Restaurateur Cai Ross, co-author of a new book, North Wales Fish & Seafood, takes us on a delicious journey around the region he describes as a gastronomic goldmine

I’ve lived in North Wales my whole life, but it took a global pandemic for me to realise what a truly stunning part of the world it is and how ridiculously fortunate I am to be here. Once the lockdowns started to tentatively lift, we were allowed to escape the confines of our homes and take a few scenic breaks – just not too far from home of course.

This led to my encountering parts of North Wales that had eluded me for more than 30 years, taking revelatory country and coastal walks in unexplored parts of Anglesey and the Conwy Valley and the always welcome discovery of a few excellent pubs.

Since 1988, my family has been living in Deganwy, nestled just across the river from Conwy. My parents, Bob and Barbara Ross, opened a French country-style bistro there called Paysanne, which I’ve been running with chef David Hughes since my folks retired to live the high life in France.

Great British Life: Mussel bound: Conwy mussels are as lip-smackingly wondrous as ever. Mussel bound: Conwy mussels are as lip-smackingly wondrous as ever. (Image: Getty)

As such, I’ve always been keenly aware of the extraordinary culinary variety on offer in these parts, on our doorstep and in the wider region. In many areas, the craft drinks sector, in particular, has seen a breath-taking renaissance in the past few years.

The popularity of dozens of independent breweries such as Purple Moose in Porthmadog (with its signature ale, brilliantly titled Dark Side of The Moose) and Wild Horse in Llandudno, has made them a fixture of pubs and bars across the land and beyond.

There has been a similar level of success in the ‘spirit world'. Craft gin makers including, among many others, Aber Falls in Abergwyngregyn, Snowdonia Distillery in the Conwy Valley and Dyfi Distillery in Corris have all found their carefully cultivated gins feted by awards bodies and gin aficionados around the world.

The same is true of Gwinllan, a vineyard just a stone’s throw from Llandudno Junction, whose wines have amassed enough international wine awards in recent years to stuff even the roomiest of trophy cabinets.

Great British Life: Cai Ross, left, and Toby Watson, co-authors of North Wales Fish & Seafood. Cai Ross, left, and Toby Watson, co-authors of North Wales Fish & Seafood. (Image: Huw Jones)

Of course, farming still accounts for much of what people think of when they first juxtapose North Wales with food. Television shows such as Countryfile are rarely more than one episode away from a sweeping photogenic piece about hill farming in Snowdonia/Eryri, with leather-capped Gareth Wyn Jones becoming a national celebrity when TV cameras followed him around his sheep farm above Llanfairfechan.

It’s the fish and the seafood, however, that made the most dramatic impact on my parents when they first opened Paysanne. They had run a pub beforehand near Corwen, when the closest thing to fresh fish they’d experienced was the breaded scampi en route to their chips-filled wicker baskets.

Suddenly, they were a hop skip and a jump away from Conwy, a thriving fishing town with trawlers moored against the quay unloading their daily catch, and where the local mussels were an absolute revelation. They were also blessed with the presence of a reputable fishmonger, Mermaid, in Llandudno, which could furnish them with a steady stream of fresh fish for their kitchen.

Well, Mermaid is still there – unlike so many fishmongers who long since bade farewell and adieu – and the Conwy mussels are as lip-smackingly wondrous as ever, but the number of fishing boats heading out to sea has dwindled since our first arrival.

Great British Life: Lobster pots piled up on shingle beach, Moelfre, Anglesey. Lobster pots piled up on shingle beach, Moelfre, Anglesey. (Image: Getty)

Nonetheless, for hardy types willing to slip on a cable-knit gansey jumper and sail out into the big blue, there is a wealth of seafood to catch, especially if you know where and when to look. The coast of Conwy, Llandudno and the Great Orme for example, is a breeding ground for lobsters and crabs. While professional crab fishermen may set their sights on fearsomely colossal crustaceans, children might be better suited to catching the smaller beasts by dangling a crab line off the likes of Beaumaris pier.

There is good sea-fishing to be had around the majority of North Wales’s 250-mile coastline. Most days on the beaches and harbour of Pwllheli in the Llyn Peninsula for example, you’ll find anglers standing guard their long lines in the hunt for sea bass, mackerel, gilthead bream, or perhaps something rather less glamorous like dogfish and gurnard – ideal fish, by the way, for a classic bouillabaisse.

The angling community don’t just have the sea to play with. North Wales’s awe-inspiring countryside is ribboned with a wide assortment of freshwater rivers where patient anglers can set up a picnic chair on the bank, cast a line, sit back and listen to the Test Match on the radio.

The river Dwyfawr and the Erch are especially popular with anglers looking to land brown trout or even a salmon, and for a limited window in the summer, you could be fortunate enough to land a sea trout (or sewin), which combines the best of salmon and trout into one luxurious superfish, best prepared simply with lemon butter and wild samphire.

Great British Life: Beaumaris Pier: the saline tides that ebb and flow against the North Wales coastline are what help the shellfish thrive. Beaumaris Pier: the saline tides that ebb and flow against the North Wales coastline are what help the shellfish thrive. (Image: Huw Jones)

Coarse fishing is available in abundance in North Wales too, blessed as we are with a generous supply of lakes, Bala being perhaps the most famous. Llyn Cefni on Anglesey is the perfect location to be guided towards a lifetime’s obsession with fishing, while the more adventurous (and licensed) angler might want to try Llyn Cwmystradllyn, fed by the mountain streams of Eryri and offering perhaps the most beautiful spot in North Wales to land a sizeable rainbow trout in splendid isolation.

The water in and around North Wales doesn’t just provide jobs and a life of adventure via the fish that thrive within it. One of the area’s most notable success stories in recent years has been Halen Môn on Anglesey: naturally harvested sea salt from the area whose unique purity has made it an international bestseller and, apparently, a mainstay on Barack Obama’s breakfast table.

The saline tides that ebb and flow against the North Wales coastline are what help the shellfish thrive. The oysters grown by the Menai Oysters & Mussels Co. are justly feted and can be found on restaurant menus all over the UK. The combination of the freshwater of the river Conwy meeting the salty Irish Sea is one of the key ingredients contributing to the unique and distinctive flavour of Conwy mussels, which has had the likes of Rick Stein waxing rhapsodic.

Many other great, award-winning chefs have made their presence felt here, including Ellis Barrie, Steve Stevens, Bryan Webb, and Denbigh-born Bryn Williams, who opened his successful Porth Eirias restaurant on Colwyn Bay’s promenade in 2015. All of them and many others have put local fish and seafood at the heart of their menus.

Great British Life: A glorious angle: Lake Bala, Llyn Tegidis, is renowned for its variety of fish. A glorious angle: Lake Bala, Llyn Tegidis, is renowned for its variety of fish. (Image: Getty)

Yet these are worrying times for restaurant and pub owners. If they thought Covid was bad, they hadn’t reckoned with an unprecedented storm of financial headaches that have seen their outgoings spiral out of control while at the same time, sky-rocketing domestic bills have made many people cut back on treats like dining out.

As such, I thought now would be the perfect time to gently remind everyone that as well as being a mountainous, castle-studded, one-of-a-kind example of everything nature does best, North Wales is also a source of some of the finest fish and seafood in the British Isles. What better way to turn the spotlight onto this lesser-known fact than by writing a beautifully illustrated cookbook to emphasise my point?

I teamed up with my old pal Toby Watson, who is handily one of the finest chefs I know. He has put together a collection of recipes that use techniques old and new, with cooking traditions from far and wide that bring out the very best of what North Wales can offer up from beneath the waves.

Great British Life: North Wales Fish & Seafood is an homage to the produce of the coastline. North Wales Fish & Seafood is an homage to the produce of the coastline. (Image: Huw Jones)

I also chatted with some of the people responsible for making these maritime treasures available to us all, from fishermen and oyster farmers to salt harvesters and fish and chip fryers. A salute to the tireless efforts of hard-working grafters, without whom we’d all be a lot hungrier.

Hence North Wales Fish & Seafood – a clarion call to all who come here and might not know they are smack dab in the middle of seafood nirvana. To all those who still feel a little squeamish about fish and seafood in general, I would point to Toby’s easy-to-follow recipes and say, ‘be bold, and think of the Omega 3 intake'.

I did sound a note of caution about the perilous state of the catering and hospitality industry before, but to end on an optimistic bounce, in Conwy, just across the river from Paysanne, no fewer than four restaurants have opened in less than three years. One, the tasting menu-based Jackdaw has already won an AA Hospitality Award. Another, Dylan's, is the fourth opening for an exclusively North Wales franchise that now creates its own range of sauces, condiments and merchandise. Nothing suggests confidence in the future quite like the opening of restaurants and the ringing of tills.

We who are lucky to live and work here may have always known that North Wales was a bit of a gastronomic gold mine on the quiet, but I’m quite sure word will soon get around. So head to North Wales and by all means, bring a fishing rod and a crab-catching bucket or if not, a healthy appetite will do.

North Wales Fish & Seafood

By Cai Ross and Toby Watson


Great British Life: Moules mariniere au Pays de Galles from North Wales Fish & Seafood. Moules mariniere au Pays de Galles from North Wales Fish & Seafood. (Image: Huw Jones)

Moules marinières au Pays de Galles


120g butter

2 finely sliced shallots and 1 very finely chopped leek

400 ml white wine

2.5kg mussels

Small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

100 ml double cream

1 clove of roughly chopped garlic

Crusty bread

Heat the butter in a large heavy-bottomed pot on low heat, once it's melted add the garlic, leek and shallots and cook until soft. Throw in the white wine, a good pinch of salt and cracked pepper. Reduce by 1/3, then throw in the mussels and cover with a lid. After 7 minutes shake the pot, throw in the cream and flat leaf parsley. Return the lid for a further 2 minutes. Serve straight away with crusty bread.

Great British Life: Toby Watson's Fish and Chips recipe from North Wales Fish & SeafoodToby Watson's Fish and Chips recipe from North Wales Fish & Seafood (Image: Huw Jones)

Fish and chips!


1 litre vegetable oil

5 large, peeled potatoes cut into 2-3cm chips

250g self-raising flour

3 tsp salt

250 ml Welsh lager (Wild Horse is an excellent choice but there’s a plentiful selection available in North Wales)

4 x 170g pieces of cod fillet or loin

Malt vinegar

Tartare sauce

Warm the oil in a deep saucepan to about 155-165˚C. Carefully place the chips in the pan and cook for 6 minutes before removing and placing them on some kitchen roll to drain off the excess fat. Place them in the fridge, this will draw out excess moisture and give them a proper crispy crust.

Create a well in the middle of the flour and add 1 tsp of salt, slowly start incorporating the beer into the flour whisking to avoid lumps. Take the fish and dust in plain flour before dipping them in the batter. In the meantime, increase the oil temperature to about 170˚C. Lower the fish into the batter and cook for 7-8 minutes until golden. Remove and place them in the oven at about 150˚C to keep them warm while the chips have their final cook. Drop the chips back into the fryer and finish them off. They should take a further 3 or 4 minutes, you’ll know by trying one. Serve with plenty of salt and vinegar and tartare sauce.


Publisher: Graffeg

Publication date: March 26

Price: £11.99

Available to order from your local bookshop or online at


French Cuisine in Deganwy

47 Station Road, Deganwy, Conwy LL31 9EJ

01492 582079