Saturday, 7 April 2012

Blue Anchor, East Aberthaw

With a cement works, quarry and coal-fired power station in the vicinity, this might not seem the most promising location for a country inn. However, the latest venue in this series of rural Vale of Glamorgan pubs is an essential stop on our tour. As the road nears the coast and curves towards Rhoose (directions below), you enter the hamlet of East Aberthaw, home of a large thatched hostelry: the Blue Anchor Inn free house and restaurant.

Established in 1380, the Blue Anchor is certainly one of Wales’ oldest pubs. It was also ahead of the game in terms of serving quality food. Back in the 1980s, when most pubs were fixated on chicken-in-a-basket or ploughman’s lunches, the Blue Anchor started to gain a reputation for fine dining. It has held on to that reputation ever since. You’ll find it in all the good food pub guides, including the Michelin Eating Out in Pubs guides since 2007.

I was first introduced to the Blue Anchor when the pub was recovering from a serious fire in 2004 (which destroyed the thatched roof). The pub was still serving a limited menu of excellent bar meals made from local produce (I remember sausages), even though most of the rooms were closed for renovation. Our latest trip was for a family lunch on Friday.

The side door into the pub leads you to the small and very welcoming traditional bar. Immediately, you know you are in a proper pub: stone-floored, real fire, row of real ale hand-pumps. A narrow and surprisingly long stone passage takes you through to the first in a series of small rooms for diners (where no two tables or antique oak seats are alike).

For starters, I had the smaller portion of the River Exe Steamed Mussels (£5.45); with eldest daughter at hand to help me sample them. These were relatively small but very tasty mussels, in a rich creamy sauce and served with organic bread. The others shared Marinated Olives with Balsamic Oil and Fresh Organic Bread (£3.95). This was superior bread for mopping up.

For my main, I had Confit Duck Leg (£9.50), served with puy lentils and pickled baby vegetables. Lentils can be a bit dull, but not these; with aniseed, lemongrass and other flavours taking it in turns to leap out at you. The lightly-pickled vegetables had intense flavour. The duck was moist rather than juicy, and certainly delivered on the flavour front.

My partner had the Homemade, Lightly Spiced Vegetable Tagine (£8.25) with perl couscous, a larger grained type of couscous. The vegetarian options on the menu are few, but even hardened carnivores would probably find them tempting. The couscous was lifted by the presence of preserved lemon, and was a great complement to the subtly spiced vegetables.

The eldest had a Caerphilly Cheese, Tomato and Apple Chutney Baguette (£4.75), and particularly approved of the chutney. The youngest had the Children’s Meal (£4.95), choosing the burger, chips and beans option. This was substantially more than she could eat; with good crispy chips albeit very salty.

Local sourcing is part of the philosophy here. They even sell their own free-range eggs at the bar. This is also a hostelry where you can eat without distraction. There is no background music or TV screens showing sport. It’s quite a novelty in a pub these days to hear the clinking of cutlery and the murmur of conversation as the predominant sounds.

The Blue Anchor is a freehouse, with a serious real ale bar. They usually have Wadworth 6X, Brains Bitter, Theakston Old Peculiar and Wye Valley Hereford Pale Ale. These are supplemented with interesting guest ales. I went for a Jubilee Ale (4.3%) from the Cardiff-based Bullmastiff Brewery.

In the evenings (Mon-Sat), there is also a restaurant (up stone steps to an extension opened in the 1990s) with an a la carte menu. On this menu you’ll find additional dishes such as wild mushroom ravioli, paupiette of wood pigeon, panfried supreme of pheasant, and roasted local venison.

The Blue Anchor is without doubt one of the “hidden gems” among the Vale of Glamorgan’s pubs.

Blue Anchor Inn
East Aberthaw, Barry, Vale of Glamorgan CF62 3DD
Tel: 01446 750329
Take Port Road heading west from Barry (B4265). Pass Cardiff International Airport, and take the left turn toward East Aberthaw, the cement works and Rhoose. The pub is on the left as the road starts curving to the left. There is a car park across the road

See also:
Six Bells, Penmark:

Blacksmith’s Arms, Llanmaes

Plough and Harrow, Monknash

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