It has been a dark few years for the pubs of Grangetown.
The Neville, on the corner of Clare and Cornwall, gave up the ghost in 2013; The Grange followed in September 2015. The estate agents were touting it as ‘offering potential for alternative uses’, and for a while it looked as if it might reopen as another convenience store, or yet more of the student flats spreading across the city like headlice through a Reception class.
The Cornwall is the last surviving traditional place in the area; it is firmly a locals’ pub where families have drunk for generations. (As an aside, it’s surprising Wetherspoon haven’t set up shop in Grangetown: a combination of low-priced food and cheap beer would surely be popular here, despite a higher than average proportion of the population being non-drinkers).
In these dark times, then, here’s The Grange, lighting a beacon for what a pub should be. It reopened just over a year ago and is almost unrecognisable from the rather shabby, unloved boozer which closed under a cloud in 2015.
After this re-package, it’s time to re-evaluate: it has been a few years since I was last in here for a Christmas morning pint. The change is dramatic, yet the place is oddly familiar; if the stripped floorboards, chalkboard menu and board games put you in mind of somewhere else, then that’s only to be expected, because The Grange comes from the people who brought you The Lansdowne. If that wasn’t enough they thought up the beautiful Milkwood, easily one of Cardiff’s best restaurants, which captivated me when I visited. Clearly, these are not people who believe that you can have too much of a good thing.
This still feels like a pub for locals- they haven’t been alienated by some appallingly wanky ‘hipster’ makeover and ‘gentrification by price point’- but it’s also somewhere you can imagine heading for, purely on its own merit. On the bar, a roster of local independent brewing: expect beers from the likes of Mumbles, Brecon or Crafty Devil- including their signature pale ale ‘Dr GrangeLove’- as well as more established favourites like Sierra Nevada’s pale ale and Wye Valley. Expect these to change frequently.The blackboard menu -no laminates here- is a roll-call of crowd-pleasers, divided into sandwiches, burgers and mains. Only the double cheeseburger and fries breaks the £10 barrier, and only by 50p. There’s not a thing I’m not tempted by. And if you don’t fancy the idea of three fried eggs with your chips for £6, or pork chop and egg (and chips), there is clearly no hope for you at all. Meat-avoiders won’t feel short-changed, either, with 3 of the 7 mains either vegetarian or vegan dishes.
My Cubano is so good I go back a few days later and have it all over again. But I digress. The GFC (£10) manages to serve a breaded chicken breast and keep it nicely tender and surprisingly juicy (no, I’m not going to use the ‘m’ word): it’s impressive. I will go to my grave a thigh man, but it’s so good I forgive them for not using my preferred cut. It’s the Colonel’s fast food staple reinvented with a light touch, and that’s something to applaud.
The scampi po’ boy, the langoustine meat lightly crumbed, is similarly impressive and well-received. The pink pickled onions pack a surprising punch: it’s the kind of thing you can see yourself ordering again and again, and ticks that ‘unexpected’ box again.
A good cubano is rarely found on menus these parts- Hang Fire stole my heart with their version years ago, and while it would be unfair to compare the work of dedicated smokehouse specialists with this effort, The Grange’s version is still a belter. A light yet sturdy roll- there’s plenty going on inside, so structural integrity is a must; a thick slice of roast pork, a layer of smoked ham, Swiss cheese. Add jalapenos and long slices of pickle, and you’ve got something very impressive. It’s a hot mess. That’s £8, again, includes fries, and very good they are too: some proper preparation and diligent cooking has gone into these batches. They have a ‘home made/chip shop meets restaurant’ feel to them; and if, for you, the pleasure of snuffling out the scraps in a portion of chips is, ultimately, your chief reason for ordering them in the first place- you’ll be in hog heaven here.
Not after a full meal, just fancy a pint and a little something to tide you over? The bar snacks menu (£4 each, three for a tenner) is your friend. The rarebit is all ooze and mustard clout; it’s warmth, rather than heat, which wraps around you and feels nicely comforting despite a scorching evening.
Their Scotch egg is a loose-textured shell of decidedly herby sausage- think Cumberland- although the yolk is set, which downgrades it from ‘excellent’ to merely ‘very, very good’.
Hot wings don’t disappoint, with heat which creeps up on you, and they’re properly sloppy and saucy. They would be even better with a last-minute dousing in scalding oil to crisp them up a little.
But this is nit-picking: this is a pub with its heart in the right place, the sort of place we need more and more of. The kind of place you can find interesting beers, and a thumpingly good meal in relaxed, unpretentious surroundings. What odds would you have given for a Grangetown pub making fresh pasta dishes for their specials menu a couple of weekends ago?
It’s definitely still a pub, rather than restaurant which happens to pull pints. It passes that particular acid test with ease: could you walk in, with no reservation, and have a pint on the way home from work? Yes: this is a pub which serves very good food, rather than a restaurant in pub’s clothing. The beer garden even has a pizza oven for sunny days.
This is not your average pub, this is not your average pub food: in less enlightened times, the doses of magic owner Cerys Furlong has splashed around Cardiff would see her tried as a witch, and her weight relative to a duck would determine her innocence or guilt. (To be on the safe side, she might want to give any passing pitchfork-wielding mobs or any Mallards or Muscovies a wide berth.) The Grange is that rare thing in Grangetown: somewhere worth seeking out for its food and drink. I’d love this place as my local: I’ll have to settle for working just around the corner. The area isn’t exactly throbbing with tempting places to eat, and I have been telling anyone who’ll listen that this place deserves investigating.
And here we hit a snag: because some might well feel that Grangetown is not for them, with dark mutterings about ‘Strangetown’ and being too far outside their comfort zone. This would be their loss, as The Grange deserves as many visitors as possible, ‘local’ or not. There are few places in the city hitting the mark as well as this place.
That’s the gamble The Grange has taken here, to play against a perception many will hold. It’s a gamble which deserves to pay off, and shows every sign of doing so.
134 Penarth Rd, Grangetown, Cardiff, CF11 6NJ
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This blog is a very simple thing.
I won’t try to sell you any hand lotion, exercise programmes, coffee syrups or Patagonian nose flutes. You won’t find tips on dating, ‘wellness’ or yoga mats.
I write because I love it (and food, as indicated by my increasing girth). Greed happens to be my Deadly Sin of choice, but at least it is never shy of providing me with subject matter.
A simple thing, then: all you get is me wittering on semi-coherently about places I’ve eaten at; hence a ‘restaurant blog’ rather than a ‘food blog’, although there are a few recipes scattered throughout.
From mezze to Michelin ‘fine dining’ and all points in between.