LLANARMON DYFFRYN CEIRIOG, Ceiriog Valley, LL20 7LD
Jonathan and Jackie Greatorex spent years visiting this 16th-century free house and inn, once a rest stop for drovers and their flocks on the old road from Anglesey to London. Its warm atmosphere and delicious food really struck home, so when the opportunity arose, they bought it. Up the remote Ceiriog Valley, known as The Valley of the Poets, in the shadow of the Berwyn Mountains, is where you'll find it and its original oak beams, plum-coloured walls, large fireplaces and mix-and-match furniture. The well-stocked bar offers Weetwood Cheshire Cat and Big Hand Bastion real ales and plenty of malt whiskies, including a Welsh one. Head chef Grant Mulholland and his team have earned an AA Rosette for their impressive modern European dishes. Everything is prepared on the premises from fresh ingredients - everything, that is, except the steak and ale, and chicken and gammon pies that McArdle's of Chirk make specially for The Hand. Frequently changing menus include one for the bar, on which you're likely to find classics like ale-battered haddock and home-made chips; steak ciabatta with onions and mushrooms seasoned with Worcestershire sauce; and chicken, gammon and white wine pie. From the dinner menu, typical examples are sautéed wood pigeon, confit duck beignet and cauliflower purée; smoked and fresh haddock fish pie with Welsh Cheddar and smoked paprika mash; and marinated duck breast with burnt apple purée, cherries and cider reduction. There's always at least one vegetarian option. To follow, caramel syrup and orange poached pear with red wine and apple sorbet; or Bramley apple and wild berry crumble with vanilla custard. Few places can be quieter than the sunny terrace garden.