The scene is one for a perfect summer’s evening. A quiet pub table by a deep flowing stream, the simple pleasure of good company enhanced by an excellent pint and an enjoyable bite to eat in the warmth of the fading sun.
But, of course, this idyll is soon ruined. Wispy white clouds grow ominous and grey and a cool breeze begins to chill. The good company and I brave this sudden change for a moment then head indoors.
Welcome to the great British summer – but welcome also to the true riparian splendour of the Alyn in Rossett.
The outdoor garden terrace drinking and dining area right next to the River Alyn is the real attraction of this long-established village hostelry. True, the old weeping willow which used to drape the river has gone (a victim of essential flood works) but this is still a truly splendid spot.
After years of driving straight past this inn by the bridge I had started to pop in occasionally to sample one of their well-kept real ales, usually including an interesting choice from a smaller brewery – such as the summer ale Regatta, from Suffolk’s finest Adnams, enjoyed again amid the tranquility of the terrace. Ales of the riverbank, no less!
But we then started to enjoy the charms of this location while taking the chance to peruse the interesting menu, which we soon discovered was complemented by four changing fish blackboard specials.
These particularly caught the eye, interest inspired perhaps, somewhat fancifully, by the pub’s location. It was enough to ensure a proper visit.
Our aperitifs braved amid the increasing freshness of the riverside terrace, we decided to eat indoors.
From a list of six varied starters, my wife chose brandy and herb chicken liver paté with bread (£5.25), which was actually superb, a simple dish but here fully flavoured with some subtlety.
I went for chilled king prawn basket, baked lemon and mozzarella with baby leaf salad (£7.95). This is a detailed description but I still wasn’t quite sure exactly what I would get.
What I did get were three giant prawns nestling in a pastry basket alongside fresh and cool salad, the main ingredient of which, I was pleased to discover, was rocket, still a little underrated and always a perfect accompaniment to seafood.
The mozzarella was a more intriguing inclusion – enjoyable but still a take-it-or-leave-it addition, its presence atop the baked lemon ensuring enough interest on the plate to help justify the price tag for a thoroughly enjoyable opener.
The evening’s fish specials featured a choice of halibut, sole, tuna or sea bass dishes (all around the £13 mark). There is also a selection of steaks (£14.50 to £16.25) with a sauce option, alongside less expensive dishes including lamb, steak and ale pie and duck breast – plus pasta, vegetarian and salad options.
From the grill, my wife chose steak burger and chips (£8.95), the meat topped with cheddar and certainly well seasoned but crying out for the tomato relish, which she had passed on. Her choice – but it was a little dry.
I went for the halibut steak, dill and feta cheese topping, new potatoes, seasonal vegetables and Dijon cream sauce (£13.95).
We decided to enjoy our mains with the house wine recommendation for the halibut. Banda Azul Rioja (£13.95) is usually enjoyed more with meat but did on this occasion sit very well with the meatiness of this particular fish as well as, of course, the minced steak.
My fish was fine, the buttered vegetables cooked to absolute perfection (that is when al dente doesn’t mean uncooked) and the dill and feta again food for thought.
But I was half-way through the dish before I realised the sauce was missing (there is a lot of chalk wordage squeezed on to that blackboard). I decided to enjoy it without, wrongly assuming that the sauce was an unnecessary appendage to an already fine dish. But once the last of the butter had disappeared, I knew I’d been wrong and by then it was an omission too late to mention. My choice – but it was a little dry.
Service at the Alyn is friendly and efficient but you are left in little doubt that this is not actually a restaurant. As is the norm in dining pubs, meals are ordered and paid for in advance at the bar.
We decided to order our wine from the waitress when she brought our first course. She was kind enough to bring it but I was told – with a genuine smile and the utmost courtesy – that I really should have gone back to the bar for it. This really had been a favour on her part.
The main problem with paying for everything up front is the assumption you will be satisfied with everything you get.
After queueing at the end of the evening to get my credit card swiped once again, I was finally asked if everything had been OK. Yes, we enjoyed it – but where was that sauce?
‘I don’t know how that could have happened,’ came the reply – and, yes, I know, I should have mentioned it before but there was little scope for any possible financial redress. The bill had been settled an hour before.
But I had returned to the bar earlier to order pudding. From an interesting selection – including the attractions of pear sorbet (£3.75) and fresh berries with walnut and honey Greek yoghurt (£3.95) – I opted for warm chocolate fudge cake with vanilla pod ice cream (£4.95), which was perfectly satisfactory.
My wife rarely makes it to the pudding stage and this time chose an enjoyable brandy-based Parisienne coffee (£3.80) from a list of 12 liqueur coffees.
The pub’s lunchtime menu looks very appetising and is available until 6pm. I shall probably return some sunny day for a plate of hand-carved Dane farm roasted ham, free range eggs and chips – £6.95.
The Alyn tries very hard to do a lot of things right. We had enjoyed dining here and while it isn’t cheap, the food is good value – and the surroundings are pleasant indeed.
The Alyn, Station Road, Rossett.
Price: £62.60 for two. Food £40.35, drinks £22.25.
Best thing: Outdoor dining by the river.
Worst thing: When the weather drives you indoors!
Would suit: Those wanting top quality pub food in attractive surroundings.
Wouldn’t suit: Large family seeking bargain pub grub.