IN these days of multi-site food franchises it's still possible to find little hidden restaurant gems and the Pistyll Farmhouse Restaurant is a small but gleaming diamond in the North Wales culinary crown.
On the edge of Nercwys, a small village on the outskirts of Mold, the restaurant has a growing reputation among Flintshire folk for its hospitality, relaxed atmosphere, good food and fine wine.
Finding the restaurant isn't easy though, from the road the roof is barely visible and only a sign at the entrance to what is little more than a dirt track gives its presence away.
The end of the track ends with a large cobbled courtyard with the restaurant building, its adjacent guest house and a duck pond arranged in a rectangle around the courtyard perimeter.
A pair of geese raucously heralded our arrival on what was a horrible stormy night but the subtle lighting spilling from the windows was welcoming as we made a dash for the door.
The restaurant and guest house is the business of Ken Hedges and Clive Youd, and on entering the small bar area Clive, a white starched apron wrapped around his waist, was dashing to take our coats while a young waitress guided us into a lounge.
The waitress disappeared as we flopped into comfy armchairs and admired the room, which really does leave you feeling you're sitting more in a farmer's lounge than a restaurant. For me though, it's a pity the illusion is a little spoilt by posters pinned to the walls, adjacent to framed views of North Wales, advertising various Australian wines.
Still, the waitress soon returned with the menus and a small silver hand tray of hors d'oeuvres, impressively, all of which were home-made and suitable for vegetarians. It worth noting that smoking isn't permitted in either the lounge or restaurant, and the absence of ash trays is a refreshing change.
After ordering pre-dinner drinks I examined the menu and was initially a little taken aback at how limited it was. Starters weren't a problem, there were nine to choose from ranging from the staple menu inclusions of pate and soup - both home-made, and pan-fried mushrooms with garlic mayonnaise to vegetarian spring rolls and the more adventurous greenlip mussels in a cheese and garlic sauce topped with North Atlantic prawns.
But the main courses on offer included only three meat dishes, duck in a home made black plum and kirsch sauce, 12 oz gammon with tomato, egg, pineapple, mushrooms and onion rings and lamb, in a home made garden mint and onion gravy.
There was a decent selection of fish dishes, a main course of greenlip mussels, two Scottish salmon dishes, tuna and a swordfish dish along with two vegetarian choices of leek and mushroom crumble and a broccoli and creamy cheese bake.
As duck is a particular favourite of mine I was happy enough, but I would like to have seen a white meat alternative. And as a committed carnivore, it's always reassuring to see a selection of steaks on any menu as a safeguard in case nothing else stands out.
After a small wait we were shown through to the main restaurant. It comfortably seats 20, any more and it would be pushing the boundaries a little. At one end there's a beautiful ornate fire place, entirely in keeping with the farmhouse feel, and a roaring log fire added to the relaxed and homely atmosphere.
Tables are sufficiently far apart to offer intimacy and privacy while retaining a cosy and warm atmosphere. However, it's hard to understand why the proprietors thought it necessary to install a small lighting system, however discretely, that throws light into a slowly revolving multi-coloured disc and onto the ceiling.
It's not garish, just unnecessary, as the candle-lit tables and log fire provide all the lighting and atmosphere required. It's also worth noting there were fresh flowers everywhere, and not just on individual tables.
A large, beautifully-arranged bouquet of fresh blooms was strategically placed on a traditional Welsh dresser providing a stunning centre piece to the room. The background music is also worthy of mention.
I'm not a great lover of opera, but played at just the right level, carefully selected pieces from The Marriage of Figaro, among others, seemed entirely appropriate for the setting.
The toilets were spotlessly clean and, quirkily, still retain a shower cubicle, presumably a relic from the building's true farmhouse days.
A neat pile of individual cloth hand towels on a side table is a nice touch and provides a welcome break from the usual pull down dispensers.
The waitress produced a jug of iced water, without being asked, and that was swiftly followed by our starters. The paté was obviously home made and for once there was sufficient toast, arranged in small triangles around a generous plate.
The vegetarian spring rolls were again obviously home-made and, according to my wife, delicious. Food is presented in a stylish way without leaving you feeling guilty for spoiling what looks more like a work of art.
The main course was equally well presented, tasty and beautifully prepared. It always a real pleasure to be served freshly prepared vegetables, especially cooked al dente.
A sweet of profiteroles, the plate bordered with fresh strawberries and Kiwi fruit, followed. The food was, without doubt, first class. Portions were substantial, without leaving you feeling bloated, and it certainly has that personal, home cooked touch.
However, I'm not sure about the wine choice. There's not one European white on a list dominated by Australian, South African and Californian Chardonnays and Reislings.
On the red side, there was a nice French and a decent Rioja Reserva as well as two Australian choices and a full- bodied Chilean to chose from.
However, at an average of £15 a bottle, I have to say it's unspectacular wine, expensively-priced. Still, following an excellent dinner we decided to take our coffee back to the lounge.
At that point we were joined by Ken who was keen to know how we, and other diners, had enjoyed dinner before telling us, with obvious pride, his vision for the Pistyll (Welsh for waterfall).
He said: 'We don't want to be commercial, we want a nice clientele who enjoy home cooking presented in a relaxed atmosphere.
'We've worked hard and built up a steadily growing reputation for our food and the restaurant's ambience. It's getting busier and busier but we don't want quantity to replace quality, which is why we have laid the restaurant out as it is.
'We could, at a push, seat more than 20 but we feel it would take the pleasure out of dining out and would be a betrayal of the standards our loyal customers have grown to expect.'
Disabled access is good within the building but the cobbled courtyard could present a small, but not insurmountable, problem to wheelchair users.
You are certainly made welcome at The Pistyll, and although it's not particularly cheap, it's worth paying that little extra for the quality, the real home cooking and that individual touch.
STARTERS: Homemade farmhouse pate of the day, served with toast and a farmhouse salad.
Spring rolls, two large rolls stuffed with vegetables and served with a cucumber salad, baby gherkins and a sun-dried tomato dressing.
MAIN COURSE: Pistyll duck breast with a home made black plum sauce with Kirsch.
Broccoli and creamy cheese bake, broccoli florets in a rich brie sauce garnished with cauliflower and carrots and topped with potato rosti.
WINE: Moondarra, Semillon Chardonnay (Australia) - a clean crisp lightly oaked wine.
Campo Viejo Rioja Reserva - firm and very fruity with a velvet taste.
Total bill £69.20p.
WELCOMING: Pistyll Farmhouse Restaurant at Nercwys on the edge of Mold, which serves home-made food.