I was invited by Food and Drink wales to spend three days travelling around and getting to know Monmouthshire and the Brecon Beacons. This was an unpaid press trip but I was asked to blog about our experiences.
Welcome to part two of my This is Wales mini series. Today I’m shining a light on some of the best spots for pub dining in South Wales.
As you probably know already if you follow me on instagram or twitter, we recently spent three days travelling around Monmouthshire and the Brecon Beacons on what can only be described as an epic food fuelled road trip. With St David’s day just around the corner, were invited to take this road trip by Food and Drink Wales to discover more about all that their country has to offer when it comes to food and drink. St David is the patron saint of Wales and 1st March has been celebrated with the feast of St David since the 12th century – sounds good right?
Don’t read this one hungry – you’ll hate me by the end!
Owned and run by Chef Stephen Terry (of Great British Menu fame) I’d heard only good things about this country restaurant just outside Abergavenny. Stephen cut his trade in some fantastic restaurants, including the then 3 michelin starred Le Gavroche, and held a star of his own at both The Canteen and The Walnut Tree.
We were there for lunch, and as our first meal of the day (aside from a tasting session at Black Mountains Smokery) we were ready!
The Hardwick has a frequently changing menu, full of local, seasonal produce. We chose to eat from the lunch menu that day with Dave opting for a mussel dish to start and a cauliflower soup for me. We both loved our starters. Mine was comforting and rich, topped with melting mature cheddar and sharp little flecks of chive. I literally cleaned the bowl out. Dave’s was more elegant, an example of beautifully balanced and almost Mediterraean colours and flavours. It was the best thing we ate that day.
Our mains were less exciting but still very tasty. Dave’s was an interesting dish – butternut squash arancino with Bristol (yay) made pickled ewes cheese, smokey chipotle chilli, roast crown prince squash, winter leaves, parsley & sage pesto and savoury granola. Phew! There was a lot happening on that plate, perhaps too much, but every element was delicious, especially the roast squash and unusual pesto.
Mine was gammon with deep fried polenta, winter greens, fried egg and grain mustard & parsley sauce. The polenta was delicious, espeically when dunked in a bright orange yolk but the greens (which I usually adore) were a little salty. That with the gammon made the dish a little over powered.
For pudding, we shared the ‘Lemon Crunch‘. It was so good! A meringue topped mix of granola, cream, lemon curd and nuts. It was surprisingly light and was a great way to finish the meal.
The lunch menu at The Hardwick is very affordable at £21 for two courses or £26 for three. With excellent service and a homely yet special feel, it’s a great place for a treat. Or, if you really want to push the boat out, go at night and make use of their impressive wine list too!
Find The Hardwick online and in person (so to speak) at Old Raglan Road, Abergavenny NP7 9AA
The Bell at Skenfrith
This was our favourite of the three pub meals we enjoyed that weekend. The Bell is a lovely (and award winning) pub with rooms on the banks of the River Monnow in Monmouthshire right on the England / Wales border.
The menu is filled with modern british classics and just like The Hardwick, changes frequently. A lot of the ingredients are also sourced from their own kitchen garden which makes me supremely happy.
To start, Dave had the scallops. Perfectly seared scallops on a smooth, well seasoned parsnip puree and salty flecks of bacon paired beautifully with the bite of fresh pea shoots. Asparagus isn’t in season, so perhaps a more seasonal vegetable would have been better, but otherwise, this was a standout dish.
My starter was equally delicious – the best chicken liver pate I’ve ever eaten infact. Smooth, rich and just brilliantly tasty. What else can I say? More bread please..
Now to the pièce de résistance – two perfect main courses! You don’t hear me say that often right?
I had the roast Welsh lamb rack. Just wow. Every piece of meat on that plate was cooked perfectly. The rump in particular was divine and I had no shame in picking up the rack to make sure I’d eaten every last bit.
For Dave, pan roasted duck breast. The chef clearly knows what he’s doing when it comes to cooking meat because again, it was spot on. The beetroot crisps were a pleasant touch and those dauphinoise were straight from heaven. Ask me to pick a favourite – I can’t.
A three course dinner at The Bell will set you back around £35 per head not including drinks. I recommend booking as they do get busy.
Find The Bell online and at Skenfrith, Monmouthshire, NP7 8UH
The Bear Hotel, Crickhowell
Our final evening meal of the trip was at The Bear in Crickhowell, just inside the Brecon Beacons national park. This historic building dates back in parts to 1492 and we loved all the nooks and higgledly piggedly stairs, rooms and corridors. They run two menus during the evening – one in the bar and one in the restaurant, which is where we ate.
The restaurant menu is a mix of traditional pub classics (the Bear essentials) and more modern gastro-style dishes. They also have a sizeable steak selection, all Welsh meat from their local butcher so you can probably guess what I went for…
To start, Dave had soup – I can’t remember what flavour but judging by my pictures, it was tomato based. I had a really tasty smoked haddock and pea tart, something I’ve not really had before. It was a pretty little thing on a bed of rocket with plenty of fish and peas suspended in a creamy sauce. I’d have eaten the whole thing again if I’d been given the chance.
For our mains, I obviously went for steak. My 8oz rib eye came with garlic butter, roast mushroom, confit tomato and chips. I also had the port and stilton sauce which was rich, silky and just the right amount of salty. Dave had a lovely slow roast pulled lamb dish from the specials menu which came with a ratatouille, fondant potato and rich jus. Very hearty and just what you need on a cold January evening.
For pudding we shared an orange pannacotta with jsut hre right amount of wobble, and a glass of sweetly moreish Preseli Glow – a locally made digestif.
Shortly after that. I somehow managed to throw a whole glass of red wine across the waitress. She took it in good spirit but I was so so embarrassed and everyone in the restaurant was laughing (fortunately with, not at me). The manager knew before we told him – news travels fast. Well, at least they won’t forget me in a hurry…
A three course meal at The Bear Hotel will cost around £35 per head not including drinks. Find them online at right in the centre of Crickhowell, Powys, NP8 1BW
This is part two of a four part series exploring the food and drink of Wales. Keep your eyes peeled for part three, coming soon! Missed the first post? It’s all about Welsh food and drink producers. Read it now!