It’s always exciting when there’s a new restaurant to try, but even more so when it’s somewhere close to home – so I’d been looking forward to the launch of The new Pilot (lower case ‘n’ intentional!) in Penarth ever since I first heard it was happening several months ago.
The new Pilot is the latest venture from Knife and Fork Food, whose venues include Woods Brasserie, The Old Swan and The new Conway (ditto on the ‘n’), and is an old Brains Brewery pub that’s been completely refurbished and redecorated, very much along the lines of the popular new Conway in Pontcanna.
I went along to the launch evening last week to meet the team and try some of the food, and then Mr W and I went for dinner the following week. First impressions at the launch were good – it’s been decorated beautifully, with white walls, a mix of comfy sofas and dining tables across two dining rooms, a wood burning stove, a big screen tucked away but ready to come out for rugby matches and a selection of toys, games and books adding to the décor as much as the entertainment. Food wise, things also seemed promising, with executive chef Stefan, from Sweden, who worked at Woods for a while and is now executive chef for the group and head chef Martin, from Scotland, having put a lot of thought and personal touches into developing the blackboard menu – a combination of specials and classics using fresh ingredients from local suppliers such as Fish at 85 and David Lush Butchers in Penarth. It certainly felt that this was going to be a welcome addition to the dining scene in Penarth, which until now has lacked a decent pub-type venue that serves really good food.
I was thrilled, then, when we went back for our dinner, to find the place absolutely heaving – every table was taken! It’s still early days, and I’m sure they’re enjoying the effects of the launch, but apparently they’ve been busy every night so far – which is a very good sign indeed.
I’d been fortunate to see and try some of the menu dishes already at the launch, so already had a good idea of what I wanted to try when we went along for dinner. To start, I chose a rabbit comesco, served with pickled mushrooms and a celeriac puree. This was confit rabbit, covered in breadcrumbs and deep fried, and was absolutely delicious, very meaty and tasty – literally just small, tender pieces of rabbit packed together in a golden, crispy coating. The pickled mushrooms looked beautiful with a wide selection of shapes and sizes, and the puree was a welcome taste and texture alongside the richness of the rabbit.
Mr W chose a mackerel pate, which came with a beetroot pancake. This was served as a roulade, and worked really well – the pancake a lovely alternative to the traditional toast that normally comes with a mackerel pate, and a good contrast in flavour too.
I was tempted by some of the classics, especially the fish and chips as I’ve heard repeatedly good things about the fish and chips at the new Conway, and also the fish pie – although I saw this at the launch and it was actually a ‘deconstructed’ fish pie, so not quite as classic as the blackboard might lead you to believe. In the end, I chose hake, served with curried mussels and baked Brussels sprouts (insert Jean Claude van Damme joke here for those readers whose minds work the same way as mine does). This was an excellent dish, a meaty piece of hake with a light curry sauce, juicy mussels and crisp Brussels sprouts.
Mr W went for the ox cheek, braised in Brains dark, and served simply with mash and green beans. This was excellent too – really rich, tender and tasty.
To accompany our main courses we had some of the Pilot’s excellent onion rings, sweet, chunky and crisp, and a wedge of bread, nicely presented on a board with its own knife.
The pudding selection had some equally quirky takes on traditional desserts. Mr W chose baked Alaska, which was a dense, sweet, Madeira cake, topped with blackberry sorbet and soft, fluffy meringue. The meringue had probably been blowtorched, rather than baked, and the dish bore little resemblance to the 1970s style pud, but nevertheless it was a great dessert which disappeared quickly!
I have a notoriously sweet tooth, so although I am also a huge fan of cheese and a cheeseboard at the end of a meal always looks tempting, I tend to eschew it in favour of something that panders to the pudding lover in me. The Pilot, however, had something on offer that – in my experience at least – was unique and promised to satisfy both my sweet tooth and my love of cheese: baked Perl Wen, served with sweet wine sorbet and dehydrated grapes. This was a wedge of Perl Wen cheese, just slightly warmed so that it had started to soften but not melt completely, simply served on a board with the aforementioned accompaniments and some toasted croutons. I tried some with a crouton, but in the end just ate the cheese with the sorbet, which was sweet and refreshing and a perfect complement to the cheese – even more so than a chutney or fresh fruit would have been. I’ve never experienced anything like this before, that combines a cheese course and a pudding so completely, but it was absolutely divine!
I’ve always found the Pilot’s sister venue, the new Conway, despite the food being good, to be a little bit soulless – but the Pilot seems to have more of an atmosphere and more of a cosy feel. We did find at first that the high ceilings and lack of soft furnishings made for a bit of a cacophonous venue, with so many people there enjoying themselves, but later in the evening some background music came on which seemed to soften it a lot. The location is great, with views across the Marina to Cardiff Bay – it’s just a shame that the windows are too high to be able to enjoy the views while you’re sitting down to eat (but the view when you leave is definitely worth checking out!)
The new Pilot is a new and firm favourite with me now. The service we experienced was fantastic – general manager Pavel is thrilled to be working there and is very hands on with his customers, and he and his team seem to effortlessly combine friendly service with professionalism. It’s great that we now have somewhere in Penarth to go for a relaxed Sunday lunch or evening meal with great food at reasonable prices (or even the Sunday night quiz!), and it deserves to be a huge success.
Food: **** Service: **** Ambience: ***
The new Pilot, 67 Queen’s Road Penarth, Vale of Glamorgan CF64 1DJ
I was invited to the launch event and to dine at the new Pilot as a guest and as such our food was complimentary. Thank you to Working Word PR and Knife and Fork Food for the invitation.