Wright’s Food Emporium, Llanarthney, Carmarthenshire: review | Travel
You always want a good pub within walking distance of a holiday let. So a cottage that shares a building with a great pub/cafe/deli on the edge of the Brecon Beacons was an appealing prospect. Food writer and broadcaster Simon Wright and family took over the former Golden Grove Arms in the village of Llanarthney in 2012, and made a name for themselves mainly by being all things to all men.
Want coffee and cake mid-morning? You got it. Hungry after tramping the Beacons or visiting the Botanic Garden of Wales? Wright’s serves hot sandwiches (the pork cubano is feted), salads and dishes such as chorizo and white bean stew or farro with caerphilly, mushrooms and spinach, till early evening. Fancy taking home some speciality cheese, charcuterie, homemade bread or pie of the day? You can. Just want a drink? Right off the deli is a convivial room where people chat over wines, real ales and ciders. Dinner Friday or Saturday? You’re on.
And from last month, they also offer self-catering: Wright’s Cottage, with an entrance behind the emporium and three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a spacious kitchen “over the shop”; and two-bedroom Buarth y Bragwr cottage next door.
After hours on the M4, the contrast with the lanes to Llanarthney and the dazzling green of the new grass dotted with lambs and spring flowers is startling. The 1831 coaching inn, which had lain empty for two years when the Wrights took over, is on the main street and radiates rustic charm. It has scrubbed antique tables, bare brick and linked rooms branching off in all directions.
The Saturday afternoon hubbub is in full swing when we arrive with Welsh friends, and it’s good to retire next door for tea and chat in Wright’s Cottage. The old rooms are now cool and stylish with repurposed vintage furniture, and bright pink bins and lampshades brightening the neutral colour scheme. The bathrooms feel sleek and modern (though one could do with a bit of obscured glass where it overlooks the pub courtyard).
Over dinner, Simon, who used to run well-regarded restaurant Y Polyn up the road, tells me he fell out of love with the conventional restaurant industry – “there wasn’t enough joy” – and wanted to create an informal place where people could get good food without spending lots of money. “We just call ourselves a cafe,” he says.
I feel plenty of joy contemplating the evening blackboard menu (small plates can be mixed and matched or ordered as a starter before a main) but also disappointment when I realise that even with four of us we won’t get to try everything.
There are no tablecloths, and cutlery’s in a help-yourself tin, but there is attention to detail: the butter, for example, is a perfect spreading temperature. From the small plates (£4.50-£7)
we pick aubergines with cumin, honey and labneh soft cheese; wild garlic arancini; polenta with lardo; and rare beef with tonnato sauce. We follow with linguine with either wild garlic or crab, and baked mackerel with marinated beetroot. All are great, but I’m still hankering after all the untaken options – purple sprouting broccoli with buffalo mozzarella and anchovy; dahl with crispy sweet potato; mushrooms with dripping-fried egg.
The service is certainly informal – some items are brought to our table with a smile, others slapped down with a grunt – but it creates a relaxed air (helped by carafes of prosecco and pints of Kernel “table beer”) that I for one prefer to fine-dining fawning.
Sleeping above a pub might be unwise in some places, but even on Saturday Llanarthney is quiet, the sky bible black well before midnight. Next morning we make toast and eggs in the cottage’s stylish kitchen and nip next door for a coffee once Wright’s opens at 11am. Wow! At 11.02 it’s already more than half full, with people tucking into coconut milk layer cake almost a foot high or bubble’n’squeak with poached egg and salumi. Seems it’s so popular people almost camp out to get a table – and seems sleeping “over the shop” is the ideal way to make the most of it.
• Accommodation was provided by Wright’s Food Emporium (cottage sleeping four from £110 a night, 01558 668929, wrightsfood.co.uk). More on the area at discovercarmarthenshire.com
Ask a local
David Hardy, head of marketing, National Botanic Garden of Wales
Any visitor to the Tywi valley will have spotted Paxton’s Tower, the daft, neo-gothic folly on a hill. The lanes are narrow but the wide-angled view is so worth it. The silver river snaking down the valley and the Lord of Rings-style castle ruins on its banks are a wonder to behold.
• Eat & drink
The nearby town of Llandeilo is as pretty as it is bustling. Just off the main drag, the smell of fresh bread and coffee will lead you to the cosy Ginhaus Deli. Among the 240 gins from 46 countries, you’ll hopefully find a rare bottle of Pollination, from the Dyfi Distillery.
There are plenty of places to explore in Llandeilo, both in town and in the nearby countryside. There’s a range of downloadable themed trails at visitllandeilo.co.uk. Tregib Woods is a must – it now includes a sculpture trail among its ancient woodlands, rich fauna and wildflower meadows.