I’m not in a good mood by the time I arrive at Hiraeth Kitchen. Any balm dispensed by the bus ride from Cardiff- a timely reminder of just how beautiful the Vale can be- is lost when I try to find a taxi from Cowbridge. Apparently the Gordian knot, Fermat’s Last Theorem and the continuing popularity of Stephen Mulhern are easier to crack than getting a short taxi ride from High St to Hiraeth in Llysworney on a Friday.
After 45 minutes’ worth of trying to find an Uber as my network coverage drops in and out, I ask a passerby for a local taxi firm recommendation. It doesn’t have anything free, so I ask in a coffee shop for an alternative. They have a car which means the driver who comes from Llantwit Major warns me he’ll have to charge £16 for the trip of just over two miles.
Still, I’ve come this far. Bloodied but unbowed, I arrive at Hiraeth. Hero? Maybe: it’s not for me to say, but keep those Pride of Britain voting forms handy, eh.
I’m expecting good things: I first tried chef and joint-owner Lewis’ cooking a while back at The Longhouse, and subsequently at his Hiraeth popups. (And more to the point, I have a strong recommendation from my Find My Dine colleague Helen, who is, annoyingly, never wrong about these things.) Now, after some refreshingly and sensitively transparent crowdfunding- who knows, the idea might catch on locally- he and partner Andy have taken over this village pub.
All of that transport angst subsides in moments. In the time it takes to find a seat outside and have a short but potent drink put in my hand, to be exact. This is a lovely spot on a June day, near the black bulk of their new wood-fired oven, in sight of a small trestle-tabled area at the top of the carpark and their allotment. A light breeze, sun on my face, Negroni. Tranquillity.
Today at lunch it’s snacks or the short and long tasting menus. In for a penny, in for £60 and nine courses. It turns out to be a good decision.
A single boquerón, lightly pickled so that sweet meatiness shines through, is excellent: and here’s a dainty tartlet with pear, beetroot and Perl Las. Then, something to make you sit up and smile. They have an abundance of Mangalitsa fat: it is infused with garlic, rosemary and thyme and whipped to the right consistency, before being cut with capers and sherry vinegar for some acidity. To finish, a light crust of crushed crackling. It’s positively begging for a slathering. The bread, not the ubiquitous Death By Sourdough but a burnished little baguette, is very good indeed. Would I have liked more? Sure. But if I quibble that the bread-to- spread ratio is a little askew, that’s because I have dedicated my life to the idea that you can’t have too much of a good thing. And this is a very good thing.
I like the brightly accented basil sorbet accompanying Isle of Wight tomatoes and compressed cucumber, all hugged by tomato consommé for a light, vibrant summery dish of pin-sharp clarity. As I finish I spot a stray crumb of that crackling crumb. It’s too good to waste.
I’m so engrossed by the next dish I forget to take a picture of it unmolested. (I know, I know. I’ll never make a ‘proper’ blogger, will I? Ah well…)
It’s a bulky raviolo, the seaweed-flecked pasta filled with a dense tangle of brined and slow-braised lamb breast. There are mussels, poached in the braising liquor, and a sauce which brings lamb stock, braising liquor and mussel stock together into something of gum-coating gloss and intensity, all anchored by the earthy bite of chard. It’s a lovely thing- ‘Just a posh surf and turf!’ Lewis smiles- but it’s a quiet triumph. I could eat this again. And again and again. And…and…are you going to finish that, do you think?
Sea trout, simply pan-fried, a sunny hollandaise dotted with roe: the skin is taut, the flesh is delicate, a nicely judged piece of fish. Then: tiny dice of fennel, apple and celeriac salad cushion a plump, pouting Brixham scallop in its shell.
The roe is missing, sadly- they smoke and dehydrate it for another dish- but the flesh is expertly cooked. The small plates menu features a mackerel fillet, but nothing is wasted: so the bones are roasted and smoked to infuse milk, which becomes a silky dressing for the scallop dusted with cured Spanish pork tenderloin for another mar y montaña touch, and the sort of thing which may have led to some furtive fingering of the shell’s ridges.
I have high expectations of the meat course: six years ago, when I wrote about Lewis’ cooking at The Longhouse, I was particularly impressed with the duck and lamb. Today it’s Mangalitsa pork, and working directly with a local farmer means they have whole animals to use. That means different cuts as they work their way through the pig: today it’s collar, brined for twelve hours, cooked sous-vide for twenty four, and basted in its fat for the table.
It’s gloriously tender and rich, laced with sticky mead jus and ajo blanco and paired with pan-fried tenderloin’s becoming blush. There’s a clever touch to the asparagus: although it is a little overdone for my taste, the almond and pork crackling crumb is a nice detail and an elegant pommes anna rounds it all off very satisfyingly.
A burnt honey parfait with playful sprinkles sticks to your teeth in the best ways: it’s a salty-sweet bridge into the treacle tart finale. ‘Some simplicity to finish’, says Andy as he puts that down, but really, none of this has been complicated or flouncy. There’s skill here, and patience in getting the best out of ingredients, and precision. The tart is a heartily satisfying end to a meal, a deftly balanced thing with just the right amount of squidge. And if there’s one thing I pride myself on, in desserts as in life, it’s knowing the right amount of squidge.
A clever little ‘PB’n’J’ macaron, and we are done. Full and content. I’m glad Lewis has found a home- he was wasted on popups- and a creative partnership with Andy which clearly works to their advantage. Shen we chat, it’s no surprise Lewis is most looking forward to the imminent openings of Antonio Simone’s Poca: their cooking shares that humble, flavour-first ethos. Hiraeth does interesting things and it does them well. Here, you can eat food which makes you happy while you’re at the table, and later as you recall it. It should be painfully obvious by now that Hiraeth is a gift to its village, but more than that: this is a place worth making the effort for.
Just don’t rely on the taxis. Deal?
Hiraeth Kitchen, Llysworney, Cowbridge CF71 7NQ
Wednesday evening and Thursday-Saturday, lunch & dinner: small plates, short and long taster.
12.00 – 14.30, 18.00 – 20.30
Friday and Saturday night: long taster, small plates, 18.00 – 20.30
Sunday lunch: roast dinner, 12.00 – 16.00pm
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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.