A few weeks ago, I asked on Twitter for recommendations of nice pubs for a Sunday lunch in and around the Cardiff and Vale area. I was inundated with interesting-sounding suggestions, and soon came up with a fairly extensive list of places I wanted to try. Over the coming weeks and months, I’m intending to visit and review as many of them as possible, in the search of finding the perfect venue for a relaxing Sunday pub lunch!
First on the list to try was the Old Cottage in Lisvane. Although the website and pub signage doesn’t say so, I deduced that it is part of a chain, as when I had a look before our visit, I realised that the menu was the same as the one we’d sampled at The Merlin in Alderly Edge a few months ago, which in turn shares a menu with a venue in my old home town of Bournemouth. I’m not normally a big fan of chain pub or restaurant food and its homogenized nature, but we’d really enjoyed our meal at The Merlin, so in this case it was actually a plus point.
Happily, there doesn’t seem to be anything homogenous about the styling or location of the pubs in this nameless chain, with the Old Cottage, on the outside at least, being a very traditional style country pub, bordering on being out in the sticks on the outskirts of Lisvane (we certainly needed our satnav to find it). We had a drink outside when we arrived – it was a nice day, despite being early March, and with coats on it was quite pleasant. Unfortunately, though, all the tables were in close-knit groups of four – and every group had a family with young children on it, so we soon moved back inside after the noise and general running around became too much for our relaxing Sunday read of the papers!
Diners can sit in the bar or restaurant and choose from the same menu. The bar was a little bit cramped – particularly the actual service area, where we waited quite a long time to get a drink, due in part to the barman seeming to be less than on the ball. We had to move out of people’s way on numerous occasions whilst we waited, as the bar queuing area was also the main thoroughfare between the bar and restaurant. Happily, the restaurant itself was more spacious (although not huge in terms of number of covers), and had a light and airy feel, with light wood decor, which was pleasant although fairly contemporary and perhaps not in keeping with the traditional exterior of the pub, but we were pleased with our decision to eat there, rather than in the bar. An open kitchen added to the sense of space. What we were not so pleased about, however, was that we ended up sitting right next to the entrance to the disabled toilet, the cubicle of which literally opened straight out into the restaurant. Luckily, we weren’t subjected to any ‘toilet smells’ during our meal, but this could easily have been a by-product of the unfortunate location of the toilet, and had we noticed this when we sat down, we definitely would have asked to sit somewhere else. We also felt a little uncomfortable and as if we were causing a bit of an obstruction when a disabled customer was attempting to manoeuvre into the toilet – and we could tell that they probably felt equally uncomfortable about having to use facilities that were so close to someone’s table. All in all, a massive design flaw in the restaurant layout.
Moving (thankfully) away from toilet matters and on to the more important business of the food, the a la carte menu featured a range of pizza, pasta and salad options (many of which were available in starter or main course sized portions), plus more ‘traditional’ pub fare, and there were some additional starters and a variety of roasts (or “roast’s” as it erroneously stated, to my horror!) available on the specials menu.
We’d already seen some tempting and generous-looking puddings being delivered to other tables, so we skipped a starter in favour of ‘leaving some room’ for afterwards. I decided to have salmon and caper fishcakes (main course portion!), which were served with poached egg and hollandaise and wilted spinach. I had a hankering for chips, so ordered a portion of those on the side, which when the dish arrived I was pleased about, as despite the meal consisting of two generously-sized fishcakes, the amount of spinach was frankly stingy and it definitely needed something more with it. As it turned out, though, chips were not the right ‘something’ – the fishcakes were incredibly potato-y, and I was soon approaching potato overload! I also felt that just one poached egg was a bit mean – presumably the starter portion would have just been one fish cake, but still with one poached egg on top, although I dread to think how small the portion of spinach would have been had it been halved for the starter portion! The flavour of the fishcakes was good, with chunky pieces of salmon and plentiful capers, but even without the chips (which, admittedly, were good chips!), they just had too much potato for my liking, and the proportions of the different elements of the dish were all wrong, so I wouldn’t choose it again.
Mr W enjoyed his main course more – a burger, which came with all the trimmings (cheese, onion, pickle etc.) He could have added bacon, chorizo or mushroom, or opted for a black and blue burger (with mushrooms and blue cheese) but decided to go for the ‘classic’, which was a good choice. The bun was fresh and a little bit crusty on the outside (in a good way!) and the burger itself was juicy and tasty. It all looked fairly rustic, and didn’t seem at all like a mass-produced or over-processed burger.
I was so full after my potato-y main that I struggled with the idea of a pudding, but in the end we decided to share an apple and blackcurrant crumble. The fruit filling was extremely sharp and tart – this was only just about okay for me, as I’d have liked something a bit sweeter. Custard was plentiful, but also not really sweet enough – especially given the sharpness of the fruit – and it was a little bit on the runny side. The crumble topping, however, was crisp and delicious, and was the right amount to balance the filling and the runny custard, so on the whole it was not a bad pudding.
We were served by a few different people in the restaurant, all of whom were very friendly and efficient, much more so than our experience in the bar beforehand.
We had a pleasant lunch at the Old Cottage, but I wouldn’t rush back there, other than perhaps for a drink in the sunshine on a summer’s day. The food was nice enough (although I think I made a bad choice), the service too, but the crowding in the bar and outdoors, and the toilet ‘issue’ in the restaurant let it down – hence just two stars for ambience, despite the pleasant countryside location. The quest for the perfect pub experience continues – watch this space!
Food: *** Service: *** Ambience: **
The Old Cottage, Cherry Orchard Road Lisvane, Cardiff, South Glamorgan CF14 0UE