Nothing builds up an urge for food like strolling 140km throughout Wales
Deciding the place to eat while you’re on vacation is usually a tough enterprise. The standard of information guide suggestions is, to place it politely, extremely variable. The extra rural/distant your vacation spot, the much less seemingly there are to be different sources of evaluations, suggestions and reconnaissance. One might simply eat at wherever you occur to come upon, however this then makes it extra seemingly you’ll simply stick with what you recognize fairly than difficult your self and your tastebuds.
Even when there are ample sources of suggestions, there’s all the time that nagging feeling at the back of your thoughts about whether or not you’re actually attending to eat what the locals themselves would select. Throw in restricted opening hours and issues round security within the midst of a pandemic, and also you might be tempted to only drag alongside a couple of bottles of Huel in your baggage as a substitute.
All of those ideas swirled round in my head as I walked east-to-west via the Brecon Beacons, a quiltwork stretch of mountains, valleys, hills and pasture land in South Wales. Whether or not or not you’re employed up an urge for food by strolling the 140km east-to-west path of the Beacons Manner as I did, there are a surprisingly plentiful clutch of eating places on this predominately rural a part of the UK – a minimum of within the extra closely populated jap a part of the Beacons. The additional west you go, the extra seemingly you’re to seek out your self counting on a village’s sole pub or the gracious, casual residence cooking of your lodging supplier for sustenance – conditions that aren’t lined beneath, for causes defined in my Cornwall article.
What follows are lower than full evaluations, however extra than simply Instagram-length, emoji-strewn blubberings. In case you’re pondering of heading to the Brecon Beacons, consider this text as only one potential useful resource that will help you select the place to eat fairly than a complete information.
The Angel Lodge, Abergavenny
The restaurant at The Angel Lodge is likely one of the few that’s presently open all through the week in Abergavenny, fairly than simply on the enjoyable finish of the week. It’s an undeniably elegant-looking house, whereas the workers had been welcoming if a tad gradual at occasions.
The menu pulls in influences from close to and much, however not all the time to exemplary impact.
A drained choice of breads got here with equally limp butter, whereas the baba ghanoush tasted principally of tahini with not sufficient aubergine.
The standard of the deep-fried batter coating the tofu and banana blossoms by no means reached the feathery heights wanted to justify its tempura labelling. Whereas extra chip store than tempura-ya, the tofu was a minimum of thick, hearty and bread-like whereas the blossoms had been candy and chewy. The candy chilli sauce wasn’t as ineffectual as anticipated, largely as a consequence of a kimchi-like tang.
Scallops weren’t agency and bouncy sufficient, whereas the chilli and garlic butter was improbably bland. Which is sort of a formidable feat in of itself.
Dinner lastly picked up with the arrival of the lamb rack. The moist and tender meat not solely had a agency bounce to it, however was additionally tinged with ribbons of neatly just-rendered connective tissue and occasional hints of nuttiness. It was flavoursome sufficient to make the tomato and black olive jus nearly redundant. However solely ‘nearly’, because the jus was wanted to pep up the potato daupinois which was surprisingly floppy and shrug-inducing regardless of being studded with earthy bits of lamb.
Zabaione was unsatisfying, the sozzled tang of the limoncello outweighing and overwhelming the creamy eggyness of the pudding and even the sweetness of the berries.
It nearly looks as if an affordable joke to say that the most effective factor at this Welsh restaurant was the lamb. However, on this occasion a minimum of, that’s the best way the cookie crumbled.
Whole value for one particular person: £70
The Gaff, Abergavenny
The Gaff isn’t a caff stuffed with lads inadvisedly scratching their groins in public, however a relaxed, ethereal restaurant serving up a menu of small plates.
Marmite butter wasn’t as offensive I had feared, however neither was it particularly memorable. In the long run, it was upstaged by the ethereal, candy milk roll and the calmly malty brown loaf that it accompanied.
Deep-fried oysters had a double-layered crust: the crisp and delicate batter was itself enrobed with modestly umami, salty jamon. It wanted muuch extra resting time although, because the molluscs themselves had been scaldingly scorching.
The sample repeated itself with the courgette tempura – crisp, delicate batter marred by a purple scorching filling. The rocket pesto was extra of a pedestrian salsa verde, however the tomato ragout was a moreishly smoky affair that helped paper over this dish’s flaws.
Whereas attractively shiny, cod wasn’t wherever as meaty as I anticipated – nearly actually as a result of fish being oddly reconstituted right into a squat puck. Hen sauce, probably a discount of some type, added an oddly heavy however not disagreeable presence. This meaty undertow carried a lot of the flavour on this peculiar dish.
Whereas served oddly with out rice, The Gaff’s prawn katsu curry was in any other case extremely credible. Plump, just-cooked prawns got here sheathed in crisply breaded shells that – whereas less than the best requirements of feathery tonkatsu – was nonetheless a wonderful textural accomplice for the crustaceans. The chip store curry sauce was additionally winsome, leaning extra into its pepperiness than its sweetness. The ‘coleslaw’ perched on prime was extra of a crunchy salad that acted as a refreshing counterpoint to the relative heaviness of the curry sauce.
Whereas sinewy, pig cheeks had been in any other case a shocking non-presence that leaned closely on a sticky, modestly umami jus for character. The accompanying potato mousse didn’t assist a lot – far too candy at first chunk, earlier than quickly declining into bland irrelevance.
Lamb shoulder was a much better testomony to the carnivorous arts with an earthiness coursing via every tender cuboid. Confit cabbage was surprisingly like kale and takeaway ‘seaweed’ in its salty crispness. Salsa verde mayo tried to bind the 2 collectively, however this bland savoury Chantilly cream wasn’t as much as the duty. That was the one actual flaw on this plate although.
‘Bread and butter pudding’ hardly does justice to a dessert of unusual pleasure. A caramelised crust each complimented and contrasted with the tender, squidgy, buttery cushion of a carb rectangle beneath. The sourness of stewed plums helped stability out that relative richness, whereas cinnamon Chantilly added a warming, spiced scent. I nearly requested for seconds.
Whereas nearly as uneven as The Angel Lodge, I’d be extra tempted to eat at The Gaff once more based mostly purely on the standard of dishes such because the prawn katsu curry, lamb shoulder and, most of all, that bread and butter pudding.
Whole value for one particular person: £60
The Vine Tree, Llangattock
Whereas situated within the village of Llangattock, fairly than the considerably busier city of Crickhowell simply throughout the River Usk, The Vine Tree was nonetheless bustling on the night of my weekday go to. It wasn’t arduous to see why after tucking into the scallops and langoustine. Whereas each had been evocative of the ocean, the langoustine was particularly rewarding with its briney saltiness and milkiness, topped with peppery head gunk. The molluscs had been nearly overshadowned consequently, regardless of their ample plumpness. Each had been made even higher by a buttery bisque that was wealthy sufficient to resemble hollandaise. This was one hell of a starter, kicking into excessive gear on the drop of a serviette.
Grilled sardines peeled away from the bone effortlessly. An initially mellow style quickly gave strategy to an oily richness that constructed up slowly, however one which by no means grew to become overwhelming. The fillets had been additionally tinged with hints of char and smoke, including one other layer of character. Candy fleshy peppers balanced out the relative richness of the fishes.
Halibut was generously muscular, but every impressively hench chunk cleaved off on the graze of a knife. Each slice was moist and agency. Not solely was the crisp pores and skin blessed with a richly sticky undertow, the bits of halibut closest to the pores and skin had been simply as sumptuously succulent. Regardless of this superlative mouthfeel, the fish was in any other case a clean slate of flavour and thus wanted higher tasting companions to fill in that hole. A puck of mash glazed with crayfish butter was surprisingly tame and insipid, which even the candy tomatoes and courgettes couldn’t compensate for.
A tangy but refreshingly cool parfait had its seam of viscous, sugary sweetness enhanced by puffy popcorn and fleshy banana bits tinged with toffee.
If I’m ever on this a part of Wales once more, I’ll be beating a hasty path in the direction of The Vine Tree’s door.
Whole value for one particular person: £55
Felin Fach Griffin, Brecon
The folks behind the Felin Fach Griffin, simply outdoors of Brecon, additionally run a pair of gastropubs in Cornwall. Considerably embarrassingly, I’ve didn’t nab a desk at both regardless of having visited Cornwall twice within the house of 12 months. I say solely ‘considerably’ embarrassingly as, after having eaten on the Felin Fach Griffin a few occasions, I’m beginning to suspect that the status of those gastropubs has been overhyped to some extent.
Chunky, crusty lunks of brown bread got here with each butter and hummus. I discovered it finest to mix the 2, because the mildly lactic tang of the butter helped carry out a delicate smokiness from the calmly peppery and candy hummus. By itself, the hummus was in any other case a bit too candy, which was odd for an ostensibly tahini-based unfold.
A fairly fascinating choice of heritage tomatoes, starting from umami to candy, got here sprinkled with pickled shallots which added a pointy tang to the fruit. The frozen pesto did little other than enhancing the shallots a wee bit, principally coming throughout as a wilting savoury ice cream.
Torched fillets of mackerel had been surprisingly meek, though this arguably allowed them to raised act as carriers for the candy fruity blobs of emulsified cucumber, gooseberries and elderflower. Even then, there should absolutely be a much less cerebral and extra satisfying use for all this fish and fruit.
A shiny, meaty hunk of hake and a surprisingly candy, crisp cauliflower fritter nearly got here throughout as a pescatarian coronation rooster as a result of mildly caramelised curry mayo dotted with crisp scraps. It will’ve been a politely inoffensive and forgettable affair, however for the candy and starchy potato fondant. It managed to be way more characterful, whether or not taken with the curry mayo or its personal calmly peppery jus.
Ricotta is sort of all the time an eminently pleasant cheese, however right here it was nothing in need of wondrous. It was so fluffy, candy and funky as to resemble ice cream. This hardly feels like an applicable canvas for mushrooms and pumpkin. And but the tartness and agency chunk of pickled shimeji and the nuttiness of pumpkin seeds melded completely with the cheese. What didn’t sit proper was the mildly candy and starchy butternut squash soup served on the aspect and poured over the cheese and veg at will. Whereas wonderful in of itself, the soup was an actively unwelcome visitor by figuratively and actually drowning out all the pieces else.
I used to be initially sceptical of the deconstructed ratatouille primary, however was quickly largely gained over by the charms of the person vegetables and fruit. Bouncy then tender aubergine and a moreishly puncy garlic puree had been the 2 shining stars right here, amidst a glowing flora firmament of fruity candy tomatoes, juicy but buttery courgettes and tapenade-like olives. It didn’t all come collectively like a standard ratatouille, however I loved it immensely nonetheless.
A primary of roast cod in some way lacked the winsome mouthfeel of the hake starter, regardless of coming from the identical kitchen. This disappointment was compounded by the mutedly drab beetroot, courgette and fennel – a shock given the vegetable superpower that was the ratatouille. The candy, starchy and yieldingly toothsome celeriac was the one shiny spot on this plate.
Panna cotta and ice cream had been each blemish-free of their smoothness and tasted of espresso in that ersatz espresso means which you solely ever discover in sweets and desserts. They had been joined by a sugared and squishy ring doughnut, giving off a gentle scent of cinnamon. If solely plopping three middling desserts collectively on the identical plate in some way remodeled them right into a single nice dessert.
Rhubarb crumble had been deconstructed, solely to be reconstructed right into a sort-of trifle. Moderately agency and tart rhubarb, served at room temperature, got here buried beneath a heap of mildly eggy cream and mediocre ice cream blighted by one too many errant ice crystals. Even when all of this hadn’t been remarkably underwhelming, it might’ve needed to have been completely extraordinary to make me not miss a standard crumble. Or, for that matter, a trifle.
Other than the occasional flash of brilliance, this Griffin was removed from legendary. It was, for essentially the most half, fairly mundane.
Common value for one particular person: £45-55 (£38 set menu obtainable)