The Abergavenny Arms is one of those classic country pubs – cosy and charming with a warm welcome and great food and drink on offer.
It’s perfect in the summer as you can dine al fresco and drink in the idyllic bucolic views of the surrounding countryside, then come wintertime it’s the ideal spot for sinking into a sofa around its huge inglenook fireplace to take respite from the chilly weather outside.
The Frant pub’s convivial character is something its new owners, business partners Guy Woods and Phil Clifford, are determined to maintain and even enhance further.
The pair bought the former coaching inn from jeweller-turned-publican Richard Burrell in July this year. According to Guy, Mr Burrell didn’t want to sell his beloved hostelry on to a big faceless pub chain. Keen to sustain its friendly feel with a firm focus on quality food, he wanted it to stay in individual hands, so who better to take over than Guy, who – as well as being a resident of Frant for the past 20 years – just happens to be Richard Burrell’s step nephew.
And although Guy’s background is in recruitment rather than food and drink, he and his business partner Phil are relishing the challenge of this new venture.
“We’re not adverse to new projects. We once bought a five-acre development on the Caribbean island of Nevis!” he explains.
Guy, who also runs a small farm and racehorse training business with his wife, says he and Phil aim to provide customers, old and new, with a memorable dining experience. They are hoping to do this with the help of the pub’s new Head Chef, Craig Wales, whose last post was at the Michelin-starred West House in Biddenden.
But that doesn’t mean they are putting a load of white linen cloths on tables and hiking up prices.
“Our aim is to provide a fine ‘pub’ dining experience,” says Guy. “We’ll be giving customers all the usual classics, such as fish and chips or burgers – but with a few elegant twists. And we also want to serve up some interesting chef specials. We are very focused on keeping our offering as an affordable dining experience – not charging silly gastro pub prices.
“Everything is going to be freshly made with an emphasis on using as much local produce as possible and staying consistent. In short, we ultimately want to deliver a great experience!”
And given that Guy’s father-in-law is a cattle farmer and his sister is in the wine trade, it’s clear he has a great contacts book to thumb through in order to secure excellent produce.
When I visited pub one quiet Tuesday evening the bar was surprisingly busy, and one glance at the menu confirmed that Guy and Phil’s vision of offering a slew of seasonal pub grub alongside a few more exotic dishes was now in full swing.
Sitting at a table in the 15th-century building’s charming dining room, which boasts wooden floorboards and wonky walls all painted in a pleasing palette of Farrow & Ball-style shades, I was greeted by a super friendly waitress and immediately felt relaxed eyeing up the menu.
Nestled alongside classics such as sausage and mash (£12.95) and beer battered cod and hand cut chips (£13.95), I spied a number of less traditional pub dishes, such as chargrilled hispi cabbage with a cucumber, coriander, yoghurt and garlic crumb (£11.95) and coronation chicken croquettes served with pickled apricot, curried mayo and coconut (£6.95).
I opted for the latter dish, followed by roast fillet of Cornish hake served with mussels and saffron creamed leeks (£15.95), and can confirm that both were utterly delicious.
The croquette was golden in colour and boasted perfect crunch with tender chicken bites perfectly partnered with the hits of sweet and savoury sauces.
–The hake, meanwhile, was generous in size and cooked to perfection with just the right amount of seasoning and flavour.
Another tell-tale sign that The Abergavenny Arms is determined to elevate its dining status just that little bit further is the fact that the wine of the week when I visited wasn’t some run-of-the-mill chardonnay or merlot, but instead a bottle of premier cru 2016 Gautheron Chablis (£30).
“We’ve just launched a new wine list and hope to run specialist wine society-themed supper clubs in the future, too,” confirms Guy.
“We will be hosting our wine evenings on a monthly basis as of January. There will be tasting menus with dishes sourced from different parts of the world which will then be paired with wines from the same region.”
It looks like 2020 will be a busy year for Guy, Phil and their team as they embark on the exciting adventure of further improving the fortunes of this establishment, ensuring it stays relevant for future generations of discerning diners and drinkers for years to come.