Finding a good Welsh rarebit is harder than it might sound – even in the heart of Wales. But this schoolhouse turned retro-cool cafe and cultural space has elevated the classic snack to something of an art form. Owner Roos Geraedts invests love and energy into bringing you the finest rarebit bar-none in the Brecons (perhaps the world…). This is cheese on toast with knobs on.
Why we love it…
The area of the Brecons close to Sennybridge might once have been something of a gastro wasteland, but the opening of the International Welsh Rarebit Centre in 2017 changed this in the blink of a bunny’s eye. Sometimes it takes someone from the outside to see potential, and that someone in this case just happened to be the lovely Roos Geraedts. With an original eye for design and vintage knickknacks, an interest in local history and the outdoors, and a dab hand for making first-class rarebits, she set about transforming the old schoolhouse into the kind of place that locals would be proud to call their own.
The result is a cafe-cum-cultural space that positively hops (pardon the puns, we really can’t resist…) with personality. Besides the menu full of cheesy goodness, there’s always something happening here – with exhibitions of local art in the little upstairs gallery, books by local authors and regional produce on the shelves, and regular events swinging from poetry readings and Italian feasts to live music sessions, book clubs and art groups.
It’s a hard one to sum up as the International Welsh Rarebit Centre has a look and feel that’s entirely its own. We want to say retro because of the reclaimed bare-wood tables, vintage-style leather armchairs, record player and fabulously kitsch salt-and-pepper pots. But there are also pops of modernity in the metro-tiled kitchen and the puffy cloud-like lights in the aptly named ‘Cloud Room’. The original features of the old schoolhouse have been beautifully preserved – from the painted wainscotting to the lime-washed stone walls. And there are countless little details like fresh flowers on tables. Outside there’s a courtyard garden where you can sit in summer and watch red kites wheeling overhead.
You get the sense that this place is the hub of the community. Locals (including some ex-pupils of the school) regularly pop in for a rarebit or coffee and linger for a natter, and we really don’t know how Roos ever manages to get any work – let alone cooking – done. She is passionate about sustainability, too: hence the traceability of ingredients on the menu and the heating courtesy of the wood pellet-fuelled biomass boiler, a more eco-friendly version of a log burner.
We’ve said it already and we’ll say it again – Roos is the heart and soul of the International Welsh Rarebit Centre, more or less singlehandedly running the show. Hailing from Holland originally, she has made the Brecon Beacons her adoptive home, and does everything here with love and attention to detail. She’s a mine of knowledge on the surrounding area and local creatives, too – whether you get her talking about the latest up-and-coming author of historic fiction or the Defynnog Yew, which spreads its 5000-year-old branches across the nearby churchyard.
Go on – order a rarebit! The classics and the specials are marked up on a blackboard (a nice nod to the schoolhouse connection). Looking at the menu is like falling down a rabbit hole and finding a wonderland of Welsh cheese. There’s nothing wrong with ordering the classic option, but you’ll find plenty of rarebits that deviate from the norm. We’ve pretty much tried the half-dozen rarebits on the menu and would highly recommend the likes of ‘Stout Irish’ (with Guinness providing a hoppy flavour) and ‘Spring Rarebit’ (with creamy Caerphilly, leeks, lemon zest and chives). All rarebits come with ‘rabbit food’ (code for Roos’ delicious seasonal salads whipped up with garden-grown ingredients) and homemade apple chutney.
Should you fancy a healthier option, we’d recommend the seasonal soups, such as leek and butterbean in spring, and the more warming squash, coconut and ginger in winter.
Cakes swing seasonal, too, and are prepared with garden or local ingredients, and while it might seem over-indulgent to order a slice after a fat Welsh rarebit, we heartily recommend you do. In spring, you’ll be impressed by the likes of rhubarb, orange and vanilla cake, in summer, lemon and elderberry or courgette and lime, in autumn, plum and cardamom, and in winter, spiced parsnip or beetroot and chocolate.
Before you leave, stock up on tasty local honey, jams, chutneys, apple juice and biscuits in the shop.
See Roos divulge her classic Welsh Rarebit recipe exclusively for Undiscovered Wales!
NEXT ON THE JOURNEY: From the International Welsh Rarebit Centre, it’s literally only a stone’s throw to gaze in wonder at one of Britain’s most ancient trees, the Defynnog Yew
At a glance
Welcome: 10 Always a heartfelt welcome.
Food: 10 As Welsh rarebit goes, this is as good as it gets. And we love the fact that all ingredients are either home-grown or locally sourced.
Location: 8.5 Pretty hidden in the village of Defynnog near Sennybridge, making the most of a rambling former school. Use your GPS.
Cost: Low. Welsh rarebits between £5.50 and £7.50.
Opening hours: 10am-5pm Wed-Sun
Address/telephone number: High St, Defynnog, Brecon LD3 8SL; 01874 636843