When a top TV foodie calls one of your starters “historic” and hints that he’d consider moving to Wales just to be near your restaurant, you know you’re doing something right. For Jodie Haynes and her partner Jon Cox, buying and running a business for the first time has been an enjoyable rollercoaster ride, and one that now makes them proud owners of Swansea’s best restaurant according to popular review site Tripadvisor.

Truffle, on King Edward’s Road, is ranked number one on the site with a 5.0 rating (the maximum) based on more than 300 reviews which mainly laud the “imaginative, delicious food” and the “lovely atmosphere”. To get the latest What's On newsletters from WalesOnline, click here.

One review of Truffle that carries slightly more weight than others was written by TV personality Giles Coren, who has been a restaurant critic for The Times for the past two decades. “The vibe in the room is unbeatable,” he wrote. “My meatballs were absolutely historic,” he said, before adding that his son, who accompanied him to the restaurant, said that he’d like to live in Swansea, so impressed was he with his experience at Truffle.

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So what does it take to run a successful and thriving independent city restaurant in 2023, when there is so much competition from different food outlets and chain offerings, at a time when a cost of living crisis means people are looking after the pennies more intensely than at any time over the previous 15 years?

"We bought the place about six years ago,” said Jodie, who previously worked at Swansea University. “But I’d worked in restaurants, and my partner Jon has always been a chef. I had been travelling for six months and when I came back we were at a point where we decided we wanted to start a family, but Jon was working so many hours a week at the time that it was difficult. We decided something had to change so we bought a business together.”

Jodie and Jon’s plunge into the business world saw them land at Truffle, and they both set about making it the best place to eat for miles around. Back then, the restaurant was ranked number 130 for places to eat in Swansea on Tripadvisor, but for the past couple of years it’s cemented its place at the very top of the pile. Despite the obvious difficulties that Covid and its resulting lockdowns brought, the restrictions put in place actually changed the way Truffle operated and played a part in the restaurant’s ever-growing success.

Giles Coren's verdict on Truffle's food

[My son's] moules marinière were fantastic: big and juicy and not too many of them (I hate a quantity of mussels that borders on the oppressive and tips you into duty eating), in a very light juice with lots of puffy white bread, and my meatballs (ordered with [my son] in mind, as a reserve option should his sudden shellfish impulse turn out to be a hoax – as happens from time to time) were absolutely historic: three of them, golf ball-sized, a mildly flavoured pork and beef blend, rich with the addition of parmesan but lightened by bread in the mix, sweetened with the peppers and then a trickle of mozzarella melted on top. I’m not sure I’ve ever had a meatball starter before, but it rocked.
And then there was a nice pause before my son's fish and chips, which were not bad at all (not as crisp in the batter as you might get in a chip shop with super-hot oil, frying lots and lots of fish, but a very good brasserie approximation), and my off-menu special of sea bass from Swansea Fresh Fish, down the road, a fat, grilled fillet of wild fish with good mashed potato and a big dish of peas and carrots and broccoli.

"It was our first business and it was incredibly daunting,” said Jodie. “We didn’t know about staff costs or food costs, and the first couple of years was a real learning curve. We were doing larger groups, with tables of up to 40, but that obviously changed with Covid, and it’s actually changed our business because we have since stuck to smaller tables and it really works for us. We still do bigger groups - a maximum of 13 diners - but the rest are all smaller tables.”

Truffle offers two set menus - one in the evening and one on Saturday lunchtime. The former offers three courses for £35 and the latter costs £20.95 for a starter and a main course. A key selling point is the fact that, despite selling alcohol in the restaurant, diners are invited to bring their own wine or drinks of choice, with no corkage fee added on. This, according to Jodie, has proved very popular with customers as it helps to keep the bill down.

"There’s three key things I think to making this a success,” she said. “The food is excellent, the service is excellent - we have a really, really friendly team made up of 13 staff - and the price point. People like to know how much they are going to pay beforehand. We have a licence in place for when people want to buy wine or if they want a liqueur coffee after their meal, but people are also welcome to bring their own drinks.”

Owner and chef Jonathan Cox runs the renowned restaurant
Owner and chef Jonathan Cox runs the renowned restaurant

With success and popularity comes the tempting prospect of expansion, perhaps to bigger premises or with the opening of another restaurant, but for Jodie and Jon they are happy where they are and they want to continue their journey at Truffle for a long time to come. “The natural progression would be to expand,” said Jodie. “But that’s not really possible. We have three young children so Truffle gives us a really good work-life balance.

"We are open Thursday, Friday and Saturday and me and Jon work here, we are not just the owners. Jon works all the time so the quality is consistent; it’s important to be there every day. There’s a big relief on a Saturday night when the doors close and we can relax and have a drink! It’s taken a lot of time and effort and hard work, and everyone here works really hard - it’s like a little family.” Giles Coren is certainly impressed, and so are the diners of Swansea if the reviews are anything to go by.

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