Enjoy a fine rustic dining experience

Under the stewardship of Michelin-starred chef and owner Stephen Terry, the restaurant at The Hardwick has built up quite a reputation. William David Wilson takes a winding cab ride through the beautiful Welsh countryside to Abergavenny to find out whether the hype is justified.

First impressions

Take away its admittedly quaint setting amid the beautiful hills of Abergavenny - close to the Brecon Beacons National Park in Wales - and from the outside at least, The Hardwick doesn’t look like the luxury establishment you might envisage a Michelin-starred chef to be working in. With its plain white, painted exterior it could just about pass for any old local boozer, and indeed at one time it was exactly that, starting life out as a humble country pub back in the 1800s.

I find the local pub exterior charming and perfectly in keeping with the rural location and game-heavy menu. However, sceptics should note that as soon as you walk through the door and sit and relax in the stylish bar area, with its cosy sofas, pews and captain’s chairs, it hits home that you’re about to experience something really special.

The Hardwick decorThe décor is cosy, homely and stylish
Kiran Ridley
The décor somehow manages to straddle the line between tasteful, attention-grabbing (I'm thinking primarily of the mounted stags heads), homely and unpretentious all at once. There are three linked dining rooms: an impressive old stone fireplace stands out in the first, as does a dimly-lit, glassed-off wine store to the right of the second. Wooden beams sprawl across the relatively low ceilings, and terracotta floor tiles are partially covered by neatly woven rugs. The extended dining area has increased space but thankfully does not detract too much from the affable country style of the original building.

The restaurant is not busy on the night we visit, which means we experience an especially serene and welcoming atmosphere. We take our seats; there is a mixture of wooden chairs and cosier brown leather benches, and thankfully, none of them are placed too close together so that dining here doesn’t feel too cramped.

Ideal for…

Unsurprisingly, given its reputation, dining at The Hardwick does not come especially cheap. And even though families are welcomed, it doesn’t strike me as the best place to take kids. It's a much better bet for reacquainting business friends or for a special, romantic evening for couples.

Best table?

If you want to marvel at the beautiful Welsh countryside, or gaze into the starry night sky as well as your partner’s eyes, then a table near the window is for you. My two companions, Shana and Johara, and I sit at a table adjacent to the attractive wine store, which is comfortable. Classically tinged pop music plays in the background; it’s not to my taste, but it’s unobtrusive.

The drinks

We plump for a delightful bottle of the Wales the True Taste award-winning Ancre Hill Estates sparkling white wine (£28). With a nose of citrus and hay, notes of elderflower and meadow grasses, and a hint of lemon and green apples, it  tastes immensely fresh. The drinks menu is impressive, with prices ranging from £160 for a bottle of Dom Pérignon Brut champagne to a bottle of Pinot Grigio at a relative steal of £19. Local draught beers and bottled ciders are also available from the bar.

The food

The Hardwick Food and DrinkDelectable food and an impressive drinks menu await
Kiran Ridley
A much needed glass of wine later, and we are served a basket of sourdough bread, accompanied by salted butter and extra virgin olive oil, which is tasty if a little bit tough to tear into. We are soon joined by the charismatic chef himself. Stephen talks us through the main courses and offers to improvise to make a ham hock for Shana as a starter. Johara and I opt to try the local pigeon breast and chorizo on bruschetta with lentils and crème fraîche (£9). I’m unsure what to expect, but the pigeon is succulent and perfectly complemented by the crème fraîche and spicy chorizo. Shana’s specially made ham hock is topped with poached quail eggs and triple cooked chips. Although she declares the hock itself to be especially salty, she tucks into the poached quail eggs and chips with relish.

We polish off our starters and after a short lull, a 21-day, dry-aged ribeye steak is placed in front of me, with portobello mushroom and triple-cooked chips (£23). The steak is melt-in-the-mouth delicious, combining impeccably with the wild garlic butter, but the chips taste a little bit dry. Shana orders a hearty rabbit dish (£23) consisting of poached loin accompanied with creamed Swiss chard, a burger with carrot slaw, deep-fried polenta and rocket salad and a faggot with peas. I sample the rabbit burger which is lovely, but Shana admits she enjoys the faggot the most. Johara’s main of roast cod with pea and polenta chips, smoked tomato ketchup, samphire and wilted spinach (£23) also looks delectable. A sample tasting of the fish confirms my hunch; it’s flavoursome and appealingly lighter than much on the menu for those watching their waistlines. 

Despite feeling more than full, I can’t resist having dessert. I only manage one scoop of the honeycomb with chocolate chip ice cream (£7), rich and scrumptious though it is.

Overall, The Hardwick offers a thoroughly enjoyable dining experience; from its rustic décor and unpretentious ambience to the fine food and drinks, everything is first class. Although the cuisine is, for the most part, very rich and filling, more importantly it tastes great. Despite its location well off the beaten track, those in south Wales staying close by or passing through Abergavenny will find that making the journey to The Hardwick will be more than worthwhile.


The Hardwick
Old Raglan Road
Abergavenny, Monmouthshire
Wales, NP7 9AA
Tel: 01873 854 220.
Website: www.thehardwick.co.uk
Prices: From around £35 per head for a three-course meal, excluding wine.

William's stay at The Hardwick was organised by www.walesthetruetaste.co.uk

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