One of our favourite things to do at the weekend is go out for a leisurely Sunday lunch. When we are at my place in Bournemouth, we tend to go to one of a variety of country pubs in the area, but when we are at Mr W’s, we almost always go to La Marina.
La Marina is one of two restaurants in the old Custom House at Penarth Marina, which sits opposite Cardiff Bay and was once the home of Cardiff port officials. Penarth Marina has seen a lot of redevelopment in recent years, but the Custom House is a beautiful old building with a lot of character, and the views across to the Cardiff Bay development, including the landmark St David’s Hotel, are stunning, especially on a sunny day. The restaurants are privately owned and family run, and the owner is very often on site on a Sunday, having his own lunch there with family or friends.
Last Sunday, we went for our usual lunch, but with an extended group comprising Mr W’s parents, over for a couple of weeks’ visit from their home in the South of France, two sisters and one of his nieces, age 13. On arrival, we met in the bar downstairs for a drink. This bar is actually part of El Puerto, the downstairs restaurant, which specialises in fresh meat and game. The food here always looks good, but the restaurant itself is quite dark, and we prefer the light airiness of La Marina upstairs. We do, however, like to have a drink at the long bar downstairs, as this tends to be more sociable and also has access to the outside terrace, which is a lovely place to sit and have a drink on a sunny day. Both bars have an extensive range of wines and spirits, and an impressive list of fine wines is also available, with prices of a couple in the thousands, should you be feeling particularly flush!
Upstairs in La Marina there is another bar, which is conservatory style, so much lighter and more open, and has a small balcony, and feels more integrated with the restaurant than the bar in El Puerto. La Marina’s speciality is fish, and they have a display counter with all of the options and specialities available for you to choose from, including scallops, crawfish tails, king prawns, and a variety of other fresh fish – plus a few meat options. This, and the fact that you place your order at the counter rather than with a waiter at your table, is reminiscent of Le Monde where we ate on the Friday night (perhaps unsurprisingly as they used to be under the same ownership!). The set up could make it feel a bit pub-like, but the friendly and personal service you receive at the counter and the fact that there is proper table service, rather than just fetching and carrying, for everything else (drinks, desserts etc.) makes it feel a lot more special.
We had a round table in the window, with an opportunity to look at that lovely view. Far too few restaurants offer round tables, and when you’re with a large group, perhaps who haven’t seen each other for a while, it really makes a difference being able to talk to everyone around the table, rather than being on a long table where conversation is limited to the people you’re sitting closest to.
Despite La Marina’s reputation for fresh fish, on a Sunday, their main business seems to be in more traditional Sunday lunches, and they offer an excellent value Sunday lunch menu with a choice of starters and main courses for £13.95 per head. The menu varies a little from week to week, although certain dishes appear regularly. This really is good value compared with the prices of the usual fish dishes that they serve during the week. We all opted for this menu, and I chose chicken and pork liver pate with Cumberland sauce, followed by hot poached salmon with hollandaise. Mr W opted for gravadlax of smoked salmon followed by boiled gammon ham with parsley sauce – which said it came with new potatoes, but didn’t, although there were some in the selection of vegetables that came for the table.
Other choices amongst our group were a salmon and prawn tian starter, roast rib of beef, roast lamb and baked cod. Alternatives included fisherman’s pie, steak and mushroom pie and roast pork.
My starter is something that I’ve had on numerous occasions and it is always delicious, a fairly coarse, very tasty pate, almost the consistency of a terrine, with a sweet, tangy sauce, served with lovely fresh French bread. Mr W’s father had the same and was very pleased with his choice. Similarly, the gravadlax is always excellent and comes with a smooth dill and mustard sauce on the side.
Mine and Mr W’s main courses were also lovely. The hollandaise on my salmon was quite creamy and not as acidic as some, but with the delicate flavour of the poached salmon this was just right. A selection of vegetables on the table included carrots, savoy cabbage, broad and green beans, peas, roasted parsnips (a particular favourite of mine, which don’t really go with salmon, but I indulged myself anyway!), roast and new potatoes – the latter of which Mr W quickly nabbed as they were supposed to have been accompanying his ham! Mint sauce, horseradish and apple sauce were also available to complement the roasts.
Unfortunately, within our group, there was a bit of dissatisfaction amongst those who had ordered the beef. On ordering they had enquired as to whether it was cooked pink, and were told it was, but when it came, if anything it was well done, and was chewy and difficult to cut, even with a steak knife. We did raise this with the waiter who was very apologetic, and went to see whether a new joint, which had just come out of the oven, was any different, but unfortunately it was the same, but to be fair they were honest about this and offered an alternative instead. Two of the diners persevered, but one swapped hers for roast pork, and apparently this was very good indeed.
We got through numerous bottles of Kintu Chilean Sauvignon Blanc, which always goes down well, and is reasonably priced too. A few of the group ordered desserts (averaging around £5 each). Ordinarily, Mr W and I tend not to have a dessert, as the main course portions are quite large, and some of the pudding options look a bit mass-produced (cheesecake, chocolate torte and the like) but Mr W had a crème brulee, which was pretty good! I also tried a bit of one of his sisters’ blackcurrant cheesecake, which was surprisingly tasty, so perhaps in future I’ll think differently about the dessert choices.
One of our favourite things about La Marina is the service. As with many eateries in the Cardiff area, Mr W has been a regular for years, and now that we go in there on average a couple of times a month, we always get a warm welcome and excellent, friendly service – although I am sure that even if you didn’t know any of the staff, they would still be warm and welcoming, as they all seem happy in their work, with nothing being too much trouble (as demonstrated by the resolution of the overcooked beef situation!)
La Marina is an excellent choice for a relaxed Sunday lunch that is a significant step up from a pub meal in ambience and service, but not necessarily in price (although drinks, desserts and the like can push the price up dramatically!) The quality of the food can occasionally be hit and miss, but the other plus points more than make up for the occasional lapse.
After our meal, we retired once again to the downstairs bar for coffee and more wine. Time ran away with us, so after the rest of the family left, Mr W and I ended up staying on and having a light dinner in El Puerto – but that’s another story!
We’re off to Cirencester in the Cotswolds this weekend for a family wedding, and have some foodie activities lined up, hopefully involving local produce – and new blogs to follow next week!
Recommended, especially for Sunday lunch.
Food: *** Service: **** Ambience: *****
La Marina, The Old Custom House, Penarth Marina, Penarth CF64 1TT