Where to eat in Abergavenny, South Wales
The South Wales town of Abergavenny is famous for its September food festival, and this year’s bash, a mash-up of tutored tastings, market stalls, demos, workshops, feasts and foraging forays, was its milestone 20th.
But for foodies, this ancient market town is a year-round honeypot, with fab local producers, independent food shops, and some excellent eating places – all against a backdrop of the stunning Brecon Beacons National Park.
I confess I’m biased: Abergavenny’s my nearest ‘big’ town. And while heart-throb Marty Wilde’s promise of ‘Sunshine forever, lovely weather’ in his chirpy 1968 paean ‘Taking a Trip up to Abergavenny’ is blatant false advertising, this bijou gem makes a great escape, whatever the forecast.
Here’s my pick of the places you won’t want to miss, in town and nearby. Mwynhewch!
This splendid Georgian coaching inn is the place to stay in town, with chic contemporary rooms (from £109 per night B&B), a smart restaurant (The Oak Room), good cocktail menu and a reputation for rather magnificent breakfasts.
But for me, their afternoon tea (£25 per person) is the real treat. The Angel holds an Award of Excellence from the prestigious UK Tea Guild – and it shows, with a boggling selection of some 30 very fine teas from The East India Company, and a dedicated tea sommelier on hand to guide you through the choices.
If you’ve rarely strayed beyond builder’s, it’s a revelation. My favourite? The delicate floral and subtle earthy notes of Darjeeling First Flush, a rare single-estate black tea made from only the first tender buds to emerge after pruning: simply exquisite.
The accompanying sandwiches, scones, pastries and cakes, all made in house, are equally delicious. Plump for the High Tea (£30 per person) and you get a selection of warm savoury pastries, too.
And if you really want to push the boat out, kick things off with one of their sumptuous tea-themed cocktails, or a classic G&T made with the East India Company’s own smooth-as-silk London Dry Gin.
Across the lane from The Angel, this glorious artisan bakery turns out a daily panoply of breads, pastries and sweet treats. Bakers Polly and Sophie are constantly trying new things, so every day’s offering is different, but the sourdoughs are their biggest hit.
Naturally leavened over 36 hours, they’re packed with flavour and richly redolent: slow food at its best.
Tucked in the crypt of the former Baptist chapel in Market Street, this relaxed kitchen is the perfect spot for brunch or a light lunch (although they also do suppers on Friday and Saturday evenings, and pre-concert suppers when there’s music on upstairs).
Menus are seasonally driven and based around fresh locally grown and foraged ingredients.
Our lunchtime frittata made good use of the summer courgette glut, and was laced with monk’s beard for a subtle, minerally twang. And silky ruffles of rose-pink Bayonne ham came topped with wedges of luscious cantaloupe melon.
Grab a seat in the green courtyard oasis, designed and planted by Chelsea gold medal winner and local hero Sarah Price.
Across the road from the Chapel, this family-run and family-friendly Italian fairly hums with happy diners. And don’t be fooled by the name: yes they serve excellent thin-crust pizzas with traditional Italian toppings, but they also make their own pasta, and the daily specials are always good. You can’t go wrong with the ravioli di zucca (butternut squash ravioli with sage and brown butter) and a side of zucchini fritte. Buonissimo!
No trip to Abergavenny is complete without a pilgrimage to The Hardwick, chef Stephen Terry’s tastefully revamped country inn a mile or so out of town. Winner of many gongs, it offers diners a concisely written menu with, by Stephen’s own admission, an almost ridiculous amount of choice. It’s seriously accomplished cooking, based on top notch and largely local ingredients.
Typical dishes include a punchy panzanella and puntarelle salad with grilled halloumi, and deeply flavourful slow-cooked shoulder and ragout of Brecon lamb with deep-fried polenta, pickled red cabbage and mint salsa verde.
Be warned: portions are hearty. Happily, it’s just a short stagger across the courtyard to one of their eight sleek and very comfortable rooms (from £135 per night B&B).
Crammed to the rafters with every essential a good cook needs – and quite a few things you’ll just plain want – this self-styled Aladdin’s Cave of kitchenware in Nevill Street is well worth a visit.
Country-chic oilcloth aprons – tick; sleek chrome coffee machines – tick; cake tins and wooden spoons in more sizes than you ever thought possible – tick and tick.
Oh, and cheese wires, marble chopping boards, muffin cases, cookie cutters and squishy, squeezable silicone accessories in a myriad Day-Glo colours. I never leave here without something.
"A few doors up from Cooks Galley, this lovely little deli is a hymn to Welsh producers."
A few doors up from Cooks Galley, this lovely little deli is a hymn to Welsh producers. Owner Tom is a self-confessed cheese freak, and his friendly staff seem to have caught the bug too.
Check out Teifi Seaweed, a mellow Gouda-style cheese laced with laver seaweed, and Golden Cenarth, a cider-washed semi-soft organic cheese with a seductive pungency. Tear yourself away from the cheese counter and you’ll find more Welsh treasures: Coaltown Coffee (I love their chocolaty, biscuity Black Gold No.3), NomNom chocolate (their Espresso Martini is highly addictive), The Preservation Society’s jams, sirops (sic) and pickles (no burger is complete without their candied jalapenos) and Trealy Farm charcuterie (try the pork collar: deeply delicious).
And that’s without mentioning the raft of good Welsh booze – from craft beers and ciders, to seaweed-spiced rum, locally distilled whisky, and artisan gin.
A few miles outside Abergavenny, on the Old Ross Road, this one-time dairy is fast gaining a reputation for producing high quality still and sparkling white wines, and (considering the Welsh climate) some surprisingly good reds.
Owners Robb and Nicola Merchant fizz with enthusiasm for their five acres of vines, and during their guided tour (£12 per person), the facts, figures and anecdotes tumble out in a steady and engaging flow.
It’s certainly no hardship to while away a sunny afternoon on their deck as Robb talks you through each of the wines he’s selected for tasting.
My pick: the Regent, a Beaujolais-style red packed with scented cherry fruit and smoky oak (Robb recommends serving it chilled), and the Siegerrebe, an aromatic white akin to Vouvray, with luscious notes of peach and ripe lychees, and a long, spicy finish.
Six miles west of Abergavenny, on the outskirts of picturesque Crickhowell, this family-run business serves up a tantalising selection of traditionally smoked fish, meat and cheese, all liberally sprinkled with Great Taste Awards gold stars.
The smoking – over good Welsh oak – is all done on site, and you can see the whole process, from curing through to hand slicing, during their weekly tour and tasting each Wednesday at 11am (£15, March to September).
But I love their Gressingham duck breast: lightly cured then hot smoked, it’s rich and beautifully tender, with a thin larding of savoury, buttery fat over fine-grained perfectly pink meat. Simply exceptional.
"Billed as the first zero-waste shop in Wales, this ultra-ethical food store allows shoppers to fill their own containers with what they want and pay for it by weight."
Billed as the first zero-waste shop in Wales, this ultra-ethical food store on Crickhowell’s high street allows shoppers to fill their own containers with what they want and pay for it by weight.
The shelves (made from upcycled scaffold boards and pallets, natch) groan with a cornucopia of goodies, from essentials such as organic flour, pasta and oats, to locally roasted coffee and super-fresh dried herbs and spices (their smoked paprika will knock your socks off).
No containers to hand? No worries: proprietors Robin and Chloe provide recycled jam jars. And if you need something bigger, they sell Kilner jars and cotton bags, along with natural, plastic-free toiletries and cleaning products and reusable drinking straws.