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The Druid, Llanferres, near Mold

DINING in pubs is a bit like playing Russian roulette. You can never be quite sure what you're going to get, and the consequences of a mistake are dire.

DINING in pubs is a bit like playing Russian roulette. You can never be quite sure what you're going to get, and the consequences of a mistake are dire.

Choose badly, and you could be picking the gristle out of your teeth for weeks. If you're really unlucky, you might find yourself shuddering at the memory of hostile staff and hideous food for even longer.

But sometimes the gamble pays off, and you get the satisfaction of discovering a gem in your own backyard.

A bit of research - or a friendly tip - helps lessen the chances of disaster. So it was that we took our curious palates along to the Druid in the tiny village of Llanferres near Mold.

Nestling in a tranquil fold of the Clwydian hills, the Druid certainly benefits from a wonderful location. Behind the pub rise Foel Fenlli and Moel Famau - two enjoyable hillwalks and excellent ways of sharpening the appetite. We saw several diners removing muddy boots before entering the pub, eager to replace the calories they had lost tramping over the hills.

Inside, low beams, nooks and crannies create the required traditional ambience and an open fire roars near the bar. In this era of global warming, the fire was hardly necessary - and I couldn't help noticing that most of the diners were huddled into the far corner of the pub in an effort to escape the fierce heat. It was still a nice homely touch though.

We opted for the cooler dining room. This was pleasant and airy, but the slightly dated decor - frilly curtains and tassled lampshades - could do with a bit of a makeover.

I was pleased to find a blackboard menu displayed prominently near the bar. This is always a promising sign, suggesting that the dishes change frequently.

Several trips to view the blackboard were necessary, since the Druid provides a wide range of tempting options - and we were a rather demanding party.

My wife, a strict vegetarian, eschews all flesh with the fanaticism of a trappist monk. In contrast, I am a confirmed omnivore and will eat anything that moves. This clash of philosophies makes for some lively marital discourse, as you might imagine.

Just for good measure, we also took our three week-old son. A combination that would surely test any landlords tolerance to the absolute limit.

In these trying circumstances, the staff were admirably friendly and attentive. Particularly as we opted to sit in a distant corner of the dining room, fearing our small companion might protest loudly at some point during the meal.

After a lengthy look at the blackboard accompanied by a splendid pint of bitter, I opted to ease myself in gently with a starter of grilled goats cheese, while my wife went for an apple, celery and nut salad. Our son declined to join us - he prefers a more basic diet.

Both first courses were successful. My goats cheese was particularly toothsome. Grilled to perfection, two generous slabs of piquant cheese sat on top of a rocket salad nicely dressed with balsamic vinegar.

Subsequent enquiry revealed that this splendid cheese hadn't been produced by native Welsh goats. This was unfortunate, but didn't mar my enjoyment too much.

My wife's starter was basically a Waldorf salad - apples and celery, with peanuts substituting walnuts. The flavours blended nicely in a tangy mayonnaise and paprika dressing.

The main course threw up several dilemmas. Due to my omnivorous tendencies and indecisive nature, I find it difficult to select quickly when faced with temptation - and the Druid's menu certainly tempted me.

I was initially lured by the pan-fried duck breast. But the menu was particularly strong on seafood so I switched affections, spending several minutes flirting with chargrilled swordfish. I then had a brief dalliance with the seabass before finally settling on red bream with lemon and pepper butter.

After such an agony of choice, the bream was slightly disappointing. Don't get me wrong, it was an excellent piece of fish - perfectly cooked, delicate and fleshy. It's just that soft fish like bream is so delicate that an unkind person might label it bland. A strong sauce would have buried the subtle flavour, so I suppose the lemon and pepper butter was appropriate, but the fish definitely needed something pungent and exciting to accompany it.

It didn't get it. Instead, it was served with enormous quantities of plain boiled vegetables. All rather dull.

My wife was more impressed by her stilton-stuffed mushrooms. Lavish quantities of tasty stilton sauce smothered the mushrooms, which were accompanied by an excellent salad.

She gets very angry when backed into a corner by a limited menu - so she was delighted by the wide range of vegetarian dishes offered by the Druid. She was mildly critical of what she dubbed the "mushroom-centric" menu, but I think that was a little harsh.

To finish, we enjoyed two wickedly traditional puddings. My wife ordered a delicious pecan pie, while I went for every schoolboy's favourite - syrup sponge. The Druid's version of this iconic masterpiece was very fine, and is still sticking to my ribs as I write.

After such a feast, it was wonderful to escape into the fresh air of the Clwydian hills and enjoy the lovely scenery that surrounds the pub. We had planned a walk to compensate for our blowout, but our son's distressed screaming suggested he had tired of adult pursuits. It was now his turn for lunch.

Druid Inn, Llanferres: Tel: 01352 810225
Opening hours: 12-3pm, 5.30-11pm weekdays. 12-11pm weekends.
Food: Varied and interesting, particularly strong on seafood.
Surroundings: Cosy bar area, more modern dining room, lovely scenery outside.
Access for disabled: It's an old pub, so rather tricky.
Service: Friendly and attentive.
Overall: Well worth a visit.

The bill:
Drinks: £4.20 (pint of Marlow bitter, glass of white wine)
Wine: £3.50 (two small glasses)
Apple, celery and nut salad: £3.95
Goats cheese: £4.95
Stilton-stuffed mushrooms: £7.95
Red bream with lemon butter: £8.95
Syrup sponge: £2.70
Pecan pie: £2.70
Total: £38.90


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