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 Checkers Pantry (formerly the Michelin-starred The Checkers) in Montgomery, there’s no denying the culinary standing of this rural stretch of Wales.
Nestled away in nooks and crannies, down winding side-streets and even behind bookshelves, these hidden 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 on the north of the border in Flintshire, we pay a visit to The Old Grocery in Hawarden. Based within a former butcher and grocery store, this quirky restaurant is driven by local, seasonal produce. Highlights of the à la carte menu include Trealy Farm wild boar salami with nduja churros, sea trout, miso aubergine and blueberry crumble.
While in Hawarden, visit Gladstone’s Library, built to house the book collection of William Gladstone, Prime Minister of Britain in the mid 1800s. Lose yourself in a book in the magnificent reading room, grab a bite to eat in the Food for Thought Cafe and spend the night ‘sleeping with books’ in the UK’s only residential library.
Drive south from Hawarden for 20 minutes and you’ll find yourself in the largest town in north Wales, Wrexham. Recently opened in a former Kwik Save store, Levant hopes to bring something unique to Wrexham with its Eastern British fusion cuisine. The menu emphasises traditional British cooking with fine dining influences. Dishes include rustic Jerusalem artichoke soup with kale crisps and garlic croutons, truffle macaroni topped with smoked Snowdonia cheddar and duck breast with rose potatoes, beetroot gel, parsnip and hazelnut puree in ginger and plum sauce.
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.
Disembark the canal boat at Chirk Aqueduct and take a short taxi ride to discover the wonder of 13th century Chirk Castle, one of several medieval fortresses built on the Welsh Marches to keep Wales under English rule.
Strutting around Chirk Castle is bound to leave you feeling famished. Head to the 400-year-old The Hand Hotel on Church Street - next to Chirk railway station - and dine in the historical 1800s Regency Restaurant. Expect typical British pub grub classics like curry of the day, fish and chips, lasagne, burgers and grilled dishes, as well as contemporary dishes like pan-fried sea bass, spicy pork meatballs in tomato and basil sauce, fig and goat cheese parcels, and steak moutarde.
Just a short drive from Chirk, Gales of Llangollen is the oldest wine bar in Wales. The wine list more closely resembles a catalogue than a menu, consisting of a never-ending selection of local and international wines and an FAQ section to help you choose your tipple. Meanwhile, the restaurant dishes up local, seasonal dishes using simple ingredients. That means steaks, ribs, burgers and pub grub classics alongside constantly changing seasonal specials.
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 - the boundary built by King Offa of Mercia in the 8th century to keep Wales under English rule. Today, you can hike the 177-mile long Offa’s Dyke Path, although you may wish to do it in stages! Set at the front of an old-fashioned hardware store, The Clock Tower Tea Rooms on Broad Street 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) during your walk.
Alternatively, dine in a former HSBC bank at The Banc, which now dispenses a refreshing selection of drinks and delicious food, with a reputation for perfectly cooked steaks.
Lying just a mile from the border, Montgomery is a traditional Welsh Marches town known for its variety of houses, from timber-framed cottages to Georgian and Victorian town houses. The town is home to Checker’s Pantry (formerly The Checkers), which handed back its Michelin star to allow the owners to focus on family commitments.
Lesser known Montgomery-based eateries include Mellington Hall Country House Hotel, a Grade-II Listed 19th Century mansion set in 270 acres of landscaped gardens, parks and farmland. Food takes the form of classic British dishes, often with a subtle gourmet twist. Think slow-cooked beef brisket and shin burger topped with melted cheese, baked figs stuffed with Perl Las cheese and wrapped in Parma ham, lamb and mint pie and spinach, ricotta and courgette lasagne.
The Dragon Hotel is located at the heart of Montgomery, at the Market Square. This 17th century coaching inn was reportedly constructed using remains from the ruins of the nearby castle after it was destroyed by Oliver Cromwell in 1648. The restaurant, Bistro Seven sources ingredients from producers in the Welsh borders, with an eclectic menu ranging from à la carte Mediterranean bistro food, to pastas and pub grub.
Stop off at the tiny town of Presteigne and pay a visit to The Hat Shop Restaurant on High Street. Decked out in all kinds of hats, this modern European restaurant specialises in contemporary British and Italian cuisine, with a few Asian dishes thrown into the mix. Word has it the Welsh rarebit is rather good.
World-renowned for books and famous for Hay Festival, it’s no surprise that you’ll come across a fair few bookshops in Hay-on-Wye. Unbeknown to some, however, is that one of these bookshops actually houses a quaint little cafe, tucked away behind rows and rows of polished bookshelves lined with old leather-bound titles. Head to Richard Booth’s Bookshop and get stuck into a good book as you nibble on a slice of cake washed down with a hot cup of tea.
Based at the intersection of the River Monnow and the River Wye, Monmouth is just two miles away from the Welsh-English borderline. 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.
Alternatively, The Stonemill restaurant at Steppes Farm in nearby Rockfield offers an unusual dining setting in a converted mill. With two AA Rosettes to its name, The Stonemill focuses on country dining, with a constantly changing seasonal menu. Bread, pasta, pastries, jams, chutneys and ice creams are all made daily in the kitchen, while all meat and game is sourced from F. E. Richards butchers of Crickhowell. Highlights include spring green risotto with Perl Las cheese, braised shoulder and rump of Raglan lamb and pan-fried Arctic cod.
Nestled between the border towns of Monmouth and Chepstow, you’ll find the tiny town of Tintern, famous for Tintern Abbey, founded by Cistercian monks in the 12th Century.
Based within the Abbey grounds, The Anchor Inn was once the Abbey’s cider mill and grain store. Classic pub grub and wholesome comfort food take centre stage on the menu, with burgers and steaks featuring alongside the likes of beef, mushroom and ale pie, wholetail scampi and chips and Hunter’s Chicken. To drink, choose from a selection of local ales and ciders including Kingstone and Wye Valley Breweries, alongside an extensive wine list from Tanners of Shrewsbury.
Alternatively, head to Parva Farmhouse. This 17th Century farmhouse is listed in the Michelin Guide and the proud holder of a Michelin Plate. Hardly surprising, with Roger and Marta Brook at the helm (formerly of The Walnut Tree in Abergavenny).
Decent ingredients cooked with respect. The menu is concise yet vivid, changing with the seasons. Dishes have included steamed John Dory with salted radish, chilli and pickled greens; sea trout with courgette, beetroot, panelle and chickpea sauce; and fillet and cheek of beef with BBQ sauce, coleslaw and roast potatoes.
The final stop on our culinary journey takes us to Chepstow, a Welsh Marches town home to the oldest surviving post-Roman stone fortification in Britain. After exploring the 600-year old Chepstow Castle, step into The Three Tuns on nearby Bridge Street. 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.