WHEN Plas Bodegroes in Pwllheli, North Wales, reopened after its annual winter closure in March, fans had reason to celebrate. After a two-year sabbatical, chef-proprietor Chris Chown, who gained his first Michelin star in 1991, has returned to the helm.
Although Chown and his wife Gunna, who heads the front of house team of three, completed a £90,000 refurbishment in 1997, the couple redecorated further rooms this winter. Plas Bodegroes' main dining room is, according to Chown, "still eminently groovy, with paintings by Welsh artists including Kyffyn Williams and Gwilym Pritchard".
This patriotic thread runs through Chown's cooking, too, with what he likes to describe as modern British cuisine with a decidedly Welsh accent. He heads a kitchen team of three, all of whom believe in the quality of indigenous ingredients. So it is no surprise that his menu includes Llyn salt marsh lamb, Welsh Black beef, Cig Moch Pen Llyn (dry cured bacon) and all manner of seafood caught by local fishermen.
Using such prime ingredients, Chown and his kitchen chef Shaun Mitchell synthesised many of their ideas for the à la carte evening menu of six starters, six main courses, five puddings and two cheese options.
Starters at £4.50 include pork hock, cannellini bean and parsley soup, while £6 starters include an old favourite - warm salad of monkfish, Carmarthen ham and mushrooms. Main courses also split into two price ranges. The first, at £15, includes chargrilled spatchcock of poussin with apple chutney, tarragon and yogurt, while fillet of Welsh Black beef with oxtail and glazed shallots and Madeira sauce falls into the £18 category.
Puddings at £5 include bara brith and butter pudding with whiskey and raisin ice-cream. The cheeseboard, which features Welsh varieties such as Brecon Blue, can be chosen either as a third course or as an extra course for £4. Coffee and sweetmeats are a further £2.50, but pre-dinner canapés and an amuse-gueule are complimentary.
The main dining room seats 40, but the Chowns can cater for up to 62 for Sunday lunch when a second dining room is used. The concise Sunday lunch menu is £12.50 for three courses, with three choices per course. At the moment, average spend per head in the evenings is £38. Bookings come from far and wide, but the Chowns are keen for locals to frequent Plas Bodegroes.
During his stint away from the kitchen, Chown followed other culinary pursuits. He carried out inspections and took food photographs for The Red Book - Eat Well in Wales and, together with Welsh food champion Gilli Davies and Stephen Bull, developed the overall catering concept for the Wales Millennium Centre.
Recently, Chown also created a Web site for Plas Bodegroes. "I may have harboured many interests while I was away," he says, "but it wasn't long before I missed the excitement of cooking." n
Plas Bodegroes, Nefyn Road, Pwllheli, Gwynedd LL53 5TH. Tel: 01758 612363. Web site: www.bodegroes.co.uk