One of the many lovely presents I received for my 60th Birthday last year (Yes, I know you’re all saying “That must be a misprint, surely Richard meant 50”) was a voucher from my daughters for the HARDWICK, Stephen Terry’s restaurant with rooms just outside Abergavenny. We decided we’d keep it to brighten up January so many months ago we booked for the 25th.
On the morning of the long-awaited day, we were watching Saturday Kitchen Live and who should appear but our host-to-be Stephen Terry – so would he be back in time to cook for us?? James Martin then introduced him by saying that the HARDWICK produces ‘fabulous pub food’ – pub food??? – with starters averaging £9.00 and mains about £24, I was expecting something a bit better than that!!! Later in the programme, Haggis was mentioned as it was Burns’ Night, with Stephen saying that he was doing a haggis-themed menu that night to mark this - AAARGH!!
As we had the voucher, we splashed out to stay the night. The six rooms are in a two storey new extension on an attractive courtyard with the restaurant extension on the other side, all clad in wood. Our room was one of a couple of the rooms that have doors directly off the courtyard so you feel you have your own cabin/cottage rather than being off a hotel corridor. The large room was very elegantly furnished, all in modern wood with nice shuttered floor-length windows, and very well equipped – good tea and coffee facilities (proper teapot and cafetiere), complimentary bottled water, luxuriant bathrobes and proper sized bottles of toiletries. A couple of curious features - the only lighting was some lamps and wall lights which made the room seem quite dim to me – I found this was rather seductive but CDC said it was just my aged failing eyesight! – and you were not allowed to adjust the room heating, which was set at 21C – which I found chilly on this wet and windy night – or is this just another symptom of old age?
We ran across the courtyard through the driving rain into the cosy bar – nice leather sofas, wooden pews and good atmosphere. Prices were not quite pub but not hotel = prosecco, £6.95 a glass and draught beer, £3.40. The wine list is good with plenty of wines available by the glass and decent ones available for £24 and under – we had an excellent Rioja at £20.00. Despite being very busy – the restaurant was virtually full – our order was taken in the bar and there was just the right time allowed before we were taken to our table. Service was very friendly and efficient throughout.
To start, I had confit of duck (£9.00) which was made into a hash and served under a fried duck’s egg – a rich and tasty way to serve confit. CDC opted for the Linguine with Devon crabmeat, courgette and chilli, (£14.00) which was a generous serving and nicely dressed with a tangy chilli dressing but the crabmeat was sadly scarce.
There is a sensibly-sized selection of main courses; we thought about the Taste of Local Beef (£58.00 for two)which is a sharing selection of different cuts – including braised rib and oxtail pudding – which was tempting but we decided on the equally interesting Rack of Lamb (£22.00), which, in addition to two tender pink chops, came with a deep-fried filo pastry parcel of shredded braised shoulder – really delicious – grilled courgettes, aubergine, harrissa and a little copper pot of spiced lentils – a Moroccan-inspired dish but much better than the more common tagine – and a dish that was more than the sum of its interesting parts.
We didn’t try a pudding but what I think was a stem ginger cheesecake with poached rhubarb jelly on a neighbouring table looked good and the ‘affogato’ – espresso over vanilla ice cream - looked a good way of combining pudding and coffee at only £4.50.
We made our way next morning at a civilised 10.00am, again through the pouring rain, for a very ample breakfast, which was served in one of the little low-ceiling beamed dining rooms. The constantly refilled decanter of freshly squeezed orange juice would have pleased even Michael Winner! I surprised myself by rather enjoying the healthy-sounding yoghurt with Granola, though perhaps spoilt this by then having the traditional cooked breakfast – excellent black pudding but the bacon was a couple of disappointingly thin slices and I rather suspect the brown sauce wasn’t HP – cardinal sin in my book!
After finishing off with some very good toast and in-house marmalade, we wended our way through the rain without having seen the aforesaid Mr Terry! And if you’re wondering, the haggis only featured as a starter!
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