The Heathcock, 58-60 Bridge Street, Llandaf, Cardiff CF5 2EN; Tel: 029 2115 2290 heathcockcardiff.com
Hot on the heels of Tommy Heaney’s October launch, there was another exciting opening in Cardiff. Tom Watts-Jones and wife Sarah of Aberthin’s Hare and Hounds brought a taste of the Vale of Glamorgan to Llandaf village. Bringing with them an award-winning reputation, including a Michelin ‘Bib Gourmand’, they have transformed a previously unloved pub into a haven for refined Welsh grub. As a former employee at the BBC, I was familiar with the Heathcock; over recent years, it experienced several incarnations, never quite hitting the ‘right’ spot with customers. But the Vale incomers have hit the ground running, welcoming villagers to reclaim their ‘local’, with the added incentive to taste the fruits of contemporary Welsh cooking at its best. So out goes the lasagne, burgers and chips, for a seasonal feast from the Vale of Glamorgan. The decor too, has enjoyed an overhaul, giving the inn a taste of minimalist Welsh style, reminiscent of Kennixton farmhouse at St Fagans. A drink at the bar is a joy in itself, thanks to the array of ‘home-made’ gins and guest ales. I personally plumped for the Aberthin Damson Gin Fizz, but enjoyed a taste of my father’s IPA – a refreshing Thunderbolt from Llantrisant. The Hare and Hounds for me is a dream gastro-pub, and so I was delighted to see some familiar favourites on The Heathcock’s mid-week lunch menu. We kicked off with a snack that’s inspired by a H&H ‘classic’; the Crispy Pigs Head morsels were satisfyingly salty, and nicely balanced with capers, mustard and celeriac. And even if you’ve just popped in for a pint, you really must try the home-baked bread; a seriously fine sourdough, and sourdough focaccia, served with cultured butter. The braised rabbit leg pappardelle, that I devoured as a starter, would be my pick as a main forever, and was paired with a rich Domaine La Rouviole Syrah Grenache from France. Dad’s King Scallops were sublime, with a smoky bacon sauce cut with the tartness of a Granny Smith. The dense-flavoured venison main, for me, though good wasn’t quite at the same level of brilliance, but it still would give most Cardiff restaurants a run for its money. I really should have gone for the H&H classic Roast Torgelly Farm Lamb, mint sauce and confit potatoes; as my father cleared his plate, he declared it a triumph. The final flourish was the plum souffle; light and fluffy, it was a thing of beauty. I’m already enamoured with this city-outpost of the Hare and Hounds and I have no doubt it will become a new family favourite. But I’ll be keen to see how The Heathcock brings local tastes onto the plate and into the bar, and develops its own identity. The major draw to Aberthin is a respect for locality; with all the produce that we now have in Cardiff, from microbreweries to forraged salads, I am certain the same can be done in the capital city of Wales.