The Pier Hotel, the Pier and the Pebble…it’s had various incarnations (and owners) over the years, but the latest update for the Penarth seafront hotel and restaurant, which is now run by the Cioni family who also run the cliff top café, is the rather pretentiously named “Zubu Restaurant at the Pier Hotel” – at least it is according to the signage on the premises, but their website has no mention of Zubu!
Living, as we do, a stone’s throw from Penarth seafront, we like to wander down there on a sunny day and have a drink, but the area doesn’t offer a huge amount in the way of places to sit in the sunshine and have a drink (Romeo’s by the Sea – subject of a forthcoming review and The Fig Tree are both more restaurant-y than bar-y) so we’ve ended up at the Pier Hotel quite a few times recently, and a couple of times we’ve decided to eat there as well. As it turns out, this is at least one time too many, and we should have learned our lesson the first time.
The food menu is fairly extensive: a selection of sandwiches, some ‘traditional’ mains including burgers and fish and chips, salads, pasta and pizzas. On our first visit, we decided to have pizzas. I chose a ham and pineapple pizza, and decided to ask for extra mushrooms. The pizza, if I recall correctly, was around £9, with the extra topping attracting an extra charge of £1.25. The pizza itself was edible although nothing special, but my overriding impression was of an extremely stingy amount of toppings – particularly the ‘extra’ mushroom, which would have struggled to even add up to one whole mushroom if you’d tried to put the pieces back together, and a ‘handful’ of rocket leaves (assuming you have very small hands). We did eat our pizzas as it wasn’t a major problem, but when we saw someone that we assumed was the owner/manager floating around, decided to have a chat with him and mention the stinginess of the pizza toppings. We positioned it that we were happy with the food and loved the location and the drinks (they do make a nice mojito although the white wine is never cold enough!) but that we had been left with the impression that the chef had been briefed to skimp on ingredients wherever possible. He seemed completely uninterested in our feedback and although he listened, once we’d finished talking he had nothing to say. I felt that even if he did think we were idiots who didn’t know what we were talking about (his body language and reaction certainly suggested that he did!) then he could at least have tried to say the right thing and say that he’d feed it back to the chef, particularly as we’d said that we lived locally and were – or would like to be – regular visitors as it’s such a lovely spot. His reaction just left us thinking that he really didn’t care.
Fast forward a few weeks, and once again we spent a sunny afternoon sitting on the patio area outside The Pier. Slightly against my better judgment after the previous time, we decided to try something else off the menu and give them another chance to redeem themselves. The choice this time was a tuna nicoise salad for both of us. Sadly, this was even more disappointing (and much less edible) than the pizza. Limp iceberg lettuce was accompanied by a couple of other token leaves (at least it was on Mr W’s plate, I had to make do with the iceberg!), plus eggs with grey yolks that had obviously been hanging around a while, a tasteless dressing, and – worst of all – tuna that had been cooked to within an inch of its life so it was grey, dry and almost impossible to eat without about a gallon of water to wash it down. It also had a strange sort of coating/residue around the outside of the steak, which was downright unpleasant, Again, the dish was close to £10, and again we felt as if the main objective had been to use the cheapest ingredients possible. We called our waiter over (again!) who, to be fair to him, was very apologetic and offered us our money back, which we decided to accept as we’d barely eaten a mouthful each of the tuna and decided we’d be better off going elsewhere than trying something else off the menu.
Another issue that I have had with the place since before I even ate there is that you have to go and order food and drinks at the bar, and you also can’t set up a tab, so you have to pay for each round of drinks and for each course of food at the time that you order it, which is frustrating as you could end up spending half of the time you’re there queuing at the bar. Predictably, then, I had to go inside to get my money refunded. The waiter had already been inside, presumably to check with the manager, before asking me to go in with him to do a refund back onto the credit card I’d paid with. Sure enough, our manager friend was there, and made it his mission to studiously ignore me, despite my explaining – again, this time within the manager’s earshot – to the waiter that I’d been very happy with the service, but that the food was disappointing, especially as we’d already had a disappointing meal there but decided to give them the benefit of the doubt and try one more time. I’m now pretty much certain that he just doesn’t care about customers’ perceptions of the food and is happy to just trade off his location and the fact that there’s not really anywhere else on the seafront to have a drink. With Michelin-starred chef James Sommerin planning to open a restaurant on the esplanade soon, and the standard of food in Penarth in general getting better and better, I think he’s going to need to up his game – particularly in the winter when nothing other than decent food will encourage people to visit.
As it happened, as we left, some diners at the next table to us – who were also local residents – stopped us to say they completely agreed with what we’d said, and that they wouldn’t be going back there either!
It’s a real shame that the food isn’t better. The waiting staff have all been friendly and helpful on our visits (they would get more than two stars, but the manager’s attitude, which would barely get him one star, has dragged them down), and it’s a lovely location to sit and have a drink. Sadly, we won’t be going back.
Food: * Service: ** Ambience: ****
Zubu Restaurant at the Pier Hotel, The Esplanade, Penarth, Vale of Glamorgan CF64 3AU