The Starling Cloud in Aberystwyth is not a pub.
It is a family restaurant in the style of a pub.
It is a simulacrum of a pub, and like Baudrillard’s concept of the simulacrum, it’s a copy that invents its own truth.
But Baudrillard didn’t have a hungry family of six to feed on a wet Saturday afternoon.
The Starling Cloud opened in 2013, and has been very popular with families since day one – plenty of free parking, plenty of tables, and an outdoor playground.
There is a more child-friendly space with a soft play area, and a more adult side for those who find little tots expressing their individuality through screaming a bit trying.
My nephews are beyond the screaming stage, thankfully, so we had a table for six in the quieter section (if you want a larger table, I’d recommend booking in advance)
Since the SC is pretending to be a pub, you can have a drink without eating, but you get put in an unappealing area by the door (standing at the bar is not allowed)
This Marston’s pub only sells Marstons beers – and the more boring ones at that – but they’re in good condition
I’ve heard criticisms of their reliance on the microwave – their meals famously have a barcode on the side to tell the oven how long to run – but that’s how they can serve a lasagne in a few minutes.
And if you’d rather not have micowaved food, right in the middle of the place is a giant rotisserie full of fine-looking chicken
It’s a long menu – exhaustive and exhausting – so half of us chose the chicken straight away.
Even if you go straight for chicken, there is still a list of choices to make.
You can have it with either a pot of gravy, BBQ Cheese Melt, Creamy Lemon Chilli Lemon Sauce, or a purely Chilli Sauce (chipotle, Yellow or Birds-Eye).
You can have it with new potatoes, jackets, chips or mash.
And you can have sweetcorn fritters, vegetables, coleslaw or corn on the cob.
Or you can have the chicken in one of three curry sauces with Indian things.
And that’s just the rotisserie chicken options – exhausting, isn’t it?
There are pub grub staples like pies and lasagnes, flame grill steaks, burgers, sandwiches and ciabattas, salads, jacket potatoes, or five different fish.
If you go to the Starling Cloud and don’t see anything you like, it reflects more on you.
Service was mostly good.
Drinks ordered and delivered promptly, and I liked the process of waitresses using small tablets. That will get the order to the kitchen with no interruption, lets the management see what is selling well and drives the stock control.
A great system, provided the information is taken down correctly (more later).
Six meals took 15 – 20 minutes to arrive, which is fair for a busy Saturday lunchtime.
First out were Len and Elis’ rotisserie chicken with gravy.
They reported the chicken to be moist and succulent – “every bit as good as it looked” said Len, who was also pleased with the new potatoes.
Elis was delighted to have his own gravy boat.
My chicken with Creamy Lemon & Chilli was very similar.
I was relieved the rotisserie didn’t dry out the chicken – it was moist with crispy skin – and pleased to have a lot of veg.
Only pity was the sauce.
I had their lemongrass and chilli sauce a few months ago, but they’ve replaced that with a bland new one doesn’t taste of lemon or chilli or anything.
They may have scrimped on sauce ingredients, but the rest is very generous and I was very full.
The non-chicken people were rewarded for ploughing through the menu with three enjoyable meals.
Bethan’s Wild Boar & Chorizo burger came with excellent sweet potato fries (fancy!) and pallid onion rings (boo!).
Nice moist burger, but could have done with more chorizo kick.
She thought her 10oz gammon steak with pineapple ring, chips and peas was very tasty.
She might have liked the pinapple rings better done, but was pleased to see both pinapple and egg served up (she often has to choose)
But he greatly enjoyed it, and ate all but a few scraps of bread (and the salad, of course, but I’m not his parent so what do I care?).
They also brought out an extra un-ordered chicken dinner for us to prove that taking orders on electronic devices still needs care.
Reading back about the mains, it seems incredible that we had desserts too – the very thought makes me feel poorly. So here – in less depth – is what we had
The only shared dessert – Bethan & mine Caramel Cappucino Torte – was the smallest. Look at it – only just a spoonful. Tasty, but not much even if you weren’t sharing.
Tasty stuff, though, with lashings of choc sauce.
Len and Rhys did suffer a little brain-freeze, but they got through it eventually.
Win’s caramel cheese cake was adjudged superb (nice finishing on the plate too)
while Rhys’ “Melt in The Middle Chocolate Pudding” (isn’t that what we used to call a “Chocolate Fondant”?) was described as “very cakey” on the outside and “liquid!” on the inside.
Rhys may have eaten a large, adult main meal, but since biologists now believe children have a second stomach for desserts, he was fine.
Good contrasts – the heat and richness of the cake offset by the cool, sweet ice cream.
We all finished our desserts, but some of us where slipping into a sleepy coma.
We were keen to get out while we could still drive, but service was very slow to clear away the empty plates.
It’s not that the place was busy – at least three members of staff walked past but pretended not to notice.
In summary, we enjoyed our trip to the Starling Cloud.
There were a few minor niggles with the food, but nothing major, and nothing to stop us recommending it.
Keeping the little kids segregated from the decent folk works well – and there’s a nice outside space for them in the summer.
Of course, you might ask why Aber’s new magistrates courts have been built right on the beautiful marina, and this pub-hotel-restaurant is on a strip of land in between the railway, the road and the police station, but I’m certainly not going to criticise Ceredigion Council’s efforts.
I’m sure many of their decisions are sound.
Once brought to their attention, the staff couldn’t get his refund quickly enough and were suitably mortified and helpful.
So six mains, five puds, and drinks came to £15 each, which doesn’t seem unreasonable.
Marston’s have a nice business here.
They’ve put a modern, clean and tidy hotel on the same site, so the restaurant can do the breakfasts too.
Head Office needs to learn that if you mention something on the menu, you should be able to taste it in the food.
I imagine they do very well in the Christmas Meal season.
They’ve even made the front look nice with some interesting plants, and a covered area for the smokersThe Starling Cloud is never going to feature in lists of best restaurants, and the beer choice is too boring for it to be on any best pub lists (not that they really want drinkers).
But if you have a group of people to feed, particularly with a wide range of preferences, and you can’t face parking in town, then The Starling Cloud is a sensible choice.
The Starling Cloud
Boulevard St Brieuc*, Aberystwyth, SY23 3TL
01970 623743 firstname.lastname@example.org
*PS I used to work near here, and never heard this road called “Bouevard St Brieuc”