[Abergavenny, Monmouthshire] The Hardwick
It seems to me that there are a goodly number of places that describe themselves as gastropubs without really knowing what they mean by it. It becomes little more than a marketing term or advertising slogan. Stephen Terry doesn’t describe his gaff as a gastropub but it seems to fit exactly my feeling as to what one should be. It perfectly combines the gastro with the pub.
OK, no-one is going there for a game of dominoes and there’s no darts team. But you’re not going to feel out of place just popping in for a drink. That said, most of the building is given over to serving food. And it’s a menu of some length and with some ambition, reaching out across Europe for its elements. Of course, that’s perhaps no surprise. Terry has twice held Michelin stars – at London’s Canteen and, some ten years ago, at the Walnut Tree just down the road from the Hardwick.
Panzanella was a salad of utmost seasonality and freshness, including three different “heritage” tomatoes. A dressing of oil, balsamic and capers soaked nicely into the bread.
Sticking with the nod towards Italy, the other starter was crab linguine – a generous, almost main course sized, portion, with courgettes, anchovy and a little kick of chilli. The freshness of the delicate crab was very much to the fore but this was very much a butch dish.
For mains, a local line-caught sea bass sat on roasted red peppers, artichokes, grilled courgettes and rocket. OK, the fish was a tad under-seasoned and the real stars were the vegetables. Full of flavour and expertly cooked.
A plate of rabbit sounded a really good idea. Loin wrapped in Parma ham, a rabbit and quail Scotch egg, a pithivier of braised shulder. In truth, it was a little underwhelming in its flavours, even for rabbit. But again, it was lifted by the vegetables – roasted carrots, just wilted chard and some sautéed new potatoes. I was also less than keen on the presentation. I don’t really like food served on wooden boards – particularly when space is taken up by your potatoes coming in their own fiercely hot metal mini-pan. And your sauce similarly comes in another mini-pan which you can’t pour out for fear of it sloshing everywhere. It all means you have to carefully pick your way through dinner.
No quibbles, however, about dessert. We decided to share a plate of Welsh cheese. Can’t recall which ones we had. There were six – all in peak condition and, mercifully, not fridge cold. Served with biscuits and membrillo. Summer pudding had been made in its serving glass and topped with a very thick layer of double cream. Fresh, seasonal food that was delicious. Spanish style churros were made for eating with your hands. Particularly when there is a lovely, not too sweet, chocolate sauce to dunk them in. You did need a spoon for the Seville orange marmalade ice cream that came with it – sweet, sharp and delicious.
Service is relaxed, friendly and just what you’d expect in a well run gastropub.
I'm really happy to read you enjoyed Terry's place, John. I've wanted to eat there ever since watching him on TV. Sadly, we haven't had the time to get to Wales this year, but I will get there!
Interestingly, I know someone who lives in that town and says she prefers other places more, but that will not dissuade me or change my mind about where to go when I get there. She didn't offer other choices, and maybe she isn't much of a critic. :-)
Sorry to disappoint , June. But, if I only had chance for one meal in that immediate area, then the Walnut Tree would win hands down. That's not to say that the Hardwick was a bad choice. It certainly wasnt - and it's testimony to the food culture in this rural area that both can do good business within a couple of miles of each other.