Our meal at The Old Swan would mark the final leg of our all-dayer in Llantwit Major. Would I still be able to taste anything? Would any of my pictures still be in focus? Do I remember what happened?! Find out…
Whilst I don’t miss the busyness, the noise, the torn bin bags, or the vulture-like seagulls dragging rotting meat down the street – there has been one drawback to living beyond Cardiff’s perimeters (even if that’s just a few minutes’ drive from Thornhill): relying on public transport.
For ourselves, it tends to mean leaving just as the party is getting into full swing at around 11pm – for our friend who lives in Llantwit Major, it’s 9:30pm (unless he opts for hotel for the night or a £50 taxi home).
We felt it was the least we could do after five years or so of always meeting up in Cardiff for us to make the journey to him – and, bonus, there was a beer festival on that weekend!
Hot day, stuffy train – let’s get a latte!
To be fair, our journey got off to a good start – our Arriva Wales train hadn’t been cancelled or delayed! This meant we were going to make our connection with time to spare – and avoid adding an extra 40 minutes to a journey already pushing two hours door to door.
“I was living dangerously.”
And the ticket price was another nice surprise – a return costs us £7.20 from Aber to Cardiff Central (22 minutes), but it was only an extra £1 to go from Cardiff Central to Llantwit Major (40+ minutes).
However, this meant I had both the time and the spare change to pick up an overpriced latte from the Upper Crust kiosk… I was living dangerously.
With stops seemingly every two minutes, there was no air flow, and I was building up a bigger sweater than my 40 minutes every-other-morning on the exercise bike – when we arrived, Mrs. B.B. had to peel me off the seat!
The Llantwit Major 150m metre pub crawl
If it wasn’t a ‘thing’ already, it is now.
Five pubs within stumbling distance of each other, occasionally no pavements, cars speeding around corners – all the basic requirements covered.
First up was the Kings Head. And if it looked tired on the outside:
…it was nothing compared to the bar man, who I’m sure fell asleep about three times on serving us – and disappeared on a further three occasions (the slow service would end up costing us a pub!).
“It needs a few signs… beyond those asking people not to fight.”
Being a Brains pub, the options were as limited as you would expect – actually, even worse (no Rev. James?!). There was one guest ale, but it looked too blonde for my taste, so opted for my first Newcastle Brown Ale since… well, my underage drinking days in the local park / bus shelter (roughly twenty years ago).
The bar and lounge are everything I would expect of an ‘old man’s pub’, but it needs some love. It also needs a few signs – two of our party nearly ended up in the cellar when looking for the WC – beyond those asking people not to fight.
I do feel for the neighbours who back onto the beer garden (and I worry for anyone who may be eating from the BBQ!).
The White Lion
Straight across the road was The White Lion.
Again, you knew what to expect from the outside:
…but at least the sign was in tact and it looked like it had received a lick of paint post-1998.
Again, not much choice on tap – Gower Rumour would become our staple for the next couple of hours.
Darker than the clip would suggest:
A few grumbles it wasn’t a gold, but as a malty fan, it was probably my favourite beer of the day – or the last one I feel confident in rating.
It was here that we picked up our pace – well, our drinking pace. Nobody was going to give up our prime spot in the beer garden or cut an inebriated conversation short.
Sorry – we missed you.
Next up was The White Hart – it had an even bigger beer garden! (well, two – front and back).
The White Hart
As with the Tudor Tavern, The White Hart is an impressive looking, traditional pub – stone walls that simply must be painted white.
A pokey looking bar, but at least they had three decent ales on tap (some may argue that fact with Sea Fury) to counter the usual choices (who actually drinks Carling?!).
Gower Gold was popular amongst the group – but I went for a pint of Paradigm Shift. Another malty bitter, but it was lighter than Rumour – dare I say, slightly citrusy.
The Old Swan
After a good few hours of solid (high percentage – Paradigm Shift weighing in at 6.2%!) drinking, we made it to our final destination – and the actual beer festival: The Old Swan.
This is where our host for the day had booked us in for our evening meal. That warrants a sub-heading of its own, but before we move on to the food, a quick mention for the festival.
It was only a small marquee / tent in the beer garden, but there was a decent selection. A bit light on the non-lights, but I found two to match my malty preferences:
Copper Ale from Severn Brewing Severn was a nice bitter that went down far too quickly – fortunately it was only 3.8%. Old Grower from Nethergate Brewery was a fruity porter, but it was heavy going six pints in on a summer’s day.
The beer garden was very busy, but I’m not sure how many people were there for the festival – I’m guessing the weather was probably the bigger draw.
A few nuggets at the Old Swan
On entering The Old Swan, it was immediately clear that “this is the posh one” amongst the five pubs.
“It’s not quite your Juno Lounge kind of pretentious, but it’s trying.”
It’s an old building (dating back to the early 12th century apparently) – stone walls, wood panels, etc. – but there’s clearly been some investment to bring it up to your local yuppy’s expectations. Minimalist in design with modern features, an uncluttered bar area, etc. It’s the type of pub the residents of Pontcanna would love – no surprise that Knife & Fork Ltd also run The Conway.
In fairness, it’s not quite your Juno Lounge kind of pretentious, but it’s trying – too trendy to provide menus. Cue everyone leaving the table en-masse to view the black board, which would have been awkward had it been any busier inside.
Mostly standard pub fare, but there was a decent number of veggie options for Mrs. B.B. in both the starters and the mains.
Service was a little slow – I don’t recall seeing our waiter after he took our orders (except when it was time to pay the bill!). However, he wasn’t fazed by our drunkenness (by this point we were a group of eight) – and it was probably wise to keep engagement with us at a minimum!
The starters didn’t sound all that interesting, which is probably why most of our party declined – including Mrs. B.B.
I was intrigued by the Cajun Popcorn Chicken – and it was spot on:
It tasted even better than it looked. The chicken was succulent, the breadcrumbs crisp and well-seasoned… The guacamole complemented nicely, and the pickled chilli added a nice sharpness vs. any heat.
I went for the Pork Loin:
As well as being a small portion, the presentation was odd – I’m not sure what cutting the loin into the three pieces added from a visual perspective. It was also a little overcooked / dry – and the fat was chewy rather than juicy and crisp.
It’s a shame because the chorizo and red pepper puree (not dissimilar to red pesto) was moreish – and I absolutely loved the crisp rosemary and black pepper potatoes. Although they weren’t quite as sexy as the chips nor the onion ring I stole from a fellow diner:
The pie of the day looked promising:
But Mrs. B.B. opted for something a little scarier looking:
The vegetarian special was aubergine with lentil and tomato compote, butternut squash puree, new potatoes and green beans. Despite its looks, it was packed with more than just lentils – primarily flavour! The veg was nicely cooked if nothing special, but the smooth butternut squash puree was a real hit – it made the dish much richer than had been expected.
We split the bill, and it worked out we paid just over £30 for two mains and a starter. Even if I was a little disappointed with the pork, that represents good value – the food is punching well above its weight.
Despite the begging/appeals/it’s-getting-embarrassing-now from the younger, more hardened drinker among us to stay for one more, we made the sensible decision to go for the 8:56pm train home – we’ve been stung by Arriva Wales too many times in the past. Surprisingly, neither of our trains were cancelled or delayed, which meant it was just the two-hour journey home – although much cooler this time! (in fact, I may have appreciated a latte).
Plus the garage was still open on the walk home, so I picked up one of these beauties: