My Pub: Hare & Hounds, Aberthin, Glamorgan, south Wales

By Gary Lloyd

- Last updated on GMT

What's cooking? Tom Watts-Jones, Huw Lewis, Cory Scott and Gareth Crimmins
What's cooking? Tom Watts-Jones, Huw Lewis, Cory Scott and Gareth Crimmins

Related tags: Pub, Public house, Restaurant

Sarah Watts-Jones explains how husband, head chef and licensee Tom and the team has the Hare & Hounds running at full speed.

Facts ‘n’ stats

Name: Hare & Hounds

Address: Maendy Road, Aberthin,

Vale of Glamorgan, CF71 7LG

Licensee: Tom Watts-Jones

Wet:dry split: 50:50

Turnover: £700,000

The pub

The Hare & Hounds has been a thriving local watering hole for more than 300 years, just outside the pretty market town of Cowbridge. Previous landlords have struggled with the layout of the building: half traditional local pub and another large room that needed to sell food in order for the pub to survive. We took over the free-of-tie lease in June 2015. Tom Watts- Jones had grown up in the village, had his first pint there and then spent 10 years cooking in London. He wanted to take over a local pub in the area and this one became available at the perfect time. Tom and I (wife Sarah Watts-Jones) had just had our first son and wanted to move out of London and back to the Cowbridge area.

The pub has an open fire and the dining room has a log burner, which makes us a very cosy place to be in the winter. We also have a large beer garden overlooking a stream; it is completely contained, so it’s great for families with children. There is a small extension on the side of the dining room, which has French doors opening out onto the garden. Since taking over, we have built a kitchen garden, growing salad, edible flowers, herbs and some other vegetables to use in the kitchen. Diners love seeing the chefs in the garden picking produce.

We have a strong network of local drinkers in the pub that we made an effort to retain when we took over. We also have many regular local diners, as well as others from farther away that see it as slightly more of a destination venue for a celebration.

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The publican

Tom grew up in Aberthin (a fair amount of his childhood was spent playing in the garden of the Hare & Hounds). He left the area to go to university, and then worked in Anchor & Hope and Michelin-starred St John. Tom and myself wanted to get out of London and taking over the Hare slotted nicely into place. Tom’s focus has always been on nose-to-tail cooking and using local seasonal produce, and he has always wanted to cook it in his local area.

There is so much quality, local, seasonal produce in this small farming community. He always wanted a pub premises rather than a restaurant, so that he has the bar area for locals when the dining room is closed, and as somewhere for diners to have a drink before they eat. This is the successful layout in St John, Anchor & Hope, and the Sportsman, which he loves, and where he also completed a stage.

Tom is the licensee and runs the kitchen as head chef. I take care of the accounts, marketing, PR and also help with the back of house.

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The trade

We’re fairly evenly split between wet and dry, possibly leaning slightly more towards the dry, but not by much. Although a large amount of our drinks spend is in the dining room.

We have a very mixed demographic, with local drinkers in the pub being very mixed depending on the time of day. We have core after-work drinkers, families (especially in the summer) and everyone else in between.

In the dining room, we have a variety of diners as well, with more retired people on weekday lunches. We get a good mix of locals who eat with us regularly, and those from farther afield and the local area who come to us for a celebration.

We’re quite rural, but we are walking distance from Cowbridge, which is beneficial.

The team

Tom runs the kitchen, with a small team of three other chefs and a kitchen porter. They do all of their own butchery and prepare everything from scratch. The menu changes daily, depending on the produce available, so the kitchen staff have daily meetings with the front-of-house team to discuss new dishes, allergies, anything that is likely to get questions from customers.

Front of house is run by Rowan Larcher (restaurant manager) and Tom Stephens (bar manager). They manage a small team of full and part-time bar and waiting staff.

The small team works closely together; if it is a busy night, chefs will bring dishes out to diners. Because we have an open kitchen they are able to work with a strong dynamic between the two teams.

The front-of-house members all have a strong knowledge about the food (necessary with the menu changing so regularly), as well as on wine and beer. Management and some waiting staff are WSET-trained, and do wine matching with the tasting menu, as well as with individual dishes. We have a constantly changing range of ales and craft lagers, so Tom and the bar staff have an ever-increasing beer knowledge.

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The drink

We’re a local pub at heart, so always wanted to keep the pub offering in the bar, but we wanted every drink we serve to be of a high quality. We pride ourselves on keeping our beers well, and our changing range of craft ales. We use as many local breweries as possible, and a local cider producer from just down the road.

We wanted the wine list to be approachable with price (especially for pub drinkers), but also of a consistently high quality. We only serve Old World wine, with a mixture of classics and the more unusual, for example, we have a new Croatian white that is selling well, and a Spätburgunder is one of our best-selling reds.

We also have a changing fine wines list, which does well in the dining room, especially in December. We advertise a short list of wines by the glass in the bar, but a Verre du Vin means that we can sell a large selection of our list by the glass and by the carafe.

We have a compact but quality range of spirits, including many Welsh spirits. More have started being produced since we opened and we love being able to offer local spirits alongside the rest of our offering.

There is a lot of focus on our home-made seasonal drinks. We always offer a home-made seasonal Prosecco fizz (plum, strawberry, rhubarb, etc) using whatever fruit is in season. We also make rhubarb gin, damson/sloe gin (we now have different vintages lining the shelves), cherry brandy, Seville orange rosé, blood orange juice, etc. These are all on display on shelves in the dining room and are a lovely talking point with customers.

What’s on the menu?

Crispy pig cheek, chicory, mustard & pickled apple - £8

Roast & braised Torgelly Farm lamb, mint sauce - £17

Roast wood pigeon, bacon, blackberries & duck fat potatoes - £16

Summer fruit soufflé - £10

Chocolate mousse tart & boozy cherries - £8

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The food

We took over the pub with the aim of attracting customers for the food while also keeping the bar as a ‘local’ and somewhere customers could have a few drinks before heading through into the dining room. Our key message is good-quality food in relaxed and informal surroundings.

Food is the main reason a lot of customers come to us, and a strong food offering is what was needed for the pub to survive because it wasn’t viable on local drinkers alone. Many of the locals eat with us for birthdays and special occasions, which is lovely.

Head chef-owner Tom Watts-Jones was known in the area anyway from growing up here. Since we have opened, he has become more well known as a chef, in the Vale and further afield. He has appeared on BBC Radio Wales and will be doing a demo at Abergavenny Food Festival in September.

The pub was awarded a Michelin Bib Gourmand in 2017 and retained it for two years. We appear in The Good Food Guide and Good Beer Guide, as well as the Michelin Guide and Harden’s. We were awarded Good Food Guide Best Local Restaurant in Wales in 2018, and Unilever Best Sunday Lunch in Wales in 2017.

We offer a small, daily changing seasonal menu using the very best of local Vale of Glamorgan produce. The area has some of the most productive soil in the UK, which gives us meat, game and vegetables of the highest quality. The best Vale producers, our own kitchen garden and our smallholding dictate what is on the menu from day to day.

Everything is made from scratch in our kitchen, from our own sourdough bread and cultured butter, to fresh pasta. This isn’t pretentious fine dining, it is just about good food, whether you’ve been for a long walk with your dog or are coming out for a celebratory meal.

We use a lot of lesser-known cuts of meat and some more interesting ingredients, as part of Tom’s nose-to-tail cooking. We use laverbread regularly, which is picked from our local beaches, and smoke our own bacon with local pork. We’re particularly proud of our lamb from Torgelly Farm, which is just down the road. We also get a lot of fruit and vegetables from locals, when they have a glut in their garden, and do a lot of foraging for blackberries, wild garlic, etc, when they are in season.

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The events

We host a quarterly ‘Changing of the Seasons’ tasting menu, similar in style to our usual tasting menu, but with the whole dining room having nine courses to celebrate the very best produce of that season. We aim to have as much foraged produce and produce from our garden as we can at these events. We offer wine matching alongside all tasting menus.

We also have tasting menus occasionally (a few a year) focusing on either a particular wine supplier or a food style. Previous nights include a game tasting menu with Bordeaux wines, and a seafood tasting menu with sparkling wine matching. We host small wedding parties (30 to 40 people dining) and have also had a few larger events with a marquee, buffet, band, etc, where we close the garden and the dining room to the public.

The future

We are in the process of renovating upstairs into two different sections. One will be a private dining room so that we can host more events and the other will be a meat preparation room. We already do all of our own butchery, but this will allow us to do more, including curing our own meats, as well as doing butchery for our sister pub – the Heathcock.

We opened the Heathcock in Llandaff last October, with very much the same ethos. Head chef Dave Killick was the sous chef here at the Hare from when we opened until October, and Guy Ennever – the general manager – used to be the restaurant manager here.

Locality and seasonality are still key, with the twice-daily changing menu reflecting the best of local produce. Sharing dishes are more of a feature on their menu, from pies, to slow-cooked lamb shoulder or whole Welsh baked seabass. This is something that the whole table can get excited about. Then Heathcock has a similar layout to the Hare & Hounds, with the dining room separate from the pub area, which attracts local drinkers as well as diners before their meal.

There is also a converted skittles alley in the garden, perfect for events, whether corporate, a wedding or a birthday celebration. We want to continue expansion, and always keep an eye out for other pubs in the area. We don’t want to do exactly the same again, but know exactly what we’re looking for.

In full flight

Tom and Sarah Watt-Jones also own the Heathcock in nearby Llandaff. Sarah gives a rundown of their sister site, which is led by licensee Guy Ennever.

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The Heathcock had been struggling for about five years before we put in a successful rent bid.

We have kept one side of the bar as a traditional drinking space, with board games and the same style of rustic furniture as the dining room. The other side is the dining room, and we also converted the skittles alley in the garden into an extension of the dining room.

We renovated the garden with raised beds, a platform for bands to play and flowers in pots everywhere.

In taking over, we’ve brought back Llandaff locals to the pub who hadn’t drunk there for five years because it became so neglected.

The licensee is Guy Ennever, who used to be restaurant manager at the Hare. Dave Killick is the head chef. The food and drink ethos is the same as that of the Hare & Hounds.

Dave runs the kitchen with four other chefs and two kitchen porters. As they’re open on a Tuesday evening as well and can seat more covers then they have a larger kitchen team. As with the Hare, the team does all of its own butchery and prepares everything from scratch.

The front of house is run by Guy, who manages a small team of waiting and bar staff. The two teams are working in harmony and everyone knows exactly what is going on.

We’re fairly evenly split between wet and dry, although we do have a slightly higher wet take, especially on a Friday and Saturday night.

We pride ourselves on keeping our beers well, and our changing range of craft ales.

We have more pumps here, so we have six changing ales and three changing craft lagers. We use as many local breweries as possible, and a local cider producer from just down the road.

We have the same wine list as the Hare, but because we have a Coravin, we can offer fine wines and different wines by the glass. Guy loves his wine and is very knowledgeable.

There are a lot more seasonal drinks than in the Hare; we make the same classics, Sloe Gin etc, but we also make a lot of our own flavoured gins and vodkas.

When it comes to food, we have a slightly more Italian leaning because of Dave’s love of Italian cooking and fresh pasta is made on-site daily.

There is more of a focus on sharing dishes than in the Hare, and are building up a great reputation for our pies. We love the idea of dishes that the whole table can enjoy together, such as whole wild Welsh seabass, suckling pig leg, Welsh black sirloin rib, etc.

We host a quarterly Changing of the Seasons Tasting Menu, which is extra special, because we don’t offer a tasting menu normally.

And we also host small wedding parties and have also had a few larger events with a marquee, buffet and band, where we close off the garden and the dining room to the public.

There are plans for expansion. The building is huge – we have two floors above the pub and a self-contained flat on the side. We’re in the process of turning them into flats/rooms to rent out for diners/people coming to events in Cardiff.

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