Review: Sunday carvery at the Four Elms

Since being turned away from the Sunday carvery at the Four Elms a few weeks ago because the food ran out within two hours, I’ve been keen to find out what all the fuss is about.

Located on Elm Street in Roath, Cardiff, I pass the pub almost daily on my walk to work and I’ve never given it a second look until reading an excellent review from WalesOnline in June this year, following a refurbishment under new management.

Locals may know the pub by its former names, Bar YK and formerly The Yellow Kangaroo. Now, it has regained the name it had when it first opened in 1859, originating from four elm trees that were known local landmarks until 1901 when they were felled to make way for a wider road. Having been transformed into a traditional alehouse, the Four Elms is now part of JW Bassett Pubs, a company which also owns the popular Queens Vaults in the city centre.

Entering the narrow doorway of the pub, my boyfriend Olly and I conveniently find ourselves standing right in front of the bar. As we wait to be served, I lean on the polished wooden bar and scan my eyes around the room. The walls are decorated with framed photographs of past local scenes and residents, including a picture from 1897 showing us those four old elm trees.The luxurious red and gold damask wallpaper creates a cosy feel, with the silk lampshades hanging above the bar projecting a warm glow. Attached to the bar are four chrome hand-pumps serving Felinfoel Double Dragon, Sharps Doombar, a Westons cider and a house beer, Four Elms IPA. All in all, a very warm welcome indeed!

We order our drinks and the barmaid advises us to take a table and order our food at the bar. We take a seat at a wooden table in the middle of the pub next to the pool table, and feast our eyes upon the menu. Like many other pub chains, the Four Elms’ menu is filled with traditional British favourites like fish and chips, curry, pizza and steak, but we’ve got our sights set on the Sunday carvery.

Returning to the bar to place our orders, we are invited to take a plate from the serving table and help ourselves to the food. The serving area consists of two makeshift wooden tables pushed together at the rear of the pub, one to carve the meat upon and the other for the metal containers containing the vegetables. We approach the meat section, but unfortunately the chef is not around to carve it for us. Moving on to the veg whilst we wait for his return we are again disappointed as there is very little left, with the remaining roast potatoes burnt black in places. There isn’t a single Yorkshire pudding in sight.

After about five minutes, the chef emerges from the kitchen carrying containers of hot, veg, along with more burnt roasties and fresh Yorkshire puddings. He offers to cut us some meat, and we choose between pork, beef and gammon. Olly opts for beef, whereas I choose a combination of pork and beef. With the veg supplies looking healthy we give ourselves a generous serving of white cabbage, peas, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, parsnips and roast potatoes, before drenching our meals in gravy and topping off our plates with a Yorkshire pudding.

Back at our table I can’t wait to dig in and taste some of the meat, so I pick up my knife and fork and tuck into the pork. My knife glides effortlessly through, the pork falling apart because it’s cooked so well. The first bite is heavenly, and this really is what they call, ‘melt in the mouth’. I turn my attention to the thickly sliced hunks of beef, pink and juicy in the middle and rich and crispy on the top. It’s a little harder to chew than it looks, but the succulent taste compensates for this, and grunts of approval from Olly tell me that he feels the same.

Not wanting to demolish the best part of the meal all at once, I decide to eat some of the veg next. I’m really fussy when it comes to a veg – cook it too much and it becomes tasteless and soggy, but cook it too little and it’s just as difficult to enjoy. Luckily, the chef at the Four Elms finds the perfect balance. Crunchy and flavoursome, the carrots and white cabbage are just like my Mum’s, whilst the cauliflower and broccoli are soft to the taste, but firm enough to prevent them from are falling apart.

As for the parsnips, they have a lovely rich taste but I can’t help but think they could be cut a bit thicker, if only to prevent them from getting so burnt and tough around the edges. The oodles of gravy surrounding my food like a moat flowing around a castle really do give my carvery the finishing touch. With such a more-ish and meaty flavour, it’s just has to be home-made. Likewise the Yorkshire pudding is so bouncy and light with such a distinct eggy taste, it’s obvious something this good doesn’t come in a packet.

It’s a shame the same can’t be said for the roast potatoes and the peas. Some people may like the peas at the Four Elms – there was nothing wrong with how they were cooked, it’s just that I personally have a real dislike for marrowfat peas. I don’t know what it is, but they just taste so dull in comparison to your average garden pea or petis pois. As far as the roast potatoes are concerned, I struggle to understand how anyone could find them appealing.

A pale yellow all over with burnt patches in places, the potatoes lack the golden brown, crispy coating common to the perfect roastie. I actually wonder whether the chef has doused them in fat and oil prior to going into the oven. For me, roast potatoes are the second most important part of a roast dinner, after the meat, and so this comes as a huge let-down.

Despite being disappointed about the potatoes and the peas, I can’t fault the customer service. Although the chef is on his own in serving the carvery, he still finds time to pop over to our table and ask us how the food is. He makes friendly banter with another table as we eat, and when we finish our plates and prepare to leave he bounds over to say goodbye and thank us for coming. That said, I still think he could do with a waiter or waitress to give him a hand, especially with helping to bring out new supplies of food from the kitchen.

Having experienced a Sunday carvery at the Four Elms, it disappoints me to say that it hasn’t lived up to my initial expectations. After being turned away before as the food had ran out, I thought we were in for an absolute treat. The presentation of the food on makeshift serving tables comes across as unprofessional, and the initial shortage of veg was far from impressive. Although I really enjoyed most of the veg and the meat, gravy and Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes are a vital part of a Sunday carvery for me, and these ones just didn’t cut the mustard. That said, the Four Elms is a cosy pub with a colourful history behind it, ideal to visit for drinks with friends or even for a game or pool or darts, but next time I fancy a carvery I’ll be going elsewhere.

The Four Elms
1 Elm Street,
CF24 3QR
(02920) 462 120


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