I won’t profess to be an expert on many subjects but I think I’ve a pretty good idea of what makes a decent pub. It’s a conversation I shared last week with some pals over a few pints.

By the end of it we still hadn’t come to a definite conclusion, although I think I’m now closer to answering this question than ever. Until my mid-twenties I was never bothered by this thought, more concerned with keeping up with my mates as I gawped at how quickly they’d down pints in bars I’m convinced no-one really wanted to be in and where I couldn’t hear myself think.

I’m still doing this too often. Most weekends I find myself stumbling home from a rowdy Cardiff city centre wondering whether it was all worth it, only to do it all again seven days later. I recently listened to a podcast where an undoubted expert in this field said nothing resembles the taste of the first beer, after which it’s all downhill - trying and failing to replicate the same feeling. Call me simple but this might have been one of the most enlightening things I’ve ever heard.

With that and the size of my gut in mind, I’ve decided I should cut down on my beer intake. I’m going to start using my weekly pub lives on more subtle occasions which might leave me feeling more fulfilled, or at the very least won’t result in me getting home feeling bloody awful.

Th Crown at Pantygelli
The pub is walking distance to Abergavenny's three peaks
The Crown in Pantygelli
The Crown bears impressively rustic wooden beams and jagged stone walls

I’ve decided I’ve spent my first three decades taking the old-fashioned British pub for granted, and I’m going to start putting that right - and the more rural the better. I found myself in Monmouthshire on a warm afternoon off this week embarking on my new healthier unhealthy mission in search of something somewhere between rammed and dead.

I pulled in at The Crown at Pantygelli on the Old Hereford Road just north of Abergavenny - a place I’m often trying to find an excuse to get to and which won best place to live in the country in The Times best places to live guide last month. A three-storey old coaching inn dating back several centuries, the open-plan interior at The Crown bears impressively rustic wooden beams and jagged stone walls. It’s weathered but classy.

The Crown in Pantygelli
It's lightly busy on a weekday afternoon
The Crown in Pantygelli
There is a good selection of beers available on draught

The pub is situated between the Sugarloaf and Skirrid peaks and it's certainly an idyllic spot. On the website it states: "Nick and Amy welcome you to their beautiful pub, which is set at the gateway to the mountains in the hamlet of Pantygelli." It says they cater for "both the modern traveller and local populace whilst still retaining the charm and hospitality of a bygone age. The Crown at Pantygelli can be found on the Old Hereford Road, about 2 miles beyond Abergavenny."

Nick and Amy say they serve traditional pub dishes alongside "beautifully crafted, innovative options". "Wherever possible, we insist on using local Welsh produce, including Welsh Black Beef, Welsh Lamb, Free Range Chicken & Pork. We strive to support local businesses wherever we can."

They say they also serve the best in cask ales and have a relationship with Wye Valley Brewery.

Nearby Abergavenny was one of seven places in Wales listed in the Times' best places to live guide. The popular market town, which is now considered one of Wales' best food and drink hubs, climbed from number two on the 2023 list to hit the top spot in 2024. The judges were most impressed with the people of the town as much as the location, saying, "Few locations in the UK are as friendly, practical and picturesque as this friendly market town on the edge of the Bannau Brycheiniog National Park.

"There has been a market here since the 13th century and food remains a strong point, with the Abergavenny Food Festival celebrating its 25th anniversary last year. Community spirit is off the charts and there’s a strong and varied sporting scene."

At The Crown at Pantygelli, it’s lightly busy with most punters on the tables outside. In one corner is the small bar where an old chap is sitting with a pint of Butty Bach chatting over a quiet selection of Sam Fender hits. He’s talking to the bar worker, who is decades his junior, about what he’s planting in his garden.

There’s no TV, darts board or pool table, but there is a shelf of books including Camra’s Good Beer Guide 2019 and a guide to the best local walks. Abergavenny’s three peaks - the Sugar Loaf, the Skirrid and the Blorenge - are all within walking distance.

The Crown in Pantygelli
The Crown is particularly popular with ramblers and is in close proximity to walking routes
The Crown in Pantygelli
The lunch menu at The Crown at Pantygelli

You might have deciphered from this that I’m a boring sod who doesn’t approve of pubs offering anything beyond a bag of nuts or pork scratchings. Oh how wrong you are. I came here for some grub - rather a lot of it - and I don’t mind a traditional pub having a modern twist.

I started with seven divinely crispy yet delicate spinach and mozzarella arancini balls accompanied by a basil and garlic tomato relish. I could have had 77, and had I not been beside a table of posh retirees I might have picked the bowl of relish up and poured it down my throat.

The Crown in Pantygelli
Arancini balls with a basil, garlic and tomato relish
The Crown in Pantygelli
Lamb, feta, tzatziki, tomato and salad on ciabatta with sweet potato fries

The very nice waitress had read the specials on offer from the blackboard. By the time she’d reached the end I felt it uncourteous not to go for one of them, so I went for the one I could remember, which was the last she said: lamb, feta, tzatziki, tomato and salad on ciabatta with sweet potato fries. My only complaint was there wasn’t more of the coleslaw, which tasted moreishly bad for me. I think you can tell a lot about a pub by the quality of its coleslaw.

The Crown in Pantygelli
Lamb, feta, tzatziki, tomato and salad on ciabatta
The Crown in Pantygelli
Sticky toffee pudding with ice cream

I’m on a long run of ordering a sticky toffee pudding every time I’m out for food, and I had no intention of ending this glorious streak. It came with a dollop of vanilla ice cream and half a strawberry. Hearty, fluffy, rich, and possibly my best decision of the day.

I was convinced the waitress had made a mistake when she told me the whole thing had come to just under £30. I left feeling more rotund than I went in, still wondering how I’m going to manage to get the gut down, but very satisfied indeed.