramel mousse. A perfect sphere of bitter dark chocolate facilitated childish delight, as I smashed through it to discover sticky, treacly cubes of banana cake, lashings of butterscotch sauce, more silky smooth caramel mousse and, in the interest of health, some slices of fresh banana. In both texture and taste, every part of this pudding was pretty perfect. So much so, I remain psychologically damaged by the fact that I didn’t manage to finish it.
By the end of this meal, my previously indecisive gut was no longer feeling torn. Well, not emotionally anyway. The Shippon is an elegant addition to its homely holiday park surroundings and offers a wide selection of food that enables an experience as suave or as simple as you choose it to be. The menu makes a conscious nod towards local produce, whilst typically traditional dishes are given enticing twists that compliment the palate as well as the plate. So, if you’re looking for a relaxed afternoon or evening of reasonably priced, taste-bud delighting food; trust my gut, and treat yours to an evening at The Shippon restaurant.
Friday Night Boogie – Visit on a Friday evening and enjoy live acoustic music to accompany your culinary experience.
Sunday Sorted – Work up on appetite with a walk around The Plassey’s picturesque setting, before satisfying it with a proper Shippon roast! Beef Brisket Hash, Welsh Lamb, warm Ginger Cake…need I say more?!
‘Tis the Season - The Shippon is offering up an impressive festive feast to tantalise your tastebuds and get you in the Christmas spirit! Available to book now.
For more foodie fanaticism and photos, follow Sally on Instagram: @gingernutsaboutfood