We all love summer. Well, no we don’t , because that’d be about as patronising as Colgate’s shocking attempt at being ‘informative’. Of course we don’t all love summer; we’re British and complain about anything at the best of times. Give us sunshine; alcohol on drip; attractive waiting staff and total ‘peace and quiet’ and we’d still moan that it’s too hot; that the drink isn’t cold enough to combat it; that the staff are rude and the crickets among the tropical vegetation are ‘too loud’. Nevertheless, ‘summer’ is roughly described as, “reprobate-like actions coupled with cheap cider in a grassy area and a barbecue” according to the Oxford dictionary (look it up), and Knife & Fork Co. had this all wrapped up in gloriously excellent fashion. If you didn’t go, you missed out.
Bank Holiday August is mostly designed for disappointing weather at music festivals, but the Pilot thought better and decided to host an ‘American-style’ barbecue populated with imported American beers – with a sprinkling of some fierce Newport-born Tiny Rebel ales gate-crashing the party. We were, totally like, a kid in a candy store, appropriately.
As human nature has lent to us, food and drink go hand-in-hand; like a young, bushy-tailed couple skipping through a blossoming spring-time field, basked in unrealistic sunshine and blissful ignorance of relationship-ending arguments ahead. We’d love to offshoot a ‘DRINKCardiff’ just for this occasion. With 17 beers on offer, either from the United States of America (sir) or from ‘down Neparrt’, we weren’t sure whether to get drunk or get stuffed. We chose the latter, despite trying hard to bypass the food barrier populating our stomachs.
The (new) Pilot’s an odd building, and is hampered by high windows on the side of the pub that could really do without them, handily ruining any enjoyment a clear day would lend to the otherwise spectacular view of Cardiff across Penarth Marina and its assortment of yachts (that never seem to be in use).
The design is pretty clear, however. Go in, immediately turn right and it’s very much a food-orientated set-up what with its table layout. While none of the tables are laid up, suggesting a flexible ‘blank canvas’ approach to the customer, the clear option is to make the most of their damn fine traditional pub food, but with a twist that will leave your eyes surprised and your taste buds in a state of paralysis as they wonder how the hell something so simple can be so good. For us at EATCardiff towers, there is no better place for ‘pub food’.
Go left as you enter the building, and you have a more ‘dynamic’ set up, with sofas, regular tables, another mish-mash of furniture and one of those German-designed wood burners we wish we could afford.
So, do what you like – as long as you bring your glasses back to the bar.
This occasion was different, however; because for ‘one time only’, as the Yanks say too often, the barbecue was out and burgers were on the menu! We’re told the executive chef at Knife & Fork enforces a blanket ban on burgers ; so we ordered one in a rebellious, evil nature. Nuts, aren’t we?
Also on the menu that day was deep-fried chicken, BBQ ribs, some sort of token ‘equality’ veggie burger that we didn’t understand and some excellent sides including ‘slaw, skinny fries and BBQ beans (whatever they are).
What with it being gloriously underwhelming August weather, we pretended it wasn’t and sat outside anyway to watch the chef at work on the gas barbecue found at the front of the building.
Boring literal prose put to one side, we gasped in awe at the outrageous selection of craft (yup, everyone’s favourite word at the moment) American and Newport beers on offer.
It was a tough choice between how much food and/or drink we consumed. No one wants to make such courageous decisions, and for a pub that prides itself on great quality food as much as it does flavoursome beer (not sure why they have Carling, but we’ll let that one go), it was ‘check mate’; ‘game, set and match’; ‘tatty-bye, butt!’ – all of ‘em.
Just briefly, greatest recommendations go to the San Francisco-based Anchor ‘Steam’ beer. While the city itself is a dump, this hop-water concoction is not. It’s widely available in usual stores (such as Wal-Mart and Fresh & Easy) and is a must-consume for those that appreciate flavour en route to inebriation.
The food, then: we’ve raved about this place on Twitter enough, but this barbecue was a one-off, along with the food selection.
The offer was token-orientated, requiring patrons to purchase printed paper to notify the chef what they’d bought. Not the most streamlined set-up, as planning ahead was required, but it kept that ‘festival’ feeling ticking over as well as the chef’s hands clean of grubby coins and powdered drug-infested fivers.
This was no ordinary barbecue.
While what was on offer you’d normally associate with nationwide ‘favourites’ such as Harvester and Beefeater, the quality here was higher than Snoop Dogg in a hot air balloon on methcathinone.
If food on first bite makes you stop in awe and contemplate what you’re consuming, you’re on to something special. The (New) Pilot’s regular menu does this anyway, but for a barbecue, you don’t really expect that sort of sensation.
The fried chicken was exquisitely moist and seasoned yet balanced perfectly by remaining crispy on the outside as the hot white meat pulled away from the bone more easily than a virus contraction to Windows 95 . Same can be said for the pork ribs as the BBQ sauce draped over the tender, soft, 4-hour slow-cooked meat. Although the skinny fries were an addictive side show, they were overshadowed by the master demonstration of how a barbecue should really be done.
Having not anticipated the food to be that good, we bought more tickets, putting inebriation on the back-burner in favour of exploiting this ‘limited time only’ offer.
Nevertheless, we grabbed a beer and watched the chef throw on a couple of burgers and prep up some more of those crispy, skinny fries that you see at unfortunately good places like Gourmet Burger Kitchen (we reluctantly accept good chains).
Accompanied by some ‘Chef’s special burger sauce’ and some spare corn on the cob, we sank our molars into yet more dream barbecue foodstuffs that even God himself was waving his fist in jealous anger at us as we failed to consider His feelings. Oh, the irony as we sipped on ‘Helles’ golden lager!
It may have been back in August (the New Pilot’s ‘normal’ offer provides some incredible modern twists on ‘classic’ pub food and must be experienced), but we can still taste the perfectly charred-yet-moist patty now as the crisp iceberg lettuce kept each bite fresh and ‘OMGs’ constant. And what with the fries as addictive as Snoop Dogg’s aforementioned hot air balloon rides, we couldn’t believe our luck as the chef slung us a portion extra of ‘spares’.
While this should probably end with us stumbling home, blind to the world after consuming several units; it turned out that we were the units as we rolled home stuffed and chuffed.
Whatever you do, don’t expect a flying visit at the Pilot.
Don’t take our word for it:
A sizeable ‘congratulations’ goes to all the staff at the Pilot as the pub makes the Michelin guide this week! Well deserved.