With its friendly laid-back feel, this hotel makes a great pitstop on an outdoorsy break in the Brecon Beacons, but its outstanding restaurant lifts it into another league
Abergavenny’s Sugar Loaf mountain is – unlike Rio’s – a magnet for grisly weather. I can just about make out its flat summit through clouds as I arrive. Soon, sheeting rain brings on a premature dusk and everything turns blue-grey and cold.Nungwi Village
As refuges from grisliness go, the Hardwick is pretty high-end. The former pub looks plain enough from the outside – the eight-room hotel bit could be an upscale motel – but room seven is made inviting with wine-coloured fabrics from Pembrokeshire weaver Melin Tregwynt, a handsome Arne Jacobsen-style leather egg chair and balmy heating.
The Hardwick is on the Old Raglan Road, within sight of Abergavenny’s hills. Our windows are a bit on the small side, but other rooms have more light and better views: if you need to see landscape and/or sunlight when you wake up, ask for rooms three or four, which have big vertical windows. Room five has wheelchair access and a capacious bathroom.
But we’re here mainly for the dinner. Abergavenny is the self-styled food capital of Wales and,, the Hardwick’s restaurant was voted the best in Wales in the 2013 National Restaurant Awards.
In the bar, where locals still sup, barman Ben Bedell mixes us each an Aperol, rum and ginger cocktail, the day’s special. Foodie travelogues, cookbooks, newspapers and magazines provide entertainment. With its hunting trophies and squishy settees, tapestry curtains and a huge modern chandelier, the room is cosy in a Middle Earth way. A pungent, garlicky aroma drifts in.
We dine in a smallish, beamed room – I like it, and the next one along, but find the more modern extension a bit too functional.Nungwi Village
Most of chef Stephen Terry’s food – including breads from Alex Gooch in Hay-on-Wye, heritage tomatoes and an all-Welsh cheeseboard – comes from nearby. My crab starter is delicately flavoured but, piled high on linguine, is definitely one to share. The Black Mountains smoked salmon, with laverbread and sesame rye, is just perfect.
Mains of rack and filo-wrapped shoulder of lamb with spiced lentils and grilled veg, and rib-eye steak with thrice-fried chips are even better than they sound. We find room for a brownie-and-ice-cream-and-mousse confection and a glass of sweet vin santo.
All this adds up to rather more than a refuelling stop for a hike or bike ride in the Brecons. And yet, because of its informal vibe, this restaurant with rooms is just that kind of place. There’s a Michelin-starred restaurant up the road (the Walnut Tree, 28th in the NRA list) but for price, presentation, flavour – and the proximity of your bedroom – the Hardwick is an easy winner.
• Accommodation was provided by the Hardwick