Soul food was probably the last thing we expected to have for dinner in the shadow of a Welsh castle on the Snowdonia coast. But delicious, authentic soul food, served in generous portions and accompanied by a warm Caribbean welcome was what we found in the simply named Soul Food on the High Street in Harlech.
And the best part is, we happened upon it almost by accident.
We'd spent a cold, wet June day exploring Betwys-y-Coed and Beddgelert in the heart of Snowdonia National Park.
(Lesson learned: I will never wear jeans in Wales without full waterproof protection. Being soaked right through to the skin while wearing jeans is no fun at all!) Our vacation rental was up a very steep hill and across a rough farm track about three miles from Harlech Castle. We'd planned on dining out after we'd changed into dry things.
It being June in northwest Wales, we knew we'd have reasonable daylight until about 9pm. That meant staying close to our base because rushing to make it back before dark would spoil our evening out and driving back to the cottage, in the dark and possibly in heavy rain wasn't appealing.
Unfortunately, we were too early for the season. All of the restaurants that had been recommended to us were only open on weekends for the locals and it was a weeknight. Soul Food had left a menu in our welcome pack. It hardly seemed appropriate in the season of good Welsh spring lamb to dine Creole-style but we'd already tried the local pub and decided once was enough, so Soul Food won our business by default.
We could not have made a better choice.
Simple Decor, Satisifying Food
The owners of Soul Food, Wayne and Kath opened their restaurant in February 2014. When we ate there the following June, the decor was still pretty basic - white-washed stone walls, dark wood floors and black wooden tables. It was a quiet night in the restaurant and lovely quiet music played in the background music - George Benson on guitar playing jazz classics.
The moderately priced menu offered a choice of two or three courses at a fixed price as well as a la carte. Don't be afraid to order a la carte here even if you are very hungry. All the moderately priced main courses come with so many garnishes and side dishes that you can easily fill up trying lots of flavors for less than £20.
What kinds of flavors? Wayne, who does most of the cooking, hails from Trinidad where he learned creole dishes, like a lot of Caribbean men do, from his mother and grandmother. The menu combines classic creole dishes - jambalaya, seafood étouffée (my choice, packed with local crayfish), cajun blackened chicken, with other Caribbean, West African, Mexican and even North American influences. Trinidad is represented with curry goat, caramelised lime chicken and Bul-Jol - a traditional dish I chose of saltfish cooked with onions, tomatoes, sweet and chilli peppers, coriander and lime juice. If you hunger for a taste of North American soul food, there's Kath's speciality combo of home fried chicken and bbq ribs. And if you hunger for a taste of Welsh spring lamb, there's chilli and ginger lamb shanks, slow cooked with spices, garlic and spinach. My companion sampled that and pronounced it delicious.
A Plate Piled High
The flavors and textures are authentic and exciting. What makes this a real soul food experience (and excellent value), though, are the extra treats that are included. All mains are accompanied by salad, Caribbean macaroni pie and a choice of coconut rice, rice and peas or potato wedges, plus the addition of one more side dish - corn on the cob, coleslaw or mixed bean curry.
For starters - in addition to Cajun blackened chicken and Bul-Jol - there's jerk pork, goat's cheese and fig parcels or sweet potato curry bites.
If you're the kind of trencherman who has room for dessert after all that, there are sorbets, cheesecake and ice creams with mango, passion fruit, coconut, lemon and lime as featured flavors.
If Wayne, the co-chef and owner comes out to do a bit of front of house while you are there, don't be too shy to have a chat.
He's a lovely man who had a variety of professional careers and raised a family in London before returning to his culinary roots and opening this Harlech restaurant.
Don't Just Take My Word for It
Since we first visited in 2014, Soul Food has gone from strength to strength, collecting hundreds of positive reviews on and winning a TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence.
- Where: Soul Food Restaurant, High Street, Harlech, Gwynnedd LL46 2YB (opposite Bron Y Graig car park)
- Book: Telephone bookings on +44 (0)1766 780 416
- Payment: Minimum spend for debit and credit card payments as well as a small charge (2% in 2014) for credit cards.
- Prices: Moderate. My meal of starter, main, glass of wine and coffee came to £25 and I chose the most expensive main course.