In a case of untypically happy timing, we visited Hare and Hounds the evening before their brand new Michelin ‘Bib Gourmand’ was announced.
I’d love to be able to claim some connection, however spurious, because Hare and Hounds deserves every plaudit it receives- including, just recently, mention in the Sunday Times as a ‘gastro-temple’.
Don’t be put off by that, though: there’s nothing queasily reverential about the service, no scraping and bowing, no hushed tones. It’s a pub, a rather lovely one at that, which wants to feed you well.
Shelves groan with Robuchon, Escoffier, Olney, Grigson: the clues are all here. The a la carte menu is full of ideal posh pub grub markers- confit duck, pork belly- and this promises to be the kind of place you’d be in safe hands.
Despite signing up for the £55 tasting menu, we cast envious glances at the next table, where two friends are brought a hefty oval casserole full of that night’s special. They are handed tongs- any food which involves tongs has to be fun- and slabs of fondant potato the size of your wallet.
That momentary anxiety is soon quelled, though.
‘A trio of pies’ is a phrase to gladden the heart of any right-thinking person: there’s a roasted squash quiche-like affair (smoky-sweet), its ooze demanding careful handling; Hafod biscuits (impossibly light); and a tiny oxtail pie (a hearty suet base, a flaky lid). They are all lovely things. The last, in particular, almost has me fantasising- and yes, that is the right word- about a full-size example. I check: yes, this is something they offer, but in extra large ‘sharing’ (pah!) size. Another time.
Colchester oysters come topped with a dollop of powerfully briny lumpfish caviar and little batons of pickled cucumber for a mouthful of competing textures. It’s a bracing start.
Breads- focaccia pebbled with nuggets of sweet red onion, a tangily yeasty sourdough with a beautifully brittle crust- are superb. If the quality of the bread is an accurate gauge of a kitchen, this place is in rude health. Topped with thin slices of mushroom and Hafod cheese, the next dish is a deceptively delicate little thing bolstered by a surprisingly robust mushroom duxelle loaded with garlic and thyme.
A mussel and mackerel ‘cawl’ is studded with romesco and parsley, the ‘broth’ beefed up by stock from red mullet bones and warming star anise: how wonderful it would be to turn up here on a cold evening, your breath fogging in the air before you, to be served this.
A venison haunch bresaola, dry-cured in their cellar, is shaved like petals of some exotic bloom; it,s an assembly of tart walnut sauce, pickled walnut and quince. It’s beautiful in its simplicity, the trust in places in its base ingredients. By now, it’s clear this kitchen can do little wrong.
More fish- this time in the shape of a precisely-timed fillet of that red mullet, with Pembrokeshire crabmeat and sweet, buttered leeks in a heftily-bodied bisque boosted with fennel and sweet tomatoes. It’s yet another excellent showing.
There’s a lovely touch, a bowl of cockles in vinegar sitting on the side. (Is this the quintessential Cardiffian taste, I wonder? How many generations have emerged from Ashtons in Cardiff Market since 1890 clutching their little pots of cockles with vinegar and white pepper?)
Beef teams girolles with girolles sauce, the deep woodiness of the mushrooms and the hefty richness of the ox tail sauce making this instantly memorable. It wears its riband of buttery yellow fat with pride, testament to years of grass-fed living.
There’s a tart little sorbet, and then, to end, a damson hat trick: souffle, ice cream, gin. Each one is, in its own way, note-perfect, the souffle airily light and the spirit packing a hefty punch.
A fine evening’s eating, then, and comfortably some of the best cooking in the area. It’s all the more impressive when you consider the cramped confines of that kitchen, occupying a slightly smaller space than I do to make my morning coffee.
This is a true local gem: treasure it.
Wednesday to Friday – 12-2:30pm for lunch and 6-9pm for dinner
Saturday – 12-3pm for lunch and 6-9:30pm for dinner
Sunday – 12-4pm for lunch
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This blog is a very simple thing.
I won’t try to sell you any hand lotion, exercise programmes, coffee syrups or Patagonian nose flutes. You won’t find tips on dating, ‘wellness’ or yoga mats.
I write because I love it (and food, as indicated by my increasing girth). Greed happens to be my Deadly Sin of choice, but at least it is never shy of providing me with subject matter.
A simple thing, then: all you get is me wittering on semi-coherently about places I’ve eaten at; hence a ‘restaurant blog’ rather than a ‘food blog’, although there are a few recipes scattered throughout.
From mezze to Michelin ‘fine dining’ and all points in between.