Enjoy a slice of the good life
by Eileen Leahy | 7th January 2019
If there was a top ten of perfect country pubs The Abergavenny Arms would certainly be listed somewhere near the top. As soon as you step inside it you’re greeted by beamed ceilings festooned with fairy lights and hops and a huge open fire surrounded by squishy, sink-into-me leather sofas and a very friendly welcome from the staff.
A few years ago the 15th century former coaching inn underwent a huge refurbishment project under its new owner former jeweller Richard Burrell which saw all of its classic period hallmarks restored and complemented against a tasteful Farrow and Ball style décor. It also brought in a fantastic new gastro bar and restaurant menu to serve in its pleasingly snug dining areas and a variety of unique artisan gins for customers to enjoy.
When my sister and I step through Abergavenny’s doors one chilly Thursday evening it’s full of cheery customers either standing at the bar chatting amiably or happily dining on delicious looking dishes - tuna tartare with wasabi and avocado purée anyone?
We’re warmly greeted at the bar and asked if we’d like to have a drink there before heading to our table. We decide that as there seems to be so much atmosphere here that we will indeed pull up a stool and so we order two glasses of Italian pinot blush rosé (£4.60).
Suitably refreshed we’re then shown to our cosy window table, illuminated with a couple of flickering candles, and handed a couple of menus. There’s a lot to peruse as it runs the gamut from classic pub gastro grub – Larkins battered cod and chips (£12.95) and posh ploughman’s (£9.95) – to a more refined à la carte offering which includes guinea fowl supreme (£14.95) and wild mushroom linguine with truffle oil (£13.95).
As it’s January and we’re being semi-committed to eating less, my sister and I decide to share a starter. We opt for the pan seared king scallops with crispy chorizo and capsicum coulis (£8.50). Given how busy the pub is they arrive pretty swiftly, which is good news as we’re hungry.
The scallops are generously seasoned with a lovely smokiness to them courtesy of the tiny slivers of crispy chorizo which act as a perfect foil to the scallops’ soft and voluptuous texture. The capsicum – or pepper – coulis has a pleasant kick to it which lingers nicely. Needless to say we make short work of the plate.
Our waitress asks us if we’d like a glass of wine to accompany our main choices and promptly hands over one of the biggest and most comprehensive lists I’ve ever seen. There so many interesting and impressive varieties to choose from including an impressive array of local English wines and a clutch of classics such as Dom Perignon, Chateau Neuf du Pape and Chablis.
As I’m having the pan seared filet of salmon with saffron and dill risotto (£14.95) I opt for a glass of Italian Pecorino Civitas Lunaria (£6.90), a crisp and clean biodynamic offering with citrusy overtones to complement the fish. My sister, who has chosen the Abergavenny gourmet beef burger (£13.95), decides to eschew a classic red in favour of a bold Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand’s Wairau River (£6.30).
Savouring a sip of its clean mineral character she confirms it’s the right choice as it perfectly complements the chargrilled burger which is accompanied by indulgent pieces of streaky bacon, Monterray Jack cheese, skinny fries and a super tasty homemade slaw and chipotle relish.
My salmon fillet is just how I like it, beautifully silky soft under a crispy glazed skin. The risotto is just the right side of al dente with pleasing hints of aromatic dill and a lick of citrus kick. The sizeable portion, which also includes spinach leaves and baby oven roasted cherry tomatoes, eventually defeats me which I suppose is a bonus given that it’s January and we’re watching our waistlines.
Although a couple of dessert menus are placed in front of us both we decide not to cave in and indulge in the oh so seasonal winter crumble and custard (£6.95) or tempting sticky toffee pudding and honeycomb ice cream (£6.95). It’s a tough decision as it would be so easy to hang out a little bit longer in this cosy country pub but if we did so then our January balancing act of staying healthy with a little side order of indulgence every now and then would go out the window. So we’ll just have to come back here in February when the first 31 dark days of 2019 are behind us, and our taste buds are ready to go again.