Sunday, 24 June 2012

The Plough

'The plough' or 'A long rant about Whitchurch' or 'half-arsed' you decide.

Whitchurch is well away on its march to become the new Pontcanna. The overpaid media wankers of that area have allowed some excellent restaurants such as Bullys, The new Conway and Fish at 85 to set up shop, and now Whitchurch has decided to replicate Pontcanna’s success. Only this time the effort is far more half arsed. That solid Whitchurch stalwart  Villagio is still doing what it does best; providing simple, cheap and excellent Italian to an appreciative and loyal customer base. The Thai upstairs is often great, the only shame being that it’s on the top floor and you can’t see in as too often we’ve visited to find ourselves the only people there, and that’s always unpleasant. The village kitchen was for a long time overpriced for a local restaurant, the cooking however being very good. They’ve seen to this with some generous offers and a decent sunday lunch which now make it a good choice for a meal out with friends. I’m pleased to see that Medittaranio is presently closed, but I can only hope for good. The old Saturday lunch offer was the only thing that made eating there worthwhile was scrapped a long time ago. Then along came the Fino lounge, greeted with great excitement by myself as I enjoyed their Bristol operations so much. But alas, like so much of Whitchurch it was again half-arsed. The menus are a delight to read but too often what arrives on your plate is a disgrace. The only real success of recent is to be found at Deli-a-go go. It’s to my shame that I don’t visit enough as the food and produce is excellent, and long may it thrive.

This all leads us to Whitchurch’s newest opening (or re-opening if you like) The Plough.  Modelled on the mega-successful re-launch of The Maltsters in Llandaff. I’ve visited the Maltsters a few times before the re-fit and found an empty miserable, moribund place. The re-fit worked perfectly for a place like Llandaff and offers good pub grub with a good pub atmosphere, a Cinderella story if you like.

Brains have rightly tried to copy its success with the Plough, but have made a very half-arsed effort of it. The Plough was a strange place in some ways. It was by far the most overpriced and expensive pub in Whitchurch. The chairs were uncomfortable, the music shit and the bogs were just that, bogs. It was however the most popular and beloved place in Whitchurch to an awful lot of people. Weekends you couldn’t move in there and the place took money hand over fist, so it would seem an odd choice for Brains to change. Granted the place needed a re-fit but a complete rebranding?  This however is a food blog and since Brains have opened a half-arsed gastro pub, then it’s about the half-arsed gastro bit that I will write, and todays Sunday lunch spurred me into action.

 We visited a few weeks ago and had a very pleasant beef Sunday  lunch, the only down side to it being the boiled spuds served in place of roasted (a very, very odd choice that only harks to a  kitchen not prepared to go the whole hog) The beef was tender and piled high, the veg plentiful. Today I went for the same thing and it came with the same boiled spuds. This time though the beef was inedible, un-cutable even. The friendly manager was apologetic and returned the dish to the kitchen, but what came back was exactly the same. I hate the obvious discomfort of complaining but it is entirely necessary to allow a place to address concerns at the time, if you intend to write the sort of shit that I do on my blog. However, one complaint should be enough, along with the fact that a plate full of beef went back to the kitchen unfinished.  

Another previous experience of eating there summed up everything I mean when I say that the new Plough is a poor half-arsed attempt at taking money from the well to do folk of Whitchurch. I ordered a starter of crab cakes, that would have been very good had it not been for a cloying, treacle like sweet chilli sauce that killed off any taste of crab, and the slate it was served on made me hate the dish before I even tasted it. We eat with our eyes first and foremost and this dish had me reaching for the fork, not to eat the dish, but to gouge the eyeballs out of my face. The main had the misses forcibly removing the fork from my hand for fear we’d soon own a guide dog. A perfectly good burger was proper pub grub, but the limp and floppy chips should never have been described as fries. The dish should have read “Burger with abomination” and just to piss me off further the food came perched on a piece of driftwood, making the whole thing an ’it’s a knockout’ style task for the poor waitress to carry.

The new Conway in Pontcanna was once a local boozer to the people of that area, and some people quite rightly felt pissed off when it was turned into a gastropub. They though got in return some exceptional cooking.  We Plough regulars haven’t been so well compensated. Serving food on slate and bits of wood doesn’t make the food innovative or exciting. It shows a place trying to draw the customer’s attention away from the fact they’re being served average food.

 The local British boozer is and always has been the absolute heart and soul of the British community, and Brains in their misguided effort to make more profit have torn part of the heart and soul from Whitchurch, and in return given us a half-arsed eatery. The bar out front was once a Bustling hot bed of banter, it’s now a banal, and boring bar for the elderly and once a month drinkers. The front of the pub where you could once see hundreds of people drinking in the sun and vying for a seat on the wall to watch the world go by has been filled with uncomfortable four seater tables  that make for insular conversation a world away from the gregarious place that once existed.

In summary, Brains have made a complete balls up of the once mighty Plough. When they threw out the old furniture they threw out the one thing that made the Plough special and that was the people that drank there. The only thing that for me personally would make up for that loss, is three Michelin starred food and not the average pub grub that the place now serves. It must be obvious to you by now that this is a very personal review as I’ve lost a treasured place in my life, but speaking objectively about the place as a restaurant I have to say that it just doesn’t come up to standard. The food doesn’t in any way deserve the prices that are charged, and were this not so personal a place I would never have written about it. My blog is intended entirely to inform the reader of places they must visit, or must avoid; the plough is neither of these. Eat here if you must but for the money I’d take the short walk to Villagio or pop into Deli-a-go go for a scotch egg.

Anyway, writing this has been for me a cathartic experience, but for anyone reading this who is looking for a place to eat in Whitchurch I offer this advice. If you want Italian then visit Villagio. If you want Indian then head straight to Kafe-la, but if you want pub grub then flag down a taxi and head to the new Conway.


  1. This is a great appraisal on the current state of Whitchurch. I haven't yet eaten at the plough but completely agree that the refit has taken the soul out of the village. Also can't understand how they can justify charging £3.65 for a pint of low grade lager.
    I'm also pleased that someone else agrees that the food in the Fino Lounge is dire, I usually get shot down in flames when I say that to people.

  2. thanks very much for the comment.i feel whitchurch deserves far better new openings than it gets. there was talk at one point of purple poppadom coming here but they went to canton instead. as for the fino lounge, i've eaten there many,many times, but only for the free newspapers. I've never had a meal served hot. the stupid sausage patty on the breakfast irritates me immensely. sausages shouldn't even be pricked, let alone completely removed from the skin. As for the burger, don't say on the menu that the burgers are served pink when what always arrives is a charcole,carbonised piece of meat tougher than diamond.

  3. On reading this blog I couldn't believe you were talking about The Plough. As a customer of this pub in the bar and seated for food, I found nothing but a warm welcome, excellent food and quality service. I read with intrest and was surprised you and your partner had such a shocking experience. It all became clear however when you openly admit to this rant being personal. You obviously decided the refurbishment was a failure before you entered. The only failure I can see is that of the blogs author. I urge anyone reading this, to experience The Plough for themselves, as the opinion of this person I once thought had credit and carried weight actually obviously cannot give unbious criticism.

  4. agreed, this blog post is incredibly biased, i can't deny that.The plough has held a very high place in my heart for a long time, and i was well aware, long before most people that the change was coming. When i visited the first time since the refurb it was with interest and not malice. Whitchurch has long lacked good pub food and as an admirer of the maltsters I expected and wanted the same. The plough was long overdue a refit and i was quite excited to see the result. The problem for me is that Brains made no effort whatsoever to satisfy its most loyal customers. the half-arsed comment is once again used for the lager on sale. The ploughs attempt to be new and fresh by doing away with carling and offering perroni or amstell is again not new or innovative but lazy. the few seats in the bar wont attract people to sit and have a good time rather send them elsewhere. I didn't make up my mind before i visited as was explained the plans on many a time and was actually quite excited. i was told that the front bar would remain the same and that the back of the pub would be turned over to selling good food. neither point was true. the front bar is nowhere near anything like the bar i new and loved, and the back part is not even serving good food. this of course is relative as my worst meal could very well be your best. but i'm sure we could both find food of the same quality in any bar in town. Also, i think my comments on service were positive. this is because i could well have been far harsher but i fully understand that the staff are all new and finding their feet and would never dream of slating them.
    in conclusion i admit this was a biased review, but also a factually correct review. the food served at the plough is at best average, at worst poor to awful.

  5. Think this is a very poor review, and very one eyed view, would advise readers to make their own opinions. Whoever writes this is as good a food critic as I am a rocket scientist........

    And I know f**k all about rockets.........

  6. cheers, i agree completely. I advise readers to have their own opinions on every place they visit. Also, this is a blog, and my own opinions,they wont crash land in someones house. please don't mess around with rockets kids. they can crash land with disastrous results.

  7. The Whitchurch dining scene is very patchy and is in need of a decent restaurant serving sensibly-priced food made from locally-sourced ingredients. The Plough is trying to do the locally-sourced bit, but I'd agree that the prices, especially the beer, are a bit cheeky. The problem is that Brains are obviously trying to pitch it against the likes of the Conway, but they haven't a hope of getting to that standard. The Brains flat-pack method can only get them so far in terms of quality. They need to accept that and set their prices accordingly.

    Your comments about the "old" Plough are interesting. I've been drinking there for over 20 years, and although it was (and still is) my favourite pub in the village, that's hardly saying much when the competition consists of the terrible Royal Oak, the frankly frightening Maltsers and Three Elms, and the just-about-OK Fox and Hounds. I didn't go to the Plough for any reason other than that it was closer to my house than the Fox.

    Does a place the size of Whitchurch really need 4 Indian restaurants? With the Villagio, Village Diner, Fino Lounge, the now-defunct Mediterraneo and now the "new" Plough, it also has a surplus of average restaurants.

    I don't know why you're so horrid about the media types of Pontcanna. It's their custom which is supporting really great places like Bully's, The Conway and Fish at 85. Don't knock them.

    When I want a decent meal in a restaurant, I most often head for Pontcanna, just as you say.

    1. PS: I've only been to the new Plough once. I found the service friendly and helpful, and the food was pretty good. Friends have also been and enjoyed it. If I had to choose a place in Whitchurch for an evening meal, I think I'd pick the Plough over the competition.

  8. the media wankers bit was written tounge in cheek, and that wasn't very clear. I myself am a media wanker. I'm glad you found the service friendly and helpful, as I did also. I have no problem whatsoever with the staff. The remaining staff from before the rebrand are the best most capable staff i've ever seen in any pub anywhere, and i've been very impressed with how polite and chirpy the new staff are. Overall, my main beef is with Brains and their mission to make as much money as possible with no regards for the community's they operate in. They rank alongside Tesco and Starbucks as companys that have my complete contempt.

  9. Don't know about food in the new Plough, experience of other Whitchurch eateries means we now only use Cafe La, but just one thing...there is no SA. The Plough used to serve the best pint of SA outside the Albert, but now they have that SA Gold, not the same, if I wanted a pint of piss I'd go to the Fino.

  10. Thanks for the comment. I'm not a huge fan of Indian cooking and know very little about it, but I never hesitate to recommend kafe-la. the food is excellent and the staff very friendly. Since it opened I wouldn't dream of setting foot in any of the other Whitchurch Indians. As for your comment about the beer, it's something I've heard from many people, one of the biggest complaints I've heard from people is the change of alcohol offered. Another reason that leads me to believe that brains never gave a flying fuck about the people that once loved the plough.

  11. Agree wholeheartedly with this review - humorous and intelligent. I had quite happily drank there for years, and whilst there was a certain inequality between the price of the beer and the investment in the place, it had soul. We are now presented with an eatery that has a front bar that has the feeling of a waiting lounge. I have tried eating there just to try it out and it found it to be rather expensive pub grub. To my mind, if you want to spend that kind of money, go to a place that does it properly, i.e. a restaurant. Unfortunately it is now literally caught between two stools; a shit pub and a crappy restaurant. However, it still seems to be busy, but I am not sure with whom. Sure, we can all say it we had an adequate meal and that it looks nice, that the toilets are better, that the sticky carpet is gone, those stupid mugs on the ceiling in the bar have hopefully been smashed and that we all had a pleasant evening, but is it your regular boozer? Probably not. It is now just one of those wanky pretentious country pubs, but we have got it slap bang in the middle of a city. I went to The Plough for the people who were there and the quality of the beer, sadly both seem to have disappeared. No Guinness or SA sums it all up really. I wonder if the people who re-designed it ever set foot into it before?
    Oh by the way, the only thing that has been left from the old place looks to be an extractor fan which is now in the mens toilets - and it makes a fucking racket. Stretch the budget a bit further so at least the chaps can piss in peace.

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