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Unfiltered: Nick Rudge, The Jackdaw

Nick Rudge, the chef-patron of The Jackdaw, Conwy, whose interest in food is matched by his knowledge of wine, talks to Douglas Blyde about his formative years at The Fat Duck, including “wine miles” on his list, and the fantasy of depleting a magnum of DRC with Escoffier.

What does “The Jackdaw” mean in relation to your restaurant?

A Jackdaw is someone born within the castle walls of Conwy; there was also a secretive “Jackdaw Society” set up in the nineteenth century to diligently protect and enhance the community of the medieval town. Taking this name, The Jackdaw is a small, intimate, casual dining restaurant at Conwy’s heart.

What has been a highlight bottle from your year of birth?

I turned 30 this year and celebrated with many bottles. The most memorable was the delicately oak-enriched Château Palmer 1994, with floral, blackberry, black cherry, blackcurrant, and plum notes.

What was a formative role in your hospitality journey?

I was lucky enough to work at The Fat Duck, progressing from commis chef at the tender age of 19 to junior sous. I was surrounded by people with knowledge and a love for wine there. It was impossible for it not to rub off on me. When I went to Australia for the eight-month pop-up in 2015, I discovered an Australian Viognier/Shiraz blend by Clonakilla, which blew my mind, and from there, my love for wine truly began.

How many sommeliers are in your team?

There is only one currently, Gareth Patrick-Hanley, who is both my sommelier and restaurant manager, though I hope to build more of a beverage team in the coming months. The main thing I look for in new team members is enthusiasm for food and beverages.

How did you devise the idea of noting the mileage from The Jackdaw to wineries and other drinks producers on your lists?

Being proud Welshmen and running a Welsh restaurant, Gareth and I always search for ways to bring things back to Conwy. We found that noting the distance to producers was playful and a way to engage with our guests. To say it was a dramatic change would be an understatement. Our list grew from two sides of A4 on opening in 2021 to 25 pages today.

What region are you most proud of on the list?

Wales already produces exciting wines, though I can’t wait to see what the future brings. Ancre Hill Estates 2013 Blanc de Blancs was a standout bottle I enjoyed last year. I can see why it sold out.

What should we be drinking more of?

Cabernet Franc.

And what could you happily live without?


What are your finest pours via Coravin?

The wonderful Château Loudenne 2009 – and we will be incorporating more wines by the glass via Coravin,

What is your favourite table in the house?

All the food we cook, and all the beverages we pour taste the same on all our tables. However, if forced to choose, it would most likely be table ten in the far right corner, with its view of the entire dining room.

Who did the interior design?

I designed it myself. On the very first viewing, I could visualise everything: the Hague Blue walls, the walnut furnishings, the round tables, and the wishbone chairs. I wanted the guests to know they were in Wales the moment they arrived. My father, John, who used to be a joiner, and my brother, Dan, an aeroplane engineer, greatly helped me with the work.

What ingredients do you love and loathe?

I love both venison and tomatoes. Indeed, we work closely with farmer Dilwyn, who grows produce for the restaurant on nearby Anglesey, including the phenomenal “Y Ddraig Goch” (Red Dragon in Welsh) variety in seaweed-enriched soil. Picking a tomato off the vine without seeing a fridge is an experience like no other. I look forward to using them again this summer. Meanwhile, I have a real dislike for the off-putting texture of oysters.

Why do you only offer tasting menus?

When I opened The Jackdaw, we offered an à la carte menu and added a tasting menu, which was a juggling act. I had to decide on the direction I wanted The Jackdaw to take. I felt that the tasting menu was the best way to consistently show what we are about and do something different compared to every other restaurant nearby. We’re having a great time and loving what we do – as are our guests, which is the most important thing.

What has been a memorable wine and food match at your hands?

I created a dish in homage to my old boss, Heston Blumenthal. One of the longest-standing dishes on The Fat Duck menu is “quail jelly, cream of crayfish (Homage to Alan Chapel)” so my version is a homage of a homage: “roast Rhug estate chicken jelly, cream of Pembrokeshire crab, poached rhubarb and duck liver parfait” paired with Vallet Frères Gevrey-Chambertin.

What is “Bread Of Heaven”?

It is a dish I changed in March this year. Rather than a piece of bread with butter, we serve a bread course in various parts: kefir-fermented sourdough, oat and mycelium porridge, and a fermented rye cracker with cultured and barley butters. The inspiration came from a document from 1750 by Welsh writer David Thomas, which we include with the dish. The words depict four Welsh counties according to their “social customs”, all of which contain the different grains used for the breads according to their geology.

Where else do you like to enjoy wine?

I enjoy wine anywhere, so long as I’m in the company of interesting people.

Why aren’t more chefs equally interested in food and wine?

I have no idea! However, this is changing as more chefs become interested in wine earlier in their careers. At The Jackdaw, before a pairing reaches the menu, we all taste together and voice our opinions, which is always interesting – especially for the younger team members.

How did you get into sake?

My love for sake began at The Fat Duck. Last year, Gareth, Chef de Partie, Louis Peterson, and I were invited to Japan House in London by Natsuki Kikuya for a wonderful tasting. Meeting the producers was fascinating. I particularly rated a sake from Hiroshima called Fukucho Seafood Junmaishu. We are one of the few restaurants in the county of Conwy to serve sake. Some guests have a preconception that sake is extremely high in alcohol, though this isn’t the case. Last year, we served Tamagawa “Time Machine”, with its shiitake mushroom and soy character, with our dish, “fennel sauce for salmon”. It’s a great combination.

Does anyone ever order from your array of mead?

Yes – it is a great digestif.

How do you choose spirits?

We only stock Welsh spirits, including Dr Kevin Flowers’ PHure gin. He makes it using a rotary evaporator, which allows for lower distillation temperatures, preserving delicate flavour compounds ordinarily lost in copper distillation. We teamed up earlier this year to create PHure Jackdaw pink peppercorn gin.

What important lesson have you learned in the world of hospitality?

Trust your gut, and don’t be afraid to take risks.

Noting you do not enforce a dress code – has a guest arrived inappropriately dressed?

That is yet to happen!

Tell us something surprising about yourself?

My middle name, Ieuan, is inspired by Ieuan Evans, who played rugby for Wales, given that my dad is a big rugby fan.

If you could have a superpower, what would it be?

To multiply myself so there would be five of me cooking in the kitchen, washing the pots, doing the paperwork – and having a rest – all simultaneously.

Finally, who, from history, would you like to sit down to dine with, and what would you uncork?

I would uncork a magnum of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti with the inspiring Auguste Escoffier.

The Jackdaw Conwy – High Street, Conwy, LL32 8DB; 01492 596922;;

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