I know on this day you are probably still stuffed to the gills, having eaten your body weight in turkey, sprouts, Christmas pud and assorted choccies, but think a long walk and post that walk a visit to a country pub (new Covid rules aside – Lord knows hospitality needs us now more than ever).
Mrs. SF has always been quite keen on living in the countryside (far South of Cornwall being top of her wish list – nearest office for me being a mere 5 hrs 50 by train/4 hours by car each way, with a good wind behind me), whereas I am less keen on having a 10 hour commute/being away from essential services. By essential I mean decent places to eat and drink amongst other thing (well pretty much that and maybe a wine merchant).
Whilst lacking a wine shop (as far as I am aware) Aberthin in tbe Vale of Glamorgan, despite being out in the sticks somewhat, does have the allure of having located in it the sister pub to my local the Heathcock in the form of the highly rated Hare & Hounds.
Very unassuming in its exterior appearance, it has the reputation of being the sort of village pub that majors on good food I would happily live near.
The fact that you have to drive to get here is a big draw to living near this place.
A doggy outing (Oscar, Bruce and Monty doing a bit of bonding, well Bruce and Monty as Oscar is an anti social grump – bit like me if truth be told) to the dunes at Merthyr Maw (could happily live in that village, but regrettably don’t have the shed loads of cash required)
meant a spot of lunch was in order and, with Aberthin being at roughly the mid way point between Merthy Mawe and Cardiff, the Hare & Hounds was the logical venue.
J told me she had looked at the menu and was having ham, egg and chips, which I told her somewhat surprised me as it wasn’t on the menu on the Hare & Hounds website. When she insisted it was and sent me a screen shot of said menu, it transpired she was looking at the website of the Fox and Hounds in Llancarfan 🤦. I did toy with the idea of saying nothing bar from I’ll meet you there, but thought better of it (mainly due to the reservation bring in my name).
The bar is dog friendly,
but has the same menu (as far as I could tell) as the restaurant (which isn’t).
Nice cosy space with a roaring fire on the go
and a dog (not one of ours) very much enjoying it.
The menu here follows the Heathcock formula (actually it is probably the other way around) and very nice it looked too.
J was intent on going full on three courses so, rather than suffer the inevitable food envy, her cousin (K) and I followed suit.
I was torn between the crispy pig cheek (very underrated cut of pork) and the venison tartare (love a good tartare – £10), with the beef dripping chip (we all noted and were intrigued by the fact it seemed to be singular) and cured egg yolk really selling the latter.
It is fair to say this was quite dainty and looked rather lonely on the plate. with a snow of grated egg yolk hiding the tartare beneath.
I was glad, however, that they didn’t feel the need to put a superfluous garnish on the plate as filler.
What it perhaps lacked in size it made up for in flavour, being a proper little flavour bomb.
The curing turbo charged the egg flavours, with the grating an interesting riff on the normal runny yolk formula, and beneath it sat a layer of diced (rather than minced) venison that had a nice gaminess to it. The chip was a très chunky layered confit affair with a uber crisp exterior and soft yielding interior and that distinct beefiness you get from proper dripping. The one thing missing for me was the sharpness of capers to temper the richness of the dish – may have been there, but if so my jaded palate failed to detect it.
J went for the salt cod dumplings (at a fiver a bit of a bargain), which contrary to the description were more fritters/ croquettes in my world.
Very generous portion size this, with 5 good sized fritters/croquettes. Lovely flavours on display, with a cod heavy fluffy filling (the salting of the cod, as with the egg on my tartare, amping up the innate flavour of the fish), and a crisp outer shell.
Seaweed (here laverbread) seems to be very in vogue at the moment (feature on Lee Skeet’s menu the other week) and added a nice additional flavour element to the rich mayo.
K had the lamb breast (I refuse to call it belly, mainly because it isn’t), which came in crumbed batons.
Again a decent size portion for the £6.90 price tag. Good crisp, nicely seasoned crumb and full on lambiness from the breast, which was not too fatty, with the richness cut by a dipping sauce take on the classic mint sauce accompaniment
On to the mains, both J and I went for the hanger steak (£19) which, gratifyingly, we were told came rare unless we specified otherwise (which we didn’t).
The steak was cooked à point for me with a nice char to the exterior and a ruby red core. Excellent flavour and I really like the required bit of chew you get with the lesser known steak cuts like hanger. A punchy peppercorn sauce and pickled pink onions added nicely to the mix, with crispy Jerusalem artichokes providing a welcome (at least to me) bit of carbobydrate.
We added cabbage (£3), tenderstem broccoli (£5) and deep fried (oooh) newies (£5) as sides.
All cooked and seasoned very well, with a nice bite to the cabbage and broccoli and a crisp skin and yielding interior to the pots (with the latter having the added bonus of being slathered in garlic butter). We possibly went a touch OTT on the sides, but we are piggies so that is par for the course for us.
K had the rather fine sounding roasted fallow deer loin (£23),
which elicited food envy related mutterings from me.
The venison was cooked on the money, with both the bacon infused full on red wine sauce and the dauphinoise hitting the sweet spot according to K. Oscar and I could only look on in envy and (me) horror as she proffered one of the bones (with precious meat on it) to her dog Monty to gnaw on rather than us. I briefly contemplated wrestling Monty for it, but decided discretion was the better part of valor!
Main courses duly dispatched, we moved on to the rather fine looking dessert menu.
We decided to share, with J veto’ing one on basis that it (the buttermilk pudding) triggered her wobble phobia 🤷♂️. We thus settled on the souffle and the baked alaska (both a tenner) between the 3 of us.
You can pretty much always rely on a Triple H (Hare & Hounds and Heathcock) soufffe and this was no exception.
A beautiful rise,
with a crunchy crust and a light as a feather apple and plum interior.
It came with a lovely ice cream.
Just stunning and well worth the tenner price tag.
The baked Alaska was certainly a looker
with soft caramelised peaks of (Italian?) meringue. If I had to hazard a guess I would say this was due to the application of a blow torch rather than oven exposure (but am probably wrong – usually am on these sort of things).
The interior honey and brandy parfait was heavy on honey and a bit light on the booze. No bad thing in theory for me, as I don’t really get on with brandy, but it made it all a bit sweet for my tastes.
As with the Heathcock, this place has a decent wine list
and wider drinks offering,
as well as seasonal drinks and guest beers.
I had a mulled cider (£2.50), which I actually prefer to mulled wine.
Due to us gassing too much (and I am not talking about the effects of the Jerusalem artichokes), my mulled cider had cooled a bit and I asked if they could give it a quick blased in the microwave. Rather gratifyingly, in the wider scheme of things, they said they didn’t have one.
The ladies (on my recommendation) had the Lebonese red (a Chateau Ksara at £17 for a carafe – retails at about £13.30 a bottle, so not a hideous mark up at £32 a bottle on the list),
which they said was very nice (of course it was, I choose it).
We all really enjoyed our meal at the Hare & Hounds. Its offering of top quality food, booze and excellent service is exactly the sort of village pub I would happy move out to the country for.
Address: Maendy Road, Aberthin, Cowbridge, CF71 9LG.