In the Town of Books | Hay-on-Wye's 10 Best Restaurants
On the border of England and Wales, bookshop capital Hay-on-Wye is not only a reader’s haven but also a centre of culinary excellence. Boasting tearooms, restaurants, cafés and bistros, there is something for everyone in this literary hub. Following our initial hunt for the Ten Best Eateries in Hay-on-Wye, we return to the town to take another look at the best restaurants and cafés, providing delicious food for thought.
The Old Stables Tearooms is a consistently popular, multi-award-winning café in the heart of Hay-on-Wye. With its extensive breakfast feasts, nutritious light lunches and hearty meals created from locally sourced, home-grown ingredients, it offers a smorgasbord of uniquely tasty treats. Stop by for the speciality cream tea — fresh sandwiches, a selection of teas, and warm scones with a dollop of award-winning Passion Preserves. In the summer of 2014, The Old Stables Tearooms achieved three gold taste awards from the Guild of Fine Food for their marmalades and delicate strawberry and rose jam, before winning four silver and three bronze awards for their Passion Preserves at the famous World Jampionships. In addition to this impressive catalogue of accolades, The Old Stables scooped the gold award from the Countryside Alliance for using local and home-grown produce – making it the Welsh Champion for serving local food. The rustic interior of brick fireplaces, nostalgic advertisements, memorabilia, and old wooden chairs complements the inspiring cuisine, evoking comfort and high quality in a relaxed and countrified atmosphere.
Nestled within the 17th century Old Black Lion Inn, and a stone’s throw away from the original entrance to the old walled town of Hay, is the Old Black Lion restaurant. The winner of innumerable culinary accolades and rave reviews, the Old Black Lion promises traditional cuisine accented with modern and contemporary notes, in an environment oozing nostalgia and top-quality service. Enjoy a light starter of fresh, grilled mackerel with rhubarb chutney and organic leaves, or locally-reared organic rump steak (served pink), with a seed mustard dressing, garnished with rocket and croutons, tomatoes and triple-cooked chips, with a side order of creamy cauliflower cheese.
Just outside of Hay-on-Wye sits The River Café. Ideally located on the edge of the Breacon Beacons National Park and at the foot of the Black Mountains, the spacious restaurant with outside terrace provides the perfect place to peruse the multitude of outdoor activities taking place, courtesy of Wye Valley Canoes next door. Gather with an outdoorsy bunch for a pre-activity Illy coffee and a flaky pastry, or perhaps just relax with a bacon sandwich and watch the world go by. If visiting later in the day, enjoy local and seasonal produce such as a cooling Tygwyn Cider with a local Herefordshire rib-eye steak, or sample some of the perfectly prepared fresh fish arriving daily from the coast of Cornwall. Extend your stay overnight in the newly converted Welsh Baptist Chapel next door, a Grade II listed building recently renovated by The River Café in conjunction with Wye Valley Canoes. The chapel is now a modern, fun-loving bunkhouse for 14 people, to which The River Café will deliver delicious treats after a day on the river.
The Three Tuns at Hay-on-Wye dates back as far as the 16th century, yet is widely considered to be more ahead of the game, gastronomically, than many of the top London gastro-pubs. A favourite amongst local and national celebrities alike, The Three Tuns boasts a convivial, unique character with its period features that perfectly complement and offset the high-quality cuisine. The flavour combinations are at once unusual and familiar. Begin with an English favourite: pickled eel, enhanced with an accompanying celeriac remoulade, wilted samphire and a drizzle of chilli and chervil dressing, or try ribbons of smoked salmon served with pickled lemon and a vodka and lime dressing. The main courses continue in this vein: opt for a curry with chick pea and sweet potato, wilted spinach and a vegetable pakora and mint dressing, or Cajun-spiced salmon supreme, with a nicoise salad and pungent black pepper dressing.
The wonderful, fun-loving Spanish feel of Tomatitos Tapas Bar makes it the perfect spot to enjoy delicious dishes prepared from the best ingredients sourced locally, or to enjoy a glass of authentic Spanish wine or fruity sangria. The mark of a good Spanish restaurant is the quality of the tapas. Tomatitos shines through — pick a selection of dishes from familiar favourites such as patatas bravas or the more unusual boquerones (anchovy fillets in a light vinaigrette). For something a little heartier, sample the rich fish stew, or chicken stuffed with aromatic, punchy chorizo drizzled in premium olive oil, all served with generous chunks of rustic bread to soak up every inch of the flavour.
The small, intimate St John’s Place is becoming a firm Hay-on-Wye favourite. Known for its bright, colourful and inspired presentation of unusual flavour combinations, the food stands out as the shining star in this ambient restaurant with its accents of Scandinavian light wood and simple, stylish layout. Enjoy the sharp tang of pickled vegetables against the delicate flavour of quails’ eggs to start, before progressing to monkfish with red pepper and salicorn, or perhaps succulent pork belly. The menu changes weekly but remains consistently first- class: Chef Julia designs compact menus with three choices in each category, allowing for the ingredients to sing out whilst also offering the diner plenty of choice.
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Just outside of Hay-on-Wye sits the Radnor Arms, a traditional, stone-built inn set against the backdrop of the Black Mountains. The period fireplaces, dark wood furniture and original, statement beams give a convivial and atmospheric feel to the intimate and cosy space. Enjoy a rustic pork, apricot, and pistachio terrine accented with rum, spicy apple sauce, and toast, or pan-fried tiger prawns with chilli butter, served with an aromatic lime mayonnaise. Move from this excellent starter on to a chicken breast with a brie, pancetta, artichoke, and shallot stuffing, served with spicy tomato and tarragon white wine sauce and new potatoes, or baked apricot and nut roast, topped with goats’ cheese, and served with beetroot and red onion sweet marmalade.
Traditional Indian cuisine is approached with a contemporary flourish at Indigo. The spacious restaurant with its monochrome furniture, luxury leather seats and deep red accents, is a clean and unobtrusive backdrop to the arresting, delicious flavours arriving on the plate. Begin with delicately spiced butterfly king prawns coated in breadcrumbs and deep-fried, or perhaps lamb or chicken marinated in aromatic spices and lightly grilled with peppers, onions and a glug of red wine. Move from here to tandoori chicken roasted in a traditional clay oven, fresh lobster garnished with a smooth garlic and lemon sauce, or sample the ever-popular bhoonas, filled with everything from duck to chicken tikka, in a fragrant blend of toasted herbs and spices.
The restaurant at the Swan at Hay Hotel takes advantage of its position on the edge of Hay-on-Wye, prioritising relaxation, quiet and first-class service. The restaurant is the proud owner of an AA Rosette for culinary excellence, and is set in a light space with crisp tablecloths and views over the verdant garden area. Enjoy home-cured Hereford bresaola with lashings of cracked black pepper, lemon, parmesan and a generous drizzle of olive oil, or a warming bowl of red pepper, carrot and red lentil soup with a dollop of crème fraiche. Move from here onto a fillet of seabass with Provençaleratatouille, purple-sprouting broccoli and a white wine sauce, or homemade mushroom and goat’s cheese tortellini in a cream and thyme sauce, before indulging in an oozy chocolate fondant or pick-me-up affogato.
The warm welcome received on entering The Harp Inn, just outside Hay-on-Wye, is a result of centuries of practice — this local favourite has been a public house since 1796. All the dishes are handmade using only the finest local ingredients and promise classic flavours delivered to a seemingly effortless professional and delicious standard. Enjoy a homemade local steak and Wye Valley Brewery ale pie baked in sumptuous shortcrust pastry with fresh vegetables and proper chips, or homemade mixed-bean casserole with basmati rice and a dressed side salad using the very freshest leaves. Conclude the evening with a generous cheeseboard consisting of local, artisan cheeses and punchy homemade chutney, or perhaps, for something a little sweeter, sample the rich sticky toffee pudding with a cup of coffee locally roasted in Hereford and ground in Glasbury.