Musings (more like rambling thoughts) of a Cardiff based lawyer obsessed with food and wine
With the hot summer a distant memory (the instant someone uttered the words “hosepipe ban” I knew the end of the summer was nigh) and the brief Indian summer now coming to an end, summer salads and their ilk give way to thoughts of warm stews and other comfort foods. No doubt we will have a standard dark, dank and damp autumn (and by some, probably very dubious, accounts there is the possibility of a second hard winter on tbe bounce) to look forward to and this season and the next bring to my mind the value of a good pie – the ultimate comfort food.
Who doesn’t like a proper pie and by that I don’t mean a casserole with a pastry lid (otherwise a proper biryani with its pastry lid would be a pie, which it clearly isn’t) or a quiche (those are most certainly not pies)? A proper pie is something fully encased in pastry (top, bottom and sides as per the British Pie Awards definition).
There is something deeply satisfying and comforting about tender chunks of meat (sorry veggies – has to be a meat pie for me) bathing in a sauce/gravy fully encased in pastry. They are an ideal antidote to the Autumn blues, as I return to a vampiric work routine of leaving the house for work whilst it is still dark and not leaving work until well after dark has descended.
With pies on my mind, I noted (whilst on one of my “get me out of the office” lunch time walks) that the Cambrian Tap’s (on the corner of Caroline Street and St. Mary Street in Cardiff city centre) food offering extends past the bar snack level (pork pies, scotch eggs) to include a selection of decent sounding pies with (that archetypal side for a pie) mash, as well as peas and gravy. Have been doing them for ages it seems, but I haven’t noticed (me being an eagle eyed lawyer 🙄).
This resulted in the usual chaps from work and I paying it a visit
I have been in Cardiff long enough to remember the previous incarnations of this place, including way back in the late 80s/early 90s when it was just the Cambrian (possibly Hotel, if my memory serves me right – very unlikely).
Back in those days, there was a big Tesco – the only one at the time then in Cardiff I recall- in the centre of town (funny how they then all move out of town and now have all moved back in) which closed at 5.30pm – 6.00pm. On many an evening, at last orders (11pm for the younguns), you would see little old ladies with their bags of Tesco shopping necking back their Mackesons stout (having been in there all night after doing the weekly shop and very much pie-eye at that point of the night).
It is now a hell of a lot more refined that it was back in those day, when it was a bit ” The Docker’s Fist – pint of blood and teeth please, barman”, but still retains its proper boozer look.
The menu with details of the pies on offer is fairly short (as against the likes of Pieminister, who seem to have turned to the dark side with their bottomless pie brunch – pie and a prosecco, eeew no thanks – and a Sunday roast, which does not compute as a pie is baked not roasted and seems intended to put diners into a carbohydrate coma!!!!), but covers the needs of carnivores and veggies (a lone veggie pie only though) at an all in price (with mash, peas and gravy) of a very reasonable sounding £7 (undercutting Pieminister’s “pie, with one side and gravy” offer by 50p)
They have eschewed Pieminister’s play on words menu items and gone old school “say it as it is”, in terms of what is on offer.
I, keeping to the old school theme, went for a steak and ale pie (with the ale being Brains’ Reverend James)
The pie itself had a nice pastry to it – quite short and crisp, with no soggy bottom – and it was pleasing to see it was a proper pie (with the filling totally encased) rather than one of the puff pastry topped casseroles that masquerade as pies.
The filling in the steak pie (ordered by two of us) lived up to the promise of the pastry, with plentiful chunks of tender meat and a pleasingly rich meaty and thick gravy.
The same could not be said about the chicken, leek and bacon number though. This had minimal bacon and leek and a rather gloopy, distinctly lacking in parsley, parsley sauce.
In terms of what came with the pies (mash, peas and gravy), the mash was ok (not lumpy and properly seasoned), but it had that “cooked well in advance, then warmed up in the microwave” texture to it and could have been a touch hotter. The peas were just that (not a patch on Pieminister’s minted mushy peas) and were definitely warmed up in the microwave.
The gravy, which came in a separate receptical was a bit watery at the top but sludgy at the bottom, with a distinct Bisto flavour to it. Needed a bloody good stir.
For the price – not bad, without really wowing. Decent enough, though, if you are looking for something filling to soak my the booze and at least they have stuck to tradition with their pie offering rather than the increasingly whacky (brunch, Sunday Roast that most certainly isn’t a roast) stuff that Pieminister seem to be coming up with. Pie and a prosecco or quiche and a cocktail (as opposed to a pie and a pint) just doesn’t cut it for old foggie like me.
I think it is fair to say this place’s raison d’etre is to serve booze rather than being a food pub and as such the pies and other stuff on offer are there in reality to soak up the booze.
Whilst I am not a “hophead” and know very little about beer, the offering here looks pretty good with a mix of local stuff and stuff from further afield. Lots of interesting styles to try.
I was drawn to the rather curious sounding “The Wild Beer Co., Millionaire”, a chocolate and caramel milk stout which was on draft.
Not perhaps the ideal pairing for the steak pie (more suitable for something with a bit of spice and heat to it – as the saying goes “sweet goes with heat” or as a pairing for a dessert I would say), but I quite enjoyed it.
Rather pleasing malty, dark chocolate and caramel notes, with the sweetness tempered by a distinctly salty twang as it lingered on the palate. Couldn’t drink much of this stuff, but the small quantity I had of it was very pleasant.
The Cambrian Tap is without doubt a boozer that does a bit of grub on the side to soak up the alcohol. As such the food offering is very much secondary to the booze.
You go there for the beer and if you are hungry there are filling pies on offer. No razzamataz here, just your basic “pie and a pint”. Nothing wrong with that at all, so long as it is done properly.
My pie was quite pleasant (a lot better than I expected if I am honest) and filled me up nicely. The sides, on the other hand, were a bit wanting and it is in that department that it is beaten hands down by Pieminister (albeit in exchange for a heftier price).
Would I go back? If I was out on a bit of a session (increasingly rarely these days, with my ability to drink even moderate amounts of beer diminishing at an alarming rate as I get older) and got the munchies then this would certainly be an option. Not sure would go back on the strength of the pie offering alone, but add the beers they have available and you have a reason to return.
Nice to see it (along with a growing number of Cardiff pubs) this place is dog friendly.
Address: 51 St. Mary Street, Cardiff, CF10 1AD
Tel: 02920 644952
Email: cambriantap@sabrain com
Website: click here.
Opening hours: Sun – Thurs: 12.00 – 23.00, Fri- Sat: 11.00 – 00.00