Having already reviewed the Starling Cloud 18 months ago, I’m not going to do a full review again.
But on re-visiting this weekend, it seems that standards had slipped a bit.
Firstly, the extensive Specials board has gone, leaving their slightly boring everyday menu (burgers, microwave curry and the mostly excellent rotisserie).
Their drinks menu is thorough, with plenty of well-priced wine choices.
Odd that the extensive non-alcoholic section – with its lovely pictures and descriptions of Frobishers & San Pellegrino & J20 – doesn’t have any prices.
Beers are the dull end of the Marstons range.
As we arrived, a lager-drinker asked the manager which bitter he would recommend as he thought he’d give one a try.
“Dunno” he was told “I don’t drink that stuff.”
(Wetherspoons will give you a sample as soon as look at you.)
One welcome addition to the menu is the Rotisserie Sharer.
This is a small quartered chicken, sauce or gravy, 4 buttermillk goujons, and four sides (eg fries, veg or slaw) for £20.
This turned out to be good value for 3 hungry boys – everything was tasty, although they had to remind staff to bring out the goujons.
I know people who have had bad experiences of the chicken here, but not us.
A weird moment when, after ordering, the waitress returned to say it didn’t come with much gravy, did we want more?
We replied “Err, yeah.” Who doesn’t want enough gravy?
Why do Marstons think a single person’s gravy jug enough for a Sharer?
Bethan was less pleased with her “Lime & Chilli Salmon Couscous”.
After coming to tell us about the gravy, our waitress returned to say they had run out of couscous – could they substitute rice?
Bethan would have preferred to be told this when ordering, or even before, but agreed.
Once it came, however, it became clear that a big spoon of plain boiled rice is no substitute for “apricot & raisin giant couscous”.
Most of the dish’s flavourings were in the couscous, leaving her meal rather bland.
Desserts – the highpoint for many people – were a farce.
Elis ordered Melt In The Middle Choc Pudding with custard, and enjoyed it.
Len ordered Sticky Toffee Donut Pudding with ice cream. It came with custard (OK, easily fixed) and looked no different to Elis’ Choc Pudding.
Win had ordered Lemon & Mandarin sponge, but again, after a while waitress returned to say they didn’t have it. Well-trained staff know what’s unavailable and warn guests.
12 year-old Rhys was most hard done by.
After much agonising, and encouragement from the waitress, he ordered Salted Caramel, Fudge & Pecan Brownie.
When all the desserts arrived, his wasn’t there.
“The brownie is still frozen solid”, she said.
Rhys’ bottom lip was quivering.
“How long will it take?” I asked?
“About an hour” she replied.
“So, had we better order something else?” I asked.
It was agreed that we should.
So. Three out of the four desserts wrong.
OK, not the end of the world, but not a very special birthday meal.
I had a word with the manager, explaining the whole experience had felt shambolic, and he agreed to not charge us for desserts.
Marstons are very keen that people enjoy their pubs, and send extensive market research for feedback on how cheerful their staff are.
The staff are as cheerful as could be expected – Marstons should be focussing more on supplying their pubs with the food that’s on their menus, and training staff to explain what’s not available before we start ordering.