A couple of weeks ago, we decided we fancied a traditional Sunday lunch. Now, Mr W makes the best Sunday lunch in the world (no exaggeration!) but doesn’t always want to spend his Sunday slaving away in the kitchen, and I don’t want him to either as I like to actually see him on a Sunday! So, we had a think about where we might be able to find something that could be a contender for the second best Sunday lunch in the world. Mr W had been to the Blue Anchor in Aberthaw a good few years ago and remembered it did quite a good traditional pub meal – it’s also won a number of awards and accolades for pub food – so we booked a table and headed over there.
The pub area of the Blue Anchor is a nice place for a drink – low ceilings, cosy corners and real ales. I was amazed when we went upstairs to discover that they also have a pretty large restaurant section. I was even more amazed, though (and not in a good way!) by the vast number of covers they’d managed to squeeze in to the area. With more low ceilings and dark coloured furnishings, the place felt very oppressive and cramped. Mr W’s chair was in front of an exit door (far be it from me to cast aspersions regarding fire regulations but I’d be surprised if this would have stood up to an inspection!) and our table was so close to the next one that when people passed between the two (which they regularly did due to there not being many clear routes through the restaurant) we had to move glasses away from the edge of the table, otherwise they’d have been knocked over. We did ask if we could move to a table that we’d spotted in the corner that looked a bit more spacious, but were told we couldn’t, as it was needed for a group of three. Oddly, half an hour later, two people came in and were shown to that table. This was even more odd because we’d been seated at 2.30, which we were told was the latest we could eat, but they didn’t arrive until 3. We weren’t the only people unhappy with our table, as the people behind us (one of whom was also obstructing the door) also asked if there was anywhere they could move to.
Spatial complaints aside, we were there for the food, so decided to try and make the best of a bad seating situation. I started with a selection of charcuterie. This was fine, but was essentially just some cold meats put on a plate with a bit of salad and a grilled tomato. The grilled tomato was a bit of an odd accompaniment – I’d have preferred some chutney or pickles, and the dish definitely needed some bread with it.
Happily, Mr W’s starter choice of tomato soup came with a gigantic bread roll, so there was more than enough for us to share. The tomato soup was tasty enough, but not as thick or creamy as we’d hoped and it could have done with a richer flavour and more seasoning.
For our main courses, we both chose roasts. I went for beef, which was served with an enormous Yorkshire pudding, gravy and vegetables. Mr W opted for lamb, which came with stuffing. Horseradish and mint sauce were already on the table when we sat down – handy, but I couldn’t help wondering how long they’d been there, and it rather gave the impression that the table hadn’t been properly cleared after a previous sitting.
My beef was on the well done side, but was still tender and very tasty. The Yorkshire pudding was excellent, as was the gravy, and the vegetable accompaniments were decent and not overcooked. The mashed swede was particularly good. Mr W’s lamb was tasty, and he enjoyed the stuffing too. The size of the table, however, did present us with a bit of a logistical nightmare as we tried to juggle two dishes of potatoes and vegetables, plus sauces and drinks, alongside our main meals.
Surprisingly, for a pub menu, the final courses were probably our highlight. Mr W chose cheese and biscuits. There was a selection of three cheeses, all of them quite unusual (not just your standard cheddar, brie and stilton) and a good selection of biscuits, plus some chutney (which I could have done with on my starter!) A celery accompaniment looked dreadful but was actually crunchier than it appeared.
Had I not seen portions of it going past, I’d have probably chosen the sticky toffee pudding, but it seemed to be slices of a spongy looking cake which I would put serious money on having recently seen the inside of a microwave. A couple of other pudding choices seemed similarly risky, so I opted for an apricot and frangipane tart. This was really good: the pastry was crisp, the filling light and tasty, and a small serving of clotted cream was the perfect accompaniment.
Service wise, most of the people who served us were reasonably friendly and helpful, but suffered from a complete lack of organisation and co-ordination. None of them had their own tables to look after and no one seemed to be keeping track of who’d been served what – a case in point was when one waitress came over and asked us whether we’d had our starters or not (we had)! We also struggled on more than one occasion to attract anyone’s attention: the cramped layout of the dining area meant that there wasn’t much passing traffic.
All that said, the three courses were a bargainous £15.50, so although some aspects were hit and miss, on the whole it was a pretty good meal for that price. I couldn’t help feeling, however, that I’d have happily paid a couple of pounds more for the same food but just a bit more space.
Food: *** Service: ** Ambience: **
Blue Anchor Inn, East Aberthaw, Barry, Vale of Glamorgan CF62 3DD