Legend has it that an elephant named Lily once downed a pint in The Old Market Tavern. Supposedly she was drinking to the memory of Joe Holbrook, one of the pub’s most famous landlords and the local circus ringleader, who had recently passed away.
Whether you believe the story or not, there’s no denying The Old Market Tavern has a certain nostalgic charm about it. Based on the former site of O’Neills on Trinity Street, just a few doors down from Cardiff Market, The Old Market Tavern opened in December last year following an extensive period of refurbishment. But despite being a ‘new’ pub, The Old Market Tavern actually bears the same name as the pub that stood in its place back in the 19th century. Originally built in the 1600s, the two-storey building has retained much of its character and style, along with a cosy, welcoming atmosphere.
Today, the walls are painted dark blue and the floor is wooden, with furniture to match. Writing on the wall (in both English and Welsh) tells the story of The Old Market’s Tavern’s roots, including the tale of Lily the elephant, with reference to several local landmarks including Cardiff Market and St John’s Church.
As a Cask Marque accredited pub, The Old Market Tavern serves a range of award-winning cask ales hand picked from British breweries. The pub even has its own in-house ale expert, who goes by the glorious title of ‘Cask Master’. I’m not a big fan of ale, but we did get to sample some of Nicholson’s Pale Ale, exclusively served in Nicholson’s pubs. It didn’t actually taste that bad compared to what I remembered ale to taste like, but we decided to stick to a glass of rose either way. Luckily for us the wine list was just as extensive, and we were really pleased with the White Zinfandel that our waitress kindly recommended to us.
The food menu offers everything you’d expect from a decent British pub, including popular dishes like fish and chips, sausages and mash, steak and slow-braised pork belly, in addition to a range of homemade burgers and pies. Prices are around average, with main courses ranging from £7.95 to £14.95.
To start, my guest Sarah and I shared a platter of nachos (£5.95 for one; £8.95 to share) topped with guacamole, salsa, sour cream, jalapenos and mature cheddar cheese, with BBQ pulled pork (+£2). To say it was a generous portion would be an understatement; it could easily have fed three people as a starter. We could tell the guacamole and salsa were home made, and the pulled pork was tender and tasty. A great starter, which I would definitely order again. My only recommendation for improvement would be to include a little more pulled pork.
For my main I had my eye on the lamb shank pie (£11.95) and the cod and chips (£11.75), but when manager Paul revealed the lamb shank pie was his personal favourite, my decision was made. The lamb shank lay in a pool of rich, meaty mint gravy with peas, covered with a golden brown, puff pastry lid. As our waitress helpfully pointed out, if you twist the shank bone before digging into the pie, it comes away from the meat and you can simply pull it out. The pie was a good choice. The lamb shank was slow-braised and the meat simply fell apart, while the mint wasn’t too overpowering. The dish was served with a mound of creamy mashed potato and a portion of fresh green beans with Chantenay carrots, both cooked to perfection.
Fancying a burger, Sarah went for the ultimate chicken burger (£12.50). When the waitress brought this to our table, it prompted an outburst of ‘wows’ not only from us but from the people sitting at the table next to us as well. And you can see why. Two chargrilled chicken breasts sat on a bed of lettuce, topped with smoked back bacon smothered in melted cheese and two home made onion rings, all wedged between a fresh white bap. Sarah’s only problem was figuring out just how to eat it, eventually deciding upon dismantling it bit by bit. She really struggled to finish the whole burger (and can you blame her?), but I was more than happy to help her out with the chips, which tasted great – crispy on the outside, soft and fluffy on the inside, with plenty of flavour. Sarah was very pleased with her choice of main, although if you are going to try it out she would recommend giving starters a miss!
After that beast of a burger Sarah was too full for dessert, but luckily I had just enough room left and so I rounded off my meal with the apple and plum crumble (£4.50). We had been informed there was only one left, so I thought it must be a pretty good choice. This was quite possibly the best crumble I’ve ever tasted, consisting of slices of apple, halved plums and whole cherries covered in a layer of oaty crumble. It was paired with a jug of fresh custard, which tasted equally as delicious, although I’m not overly keen on custard. This was quite a big serving and the crumble was pretty filling, so my only suggestion for improvement would be to consider downsizing the portion size slightly.
Sarah and I both really enjoyed our visit to The Old Market Tavern. It really was difficult to fault anything about the food and drinks, the venue, the atmosphere, or the service and we will most definitely be returning in future.
The Old Market Tavern
20-21 Trinity Street
(029) 2037 1263
I was invited to The Old Market Tavern as a guest and our food and drinks were provided complimentary.