Everyone knows the stomach-churning, backs to the walls feeling of walking into a ‘locals’ pub. As you order your maiden drink, your voice suddenly echoes horribly around your own head, you curse your choice of slightly garish footwear and, frankly, you just want your mummy. I harboured more than a little of this fear as we drove through the sun-drenched lanes of Dolphin, Holywell, toward our lunch-time destination.
But I am happy to report that our Glan Yr Afon experience felt more like coming home than wanting to run away.
After a surprisingly trouble-free journey from Chester, we turn into the steep entrance of The Glan Yr Afon Inn’s car park, with half an hour to spare before our 12.30pm reservation, made via the 16th Century inn’s impressively slick website.
The gods are on our side and a warm spring day greets us as we make our way into the beautifully quaint whitewash building.
I am surprised to find a clutch of regulars already gathered inside, especially as they are gathered around a log fire when the temperature outside is positively balmy.
Perhaps it’s the extra heat that lends itself to a genuinely pleasant welcome from both staff and customers – a bit like arriving at your nan’s, always a bit too hot but immediately homely.
We order a couple of soft drinks – one of us is suffering with a hangover, the other with the final stages of pregnancy – and make our way to the outside seating area, which stares right out at some amazing views over the Dee Estuary.
As we settle into a scene straight out of Darling Buds of May and have the usual ‘why don’t we come to Wales more often’ conversation, I can’t help but become a little enchanted by the place.
Whether it would have the same instant appeal on a wet and windy October day, I couldn’t possibly say.
We wander back inside to read the array of blackboards, crammed with today’s offerings. The extensive menu is neatly divided into a grill board – steaks, gammon, Cajun chicken breast, with home-made sauces including peppercorn, red wine, diane and stilton, main meals – including home-made Guinness and steak pie, a fish board – whole sea bass, flaked almonds and butter sauce and five or six other options and vegetarian choices.
The gregarious landlord, who proudly prowls the extensive interior, is suddenly upon us, pad in hand, keen to take our orders.
Feeling a little rushed, we ask for a few more minutes, which he cheerfully agrees to. And then he’s back, so we cave in and go with our instincts.
I am a little disappointed with the limited choice of starters – including vegetable soup, prawn cocktail and garlic mushrooms – compared to what’s been promised on the website, which listed such wonders as devilled kidneys in diablo sauce and scallops in Thai green sauce.
I find that this is an increasing problem: As more and more places go online, you are more and more tempted to expect that exact menu when you arrive.
We elect to keep it very 1970s and I go for the mushrooms while he goes for prawn cocktail. For the main course he opts for a Welsh black beef roast and I order a sirloin steak with ‘real’ chips, mushrooms and tomatoes, with peppercorn sauce.
The jolly landlord walks us through the main room into an unexpectedly contemporary dining area at the back. I am pleased to hear that our internet booking didn’t slip under the radar and table number six has got our names all over it.
The room – curiously decorated with framed pictures of stalagmites, which while stunning natural occurrences are a little too reminiscent of mould to make for the perfect dining partner – is empty apart aside from us but soon fills up and we are grateful for having planned ahead.
We both agree that, while tastefully decorated, the room could do with losing a table. The poor waiting staff are soon struggling to negotiate the narrow thoroughfares between tables.
Our starters arrive quickly and I am immediately the winner. A fragrant steam rises from the deep bowl that’s almost full to the top with button mushrooms. Compared with this generous portion, the little, yet tasty, crusty bread roll seems a little mean.
His prawn cocktail is nothing spectacular and could do with another dollop of sauce but it’s devoured quick enough.
The initial promise of my dish is a bit let down by a lack of seasoning. I have to stop myself from running into the kitchen and grabbing some parsley.
But my main course more than makes up for any misgivings. My steak is enormous and the massive bowl of chunky chips makes for a huge meal – a more than welcome challenge to any lady reaching her 30th week of pregnancy.
The steak is deliciously juicy and the chips are piping hot little tasty morsels.
His roast looks amazing. Two slabs of beef are wrapped around a pile of roast potatoes, dwarfed by an enormous Yorkshire pudding.
A ‘mum portion’ of vegetables – broccoli, cauliflower, mangetout, green beans and carrots – arrives next to his already creaking dish, the proportions of which are only matched by his ever-widening eyes.
Even at the end of a marathon effort on his behalf, he’s easily got half of the bowl of vegetables left. Which I am more than happy to help him with.
He even takes the unprecedented decision to forgoe dessert. Unheard of.
I find a tiny corner to fit in some strawberry and vanilla ice cream. A traditional ending to a traditionally stodgy meal.
And that’s basically what you are going to get. Good, hearty traditional food in a beautiful setting, served by friendly faces.
And even better, you’ll be able to see it all that bit clearer now that the smoking ban has been firmly established. A bit like the portions at Glan Yr Afon, the reasons to give it a go are just mounting up.
The Glan Yr Afon Inn, Dolphin, Milwr, Holywell, Flintshire CH8 8HE.
Telepone: 01352 710052, website: www. glanyrafoninn.co.uk
Price: £30.35 for two starters, two huge main courses, one dessert and four soft drinks.
Best thing: Picturesque setting and generous portions.
Worst thing: Overly crowded dining room and limited starters.
Would suit: Couples, families with children more than about five years old and anyone else looking for a Sunday afternoon, country pub-type outing.
Wouldn’t suit: People with active toddlers or those expecting anything too mould-breaking on the menu.