THE SAND MARTIN, LECKWITH
If Jeckyll and Hyde were to live together, it’s highly likely they’d choose the Sand Martin. It’s a new-build pub, barely even a year old, yet already has a defining, landmark-like presence on Fford Fred Keenor, putting the KFC at its rear well within its commanding shadow. The building looks fresh both inside and out, and prides itself in offering a daily carvery at very reasonable prices at any time of the day.
However, the exterior is puzzling to us. It’s a good-looking building for a purpose-built, modern pub, but it can’t escape from looking incomplete. Not that flowers in baskets are essential for every building as they can border cliché, the Sand Martin could benefit from a little decoration. Every time we look at it we’re itching to give Mr. Titschmarsh a ring to sort it.
Nevertheless, the clinical nature of the place assures you that it knows what its doing and that this Marston’s pub can breed confidence upon pulling up at the car park.
Unless your visit happens to be a match day at the Cardiff City Stadium.
This is where the ‘Jeckyll and Hyde’ nature of this ever-indecisive ‘pub restaurant’ venue becomes a little concerning, as its strict licensing laws agreed with Cardiff City firmly grip its genitals with the most strict of rules. Visit on a ‘regular’ day and Dr. Jekyll ensures you’re welcomed as expected. There’s no table service here; you choose where you’d like to sit (either next to a window, in the ‘child-friendly’ section or beside one of its gas fires), have a snoop through the menu, quote your table number on ordering and help yourself if the carvery is the meal of choice. Standard fare but completely acceptable.
On a match day, meet Mr. Hyde, who’ll interrogate you at the door. We were asked why we were visiting by the doormen, ‘Er, for a meal, if that’s ok, boss?’, we replied, slightly intimidated at this point. Fewer than ten strides after the first interview, we were posed the same question by the management. Get the answer right the second time (hint: don’t say, ‘for a drink’!), and you’re finally welcome to choose a table on ordering, ‘as normal’ – there is strictly no standing in this pub on a match day. Unless you’d like to thrown out by the Leckwith Mafia at the front door, sit down and do as you’re told.
It’s perhaps unfair to be a little unnerved at this stage as Marston’s are heavily restricted by sporting events at the Stadium, but it would improve the entrance by being greeted by a staff member first, with ‘the guards’ on stand-by in case any disrespectful Neanderthals (or whoever they’re expecting) try their luck. It doesn’t quite end there, however, as on placing a drinks order you’re given a receipt where they’ll be brought over to you. A nice touch in disguise as it whispers, ‘We don’t trust you. No not even with a Pepsi’. The negative, judgemental stigma still held over Cardiff City fans can’t help but affect the service style of the Sand Martin. With the anxious suspicion held against every customer on a match day it’s almost worth them closing altogether, as it doesn’t help their service style or reputation.
Once our food was ordered from the ‘Match Day Menu’, which includes attractive offers such as two meals for a tenner, the mood changes. The lights dim, the shoes come off and gentle music plays in the background as birds (presumably Sand Martins) tweet innocently. Surplus cutlery from our table was cleared, we were provided with various condiments and, no more than twenty minutes later did our food arrive, piping hot and presentable.
It’s nothing above ordinary, as it’s the Sand Martin’s interior is what you’re paying the money for more than anything else, as the frozen chips and sachets of sauces immediately disclose, but the burger was likely at least 70% beef, as its tender juices ran amok as the patty is squeezed slightly. Always a positive sign. It’s not the most gourmet of burgers, but for a quick snack it’s well worth £5.00 if you go halves with a friend or partner or associate, or even a randomer short on cash!
Prior to the arrival of dessert, Bramley Apple Pie, an obligatory visit to the gentlemen’s room resulted in a pleasant, vibrant experience! Tiled floors, well-presented ‘stable-like’ doors, all clean, tidy and fully-stocked – no complaints here!
The apple pie itself looked appealing on arrival, again steam rising, this time from the boiling custard. The pastry case was satisfyingly sugary, while the apple itself was soft, sweet and tasty. Hardly home made, but we didn’t expect otherwise.
For comparison’s sake, the Sand Martin is to Marston’s what the Three Arches is to Brains, a generally relaxed offer that doesn’t intend to surpass your expectations, but is more than happy to meet them. In fact, the interior design isn’t too dissimilar either.
Depending on where you are in Cardiff and you fancy ‘pub grub’, either or will suit your needs well. Just don’t bump into Hyde.