Stephen Terry is a chef who can reasonably claim to have 'been there, done that'. He worked with Marco at Harvey's, and Michel Roux Jnr at Le Gavroche, he's done the Paris thing under Alain Passard. He has had the likes of Jason Atherton and Mark Sergent work under him and has himself won Michelin stars at Canteen and The Walnut Tree. Put another way, at any time, the guy has options.
Where he's now settled, in a place all his own, is The Hardwick, just outside of Abergavenny. It's a former pub, now restaurant with rooms and nicely bridges the two. That it was a pub previously is obvious when you approach it and when you first step inside, but take a few more steps and the building opens out into an expansive multi-room area whose space testifies to its local popularity; indeed, when I was there of a weekday lunchtime, they were catering for an impressive 40 covers and the place had an enjoyable hum to it.
I found the food here interesting because it has the skill and vision brought to it from Chef Stephen's years in top class restaurants, yet the food remains accessible and without pretension, a classic case of 'good honest food', more poignant at The Hardwick because it's located in an essentially farming community. I suspect that many chefs secretly dream of what chef has here, cook for yourself, cook for the customer, enjoy a good business and positively don't pander to the guides.
My blogging cover was blown ahead of arrival but that did give me the opportunity to talk to Stephen about what he's doing at The Hardwick, and after that, I simply said to the kitchen that they could send me out whatever: they sent me out enough food for an army, so as you look below, this is not me ordering a regular lunch to be clear!
To start me off is a cauliflower soup with Hafod Cheddar and chives. I'm secretly very pleased about this, I probably wouldn't have ordered it myself so as to explore more 'complex' areas of the menu but actually, on a cold wet day after I stood outside to take the external shots, I really wanted it, and it was so good. The next step on the menu couldn't have been more different, listed as 'Native Breeds Frankfurter 'Hotdog' with baked mash potato, gravy, spiced onion rings and local cowboy pickles', I've never seen a starter like it, it's a mini meal. Everything is there but in a mini portion, and it is so totally satisfying. The sausage has just the right amount of spicy kick and with it's own pot of gravy, a nice mash, greens, it tastes great and puts a broad smile right across my face, and isn't that what good food is supposed to do?
After that it's 'Crispy breadcrumbed middle white port belly and black pudding with pickled fennel and apple and mustard sauce'. When we discussed earlier skill meeting accessibility, here is a great example. Everybody (excluding veggies of course) loves pork belly, but I really liked the subtle difference of crispy breadcrumb here and forgoing a crackling because it worked, while the fennel gives a different kind of crunch again, such that the dish delivers layers of satisfaction. Already, I'm loving The Hardwick.
A cod course brings together some more classic and well judged flavours, but it is what follows that takes my breath away: a taste of local beef. It's a slight variation on the regular menu item where it's a sharing plate, but my goodness, the 'groaning under the weight' wooden board in front of me contains: the starter beef plate (carpaccio of rare roast Herefordshire beef with fried breadcrumbs), 72 hour cooked short rib, and rib burger with creamed mushrooms. Order it as a regular menu item and there's an oxtail suet pudding on there also. I love it, loving what they do with the beef, loving the sides, and loving the theatre of it arriving at the table. A few greens and some well judged pickles help refresh you from this monster umami hit ensuring the smile stays on your face throughout. Dishes like this make it difficult to categorise The Hardwick, it's clever stuff, just not Michelin stuff, but still a considerable step up from what even many a celebrated and decorated restaurant has put in front of us over the years of the blog. I stop trying to label it and just enjoy it.
Finally, a chocolate plate arrives, there's caramel shortbread, rich chocolate mousse, white chocolate ice cream, and chocolate brownie with peanut and cherry parfait. If you like chocolate, and I do, this is a dream come true. I was enjoying it too much to contemplate sending any back to the kitchen despite how much I've already eaten. Only when the waitress comes to clear the empty plate does she tell me it's a sharing plate for two. Oops. If you are going to eat too much however, this is what you want to eat too much of.
After a week of touring, and eating, this may have been more food than I had envisaged before driving home to London, but it was exactly what I wanted, accessible but clever, and cooked with mastery. If I lived anywhere near The Hardwick, I'd have a seat there with my name on it for sure. In all my enquires ahead of my trip, I found the Stephen Terry fan club (as the old joke goes), to be long and distinguished. Well, you can add one more name to that list, for I too love The Hardwick and hope to return as soon as possible; the only thing I'd like to change about my visit there was the weather, but even that got better as the meal progressed. Happy food.
Previously I visited: Mr Underhill's, Ludlow
Next stop: home
The Hardwick Location Map