Sunken Hundred is the name of a legendary lost kingdom plunged beneath Cardigan Bay on Wales's rugged western coast. According to an ancient tale, the low-lying land was once defended by a great dyke that kept the waters out. A pair of princes were in charge of the sluice gates, one of whom was a drunkard. When it was his turn to tend the gates one evening, the inebriated prince passed out at low tide leaving them open, and the ocean soon came rushing in, permanently drowning the land. It is said that in times of danger, the ringing of submerged church bells can still be heard. Archeologists who have examined the bottom of the shallow bay have found stones with Roman inscriptions, and artifacts from more recent habitations — meaning that the legend might be true.
Sunken Hundred is also the moniker of a new Welsh restaurant on the border of Carroll Gardens and Cobble Hill. The exterior is blue clapboard with white trim, suggesting a quayside pub, and just inside the front door tables are cozily wedged into a pair of windowed niches; they're the best seats in the house. Further inside, one wall holds a striking painting of Cantre'r Gwaelod (Welsh for "Sunken Hundred"), showing haunting shapes rising out of a foggy seascape. A line of tables lie along that wall; opposite, a bar dispenses themed cocktails and a limited selection of wines and beers — alas, no Welsh brews, which are difficult to import, as a waitress confided one evening.
How does Welsh food differ from English? Well, the overlap is around 80 percent, but Welsh cuisine pays much more attention to seafood of a surprisingly diverse sort. Thanks to the fecund warmth of the Gulf Stream, Welsh waters teem with sea creatures and edible plants. One thing you'll find again and again on Sunken Hundred's menu is seaweed, especially the dried variety known as nori in Japanese and laver in English. Fried into squiggly fritters, it's the free bar snack served warm when you order a happy hour drink.
That same laver also figures in two entrees on a menu that's mercifully concise. Seafood cawl ($19) might be called a Celtic bouillabaisse, a thickish broth bobbing with shrimp and squid and a pair of croutons smeared with orange rouille. Stuck to the inside of the bowl is a sheet of nori that may be pulled down with your spoon and sampled every time a little extra flavor is required. In another entrée, a cliff of bone-white hake ($18) rises out of a sea of chunky tomato sauce flavored with butter and seaweed, giving the fish more flavor than it rightfully possesses. But the best main course is ffagodau ($14), a landlubber's delight of lamb and pork meatballs shot with organ meats that give them a liver-y savor, awash in multiple sauces including smooshed minty peas and onion gravy.
Sunken Hundred's pasty is the city's most spectacular, the surface dusted with sea salt and a tomato chutney pooled on the side.
In line with modern culinary practice, a large majority of the offerings fall into small-dish categories: Bites, Sides, and Shares. Among the Bites find a lamb pasty (pronounced "pass-tee") — a pastry that originated in Galicia in northwestern Spain, where it is known as an empanada. From there it was carried by Celts to Cornwall and Wales in what is now the United Kingdom, a vivid reminder of an ancient peripatetic race whose food culture persists. Sunken Hundred's pasty is the city's most spectacular, the surface dusted with sea salt and a tomato chutney pooled on the side.
While it's tempting to call that pasty the best thing on the menu, there have been several other candidates. Poached razor clams ($14), now out of season, featured the elongated shellfish poached, cut in sections, and flavored with charred lemon and lamb jus — proving that, for Welsh cooks, the idea of lamb is never far from their minds. Known as chips, the French fries at Sunken Hundred are also excellent. Even though they appear in the Sides section, one may readily treat them as an app, and a cost-wise one at that ($7). Did I mention that the homemade ketchup is seaweed flavored?
The dessert list is very short, maybe because the savory fare is so rich, and drink flows freely among the patrons. (Sunken Hundred is foremost a pub, after all.) Yet the desserts tell you as much about Welsh cuisine as any other section of the menu. There's bara brith ($9), a slice of tea cake heavy with candied fruit, fried on a griddle and presented with a scoop of walnut-rum ice cream. Equally good are the Welsh cake sandwiches — saucer-shaped cakes crusted with granulated sugar and accompanied by thick clotted cream and hedgerow jam, made with hard, late-season berries that are only fit for making preserves.
And this is where Sunken Hundred leaves you, eating jam distilled from the hedgerows that run along country lanes in Wales. Perhaps reminding you of Led Zeppelin and their Welsh mountainside retreat of Bron-Yr-Aur ("Breast of Gold") and that "Stairway to Heaven" lyric: "If there's a bustle in your hedgerow, don't be alarmed now." It's just cottagers picking hips and haws to make hedgerow jam.
Cost: Dinner for two, featuring two apps, two mains, and two alcoholic beverages, with tax but not tip, $70.
Sample dishes: lamb pasty, ffagodau pork meatballs, bara brith (fried tea cake).
What to drink: Glass or bottle of white Albariño or Rioja rosé, glass of beer from a shifting on-tap roster, or the cocktail called Lost to the Sea (gin, chartreuse, kelp bitters, laver oil).
Bonus tip: Sunken Hundred is a good spot for weekend brunch, with a menu heavy on seafood (crab butty, smoked haddock), baked goods (salmon quiche and fish churros), and UK specialties like minty peas on toast.