Penny pays a visit to Pembrokeshire’s Milford Marina and the wonderful Milford Fish Festival, part of Pembrokeshire Fish Week.
The Port of Milford Haven owns and runs Milford Marina. The 320-berth marina enjoys a wide range of shoreside facilities including cafes, bars and restaurants, gift shops, hairdressers/beauty salons and physio, along with the usual boat yard services, plus a wet fish outlet and a new smokery.
The marina is 25 years old this year and they are celebrating throughout the summer. It has a strong community ethos and everyone will be involved.
Milford is locked with an efficient system that was fitted last year, and you can be out in the Milford Haven Waterway just 10 minutes after entering the lock.
The world is your oyster with Cardiff Bay 96nm east, Aberystwyth 88nm north and Ilfracombe just over the water some 50nm south.
This beautiful and commercially productive estuary on Pembrokeshire’s stunning coast provides habitats for wildlife and seabirds and plays an important role in conservation and is central to the UK’s fishing industry. Milford Fish Docks is Wales’ largest fishing port with landings of around 3,500 tonnes of fish (including shellfish) each year. The port is also home to Spanish and Belgian fleets.
Skomer, the island favoured by the puffins, is just 12nm away and RIB trips run around Ramsey Island most evenings, leaving from St David’s RNLI station. I can recommend Falcon Boats, where Ffion and Hannah run a very good, informative trip, getting you close to the seals, porpoises, razorbills and then follow the nippy, fighter pilot Shearwaters home for the evening.
With wharf buildings surrounding the docks Milford Marina is the ideal site to host Milford Fish Festival, this year extended to two days, kicking off the week long Pembrokeshire Fish Week that extends over the whole county and is recognised as an important national food festival.
With numerous live bands and masses for the kids to do, from graffiti street art lessons to diving, via a bit of pavement chalking and trampolining, the whole family can spend the day here.
I was keen to catch Chetna Makan, she of Bake Off fame (semi finalist in 2014), cooking up a storm of spiced prawns and a cardamom, white chocolate and pistachio cake, that was as light as it was fragrant.
In between the conservation stands and magnificent spider crabs sat a van that the graffiti artists may well have designed called X Ray Café. Their menu included ray cheeks and hake in tempura. Plump, firm cheeks, lightly battered, along with strips of hake on a bed of mashed avocado and slaw. They were very busy, as was the Pembrokeshire new potato stand, offering samples of buttery, chived baby spuds.
The sea bass gleamed on ice in the fish marquee and the art and craft area was full of budding young makers. The beer tent looked over to the main stage (there was live music over both days), and there were also some fine wandering musicians – particularly the Pugwash duo, with a fiddle and accordion, and a large stomp style drum band, who were having a ball.
But the highlight of the day was the fiercely contested Milford Chowder Trail. We queued up, collected spoon, bowl and voting card along with a map of the four restaurants taking part, and we were off.
I started with the most beautifully presented chowder from the Harbour Master. It was creamy, well seasoned and with a razor clam as edible adornment. Next stop The Scoop Ice Cream Parlour where Pembrokeshire Yacht Club was based for the event. Then over to Gordon Bennett’s, the new fish and chip sit-down restaurant on the quayside, with lots of succulent prawns and fresh crab meat on top, if you wished.
Feeling slightly over chowdered I stop for a sharp G&T on Martha’s Vineyard’s terrace, in the blazing sun, before heading to my last soup kitchen at the Pheonix Bowl, passing happy pavement artists and the busy fish stalls. Now this is the first chowder to have sweetcorn in it, and the chunks of baby corn really cut through the richness of the soup.
Now, to cogitate and mark my results sheet. I head back to the marina for a quiet cup of tea and slice of cake. There is quite a choice so I ask the friendly hairdressers where they go. The Crow’s Nest was the prompt reply, so I had a cream tea there but could have chosen at least 10 different cakes. The layered Sparkle Cake in pinks caught my eye.
I was told later that I should have gone to Martha’s Vineyard, where I had stopped, mid chowder trail to cleanse my palette, as they do a proper afternoon tea on lovely tiered plates with traditional china.
As I was going to try out Foam’s tapas menu that evening it was time to retire to the Lord Nelson for a quick siesta before heading back to this ever popular bar/restaurant at the end of the marina.
Breakfast: French toast with peanut butter and bananas at Foam
Best bakers: Welsh Bakery of course, with shops in MH and Haverfordwest
Lunch: Street food X Ray Café
Afternoon tea: either at the Crow’s Nest, where they have an enormous choice of cakes, or Martha’s Vineyard where you get a proper afternoon tea, with all the trimmings
Dinner: Tapas at Foam again. We shared calamari, pulled pork, chicken Katsu and spicy king prawns. Eton Mess for pudding. A good choice of gins and great coffee.
The hike: Circular walk to Blackbridge
The drive: The half hour trip over the bridge and down to Saundersfoot is delightful with lunch at Coast (see below for the full Coast review), looking out over the sands at Coppet Hall beach. Young chef Will Holland, who gained his first Michelin star at La Becasse in Ludlow, is now cooking at Coast, a magnificent wood clad environmentally sound building hugging the bay. The fish is fresh out of the bay, crab from Carmarthen and much of the veg from sister hotel The Grove, who have a proper garden.
The Crow’s Nest – 01646 697147
Coast at Saundersfoot, near Narberth, Pembrokeshire
I had read about Coast when looking for the UK’s best beach cafes and the building itself lifts your spirits as you spot the silvering wood curving back from the beach. Will Holland is the chef here, a well travelled Bristol boy who gained his first Michelin star at La Bécasse in Ludlow before heading to the purpose built dynamic building on the beach here at Coppet Hall. Within 10 days of opening Coast had been awarded 2 AA rosettes, and have just won Restaurant of the Year, 2016.
There is ample parking (you need to pay) and a cafe and loos downstairs, but with Coast getting the Lion’s share of the building as all tables have panoramic views and the decor is simple, letting the view do the talking.
I order the haddock rarebit, one of the day’s specials, followed by tuna Niçoise and sit back and watch the restaurant slowly fill up. I’m early as I’ve driven from Swansea this morning, and I’m starving as my Welsh cake, hot off the griddle in Swansea market seems a long time ago.
Then comes the first of two appetisers I wasn’t expecting. First there is a paper cornet of fat whitebait, with a paprika peppered mayonnaise, and better still, the black charcoal salt that is liberally sprinkled over my pat of butter to go with the warm bread, made on site of course.
Having enjoyed this enormously I wait for my haddock, but no, along comes another Welsh slate tray, this time with a cup of pungent coral fish bisque, with the winning Gruyere croute alongside, which remains crisp as it’s dunked into the soup. Memories of Provence flood back, and you realise this is very fine French cooking, but on the Pembrokeshire coast, with little fuss, surrounded by a number of equally happy, quiet diners. The mix is mostly retired, a couple of younger pairs and some clean looking hikers. We watch the weather roll by outside, paddle boarders laughing as the rain spats by and dog walkers enjoying a run along the silken beach.
I’m told the lobster lands right here, crab comes from Carmarthen, and everything else is as local as is possible, and much of the veg comes from the kitchen gardens at parent hotel the Grove at Narberth www.thegrove-narberth.co.uk
Now the haddock arrives. A simple slab with a precise coat of rarebit made from Snowden Black Bomber, a lightly smoked strong cheddar that works perfectly with the undied fish, which breaks into pearlescent flakes as I hoof it up. Will Holland has such a light hand when it comes to seasoning and dressings, just the right balance between sweet and sour, enhancing the perfect cooking of the fish, 10/10
Next up the tuna Niçoise, pink cubes of tuna, just seared on the outside, wine red within, alongside crisp split French beans, baby potatoes, quails eggs, lambs lettuce and fresh and slow roast tomatoes – the later being exceptional and adding depth. The black tapenade the potatoes were rolled in brought the whole classic together with pretty wild garlic flowers adding delicacy. Again, a winner. I didn’t really notice what others were eating but this is a fish orientated menu, but if I came with the carnivore I’m sure the 28 day dry aged Welsh beef sirloin would tick the box.
No room or time for pudding – but if I did I would have the liquorice pana cotta with beetroot cake, blackcurrants and beetroot ice cream, so there.
Off to Milford Haven now, ahead of the Fish Festival which opens tomorrow. Will is doing a demo on the Sunday. Do try and visit if you can. The bay is shallow but you can anchor and row ashore, more info: