Wow. With Ludlow and Abergavenny fast approaching, foodies are fixing their compasses west. Let them also know - God, this is pointless - of the chain of great, unsung venues from Newport northwards. Tony and Ceri's magnificent gastropub The Bell in Caerleon must surely make the nationals soon, not just cozza their menu but also a stellar selection of the ascendant Welsh artisanal ciders and perries currently taking the industry by storm, and all exquisitely kept. The New Bridge in Tredynog is about to change hands - but the Llansantffraed Court Hotel is worth a gander, as is the Hardwick on the old A40, now the B4598 near Abergavenny. The first of two real stars here is The Clytha Inn, who not only make their own perry but serve unpretentiously ambitious pub meals using locally-sourced ingredients to their very best advantage. This Saturday, fried calamars had a batter that was buttery and light, the flesh pillowy, moist and tender; Carmarthen ham was admirably matured and accompanying chorizos freshly sweet-and-sour. The real triumph was a fabulous Catalan tomato bread with anchovies, possibly spiced with judicious use of mild chillis. Just as well the food is so good - it stops me spending my entire time in the Clytha wishing I could get one of the waitresses (in particular) on a slow boat to China, or to anywhere, or even in the same room. North of Abergavenny the Walnut Tree is back to spanking, star-grabbing form. Northwest there's Llanwenarth Arms; plushly posh. In the Black Mountains, the intrepid and patient will chance upon the Bull's Head at Craswall in Kilvert country, a former drover's inn and cider house. On into England the Green Man at Fownhope is to be recommended for pub lunches; the Three Crowns at Ullingswick is more resto than pub, and all the better for it. And the Stagg at Titley has managed to source some of the finest foie gras this writer has ever tasted in England. Adumbrate the festival frenzy and go to all of them, now.
PS Lough Pool in Sellack, nr Ross - best gastropub in Britain rigjht now. Visit also Hop Pocket Farm Shop, www.hoppocketwine.co.uk.