We took advantage of their special deal which treated us to dinner, bed and breakfast for only a fraction more than dinner would have been on its own and enjoyed our experience from rainy start to dog cuddling end. Given that they implore you to “Eat. Drink. Sleep” it made even more sense.
The bar and restaurant areas are as snug as a tea cosy and the art and photographs adorning the walls tell a story that appeals to wondering imaginations. In particular we loved a series of photographs of enormous vegetables and the undersides of some rather well uddered cows. After our spectacular drive through the Brecon Beacons where we had admired some stunning waterfalls we collapsed into their timeworn leather sofas and felt as if we had become part of the family and not customers.
The dinner menu was blissfully brief – avoiding the habbit many pubs have fallen into of throwing every dish they can think of at the menu in the hope that a few will stick. Ingredients are genuinely local as are many of the customers although some are more exotic. The group on the next table included one of the photographers whose work was on the walls and a charming lady who runs Brecon Holiday Cottages. On the far side of the room sat an Canadian girl, eagerly reading her book. We later found out she was a jorunalist reporting on the Hay Festival.
With no car to worry about and only a flight of stairs to negotiate we tucked into a couple of generous gin and tonics before testing out their wines by the carafe. Some piercing Sauvingon Blanc tickled our lips whilst we enjoyed our starers. Cowie enjoyed her jamon persile which was deeply piggy, with jelly that was unctuous rather than icky. Whilst my goats’ curd with tapenade and explosively flavourful olives was delicious. Both were elegantly presented without looking like a tart who has spent 3 hours preening herself before tottering down her front steps.
Cowie had some pink duck for her main course that had been cooked sous vide. Sadly this meant the skin was a bit flabby and the flavour of the duck was somewhat lost. It was a shame because the meat was clearly very high quality and came from a few farms away. I read once that sous vide works best with fish and lean meat and for some reason doesn’t do well with large seams of fat. I’m not an expert, but with a sample of one dish, this piece of pseudo-scientific folklore seems to hold true.
I adored my main course of local pig cooked four ways. Belly was moist, piggy and crisp on top. I teased it apart and considered regurgitating it so I could enjoy it all over again. The blood pudding, cheek and fillet were just as good and had me groaning in greedy approval. I imagine it was this sort of firm handshake cooking that Jay Rayner approved of when he visited.
After such a rich main couse I have no idea how I came to order a slice of chocolate nemesis. It was, no doubt, delicious, but I couldn’t cope with its intensity. And opted instead to use my powers of disraction to devour most of Cowie’s dessert instead!
Her pudding was the best we’ve had in ages. Intensely flavoured rhubarb compote hid under a layer of creamy vanilla panacotta. I know it’s hardly original, but when you encounter a pudding as perfect as this, and served so unetentiosuly in an tall glass tumbler, it reveals the whole restaurant’s approach in one dish. The flavours are left to speak for themselves without recourse to foams and slicks of sauce. Ingredients are seasonal (this was in May). And presentation is unpretentious and designed to let you enjoy the food rather than add a mediating layer of fuss and cheffery. In short our rhubarb pannacotta was the perfect distillation of what a true “gastro pub” should be like. It was so good I decided to draw it, although the image does it barely any justice.
We retired to the bar for coffee where we whiled away the next hour or so talking about photography and the local area with the photographer and the lady who runs the holiday cottage business – who pointed us in the direction of a cracking farm shop and their Facebook page which are well worth a look if you are planning a trip to the area.
We arose to copies of the Guardian and an exceptional breakfast that was served in the Aga room. It’s almost worth going for the breakfast alone which was super local, but more importantly cooked by someone who likes to eat a cooked breakfast themselves on a regular basis.
We set off back for England, through undulating countryside with smiles on our faces and fingers crossed that Charles Inkin might consider opening up either near Gotheburg or in Somerset. His two inns are near perfect in everything they do. If you happen to be planning a trip to Cornwall or Wales, take the time to make a diversion to either The Gurnard’s Head or the Felin Fach Grifin.
We still love to go on trips around the UK, staying in BnBs or camping in search of a good meal or two - hence, Around Britain with a Paunch. Quite often the trips have been prompted by Diana Henry's Gastro Pub Cookbook. Here's where we've been to: