Wright’s prophecy seems to have come true as yesterday Watts-Jones cooked me one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten in Wales.
Just over three months ago Watts-Jones returned to Aberthin to take over the village pub, the Hare & Hounds, having spent the last six years in the kitchens of Odette’s, the legendary Michelin-starred St John and one my favourite gastro-pubs the Anchor & Hope.
Half of the pub has been left as a familiar countryside boozer offering a menu of bar food. The restaurant meanwhile has been stripped back with a full view into the open kitchen.
We pre-ordered the 9 course tasting menu (advance notice required) for an incredibly well-priced £45. The a la carte offers starters for around £7, mains at £15 and desserts at £7 whilst the wine list is keenly priced with bottles starting from around £13.
A complimentary glass of prosecco with home-made cherry brandy was a generous treat to kick off the meal.
A trio of stellar snacks were an immediate demonstration of the calibre of the kitchen - a crouton topped with velvety game pate and pickled cherries; clean-tasting cured mackerel, punchy horseradish cream and a sliver of dark rye bread; and a dainty bread cup filled with tomato confit and crumbled Gorwydd Caerphilly.
A gargantuan, ice-cold rock oyster was topped with traditional accompaniments of chopped red onion and vinegar. The addition of finely diced tarragon and apple brought fragrance and sweetness to the party.
Bread was a highlight when so often it’s just filler. Sourdough focaccia was heady with garlic and roast tomato. Plain sourdough was thickly slathered with the creamiest of home-churned butters.
Vivid beetroot soup was earthy yet indulgently creamy. A dollop of horseradish and a bread cup filled with balsamic reduced beetroot tops and shoots tempered the richness.
A golden scallop and bacon pieces were joined by a trio of anise-fragranced fennel: buttery puree, baked slices and delicate fronds.
Flawlessly crisp pork crackling with a wobbly layer of fat and unctuous pork cheek pieces could have been a step too far in the richness stakes. However, they were deftly balanced by acidic, sweet shavings of pickled apple and mustardy chicory slaw studded with cornichons and capers.
My highlight of the evening was a meaty piece of John Dory bathed in a lobster sauce of extraordinary intensity. Plump mussels, cockles, samphire and buttery courgette mash were the other perfect pieces in the jigsaw.
A miniature venison scotch egg would have been worthy of a blog post in itself. Blushing pink shredded meat, a runny-yolked quail egg and crisp-as-you-like breadcrumbs were bang on the nail. By the way, they do larger versions on the bar menu…
Bronze-crusted rare venison, shallot jus and sweet baked fig were accompanied by some of the best carbs I’ve ever had the pleasure of noshing. Stacked potatoes were made from layers of wafer thin potato which were crisp as heck on the outside yet butter soft on the inside. If I’m splitting hairs, the venison could have been a little more tender.
Strawberry and vodka granita was fruity and cleansing with a big hit of alcohol lurking beneath. I’m sure I’d have been drunk after a couple of glasses of the stuff.
A pert blackberry soufflé with smooth ice cream was the perfect dessert to finish the meal; we were informed the berries had been picked from down the road earlier in the day.
Just as I was patting my stomach and warding off indigestion with a cup of peppermint tea, we were presented with a plate of hot, light, sweet and ridiculously moreish madeleines.
Dinner at the Hare and Hound was staggeringly brilliant and at £45 one of the best value meals I’ve ever eaten. Furthermore, Alex, the general manager, was enjoyably passionate about the food he served us - a refreshing change from the dispassionate service you encounter all to often.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that if you eat one more meal out in Wales this year it should be the tasting menu at the Hare & Hounds.
Address - Hare & Hounds, Aberthin, Cowbridge CF71 7LG
Telephone - 01446 774892