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The Hardwick


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We ventured into Wales on Sunday to sample Stephen Terry’s cooking at The Hardwick in Abergavenny. We decided to let the “Great British Menu” drive our restaurant choices over the next few weeks and try and visit as many local ones as possible (Wales and the South West) - it seems as good a way as any to expand our restaurant horizons.

We had read in a Mathew Norman/Guardian review that finding The Hardwick was difficult. It is. So if you visit allow plenty of time. They serve food in three rooms, the first two double as bars, the third is more of a dining room. Tables are simply dressed with slate placemats and a linen napkin.

The menu is extensive, with a strong Italian influence. It has an interesting mixture of souped-up pub classics and restaurant dishes - and fried eggs and black pudding feature in a healthy number of the dishes! There is a set menu with a choice of three starters and three mains at £21 for three courses. The ALC has approx ten choices in each section £6 to £7 for entrees and £14 to £19 for mains (from memory).

We went ALC and started with Carpaccio of Beef, served over rocket with pesto and Parmesan, which looked slightly too well cooked (we love raw/very rare Carpaccio), but nevertheless had a superb flavour. The other entrée was a Smoked Duck Breast Salad with blood oranges and a tapenade; again really good flavours, and a well-balanced dressing on the salad. Mains were a Lightly Oak-Smoked Haddock, poached egg, green vegetable (kale?) with new potatoes; and a Stuffed Pork Shoulder, soft white beans, and a salad with crisp pancetta. Again all the flavours balanced well and both plates were wiped clean. We also had a side order of thrice cooked (Fat Duck) chips which where great.

Deserts are based around a broad variety of interesting ice creams (peanut butter and jelly for example), but we chose some traditional alternatives, a Sticky Toffee/Date Pudding and a Rice Pudding with Apple Compote - both good if a little pedestrian. The wine list was quite extensive with some reasonable wines by the glass – a Viognier to start and a South African Shiraz to follow.

When my entrée arrived I thought the portion sizes were quite small - but by the end of the meal I needed to be rolled out of the pub - as the portion sizes grew as the meal progressed…. you don’t leave hungry.

The cooking isn’t leading edge, or really modern British - I would say the best description is that it is a mélange of really good, high end, pub cooking (but not pub cooking that is pretending to be Michelin starred restaurant) merged with hearty/rustic Italian restaurant food. No complaints at all, we ate every morsel, and would happily return. Total bill for two was £81.30 - three courses each, with four glasses of wine and a coffee.

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  • 1 year later...

We didn't have any problems finding the Hardwick. It's located directly on the main road, and looks to be undergoing some building work. There's a shipping container outside which looks like it is being used as additional food storage. So not the most prepossessing of sights, but we came for the food goddamnit so who cares?

The inside is very nice, an unpretentious pub-to-restaurant conversion. There is heather honey and olive oil as well as the GBM cookbook for sale at the bar. The restaurant has a nice feel, we were tucked up in the corner which would have been very peaceful but for a family with screaming kids behind us. A nice place to while away a long Sunday afternoon I think.

Enough preamble, on to the food:

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Scallops and bacon, deep fried pork belly. A lovely dish, looked a real treat with some very verdant salad in the middle.

Also (not pictured) confit duck hash, fried duck egg. What's not to like, really? Certainly my Dad seemed satisfied.

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Neals Yard Creamery goats cheese with beetroot and leaves. Funnily enough we passed Neals Yard creamery on a visit to "Arthur's Stone" which we saw a brown sign for earlier in the day. A Welsh farmer wondered why we went to visit it as "it's just a load of stones". Very nice goats cheese went well with the bitter leaves.

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Rib of beef with yorkshire pudding. Can't really argue with that. The mains felt much more pubby and less refined than the starters or the puddings. But that's not necessarily a bad thing.

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Hand raised venison pie. A good pie with cracking pastry. The filling was dry with comminuted meat like a pork pie which surprised me as I was expecting a chunks n' gravy approach, but it tasted nice. Good mash.

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Haddock with poached egg. Exactly how you want this dish to taste.

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Lamb neck fillet with chick peas, aubergine, harissa. Possibly a bit underseasoned.

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Stem ginger pannacotta with rhubarb. My Dad is a stem ginger fanatic and absolutely loved this pannacotta which was possibly half way to becoming a fool. The rhubarb was also lovely.

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"Terry's" chocolate - geddit? - with orange curd. Very rich and delicious.

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Peanut butter and jelly parfait with salted caramel and chocolate mousse. A rather indulgent finish and we were stuffed, no room to try any from the rather tempting list of English cheeses.

A very nice meal. I think this restaurant is possibly less a "destination" restaurant than the Walnut Tree. It is home cooked food, raised up a notch with fine local ingredients. If it was my local I'd be so very pleased. And if you are in the area you are definitely in for a treat.

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  • 5 months later...

Since my parents live in Wales when ever I go to visit we always go out for a meal, and the Hardwick has always been, while a bit pricey for the area, excellent as and I love the rustic/local food. I have found it friendly, welcoming and where a glitch happened (Why can no bar in Wales make a Dry Martini - but I digress) it was sorted.

However my last experience there was not good, I can not fault the food but a load of failures occurred in everything else surrounding the meal, it was also worse as I purchased premium wines and due to the gap between courses had to buy more. My impression was this was due to things outside our servers control, so a reasonable service charge was left. However I since this was a birthday meal that went very wrong I wrote an detailed email to the Hardwick about everything that went wrong, however did state the food was excellent. I was not looking for anything but an apology, as everyone has an off day.

So for a £250 meal for three that was appalling, the response I received was:-

"Thank you for your e'mail regarding your recent visit to our restaurant. Your comments have been noted."

I will not eat there again.

Which is a shame as the food is good.

Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana.

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I'd also be interested to know what went wrong. Ermintrude says food was excellent and there was no complaint about the server.

Have to agree though that, regardless of the nature of my complaint, I would be likely to be well pissed off at getting such a terse response.

John Hartley

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Here is what went wrong:-

I took my mother (72) and her fiancé Ralph Hibbard (70) out for a birthday meal.

Firstly on arrival we were asked would we like a drinks, I asked if they could do a dry martini cocktail, after leaving and coming back (I assumed they talked to barman) I was told yes. So I said ok, very dry with a twist. What I got was a whole measure of dry martini with a shot of gin in a tall glass with a ice and a slice. It was not pleasant, I raised this and it was taken away and another shot of Gin added. Normally I would at this point have said "Forget it" and asked for a Gin and tonic but as my mum does not like a fuss shut up and sipped at it.

Next we were sat next to a large and noisy party, my mother has tintus, her fiancé has a hearing aid and I had a cold. Due to to noise it was impossible to have any form of conversation, at times sharing things via an iPhone was the best communication going. I did look around to see if there was another table we could move to but the place was busy. I can't blame the Hardwick for this as it was bad luck to be sat next to such a large party and who did extend there stay over say a usual 2 hours.

Next food was ordered and I pushed the boat out on the wine I think a £60 bottle, which is high end in Wales. Starters arrived and were eaten, very nice. Next a long long long wait for the main course, so much so we'd practically finished the bottle of wine, so I ordered a 1/2 bottle (£35) so we could drink with our main meal. Again food was no problem.

Finally we declined desert and ordered coffees and drinks and two of boxes of chocolates. Two coffees arrived (we had ordered 3), 1 set of chocolates (We had ordered 2), and a premium brandy. I chased up the coffee for mum. the missing chocolates also ordered two more premium brandies (after tasting mine mum fancied one, and I wanted a top up.) However by the time the two of us had finished our coffees nothing had arrived. I was now not very happy, I had the distinct impression that the servers were doing there best, but things were way off kilter back stage. From the barman, delays to main, mess up's with coffees etc.

I'm know how things are, even the best restaurant can have an off day, however due to the above I thought I should bring it to their attention. I was expecting to get a "Were sorry....... " however the terse response I revived made me see red.

For the record here is the email record, email was sent on returning back from the meal (Not so detailed as above). The response and my reply to which they did not respond.

----- Original Message ----- From: "Stuart Millinship"

To: <info@thehardwick.co.uk>

Sent: Saturday, July 24, 2010 11:02 PM

Subject: Hardwick website enquiry

Dear Sir,

Under a booking of Hibberd, I took my mother (72) and her fiancé Ralph Hibbard (70) the toyboy out for an evening meal. The bill was paid by myself Stuart Millinship who traveled down FromLondon for this. It was a not a good experience and having eaten here before unexpected.

Firstly on arrival we were asked for drinks, I asked could you do a dry martini cocktail, I was told yes so I said ok very dry with a twist. What I got was a whole measure of dry martini with a shot of gin in a tall glass with a ice and a slice. It was vile, I raised this and it was taken away and another shot of Gin added. Normally I would at this point have said "Forget it" and asked for a Gin and tonic but as my mum does not like a fuss shut up and drank it.

Next we were sat next to a large and noisy party, my mother has tintus, her fiancé has a hearing aid and I had a cold. Due to to noise it was impossible to have any form of conversation, at times sharing things via an IPhone was the best communication going.

Finally we declined desert and ordered coffees and drinks and two of chocolates. However they forgot my mothers coffee, and only 1 set of chocolates, I got attention and chased up the coffee for mum plus two more premium brandies (after tasting mine) however nothing by the time we had finished our coffees and said I want to go. I cancelled drinks, coffees and asked for the bill.

I can not fault the food in anyway but the experience was highly disappointing for a birthday treat for my mum and her fiancé, compared with my last meal at the Hardwick.

Stuart Millinship

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

-----Original Message-----

From: Faye Mear <faye@thehardwick.co.uk>

To: Stuart Millinship <stuartm@myself.com>

Sent: Thu, Jul 29, 2010 10:49 am

Subject: Re: Hardwick website enquiry

Dear Mr Millinship

Thank you for your e'mail regarding your recent visit to our restaurant.

Your comments have been noted.

Kind Regards

Faye Mear

the HARDWICK

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Hi thank you for your reply, and I am pleased that you have "noted" my comments.

However in your email there was no recognition or apologies for the problems I experienced, from a restaurant of your calibre. I did not expect this service. I realise you could not do anything about the large party next to us, as it appeared you were fully booked,but a simple recognition of the issue would have helped defuse the issue.

I was not looking for a freebie, or anything like that but pointing out this meal had problems.

If you did take the time to look at my bill, you will see an extra 1/2 bottle of wine (due to delays) but why did I leave a £22.50 gratuity, in fact our server originally skipped this option as she could see I was not happy. However I made her redo this so I could add a gratuity, as felt the problems were not front of room but back stage. I.e a barman who cannot make a Martini, delays before main course the mess up with coffees etc..

What was a basic complaint you managed to change to an affront. just by a simple email. So again I refer you to your back office staff.

Since I live in London and only see family a couple of times a year I guess not visiting your establishment again, if in my control, is the best way to go but will do my best to spread the word that the Hardwick has great food with a bad attitude if you have an issue. Shame.

All the best

Stuart.

Edited by ermintrude (log)

Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana.

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Was the experience really as bad as you imply?

OK they can't make a dry martini but how many pubs can, it is a slightly odd request for a pub and I would have thought you had a one in a hundred chance of getting a good one. I am not certain many pubs in London would do a good job let alone rural Wales. OK maybe they shouldn't have tried but at least they tried.

You were unlucky and you sat next to a loud table. Part of the risk of eating in a pub. Hardly something to complain about.

You ordered a decent bottle of wine, but hardly anything near the top of the list which goes from £26 to £148 a bottle with lots in the £50 to £80 mark. It may be high end for Wales but not here. And is a bottle between three OTT to enjoy with a starter? It is tricky to assess whether you waited a long time or not, for me only two glasses each between ordering, eating starters and mains arriving seems quite slow going. And so you ordered another glass each, in total half a bottle each for a meal, is that odd?

There was a mix up with coffees etc. You reminded them and ordered two more drinks. Was it reasonable to expect them to arrive so quickly that you wouldn't have finished the coffee you had already been served? was it such an ordeal to have the second coffee served with your second brandy?

If I had received your complaint I would have shrugged my shoulders and wondered how to respond. None of your issues seem like a major disaster, and you are eating in a pub in rural Wales which is going to be quite casual and laid back. That is part of its charm

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Was the experience really as bad as you imply?

OK they can't make a dry martini but how many pubs can, it is a slightly odd request for a pub and I would have thought you had a one in a hundred chance of getting a good one. I am not certain many pubs in London would do a good job let alone rural Wales. OK maybe they shouldn't have tried but at least they tried.

You were unlucky and you sat next to a loud table. Part of the risk of eating in a pub. Hardly something to complain about.

You ordered a decent bottle of wine, but hardly anything near the top of the list which goes from £26 to £148 a bottle with lots in the £50 to £80 mark. It may be high end for Wales but not here. And is a bottle between three OTT to enjoy with a starter? It is tricky to assess whether you waited a long time or not, for me only two glasses each between ordering, eating starters and mains arriving seems quite slow going. And so you ordered another glass each, in total half a bottle each for a meal, is that odd?

There was a mix up with coffees etc. You reminded them and ordered two more drinks. Was it reasonable to expect them to arrive so quickly that you wouldn't have finished the coffee you had already been served? was it such an ordeal to have the second coffee served with your second brandy?

If I had received your complaint I would have shrugged my shoulders and wondered how to respond. None of your issues seem like a major disaster, and you are eating in a pub in rural Wales which is going to be quite casual and laid back. That is part of its charm

Having said all that, if a customer brings a complaint to your attention, regardless of what you might feel about it, you surely have to do better than "your comments are noted"?

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I agree entirely with Phil - if you eat out at weekends you must expect crowds especialy at holiday time in a holliday destination the out of order part was the reply you received. So many restaurants suffer from 'Gordon Brown' disease - they don't know how to apoligise. :rolleyes:

Pam Brunning Editor Food & Wine, the Journal of the European & African Region of the International Wine & Food Society

My link

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I find myself between both views here.

On the one hand, I doubt whether I'd have been overly fussed about the issues raised. But, on the other, I'm with Patrick that simply noting comments is not appropriate. I think, had it been me, I'd have chucked in a "I am sorry you did not enjoy your meal with us but hope you will return on another occasion." Such a response costs nowt.

John Hartley

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Yeah, it costs them nothing to send a friendlier reply.

I would say that it's worth asking to be moved if you are shown to a table you don't think you will be comfortable at.

A polite request to sit somewhere else will usually work, although some fully booked restaurants may not be able to accommodate.

I often do this, particularly if I have the misfortune to be seated near a speaker in restaurants misguided enough to want to give muzak accompaniment to a meal.

There is a school of thought which is that the waiting staff will often seat you in the "worst" location first if they don't know you, keeping the better tables back for regulars.

Don't do what I see people do all the time though which is move then decide they preferred the original table and move back!

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I find myself between both views here.

On the one hand, I doubt whether I'd have been overly fussed about the issues raised. But, on the other, I'm with Patrick that simply noting comments is not appropriate. I think, had it been me, I'd have chucked in a "I am sorry you did not enjoy your meal with us but hope you will return on another occasion." Such a response costs nowt.

That's it in a nutshell John. I'm in the business myself and make a point of issuing a polite response to any writen complaint, regardless of the nature of it.

In my experience the vast majority of people leave very happy, a small percentage complain due a legitimate gripe and a small percentage complain because they are professional complainers! Either way, the objective of the restaurant should be to win them back as opposed to piss them off.

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I do agree a simple "sorry" could have avoided the issue (post) and smoothed the situation. I was struggling to see how the "problems" warranted the written complaint

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This will be my last post on this issue.

You all make valid point but this one occasion where all the little niggles added up and resulted in me emailing a complaint. If I had had major issues I would have obviously have complained there and then, not paid service charge, invoked other options etc. But I emailed as I believed that the Hardwick would want to know as some of the issues were in their control and pointing out the flaws would help them improve service. If I had received a "Were sorry .... regards" type of letter that would have been end off story, and would have put it all down to probably just a off day, we all have them. It was there reply that did it, and that reply, not the problems I mentioned, is why I will not eat there again. Politeness costs nothing but impoliteness has cost them a customer.

Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana.

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  • 11 months later...

It seems to me that there are a goodly number of places that describe themselves as gastropubs without really knowing what they mean by it. It becomes little more than a marketing term or advertising slogan. Stephen Terry doesn’t describe his gaff as a gastropub but it seems to fit exactly my feeling as to what one should be. It perfectly combines the gastro with the pub.

OK, no-one is going there for a game of dominoes and there’s no darts team. But you’re not going to feel out of place just popping in for a drink. That said, most of the building is given over to serving food. And it’s a menu of some length and with some ambition, reaching out across Europe for its elements. Of course, that’s perhaps no surprise. Terry has twice held Michelin stars – at London’s Canteen and, some ten years ago, at the Walnut Tree just down the road from the Hardwick.

Panzanella was a salad of utmost seasonality and freshness, including three different “heritage” tomatoes. A dressing of oil, balsamic and capers soaked nicely into the bread.

Sticking with the nod towards Italy, the other starter was crab linguine – a generous, almost main course sized, portion, with courgettes, anchovy and a little kick of chilli. The freshness of the delicate crab was very much to the fore but this was very much a butch dish.

For mains, a local line-caught sea bass sat on roasted red peppers, artichokes, grilled courgettes and rocket. OK, the fish was a tad under-seasoned and the real stars were the vegetables. Full of flavour and expertly cooked.

A plate of rabbit sounded a really good idea. Loin wrapped in Parma ham, a rabbit and quail Scotch egg, a pithivier of braised shulder. In truth, it was a little underwhelming in its flavours, even for rabbit. But again, it was lifted by the vegetables – roasted carrots, just wilted chard and some sautéed new potatoes. I was also less than keen on the presentation. I don’t really like food served on wooden boards – particularly when space is taken up by your potatoes coming in their own fiercely hot metal mini-pan. And your sauce similarly comes in another mini-pan which you can’t pour out for fear of it sloshing everywhere. It all means you have to carefully pick your way through dinner.

No quibbles, however, about dessert. We decided to share a plate of Welsh cheese. Can’t recall which ones we had. There were six – all in peak condition and, mercifully, not fridge cold. Served with biscuits and membrillo. Summer pudding had been made in its serving glass and topped with a very thick layer of double cream. Fresh, seasonal food that was delicious. Spanish style churros were made for eating with your hands. Particularly when there is a lovely, not too sweet, chocolate sauce to dunk them in. You did need a spoon for the Seville orange marmalade ice cream that came with it – sweet, sharp and delicious.

Service is relaxed, friendly and just what you’d expect in a well run gastropub.

John Hartley

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  • 7 months later...

We have just eaten at The Hardwick, and all really enjoyed the experience. The food was really excellent, especially mini-PSB (age 12)'s pigeon chorizo and lentil starter, and his sucking pig main. My confit of duck hash with duck egg tasted very good but I would have preferred just plain confit, not the hash for a better texture. I had steak with bearnaise sauce and triple cut chips. The steak was fabulously tasty and tender and the chips were just divine: perfect. I am not normally someone who chooses steak and chips, but this was worth it. The portions are enormous, so we just had the petits fours with the coffee as our pudding, and excellent they were too. In fact the details were all very good - for examle I noticed the napkins were exceptionally silky, and had been beautifully ironed, by hand not by a laundry. The staff were charming, and the service very swift. We were slightly surprised by how busy it was on a Monday night, especially as it's not cheap. It is goOd value though for food of this quality and inventiveness. I wish it were in Surrey...

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