We recently learned that The Hardwick, just a few minutes drive from our new home in Wales, is now offering a Small Plates menu, so of course we had to go and try it immediately! It’s been available for a couple of months since the refurbishment and extension of their bar, and Small Plates customers can take a seat at the bar itself, or at one of the tables in the bar room.
The main dining room is still set aside for customers ordering from the main à la carte menu (click through to my recent review). You can reserve for either option.
Advised that 2-3 dishes per person should make a good lunch, we order a few at a time to pace our meal.
We arrive on the dot of noon just as the kitchen is readying for service. The first trio of dishes we pick take a little longer to cook than some of the others, so the kitchen sends out an extra plate for each of us – small battered cod pieces hot and crisp out of the fryer – a snack being made and eaten by the staff before the lunch trade gets busy. Delicious, and a nice touch to ensure our wait for the first bite is not too long.
Chef proprietor Stephen Terry pops out while we’re reading the menu, and recommends the Creamy haricot beans, chargrilled chorizo and sherry vinegar (£6), perhaps one we’d have looked past if he hadn’t highlighted it. It turns out to be one of our favourites of the meal, intensely rich in flavour, beautifully soft and creamy, and topped with two generous slices of grilled chorizo, this truly is a comfort food dish.
The Roast chicken thigh, humous, date, pomegranate, coriander (£8) is perhaps our least favourite, though that’s not to say we don’t like it. The chicken is very plain, as is the humous, lifted mainly by the date and pomegranate sauce, which is sweet and tangy. Nice, but not one we’d choose again.
A cast iron pan of Fried potatoes, tomato and chipotle sauce, creme fraiche (£5) is simple but satisfying, the potatoes good and crisp. I’d love a touch more heat in the sauce, and more creme fraiche, but it works as is too.
We love the Grilled Wye valley asparagus, pasteurised egg yolk and pancetta (£8). The asparagus sits on a bed of tomato sauce, the egg yolk drizzled over. Thin, fried slices of pancetta are paired with barba di frate (friar’s beard, from the salsola family) which is a lightly salty green.
Seared salmon with braised fennel and lemon (£8) is perfectly cooked to ensure the fish is as soft and melting as possible, wonderfully contrasted by the crunchy savoury granola on top. The lemony fennel beneath adds a light summery nature to the plate.
There are a few lamb dishes on the menu, and we dither over which to choose. We eventually pick one but the kitchen generously send out a dish combining both the Grilled lamb chop, mint salsa verde (£8) and the Mashed potato, minced lamb ragout, pickled red cabbage (£8). There is nothing not to love about any element of this plate, from the juicy lamb chop under its minty coat to the buttery mash sprinkled with fried polenta crumbs to the simple savoury ragout to the slow cooked lamb shoulder topped with a mound of sweetly pickled red cabbage.
This happens to be one of the cross overs between Small Plates and main menu, with this exact combination of elements available as a main dish on the à la carte menu.
Of course, both the à la carte and Small Plates menu change not only by the season, but sometimes by the day, as new ingredients and supplies become available and others are finished.
Service is the same friendly and professional team as run the main dining room, and they can help you make the best selections from both their food and drinks offerings.
We particularly love the Small Plates way of dining as it allows us to try a wider range of the chef’s cooking at one meal, and for really reasonable prices too. We will definitely head back soon, to try more superlative small plates.
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