- Food & Drink
I consider it one of my life’s great tragedies that I’m not invited to banquets in castles more often. I’m clearly built for sitting on benches in drafty rooms, quaffing and feasting, and I’d look terrific in a coif. Yet the number of heralds unrolling scrolls and trumpeting outside my door is small. So Visit Wales’ invitation to the Piers & Emma Farewell Banquet in Cardiff Castle seemed long overdue.
I caught the train with miss_jordi and there came the first revelation of the day: Cardiff is not that far away. Having given up geography at 14, my grasp of where Cardiff actually sits on the map is fairly hazy. If pushed, I’d say: “On the other side of the country.” But 2 hours 20 minutes after our train rattled out of Paddington we were stepping onto Welsh soil and wishing we’d put on slightly warmer clothes.
Cardiff Castle itself is familiar to anyone who grew up visiting National Trust properties on their weekends. There are thickset walls of varying ages, a Norman keep balanced on a motte, eccentric extensions, ornamental additions and a series of useful boards packed with historic facts. I do like my tourism to come with a smattering of education.
Inside the castle, I was handed a glass of sparkling wine. “Ooh, this is nice,” I thought (I always think free wine is nice). “A crémant, maybe,” I mentally added (because I’m an insufferable pseud). It was not a crémant, nor was it a cava or a prosecco. It was Cariad Sparkling Wine from the Llanerch Vineyard, 15 minutes drive from Cardiff. The Welsh are making wine! And I liked it.
This was the second revelation of the day. At lunch I was sat opposite the vineyard’s new owner, Ryan Davies, who has spent six months refurbishing Llanerch and re-opened it with a bed and breakfast, bistro, vineyard tours and a cookery school run by Angela Gray.
We drank Llanerch’s dry white and red wines over lunch. Made with German grape varieties, the white was (unsurprisingly) more successful than the red. Floral and aromatic, but still dry, I expressed my new found love of Welsh wine by drinking as much as the waiting staff would allow me.
The lunch was a showcase of Welsh produce. My starter of Anglesey shellfish and crab jelly with Caerphilly cured salmon and Penclawydd cockle cake (there’s a mouthful) was rather like spooning up the froth from the top of a wave. While my main course, roast saddle of Ifan Valley lamb with a leek, garlic and laverbread stuffing had the redoubtable ring of Sunday lunch about it.
Pudding was a rich chocolate and hazelnut tart cheered up by a dose of Merlyn Cream Liqueur, and was followed by a cheese plate including Hafod Organic Cheddar – one of my favourite cheeses to ever bestride an oatcake.
We finished the meal with a third and final revelation: coffee (this was not the revelation, I’ve had coffee before) and Welsh cakes. As a fan of small, fat, pancake-like things that can be cooked on a griddle, I knew of Welsh cakes’ existence but I’d never tried them before.
Having eaten most of the slateful, I can now declare Welsh cakes to be bloody lovely. A cross between a cake and a round of fried pastry, they’re short, sweet and ever so moreish. I’m delighted to have welcomed them into my life.
Lunch at an end, miss_jordi and I meandered back to the train station and by 9pm we were snugly ensconced in the warm fug of London. Wales in a day – quicker, tastier and significantly higher in revelations than I expected.