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Rostra rating: 3.5
MagoGuide arrived in Abergavenny, Wales, around 2PM. We were sharp set from four hours of rain and traffic that did not seem to obey the laws of physics. Tracy, our host at Panty Goitre Farm, informed us that while we had arrived at the core of the Welsh gastrosphere, we were pushing up against closing time for lunch at the local eateries. While Tracy called ahead, we threw our bags into the rental and raced to The Cripple Creek Inn.
We were greeted warmly by several members of the staff to include the owner, seated in a nice cozy nook, and served a leisurely meal despite the fact that we had arrived about ten minutes before the kitchen closed. It turns out that Cripple Creek is not an inn or a pub really, but a large country restaurant (two chefs and a staff of 40 with an average of 190 covers a night) that ramps down to a pub in between lunch and dinner as well as after the evening food service. In addition to food and drink, the Cripple Creek Inn sells free range eggs laid that morning and fresh fish daily for off premise consumption.
Our lunch fittingly began and ended with beer.
James Welsh Ale: B+. The recipe dates from 1885 and the brew is named after one of the original owners of Buckley Brewery, the Reverend James Buckley – a Methodist, as my father would doubtless point out, as well as a “business man with two conflicting roles – saving souls and satisfying thirsts.” The latter role is reflected in this eponymous and sessionable ale (ABV 4.5) possessed of a malty nose with brown bread and slightly burnt caramel on the palate and a subtle bitter finish.
Trelawny Cornish Ale: C. This beer, named after a Cornish Bishop (not a Methodist), reminded me too much of growing up in Montucky and drinking 3.2 beer. At 3.8 ABV, one spends a lot of the session in the loo. It was a basic bitter reminiscent of Tetleys from my student days in Leeds.
The food choked just fine with the beer:
Grilled mackerel, new taters, and salad: nicely cooked fish with blistered skin and firm, slightly moist flesh. I love mackerel, but this filet was full of bones gaddamnit!! Can’t anyone bone a fish these days? New taters were simply steamed and very good. All produce at the Cripple Creek Inn is locally sourced. Example: my salad, composed of a mélange of fresh lettuces with a balsamic reduction dressing, was a great foil for the oily, succulent (and freakin’ boney) fish.
Battered hake with chips and peas: some of the best fish and chips we ate in Wales. The batter was tempura-like, the hake amazingly fresh, the chips were lightly fried and very tasty (although, as usual in the UK, they needed salt). The peas were fresh but a touch mature (just a bit mealy), still they delivered on the flavor side and we snarfed them up as if we had been at sea for over a week, which in fact we had.
We had another pint or three for dessert and spent the time in amiable conversation with the staff and the locals. Service was Welsh-nice and punctual. The locals were eager to share their knowledge of other pubs and restaurants.
Bottom line: For an introduction to Abergavenny, you could do a lot worse than the Cripple Creek Inn.