I've been to The Hardwick about 5 times before, ate food cooked by Stephen Terry at a banquet at the National Botanical Garden of Wales and also at a Chef's demo evening at The Tithe Barn in Abergavenny. You could say I'm a fan.
So when MrsA suggested we help celebrate the Bank Holiday with a nice lunch we looked at the available options and happily chose to book a table for 2 at 2pm at The Hardwick.
We arrived at 1.50pm to find a very full car park and on entry, chose to go directly to our table rather than take a drink in the bar. This is where it all started to go wrong as 20 minutes later we were still sitting there despite having been told by the person who brought our drinks after 10 minutes that she would send someone to take our order. We eventually found someone to take our order. Choosing from the fixed price Lunch Menu I ordered the 'Rare Breed Middle White Pork Terrine with Red Onion Marmalade, Cornichons and Toasted Beer Bread' to start whilst MrsA went for the 'Pan Fried Smoked Haddock Risotto Cake with a Poached Egg, Spinach and a Mild Curry Sauce'. We also ordered some bread for the table.
Disappointingly, for us, the table next to us who had arrived after we did and whose order was taken after ours was, had their bread delivered first, a pattern that was to be repeated for every subsequent course. The bread, when it did arrive, came with a bowl of olive oil that was just nasty and by nasty I mean bitter and vile! We stuck to the butter.
Finally 50 minutes after we arrived at the restaurant and 30 minutes after we placed our order, our starters arrived at the table. To be fair my Terrine was excellent and generously portioned. The only downside was that it could have done with an equally generous portion of Toasted Beer Bread to spread it on. However, MrsA's Risotto Cake came with a poached egg that could have easily been mistaken for a hard boiled one. Any thought of an unctuous yoke oozing over the Risotto Cakes was quickly dispelled. After such a long wait though, and the inability to catch the eye of any of the most inattentive wait staff, hunger dispelled any enthusiasm for sending it back. MrsA felt that the starter was good but would have been much better if the egg was poached as promised on the menu.
We did bring the matter to the attention of the waitress who came to clear the plates, as no one had come during the course to check if everything was okay and she said that she would pass our comments, firstly about the wait and secondly the egg, on but if she did then we didn't get any feedback.
After yet another 30 minutes, during which even the people at the table who had overtaken us complained about waiting, we eventually got our main course. We had both ordered the 'Wild Usk Venison Pie with Wild Garlic Mash'. I enjoyed this course. The Pie filling was rich and flavoursome, there was plenty of tender meat and the encased vegetables brought a nice sweetness to help cut through the sauce. MrsA however though the Venison was a little dry.
We felt service was now starting to improve, probably as it was getting late and people were leaving, so we decided to have a dessert. Again we were in unison as we both opted for the 'Chilled Coconut Rice Pudding, New Season Alphonso Mango and Chilli, Mint & Coriander Syrup'. Both MrsA and I had a problem with this dessert, namely the rice wasn't cooked properly, in fact Crunchy Chilled Coconut Rice Pudding was what it should have been called. We just couldn't eat it and so reluctantly sent it back with our reasons as to why.
The manageress came to our table to tell us that they would either give us a different dessert or take that one from our bill, but that she had spoken to the Chef who had said that due to the fact that the pudding was served cold then the rice couldn't be cooked any more and that was how it was supposed to be. Well I'm fully prepared to accept that "that was how it was supposed to be" i.e that's how Chef wanted it, crunchy; but I've eaten chilled rice puddings before and they've never had to be made of undercooked rice just because they weren't hot.
We didn't fancy any of the other desserts so just stuck with our coffee and had the rice pudding taken off the bill.
For most of the time we were there Chef/Owner Stephen Terry was in one of the restaurant rooms or the bar chatting to diners. I few times MrsA and I commented to each other that he might have been better off at the pass overseeing what was coming out of the kitchen.
On our journey home MrsA posed the question "Do we have the right to expect perfection whenever we go out to eat?". My answer was that it's all about expectation. Our own expectation based on our experiences and the price point of where we are dining, for example we would have a different expectation of a roadside burger van, a greasy spoon cafe and a fine dining restaurant. Then there is also the expectation created by the establishment we are visiting. When it proudly displays its awards for all to see, has it's newspaper clipping framed on its walls and makes great store of the experience of its Chef then it is creating an expectation on which it needs to deliver.
Today The Hardwick simply did not live up to expectations!
Old Ragan Road, Abergavenny,
Monmouthshire, NP7 9AA.
Tel: 01873 854220