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Food & drink: Thumbs up to a blast from the past; taste test Gareth Hughes at the Downing Arms, Bodfari.

Byline: Gareth Hughes

DVERTISING pays - or so we journalists keep being told by our colleagues in the money-making department. My attention was certainly drawn to an ad which appeared on this page a few weeks ago, which read: "We've never had a Taste Test, so why are we so busy?"

As a matter of fact I had tried to book a table at the Downing Arms, Bodfari, at short notice a couple of times, but had been unlucky. But the ad jogged my memory, and I set out with my wife and daughter to find why the place was so popular.

The answer soon became obvious. Quite simply, it's because the food is good and offers excellent value for money. With those two simple qualities it's little surprise that people keep returning there, which I am assured they do.

It was a bitterly cold night, but the compact dining room was cosy, despite a slight draught from one window.

The menu was all on blackboards - five of them in all - so it took some strolling around to come to a decision.

Strange as it may seem for a venue about 12 miles inland, the Downing specialises in seafood. That was a deliberate decision by owners Graham Dodds and Janet Kelly after considerable research had revealed a gap in the market.

Research also showed that most eating places in the area closed on Mondays, so they decided to stay open on Mondays and close on Wednesdays. Logic!

My wife opted out of a starter - wisely, as it turned out, in view of the size of the helpings. I chose mussels in garlic sauce, and though the mussels themselves were rather small, hiding away in the bottom of giant shells, they were exceptionally succulent. Unlike many establishments which should know better, a fingerbowl was provided.

Our daughter, predictably, had tiger prawns in garlic butter and they, too, were plentiful and flavoursome.

All three of us maintained the piscine theme in our main courses. I had not had John Dory (see note above) for about 30 years and in fact had not seen it featured on any menu in that time, so felt obliged to order it.

The two sizeable fillets came in a chervil, parsley and butter sauce, with - I quote - leaks (!) and new potatoes. The meat was tender and moist, even better than I remembered from that time three decades back, and the whole result was wonderful.

My approving noises were matched on the other side of the table as my wife tucked into her Thai green fish curry - "these peppers are superb" - and daughter struggled to do justice to her giant plateful of salmon in beer batter. The portions were, indeed, very generous but it would have been a shame to leave any behind.

The sweets menu was slightly disappointing by comparison, all the choices being of the defrosted-specially-for-you variety.

We needed something quite light after such large main courses and my wife and daughter decided to share a summer fruit pudding and cream - or rather cream with summer fruit pudding, as my daughter described it because of the volume of cream on the plate. Their opinion was also shared, and there was no need for me to ask as the plate was soon cleared.

I have no such qualms about cream, and was delighted to see my amaretto and banana cheesecake wallowing in it. Very similar to banoffee pie, but light and very satisfying.

We finished, replete, with neat little cafetieres of excellent coffee.

All three of us agreed that the Downing had earned its Taste Test and a return visit.

It was clearly meant to be, because just three days later, while I sat in a council meeting one of the members passed me a note suggesting a venue for a Taste Test... the Downing Arms. Been there, done that... and got the dribbles down my jumper to prove it

the bill

tiger prawns pounds 3.80 mussels pounds 3.80 thai green fish curry pounds 8.90 salmon in beer batter pounds 7.95 john dory pounds 7.95 amaretto cheesecake pounds 3.50 fruit pudding pounds 3.50 soft drinks (4) pounds 4.60 coffee (3) pounds 3.60 total pounds 47.60

the verdict

parking car park behind the building, with a steep climb out disabled access some awkward doorways food good portions, tasty and well presented surroundings pub-like, nothing pretentious atmosphere friendly, informal overall worth a visit

Downing alongside the to Mold road. The call 01745 710265

John Dory is also known as St Peter's fish, supposedly because of the thumbmark on the side said to have been made when St Peter caught it


Recipe for success... good food for good value is the simple reason why the Downing Arms is such a big hit
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Dec 3, 2005
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