WHAT is it that turns a dinner date into a memorable experience? Obviously, the food on your plate is going to play a major part – but there’s much more to it than that, as we discovered on a trip to Llangollen.
We drove from our home in Mold and in less than half an hour we were building a healthy appetite with a brisk walk along the top of the Horseshoe Pass, with its spectacular views of the Vale of Llangollen.
Having returned to the car – and after Sally spent 20 minutes rearranging her windswept hair – we drove down to Llangollen town centre for a less energetic but no less picturesque walk, along the banks of the River Dee.
We had booked a table at the new White Waters Hotel and Restaurant and arrived just before our 7pm reservation.
We were shown to our table among the 40 or so covers of the Rafters Restaurant and ordered a glass of Chardonnay for Sally and a fruit juice for myself while we looked at the menu.
The restaurant is simply decorated in pastel shades and the tables are big and set well apart, giving you a feeling of spaciousness yet intimacy with your dinner partner.
Our table was near the patio-style windows overlooking a split-level terrace of wood decking, which boasts an outdoor bar and seating area, perfect for summer evenings.
Beyond the terrace, the River Dee runs like a silver ribbon, babbling over rocks and boulders through a deep gorge.
I watched as a canoeist paddled his way around a bend in the river and disappeared under trees turning gold from the first hint of autumn as the sun set over the mountains beyond – wonderful.
Our waitress, Lauren, came to take our order.
She was clearly proud of the Rafters Restaurant, and indeed the White Waters Hotel, and was informative, pleasant and happy to tell us all about Llangollen.
There’s a skill to waiting on tables, something we too often dismiss, a delicate balance of attentiveness without overstepping that fine line between friendliness and familiarity – our waitress had it just right.
She took our order – chicken liver parfait with red onion marmalade and toasted brioche for Sally and a tian of spicy chicken (basically coronation chicken) with a rocket and watercress salad, orange and red peppers for myself.
The starters were quickly laid in front of us and were generous, tasty, home-made and well-presented in a simple unfussy style.
We decided on a short rest before tackling our main courses of sirloin steak (10oz) topped with garlic butter, onion rings, mushrooms, tomatoes and chunky chips for Sally, while I couldn’t resist the braised shoulder of lamb – despite pangs of guilt having seen so many sheep on the Horseshoe Pass – with parsnip puree and honey-roasted root vegetables with a Rosemary and red currant jus. Although it wasn’t mentioned on the menu, it came with a good portion of mint-infused mashed potato.
When the food arrived, we noted that, save for the chips and onion rings perhaps, there was nothing on our plates that had ever been near a freezer.
My roasted vegetables were delicious and could not have been any fresher. The lamb was succulent and melted in the mouth.
Of course, one shouldn’t forget the importance of cooking steak properly. Sally asked for hers well done and that’s just what she got – without, as so often happens, it being cremated. And again, the portion sizes were generous.
No meal is complete without a sweet but we simply had to have a rest and sat chatting for half an hour or so.
But as soon as we looked toward Lauren, she was at our table in an instant, taking our orders of sticky toffee pudding with a butterscotch sauce and vanilla ice cream and tangy cheesecake with a raspberry and mango coulis.
I finished my sticky toffee pudding but Sally just couldn’t manage to clean her plate and sadly, for once, I was simply unable to help.
We have discovered an unpretentious culinary gem, set in wonderful surroundings and attended by friendly, professional staff.
I suspect once word spreads, making a reservation will become a harder task.
We paid our bill and took a slow drive home after what was a truly memorable dining experience that will stay with us for a long time.
Lauren was quick to ask us to make a return visit – you try to stop us.
The Rafters Restaurant at the White Waters Hotel, Berwyn Road, Llangollen.
Price £61.05 for two: Food £50.95, drinks £10.10.
Best thing: Wonderful setting, wonderful food.
Worst thing: Hard to fault
Would suit: Those wanting an intimate, memorable dining experience.
Wouldn’t suit: Those wanting cheap bargain frozen food.