Simon Pegg’s hapless Shaun may famously have retreated to The Winchester when things took a decided turn for the worse, but when the zombie apocalypse finally happens, I’ll be holed up at The Hardwick.
A shotgun (there must be plenty round these parts) for protection and Stephen Terry’s food to comfort and sustain, and I’ll be well set to wait out the catastrophe. A glittering CV, working alongside such luminaries as Marco Pierre White (in his pre-Knorr period), Michel Roux Jr and Alain Passard at the stellar end of fine dining.
The Hardwick prioritises comfort above fuss and finery. There isn’t a list of starters and mains, so much as a list of what they have that day, and many available in both serving sizes. An eminently attractive idea, this. The menu reads very well: it’s a litany of big hearty flavours, and the word ‘trencherman’ springs readily to mind, and service is charming and personable- a real strength.
Octopus is spankingly fresh with a feather-light dusting of seasoning and, as always, is a pretty reliable indicator of a kitchen which knows its stuff. Bread by Alex Gooch, never less than remarkable, arrives with Puglian olive oil- light, grassy, a peppery kick at the end- and calls starter’s orders.
The menu offers several ‘dual sized’ dishes, available as starter or main. Ours- spaghetti with chilli and crab, with the snap still in the courgette and the crunch of toasted breadcrumbs- is an instant favourite. Brown shrimps always remind me of my Lancastrian years and they crown an impressive dish, the kind of thing which lingers in the memory in the most welcome way.
It’s a lovely thing, and followed- bettered, maybe?- by a cake of slow-cooked pork, streaked through with little nuggets of black pudding in dots and dashes. It looks like meaty Morse code, warning of an incoming piggy payload. It is crumb-coated. It is deep-fried until crisp. It is a serious statement of intent: it is one of those ‘Where have you been all my life?’ dishes.
There’s pickled cabbage- not sharp to cut through the richness of the pork as you might expect, but a sweet pickle which is a nice twist- and a handful of bitter leaves along with a sweet apple sauce. This is hefty, hearty stuff: not food for those poor benighted souls who purse their lips to puritanically trim all visible fat from their meat.
Chicken comes laced with sweet pomegranate and chickpeas. Baba ghanouj is a little muted- it lacks something of the intense smokiness of the best mezza house examples- but enough of such pettifoggery: the meat is finished so crisply that it’s a treat, another plate designed to feed you well and leave you content.
‘Merthyr Pudding’ is a new one on me, but it reads as if it has been genetically engineered to whisper sweet nothings to my appetite: a little pot of braised chin and ox cheek, cubes of sourdough, with tangy melted cheddar and the subtle warmth of mustard, it risks being too much of a good thing but it’s the quintessence of hearty autumn-winter and would be just the thing if you’re one of those strange creatures who like to spend Saturdays tramping up the nearest mountain. Not that you should require such an excuse to indulge.
It’s robust stuff, the kind of thing to have you scraping and worrying away at the last little crusty bits at the bottom. At first, it seems like a small portion; but this punches way above its weight. It’s quite possibly the best thing to come out of Merthyr since Johnny Owen. (Or the A470. Delete as appropriate). Triple-cooked chips are pretty much as good as you’re going to find anywhere: substantial things, faultlessly executed and rustling against each other as they jostle to be eaten first.
The Hardwick deserves its acclaim. It’s ‘get stuck in’ food that has you leaning back in your chair replete and at one with the world.
Zombies? Bring ’em on. I’ll be ready.
Old Raglan Road
Tel: 01873 854220
Open every day:
Breakfast: 9.00am – 11.00am
Lunch: 12.00 noon to 3.00pm
Dinner: 6.30pm to 10.00pm
YOU MAY ALSO ENJOY:
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.