The Captain’s Wife is one of the Vintage Inns pub chain, yet another brand owned by the mighty Mitchells and Butlers, along with – amongst others – Miller and Carter, Browns, Harvester and Toby Carvery. I’m not generally a great lover of chain pubs, but as chains go, Vintage Inns are amongst the better ones. Saying that, although I’d eaten at the Captain’s Wife a few times, it was more due to its location (overlooking the coast between Penarth and Sully, and a nice bike ride from home in Penarth) rather than because it offered great food. Its standard menu features all the pub classics – burgers, steaks, fish and chips, grills and the uber-70s, pub grub-tastic ‘Hunter’s Chicken’ – all of which are done pretty well, and I’d say the food is superior to, say, a Harvester, and it’s certainly less obviously a chain than a lot of the other M&B brands. But this weekend, we actually went there for the food!
Let me explain. A few months ago, we arranged to meet up with friends near Bristol for Sunday lunch, and another pub in the Vintage Inns chain turned out to be the most convenient in terms of location. In addition to the standard menu, on a Sunday the pub offered a selection of roasts, including a very tempting-sounding ‘sharing rib of beef’, which Mr W and I opted for. It was so good that we decided to seek it out again closer to home, which is where the Captain’s Wife came in!
Our meal got off to a bit of a false start, as a sharing platter of different roasts was proudly presented at our table, rather than the requested rib of beef. I had a sinking feeling when this happened, as I’d heard someone coming out of the kitchen saying “only two beef left” shortly beforehand, so I thought we might miss out, but eventually the mistake was rectified (albeit without much apology for the mix up and resulting wait – which we were told would be ‘a few minutes’ but was actually nearer to 20).
The sharing rib of beef is slow cooked, and topped with a horseradish and mustard crust. The crust was tasty, and had obviously helped to keep the beef moist in the cooking, but it probably would have been just as good without the crust, and for anyone who doesn’t like the strong flavours, it can easily be removed without having tainted the meat. The rib came on a platter, surrounded by roasted parsnips and potatoes (11 large roast potatoes between two of us, which was a little excessive!) and two Yorkshire puddings, and was served with a dish of baby carrots and curly kale and a jug of gravy. We added sides of cauliflower cheese and red cabbage for £2.50 each.
The beef itself was excellent – falling apart and just as good as the rib we’d shared at the Bristol pub. The potatoes and parsnips were similarly good – it’s hard for any mass catering venue to do roast potatoes as well as they can be done at home, but these made a pretty good effort. Unfortunately, the Yorkshire puddings had been overcooked and were dried out around the outside. Despite our best efforts to drown them in gravy, only the middle was edible. The carrots were tasty, but I’d have preferred the black tops to have been removed, and the kale was the big disappointment of the meal: watery and tasteless.
The sides of cauliflower cheese and red cabbage were both excellent, but the cauliflower in particular was an incredibly stingy portion: two medium sized florets languishing in a large bowl. Had it been served in a smaller receptacle, it might not have seemed so mean!
The rich gravy really topped off the meal, and on the whole, despite the abovementioned gripes, it was a pretty good pub roast (although not quite as good as the one we’d had previously) – and very good value at £22.95 for two people.
It would appear that Finbarr Saunders works for Vintage Inns, because for pudding, we shared the unnecessarily named Sticky Dickie (I’m unsure as to whether this is designed to amuse/embarrass people ordering it, but I’d prefer it to be called something else). This was across between a sticky toffee pudding and a spotted dick: a sticky, sweet fruit sponge, with a hint of cinnamon, topped with a sticky toffee sauce. The menu prescribes it with whipped cream, but we switched that for a jug of custard. The pudding was surprisingly good, and hadn’t suffered at all from being mass produced (all we seemed to see coming out of the kitchen as we waited for our food was puddings!)
As country-style pubs go, the Captain’s Wife has a good atmosphere, with low ceilings and cosy corners – although on a Sunday it felt quite hectic and had much more of a restaurant than a pub feel. Staff varied in their approach – some were cheerful and attentive, others fairly apathetic, and the mix up with our initial order wasn’t met with many apologies. I wouldn’t rush back there for the standard menu, but on the whole, though, for a no-fuss, reasonably priced Sunday lunch, you could do an awful lot worse than the rib of beef.
Food: *** Service: ** Atmosphere: ***
The Captain’s Wife, Beach Rd, Sully, Penarth CF64 5UG