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Pie, mash and beer; FOOD REVIEW These three winter warmers were on offer at the Brecon Tap, Ciaran Jones discovers.

ANNERS, my much-missed Grandad always used to tell me, maketh the man.

MThey also, as plenty of other equally wise people will tell you, cost nothing.

And, to complete a triumvirate of aphorisms in as many sentences, it really is true that you don't get a second chance to make a first impression.

I don't know if it was the fact I had a child with me, the fact I had an ugly face, or the fact I had asked an apparently stupid question ("Can I have a menu please?") that irked the barman in the Brecon Tap at 4.40pm on a Wednesday afternoon but, whichever it was, it meant I got short shrift.

They weren't, I was told, serving food until 6pm - perfectly reasonable in principle, perfectly blunt in delivery.

If it hadn't been for the fact my wife was "looking forward to pie and mash" I'd have ditched the whole thing then and there - it might seem petty but when I get an unfriendly vibe from a place (especially a place where I'll be spending money) my tendency is to go somewhere that might actually value my business.

Nevertheless we retreated to a nearby coffee shop for an hour and then returned just before 6pm.

Menu finally in hand, we made ourselves comfy towards the back of the long and narrow bar that has much more of a coffee shop feel than a pub style - mismatched comfy chairs, hanging wall art in the overflow area at the back, and low tables with sofas that could tempt me to sit all day.

Despite the wide range of craft ales on offer it's not a pure pub in any sense of the word and could as easily be somewhere for a date, a restorative drink and quick snack, or chance to chill out with a book.

When we visited it was busy for a Wednesday night with everyone from colleagues sharing post-work pints to mates catching up, late afternoon dog walkers with their pets, and parents on half-term outings with the kids.

At 6pm on the dot people were at the bar ready to order the pies which are the staple of the Brecon Tap's menu - and I wasn't far behind.

Before the pastry, though, I began with a starter of pan-fried chorizo in a red wine jus (PS4.95) accompanied by three slices of warm French stick with the damp and slightly doughy exterior of the bake-your-own supermarket style.

The hearty and smoky chorizo had a delightful piquant afterburn while the wilted onions and peppers were a neat counterpart, though the jus was very watery and felt more like a broth by the end.

My wife was full of praise for her Italian grissini breadsticks wrapped in Parma ham and served with beetroot hummus (PS4.95).

While visually they came across a little odd the creamy, melting meat married well with the intensity of the beetroot hummus which popped with earthy, wholesome freshness.

But it was the pies which we had really come for. On the day we visited there were six on the menu: broccoli and Perl Las; steak and ale; chicken, ham and pea; cheddar, tomato and pesto; lamb and wholegrain mustard; and beef bourguignon.

The last steak and ale went in the order before mine so we were down to five - but there didn't look a poor option among them.

Plus, at PS9.95 each and coming with two sides (from a choice of wholegrain mustard mash, saute potatoes, new potatoes, roasted winter vegetables, spicy barbecue baked beans, petit pois or mashed peas, or the intriguing "vegetable mix"), they also represented decent value.

I went for the lamb and mustard pie, with the latter very much an undertone taste and the flaking, succulent meat proving to be the star of the show.

It was a good job the meat was so tasty as the pie itself was slightly on the dry side while the accompanying gravy was fairly runny and insipid, meaning it struggled to add anything to the dense, biscuity pie crust.

I opted for the roasted winter veg - carrots, parsnips, swede, sweet potato and beetroot - and they were all well-cooked and warming but overpowered by the complete showering they'd had in rosemary.

Equally the crunchy saute potatoes were passable but simply too salty - though that was tame in comparison to the mustard mash my wife opted for, which was liberally laced with mustard seeds and made for a spicy side that would have doubtless partnered nicely with some of the beers on offer.

Her puff pastry-topped chicken, ham and pea pie was packed with rich and flavoursome meat but it was again a touch dry and something like a creamy tarragon sauce would have taken it to an even higher level.

It felt as though provenance was slightly prized above artistry in the pies and there's nothing wrong with that - especially when your meat justifies foregrounding - but then it felt a little unbalanced with going overboard on the flavouring of the sides and underplaying the gravy.

Still, with change from a tenner and at a generous portion it made for decent pub grub that would wash down nicely with a beer or two.

The dessert options were either ice cream, chocolate and pecan brownie with ice cream, or a cheese board, which felt slightly surprising given the fairly extensive range of starters, sides and even salads on offer on the main menu (they also serve sandwiches between 12pm and 3pm).

Nevertheless we each enjoyed our brownies which were gloopy and rich, a decadent sugary treat, topped with a treacly warm fudge sauce and chopped pecan nuts with a milky vanilla ice cream (approx PS4.50 - the dessert menu was only given orally, with no prices, but two brownies and a Coke came to PS11).

It's also worth saying that throughout our meal we were served by two charming and helpful staff who went out of their way for us and plenty of the patrons were also game for a chat.

Perhaps in a place evidently teeming with locals - most people seemed to be on first-name terms - a one-off visit won't get the true measure of the place. But nevertheless it's good value, restaurantstyle food in a smart and relaxed setting and a few adjustments to the sides would make it killer bang for buck.

| Brecon Tap, 6 Bulwark, Brecon, LD3 7LB. Call 01874 623888, email, or find them on Facebook Lamb pie at the Brecon Tap and, below, the chorizo starter and the chocolate brownie

With change from a tenner and at a generous portion it made for decent pub grub that would wash down nicely with a beer or two
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Nov 10, 2018
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