A “nothing burger” or that’s nothing for a burger? Slug & Lettuce, St. Mary Street, Cardiff city Centre

Being increasingly miserly as I get older, I am always on the look out for lunch time deals.

As a result the lunch menu at the new (I always thought very oddly named) Slug & Lettuce (I am sure there is a clever reason for this, but can’t think what that can be off hand) on St. Mary Street piqued my interest (not by much if I am honest as I don’t think it is really aimed at my – old and grumpy – demographic, but just enough to give it a go).

On Mondays and Tuesdays they have an offer of £8 (there are a couple of annoying supplements – my view continues to be if it ain’t at the fixed price it ain’t right for a fixed price menu) for a burger (with chips) and a drink (including a glass of house wine or an Amstel beer or an undefined soft drink).

This is as against a standard price for their burger offering (sans ones that attract a supplement on the deal) of between £9.25 for a veggie one (I assume the cheddar used is veggie friendly – think most, if not all, cheddars are, but am no expert) and £10.99 for a Southern Fried chicken one (I do think these non offer prices are quite high mind).

On top of the burger deal, there is an every week day lunchtime “until 4 pm” offer of a seemingly very reasonable £6.

On the face of it (if decent quality and that is a big “if”) both look good deals.

The usual chaps from work and I decided to give it a go (they are as cynical as me – it is this trait and curmudgeonliness, rather than wisdom, that comes with age).

Regular readers will know I am not much of a fan of the chains – quality tends to slip as they expand (even ones started as labours of love risk becoming bean counter operations) and it seems to me that a good chain (Wahaca, Honest Burger and Pho spring to mind) is the exception to the rule whereas a bad independent (there are good ones and bad ones) seems to me to be the exception.

As a result, if given the choice, I tend to (but not exclusively so) choose independents over chains (the likes of Dusty Knuckle and De Mara over Pizza Hut and Prezzo is about as much of a “no brainer” as you can get). I will not, however, dismiss a chain out of hand just because it is a chain.

The place

I have no idea what the inside of the building looked like when is was Missoula (one of the chaps described it as sticky – the floors always were apparently), but they seem to have done a pretty good job decor wise if you like (and I mean really like) floral.

To my untutored eye for style (not my forte by any stretch) it looks like someone from Laura Ashley has run amok in the place. Certainly not what I was expecting based on my infrequent visits to other Slug and Lettuce outlets.

The food

I stuck to the £8 burger menu, avoiding the “Waygu” burger (honestly I can’t see how it could possibly be anything remotely close to proper waygu when it comes with a mere £2 extra charge under the deal – which if it attracts a supplement it should’t be on in my book). More, I suspect, a case of ” Do you think it’s proper waygu? Umm, no waygu!”. Is a travesty in any event to mince proper waygu, when a lot of its appeal is based on its textural qualities.

On the pricing front, I do find it odd that the Southern Fried Chicken burger (at a non offer price of £10.99) attracted no supplement whereas the Reuben (base price £10.79) attracts a £1 supplement under this deal. How that works, maths wise, is beyond me. I don’t like supplements on fixed price offers at the best of times and when the maths doesn’t add up, well!

Also I don’t get why the Reuben burger is called a “Reuben” when it has no salt beef, saurkraut or Russian dressing in it? Is it made by someone called “Reuben”?

Moans as to the burger menu out the way, I like a relatively simple burger and on this basis ordered the “Bacon & Cheese Beef Burger” (the cheapest of the meat based burgers outside of the offer at £10.29).

This came (seemed a bit OTT to add a tooth pick to hold it together – it was hardly a stack) with chips (they could have been warmer, a bit crisper and were unseasoned – we had to ask for a salt cellar as none were on the table) and a pot of BBQ sauce (too sweet and not spicy enough for my tastes, but ok for chip dipping).

Much to my surprise, however, the burger itself wasn’t half bad.

The bun was lightly toasted and yielding (if a touch pappy) and held together for the duration, whilst inside there was a decent slice of back bacon and a nice amount of properly melted cheese (could have been a bit more gooey, if am being picky – I usually am).

The all important patty had a decent enough chargrilled, beefy, flavour to it and a loose (as opposed to ice hockey puck) texture and some gnarly caramelised bit on the exterior.

Whilst cooked medium to well (menu had no warning of less than nuked meat causing a zombie apocalypse so we assumed no “cooked to order” option), as opposed to my preferred medium rare, the patty was quite juicy and not at all dried out.

It also had a decent rendition of a Big Mac sauce (the only remotely good bit of a Big Mac in my opinion).

I actually quite enjoyed it and was genuinely surprised (expectations were quite low) at how decent an effort it was for the all in (with a drink) price.

One of my fellow dinner had the Southern Fried Chicken burger and again was pleasantly surprised by what he got.

Good size bit of fried chicken, with a bit of spice to its coating (he said a touch more spice to it would have been nice), a decent slice of bacon and melted cheese.

Oddly his chips (crisper than mine , but lukewarm and unseasoned) seemed to be thinner cut than mine (they were more fries to my chips).

The final member of our party (clearly the more virtuous of us) tried the £6 lunch menu, going for the rather blandly named “Chicken and Bacon Salad”.

Again what arrived was a pleasant surprise. Not only was it a reasonable size with plentiful chicken and bacon, there was lots of other stuff of interest (seeds, nuts peppers etc.), aside from just leaves and the meat. This all made for some nice textural contrasts. It came with a little (bit too little perhaps) bottle of dressing to self administer.

At £6 it could easily have been a sorry excuse for a salad, but the chap who had it said he (especially for the price) enjoyed it.

The drink

The chap who ordered the Southern Fried Chicken burger decided to go off piste with his drink choice and went for a bottle of Fentimans traditional lemonade.

On ordering it he was told that it wasn’t part of the offer. Fair enough he thought, but then they attempted to charge him the full (non offer) price for the burger and chips, plus the cost of the drink (in theory, making the bottle of Fenitmans nigh on £5).

On querying this it transpired that only soft drinks from the bar dispenser thingy (my words not their’s) were part of the deal so the whole lot was outside of the deal!!

This lead to the bizarre position of him having to order, so as to get the £8 deal, a standard soft drink (which he didn’t want) as well as the Fentimans.

Absolutely barmy that you can order the burger without the offer drink and be charged more than ordering it with a beer or glass of wine!!!

As this pantomime was occurring I was waiting patiently to order and pay, with an increasingly bemused look on my face. When it was my turn, I assume it couldn’t get any more bizarre. Au contraire, as I was told on ordering a coke (confirmed as part of the deal) that the all in price was £8.15 in total.

As the menu was very clear as to the £8 offer price, I asked what the 15p was for (perhaps it comes in a bag for life I thought – a novel delivery mechanism for “eat in” if so). He said, speculatively it seemed after a bit of uncertainty, that it must be the sugar tax for the coke (as it wasn’t a diet coke).

I queried this (nothing in the voluminous small print of the offer) and if the tax was extra then it should be stated expressly to be + [whatever] tax. If it doesn’t it is deemed inclusive and it didn’t, so £8 should have been the all in price (much like VAT).

In addition, even if it were the “Sugar Tax” where did the 15p come from? I had a half a pint of coke – about 280ml, considerable less (about 100ml I reckon, if take account of the copious ice added to the glass) – and 15p certainly doesn’t equating to the stated sugar tax on half a pint of coke (with it being 8p on a 330ml can of coke).

As the response to my questioning (along the lines of “Sugar Tax, my arse”) was a pretty blank look and a “Till says no” shrug of the shoulders from the chap at the bar, I decided life was too short to argue (they would have had to redo the order etc.) the toss for the sake of 15p (thinking I can always moan about it on here in any event 😁).

Seems clear to me the till wasn’t sent up properly for the offer or it had been imputed incorrectly. If that were the case then fair enough (get it sorted mind), but why make up a cock and bull story about the sugar tax rather than simply fessing up?

Oddly (bearing in mind the offer includes soft drink without elaborating ) the drinks menu doesn’t list any of the drinks actually covered in the deal. None of the mocktails or non alcohol numbers on the list are in the deal, it transpires.

I noted a low alcohol beer (Nanny State from Brewdogs) on the list and think it would be a good idea to include that in the deal.

Bar from the very poor menu direction, not much to say about the the soft drinks.

My coke was the usually flat syrupy rubbish you get from those soda carbonators in bars.

It was wet and didn’t poison me, but that was all there was to commend it

If you are looking for booze (other than the house wine or Amstel which are part of the offer – why include a pint of beer, but not a bottle of Fentimans?), there seems to be plenty of choice if you are a lover of cocktails. I am not (can’t be bothered with the wait for anything elaborate and most taste either sickly sweet or medicinal to me, if truth be told), but for those (perhaps with more refined taste buds than me) that like them there is even a Pornstar Martini tree (surely it should be a pole) for £41.95 amongst other things!!

For some reason the use here of the terms tapas for mini cocktails really irritates me. One of the tales as to the origins of tapas is that it started in Seville with a small saucer used to cover beer or sherry acting as a lid to of keep the flies out of the drink – then they thought may as well put something on the plate whilst it is there. The literal translation of tapa is “lid”.

On this basis it makes absolutely no sense at all to refer to it in terms of what the lid (tapa) would cover. Who thinks this rubbish up?

Personally think a small cocktail should be called a “docked”tail (I am clearly wasted as a lawyer 😁).

On the wine front

the list is OK (if a bit unexciting) and the Wednesday offer of £12 on selected bottles (the Saffer cabernet sauvignon, the Chilean merlot or chardonnay – all from decent producers – looks the best bets) is not actually that bad with some decent enough wines (for that price tag in a pub).

By way of example, the Saffer Kleine Zalze cabernet sauvignon on the list (and in the Wednesday £12 offer) retails at a smidgen under a tenner.

Not sure about the beers, which on draft look pretty bog standard.

Bottled one don’t look particularly exciting either in this craft beer age.

The verdict

I can’t say I went with high hopes and, it is fair to say, I was surprised at what we got for the price. I thought the food was pretty good at the price point, when you include a drink (“dish water” cola aside).

OK it ain’t going to win any awards, but for a good value “start to the week” lunch you could do a lot worse.

If you have a glass of wine or beer with your burger, you will be paying about £4 (eat in) for what is a decent enough burger and chips. That’s nothing for a burger that isn’t, to my mind, a “nothing” burger.

Compare this offer (if go down the booze route) to the price of a Big Mac and fries (which is £3.98 – £3.09 for the burger and 89p for small fries) and it starts to looks very good value indeed.

Service was a bit sketchy, as evidenced by the weird pricing in terms of the drinks and the magic 15p, but I suspect these are bedding down issues. The drinks offering looks weak to me, but it is not really my sort of place for a night out/just a drink so not marketed with the likes of me in mind.

On the food, front places like this (and particularly offers they have in place) all to often flatter to deceive, with seemingly good offers let down by poor quality. I went suspecting this place would be pretty the same, but it was rather nice to be proved wrong.

The details

Address: 84-86 St. Mary Street, Cardiff, CF10 1FATel: 02920 37 1315

Email: Bookings.S&LCardiffCentral@stonegatepubs.com

Website: Click here

Twitter: @SlufCdfCentral

Instagram: @slugcardiffcentral

Opening hours (kitchen): Mon – Sun: 10.00 – 22.00.


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