Sunday 23 September 2012

The Hardwick - Abergavenny

Last week, I had lunch at somewhere I’ve wanted to eat for ages, Stephen Terry’s The Hardwick. We were in Abergavenny for the annual Food Festival at which I ate and drank more than is ever advisable. So much so, that upon returning, I had to spend an entire day in a vegative state, recovering.

Abergavenny almost has an embarrassment of riches where it comes to eating out, with four highly regarded restaurants located nearby. The Hardwick, The Walnut Tree, The Crown at Whitebrook and The Foxhunter. Although admittedly, it’s a bit of a hike or a short cab ride out to reach any of them. Strangely, within the environs of the actual town there’s a real lack of decent places to eat, but with such a concentration of culinary excellence, more or less right on the doorstep, perhaps that’s not so surprising.

It’s worth noting that all of these restaurants are easily reachable from Bristol for lunch or dinner. It’s easy to forget the city’s proximity to Wales, but Abergavenny is a little over an hour away by train.
The Hardwick sits a little way out of town, on the Old Raglan Road, surrounded by an incredibly verdant early autumn panorama of hills and valleys. The exterior, freshly painted white, looks well kept, but a bit plain from the roadside and not especially alluring.

Fortunately, the interior is an entirely different proposition. It’s evidently very old, by virtue of the uneven tiled floors and the ancient wooden joists and there’s a definite understated air of polished comfort. Rustic but with just a veneer of fancy-pants slickness. To randomly use a (probably entirely unsuitable) nautical term, I instantly like the cut of The Hardwick’s jib.

Adopting a nonchalant, ‘damn the expense’ air, (E was paying) I glanced down at the menu coming to the instant conclusion that an ‘understated air of polished comfort’ doesn’t come frigging cheap. It’s definitely special occasion prices, for me at least. Mentally toting the menu up like an idiot savant, in the most literal sense, I reckoned that the 3 courses I wanted, plus half a bottle of wine and tip would come in at something like £60 each. That’s a pretty hefty whack for a spot of lunch in my book.

Then I spied the set menu, aaaaaand relax. 3 Courses, £21. Job-jobbed. Don’t get me wrong; I like spanking huge wads of cash on meals as much as the next corpulent bastard, but sometimes I just have to accept that although the stomach may be willing, the bank balance is a particularly barren, flaccid-sack, bereft of coinage.
Let’s talk about bread. The Hardwick is using baker Alex Gooch’s, and it’s bloody excellent. I ate more of it later that weekend, in the form of rolls at the Trealy Farm stall at the food festival itself and couldn’t have been more impressed.
So, pan-fried local pedigree pork meatloaf with red onion marmalade, toasted sourdough and cornichons. A fairly standard starter, apart from the sheer heft of the monolithic cube of meatloaf on my plate. It was frigging massive. I’m not complaining, mind, it was bloody nice, in a warm chunky pork paving-slab, kind of way.
Meanwhile, in the long shadow cast by my starter, ‘E’ was eating organic salmon and cod croquette with smashed peas, tartar sauce and lemon. And a very nice thing it was too by all accounts. From my side of the table, I particularly admired the geometrically slashed croquette styling. Fancy.
Slow cooked pork belly with celeriac puree, black pudding and salted caramel apple sauce. I’ve eaten pork belly alles uber da platz, and this was probably the best I’ve had anywhere. Ridiculously meaty, sticky, and soft but with perfectly crisp, almost lacquered skin, which I couldn’t help but wonder at. I’ve cooked muchos belly myself and never once attained such a beautiful glazed finish. I’d be really interested if anyone knows the technique to achieve similar results.

The salted caramel sauce was a nice unusual twist. As with my starter, the portion size erred on the mungus, the concluding forkful pushed into my gob with just a small degree of effort. I was very happy but stuffed silly.
‘E’s pescetarian tendencies had led her towards pan fried tomato risotto with Perroche goats cheese, grilled courgettes, rocket and black olives. As with everything else we’d ordered, this was a substantial portion of food. The risotto had been pressed into a rectangular cake and seared, which is something I haven’t seen before. Combined with a generous lump of Perroche, a fantastic fresh young goats cheese from Neal’s Yard Creamery, ‘E’ was well pleased.
As we both go a bit stupid where ordering food is concerned, we'd also requested a completely unnecessary bowl of very decent triple cooked chips and a cracking dish of courgette fries. These were different to any I’ve eaten previously in other restaurants, being cut extremely thin – shoestring style, then presumably coated in a light tempura batter and finished off with what appeared to be grated parmesan. They were frigging excellent.
Neither of us fancied the set-menu desserts, so eyes roaming over to the a la carte, ‘E’ ordered ‘A jar of lemon crunch with Italian meringue’ which proved to be very similar to something we’ve made ourselves at ‘The Basement’ supper club (ours were inspired by a dessert we’d eaten in a Bath pub). A Kilner jar, layered full of lemon curd, custard and a shortbread crumb. It was lovely, but way too big a portion of something so rich. Which isn’t much of a complaint really.
Meanwhile I was hacking into one of the trio of golden balls on my plate and gleefully watching molten chocolate slowly ooze out of the centre in an obscene display of the most depraved kind of food porn  ‘Deep fried, breadcrumbed rice pudding & chocolate arancini with morello cherry parfait’ was ridiculously good.
I really enjoyed lunch at The Hardwick. The restaurant itself has a nice relaxed feel to it. The cooking is excellent, rustic but polished with some very nice, unusual twists on classic dishes and flavour combinations.

Superb local produce is woven throughout the entire menu. You couldn’t ask for more really. The a la carte is definitely on the pricey side, but if like on my visit, you’re not feeling particularly flush then the set menu is bloody good value. I’ll definitely re-visit the next time I’m in Abergavenny.

The Hardwick
Old Raglan Road

Telephone 01873 854220

Monday 10 September 2012

Fry Sauce

I recently heard about ‘Fry Sauce’ on an episode of Man versus Food. Originating in Salt Lake City, and specific to the state of Utah, this ketchup-mayonnaise condiment is used in a number of ways, as a sauce in burgers, as a dip for fries and even as a dressing for salad. Although the bog standard version is simply one part ketchup to two parts mayonnaise, on the program it was mentioned that most burger joints have their own closely guarded recipes, with various additional bits and bobs.

Inspired, I knocked up my own version, and even if I say so myself, as a burger sauce or dip for fries, it's frigging superb. Tangy and spicy yet smooth. It’s very moreish, which is unfortunate, because as you’d expect from the lurid orangey-yellow colouring, it’s absolutely filthy and used indiscriminately will no doubt expand your waistline at a rate of knots. But whoever said burgers were healthy anyway, eh? Get stuck in.

Here’s my recipe: -

Dan’s Fry Sauce

Makes enough for 4 burgers

1 Tbs French’s classic yellow mustard
1 1/2 Tbs Heinz ketchup
2 Heaped Tbs Helmans mayonnaise
1 Tsp Colman’s English mustard
2 Heaped Tbs finely chopped gherkins or cornichons,
2 Dashes Tabasco
Dash Worcester sauce
Grind of Pepper

Method - Tres basic this one, just mix everything together in a small bowl.

The photo models a generous splurge of my fry sauce under a rather nice, thick, Donald Russell burger, and a not so great bun – I'd have preferred a brioche style, but it’s all I could lay my hands on.
Don’t judge me.

If anyone bothers to make some and tries it as a salad dressing, I’d be interested to know if it works.