Centuries old village pub crowned Welsh bar of the year

When lockdown came and they were forced to shut their beloved 300 year old pub, thought outside of the box and set up their own bakery. Fast foward 18 months on and the owners of the Hare & Hounds is now the toast of landlords everywhere – as its just been crowned the best pub in Wales. The quaint pub in Aberthin, Vale of Glamorgan, has been a staple of the community for centuries – and in recent times they’ve also become renowned for their gourmet food – which saw them secure a Bib Gourmand from the Michelin Guide.

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Simon Vickers of The Griffin in Dale receiving his award for The Pub Chef of the Year 2021

Sarah Watts-Jones and her husband, Tom took over the Hare & Hounds in 2015, and later opened its sister restaurant The Heathcock, based in Cardiff, in 2018. Over lockdown, the Hare & Hounds team turned their hands to supplying the village and other locals with freshly-baked bread from a truck in their car park. As the popularity of the bread grew, so did the menu, and the pub turned to cakes and freshly-made sandwiches, and the truck turned to a pop-up shop, and eventually into a permanent fixture on North Road in Cowbridge.

And its recipe for success has not gone unnoticed as it was votedThe Wales Pub & Bar of the Year at the National Pub and Bar Awards 2021. The award organisers specifically praised their innovation over the pandemic, and stated: “Already a fantastic venue, its successful lockdown bakery projec t (now a permanent feature) played a part in sealing the deal for its win this year.”

Centuries old village pub crowned Welsh bar of the yearThe Hare and Hounds bakery, Cowbridge, which originally opened in a van as a way of helping through the coronavirus lockdown. Pictured are Gareth Crimmins, head baker, Sarah Watts- Jones, owner, and Rowan Larcher, manager. Centuries old village pub crowned Welsh bar of the yearThe Hare and Hounds bakery is located just behind Cowbridge High Street

Speaking earlier this year, co-owner Sarah said the forced closure that came with lockdown was really daunting to start with.

She said: “People got told not to go to pubs and restaurants but we didn’t get told we had to close. It was trying to decide how long we’d stay open for, what we do about our staff. “We had to sit staff down and tell them we might not have a job for them for the forseeable…we closed both our dining rooms and kept going as local pubs and Tom started doing takeaway from the Hare straight away, to use up the stock we already had. ”

“It was using the stock up as takeaways that proved to their regulars how valued the pub was in Aberthin. “It started as using the food we did have left and then it was so busy,” added the 34-year-old. “Then people were saying how lovely it was to have restaurant-quality food delivered to their house when they are not meant to go out and we had people using the service for their birthday. She added: “We’ll always do whatever we can to survive and keep our business going.

We are pubs at the heart of the community. “If we can’t help the community being somewhere to go and enjoy a drink on a friday night then we’ll bake bread and do takeaway and collections. “It’s our role in the village whatever way we can to provide some sort of pick-me-up.”

This weekend the Hare & Hounds Bakery looks to begin opening on Friday and Saturday evenings between 6pm and 9pm, where small food plates, and cheese and charcuterie will be available. The Hare & Hounds beat a shortlist of eight of the best Welsh pubs from different regions to claim the 2021 title. Additionally, The Pub Chef of the Year award (UK wide) was awarded to Simon Vickers of The Griffin in Dale, Haverfordwest.

The shortlist was as follows:

Gwent – The Anchor Inn, Tintern
South Glamorgan – Hare & Hounds
Mid Glamorgan – The Old House 1147
West Glamorgan – Britannia Inn
Dyfed – The Griffin
Powys – The Harp Inn
Gwynedd – Ty Coch Inn
Clwyd – Three Eagles