I remember watching a programme on telly, can’t remember what but basically this rather well spoken cove was cruising down the Menai straits off Anglesey dredging for mussels. He pointed out to the cameras that Anglesey is the home of mussels. They are shipped all over the world, everywhere but here in the UK! A year or two later The Flame and I spent New Year in a cottage just off the beach in Red Wharf Bay. I asked our landlord where I could buy Anglesey mussels? He simply said “if you wait a couple of hours, I get mine from those rocks over there”. Well that was me sorted, the tide went down and there they where, great clumps of plump, purple mussels clinging gamely to rocks, glistening in the sun. I was in heaven.
Got a bit of a soft spot for Anglesey. Quite often nip over for a bit of camping in the summer. However, the flame and I and two others couples checked in at a beach side cottage on Red Wharf Bay for New Year. Had a belting time. However, whilst we mainly cooked ourselves we fancied a final celebratory meal. Another pal, Mr Gardner, a cove of some standing suggested we try ‘The Gazelle’.
It’s initial attraction is it’s amazing location. It juts invitingly into the waters of the Menai Straits, directly opposite the famous Bangor pier. A glance to the right reveals the magnificent, original Menai bridge. If you look forward you get the Snowdonian mountains. Its all rather impressive. You have to negotiate a narrow track down from the ‘Beaumaris’ coast road, it’s easily missed, but it’s well worth the effort to seek out and take on. When we arrived the tide was in and a winter storm was lashing up the straits. However, a warm welcome beckoned.
The place looks to have had a fairly recent makeover and all to a good standard. There are a number of rooms. The residents lounge resplendent in red leather, the bar is homely with a good range of ales, a couple of other rooms have ornate, antique perches, all for eating in. We however, plumbed for the ‘restaurant’ bit. It is tastefully decked out with a more contemporary feel than the other rooms, light oak splashed with pastel shades and heavy, grey wicker chairs. Very pleasant it is too. It was warm as well, no mean feat given the wind and rain lashing against its modern bay windows.
The food was good as well. A comprehensive, professionally printed menu suggested it was all standard pub fayre. It does have a specials board though and claimed most of the produce is locally sourced. It did have Menai Strait Mussels, so you can’t get more local than that! As you’d expect for an island, fish and seafood is heavily featured. Indeed the starters were either fish, mushrooms or goats cheese. Prawns, whitebait, mussels and salmon all listed.
Mains are more varied but the party mostly went for fish, except for me, who had pork belly ribs in a homemade barbeque sauce with salad and chunky chips (£9.95). The ribs were set in their own dish on the plate. They were succulent and tasty, the sauce was sticky and lovely, definitely home made. Even the chips were great and doubled up as small mops to wipe up the excess sauce that was left.
The flame went from the specials board and had a trio of smoked salmon, trout and halibut with a well dressed salad (£11.95). I must admit cured fish is not my cup of tea, but she proclaimed all to be well and thoroughly enjoyed it. It seemed a bit sparse for £11.95 to me, but the flame was well chuffed. One of our friends had a halibut steak wrapped in spinach and pancetta with a cheese sauce, whilst another scooped up the smoked haddock fish cake which was massive.
A few of us had deserts. My caramel apple pie was lovely but was easily surpassed by the hot apple crumble filled to the brim of the dish with hot custard. This was wolfed away with aplomb by the flame. I was allowed a spoonful and can vouch that it was comfort food personified, perfect for a cold winters eve.
The whole shebang came to £106 for six of us. We only had two courses but it was a perfect end to a great new year break.
So there it is, if you do happen to venture onto the wonderful isle of Anglesey there are some great places to visit and plenty of great pubs. I would definitely give ‘The Gazelle’ a thought if you need a decent feed in a superb location. I can imagine sat outside in summer it would be a real treat. Give it a go. We’ll be back.
The Gazelle Hotel
Isle of Anglesey
As it was December the time was ripe to pick. Apparently, you only collect mussels when there is an ‘r’ in the month (i.e. not in May, June, July or August). By picking outside the summer months you give them a chance to breed. It’s also better for us ‘chompers’ because there’s likely to be less bacteria present in cooler waters. As this was a nice beach, it was unlikely that there was many toxins knocking about. Mussels are filter feeders, if they are eating in nasty places, near sewage outlets etc, there’s a chance they’ll be pretty nasty to eat. Pregnant young ladies should avoid eating mussels full stop!
I pitched onto the beach with a bucket. I looked out for larger mussels, as these are likely to have had a chance to have their leg over and get some younger ones on the go. After all sustainability is what we should all be about as well! I wouldn’t go for massive mussels as some reckon the meat is not as tasty.
I soaked my mussels overnight after scrubbing all the barnacles off with a the back of a knife and ripping off their ‘beards’ (byssus threads). All this after rinsing well. Very important, any that are open after this little prewash I discarded. Of course, once they’re cooked, I discard any that are closed. If you do want to purge them, however, to get out grit and sand, place the mussels in a bowl of salted cold water overnight, and they will ‘filter’ themselves clean.
There are loads of ways to enjoy mussels. Apparently, you could grill or barbeque them for a delicious smoky flavour, but I always do the traditional French Moules marinières. Here’s the recipe I used.
Ingredients (serves two or three, as a starter, depending how hungry everyone is)
About 60 (foraged) mussels
1 small red onion (I didn’t have a shallot) peeled and finely diced
1 garlic clove, peeled and minced or finely diced
1 glass white wine
3–5 sprigs of thyme
1 small carton single cream (or crème fraîche)
Knob of butter and a glug of olive oil (1 tbsp)
Salt and pepper (might not need the salt)
Melt the butter and olive oil in a large saucepan (which has a lid) over a medium heat.
Add the onion and soften.
Add the garlic a few minutes later, so you don’t burn it, then the mussels, wine and thyme.
Pop the lid on and leave to simmer, keeping an eye on the mussels to see when they start to open. This will take around 10–15 minutes.
Remove the lid and taste the juice to see if it needs seasoning or not, then add the cream or crème fraîche, just heating through but not cooking. Remember to discard any mussels which are still closed at the end. I had one when I did it.
Pour into a big dish, put in the centre of the table and serve with a crusty baguette for dipping into the white wine and garlic broth that will be left when you’ve plundered the mussels.
Give it a go. Obviously take care if you are foraging them. Otherwise just get from your fishmonger or at a pinch your local supermarket!