Scattered along the Welsh borderline, you’ll find some of the best restaurants Wales has to offer. From the Michelin-starred The Whitebrook just outside Monmouth and The Walnut Tree in Llandewi Skirrid, to the highly-acclaimed The Hardwick in Abergavenny and The Checkers in Montgomery, there’s no denying the culinary standing of this rural stretch of Wales.
Tucked away in nooks and crannies, and hidden down winding side streets; in libraries; and even in old hardware stores, lesser-known gastronomical gems lie waiting to be discovered. There’s no better time to follow your culinary wanderlust on an edible treasure hunt along the Welsh borderline.
Starting in Wrexham, North Wales, Wales' newest city, former Kwik Save store, Levant hopes to bring something unique to diners with its Eastern British fusion cuisine. Dishes include spicy courgette spaghetti with kale crisp and hazelnuts; Welsh rarebit with crab, spring onions and chilli; and herb-crusted smoked lamb rump with truffle oil-infused sweet potato mash, asparagus, and mint and thyme jus.
Once you’ve eaten, stroll across the public footpath at Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, the world’s tallest navigable structure at 23-metres high. Alternatively, hop in a canal boat and enjoy a 45-minute return sailing.
Once home to British Prime Minister, William Gladstone, the Hawarden Estate in Flintshire houses an award-winning pub, restaurant, farm shop, and café, not to mention the iconic 18th century Hawarden Castle. Former AA Welsh Pub of the Year, The Glynne Arms serves a locally sourced, seasonal, and sustainable menu. Notable options include roast celeriac soup; confit chicken and wild mushroom pie; and cider pork belly.
While in Hawarden, visit Gladstone’s Library, built between 1898 and 1908 to house William Gladstone’s book collection. Lose yourself in a book in the world-famous Reading Rooms, grab a bite to eat in the Food for Thought bistro, and spend the night ‘sleeping with books’ in the UK’s only residential library.
Chirk, Wrexham is home to the beautiful 13th century Chirk Castle and Gardens, one of several medieval fortresses built on the Welsh Marches.
Dining out in Chirk, head to the 412-year-old Coach House Grill and Restaurant at The Hand Hotel on Church Street (apparently one of the oldest hotels in Wales), and dine on sizzling steaks and typical British pub grub classics in the 1800s Regency restaurant.
Or, for a taste of the Mediterranean, stroll down to Castle Bistro and Wine Bar at Courtyard Terrace. This charming Italian restaurant is known for its stone-baked pizzas, fresh pastas, risotto, fish dishes and, of course, its wine list.
Characterised by 17th century half-timbered houses and narrow, winding streets, Knighton is the only town to lie on the line of Offa’s Dyke - offering up a long-distance hike of 177-miles along the Offa’s Dyke Path (although you may wish to do it in stages!).
Set within an old-fashioned hardware store next to the town’s clock tower, The Clock Tower Tea Rooms is the perfect pit-stop for a hot cup of tea and some specialty bread and butter pudding (said to be the best in Wales).
Alternatively, dine in a 19th century bank and vault at The Banc. Today, this thriving restaurant and bar has a reputation for locally sourced steaks, handmade burgers, and decadent desserts.
Montgomery is known for its fascinating variety of houses - from timber-framed cottages, to Georgian and Victorian town houses – as well as the The Checkers restaurant – which famously handed back its Michelin star to enable its owners to focus on family commitments.
The Dragon Hotel at the Market Square is worth a visit to. This 17th century coaching inn houses the eclectic Bistro 7 restaurant, offering a menu ranging from à la carte Mediterranean bistro food, to pasta and pub grub.
Just a stone’s throw away, the Ivy House Café and Post Office is a quirky choice for a quick bite to eat, comprising an intimate, friendly café and sub post office. Be sure to check out the homemade soups, sandwiches, quiches, and mezzes at Castle Kitchen too.
World-renowned for books and famous for the Hay Festival, Hay-on-Wye is home to one of only two restaurants in Wales to currently hold a Michelin Green Star, in recognition of its sustainability efforts. Based within the old meeting rooms of St. John’s Chapel, Chapters is run by Chef Patron Mark Mchugo and Charmaine Blatchford. Locally sourced seasonal offerings include longhorn thick rib of beef with dauphinois, smoked brisket and peppercorn sauce; and Hodmedod’s spelt risotto with Marches mushroom and Shropshire truffle.
Alternatively, indulge in two AA Rosette fine dining at Grade II Listed inn, The Old Black Lion. Based at the Lion Gate which once guarded Hay-on-Wye Castle, the restaurant is headed up by Chef Mark Turton, with a menu centred upon seasonal small plates, homemade burgers, and gourmet sandwiches.
With two of Wales’ Michelin starred restaurants based within Monmouthshire (The Whitebrook in the Wye Valley, and The Walnut Tree in Abergavenny), the 'culinary capital of Wales' is a magnet for award-winning UK chefs and aspiring restaurateurs.
Championing artisanal food and drink produced independently in and around the Welsh Marches, Marches Delicatessen is the place to go for edible souvenirs to fill your larder, or enjoy a cup of coffee (locally sourced, of course!) and a slice of cake in the café.
Meanwhile, 35-year-old independent wine merchant, Fingal Rock stocks wines, spirits, ales, and ciders from local favourites like Apple County Cider Co, Silver Circle Distillery, and White Castle Vineyard.
Tucked away in an old courtyard at White Swan Shopping Court, the Whole Earth Thai Bistro serves light bites throughout the week and, on weekends, it transforms into an authentic Thai restaurant and takeaway.
Alternatively, The Stonemill Restaurant with Rooms at Steppes Farm in nearby Rockfield, Whitecastle offers two AA Rosette seasonal country fare, in the unusual setting of a converted mill. Bread, pasta, pastries, jams, chutneys, and ice creams are all made daily in the kitchen, while meat and game are sourced from F.E. Richards of Crickhowell. Highlights include Welsh border cheese and charcuterie platters; braised shoulder of Raglan lamb; 28-day dry-aged Welsh Beef steaks; and Cornish sole.
Nestled in the picturesque Wye Valley between Monmouth and Chepstow, the tiny town of Tintern is famous for the 12th century Cistercian Tintern Abbey.
Based within the grounds of Tintern Abbey, The Anchor Inn was once the cider mill and grain store. The bar serves quality local ciders and ales including Kingstone and Wye Valley Breweries, alongside a wine list from Tanners of Shrewsbury. Classic pub grub and wholesome comfort food take centre stage on the menu. Think burgers, pizzas, steaks and hearty mains like haddock in crispy Wye Valley beer batter and skin-on fries; slow-cooked beef and pork belly chilli; and walnut and mushroom bolognese.
Alternatively, head to Parva Farmhouse. Less than a mile from Tintern Abbey, this 17th century restaurant with rooms is listed in the Michelin Guide and named one of The Guardian’s Top 50 Hotels & B&Bs (bed and breakfasts) in the UK. Hardly surprising, with Marta and Roger Brook at the helm (formerly of The Walnut Tree in Abergavenny). Decent ingredients, cooked with respect; the menu is concise yet captivating, changing with the seasons. Past dishes include sea bass makhani with cucumber raita, rump of lamb ‘lasagne’ with aubergine, onion and ricotta, and gooseberry strudel with milk ice cream. The restaurant is small and intimate; be sure to book in advance!
After fuelling up at Parva Farmhouse, pop over the road to Parva Farm Vineyard for a vineyard tour and Welsh wine tasting.
The penultimate stop on our culinary journey takes us just south of Tintern, to Chepstow. Explore the 600-year-old Chepstow Castle, before stepping into The Three Tuns, just next door. With a quaint beer garden overlooking the castle, this 16th century real ale pub dishes up homely, satisfying cuisine. Time your visit for a Sunday so you can dig into a sizeable roast dinner with all the trimmings.
For a lighter bite, try The Cwtch Café. Set within a little cabin on Rifleman’s Way, this cosy little nook serves sandwiches, toasties, light meals, salads, and cakes.
Wine lovers should make a beeline for independent wine merchant Tell Me Wine on Nelson Street for fine wines from all over the world, with an extensive variety of French wines.
The historic market town of Usk must be one of the best-kept secrets of the Welsh border culinary scene. Fill up – and stock up – on fine food and drink from small-batch artisan producers in independent delicatessen, restaurant, and bar, 57 Bridge Street.
Next, go to the White Hare Gin Distillery for an invigorating G&T, or perhaps even a gin-making masterclass (although you’ll need to book in advance!) Afterwards, pop next door for a cheese, charcuterie or seafood platter at The Mad Platter.
Located just outside Usk town, The Black Bear Inn is a welcoming village gastro pub focusing on seasonal British fare. Expect Jersey rock oysters; Cornish mackerel and brown crab with Jerusalem artichoke and apple; and kid goat with purple-sprouting broccoli, confit potato and green peppercorn sauce.
As you head out of town, stop off at Morris’ of Usk. This independent garden centre features a café and farm shop housing a cheesemonger, butchery, bakery, and delicatessen.