[Wiff Waff closed in May 2016]
Wiff Waff is the latest occupant of the old Talbot Hotel in Aberystwyth.
I liked the Orangery, and the new owners have bravely tried a retro school feel, heavy on table tennis and nostalgia-soaked food.
On first arriving, I assumed they didn’t spell it Whiff-Whaff (the correct spelling of early ping pong) in embarrassment at the over-powering whiff coming from the toilets.
I don’t know what had been going on in there, but there was more chemical in the air than the Vietnam War. The toilets should definitely be clean if that smell’s anything to go by.
The impressive building looks great, with the main room home to a fine bar, some gym bars (school theme), nice booths and the titular ping pong tables.
Chris & Sam McG visited Bounce in London – Europe’s largest table tennis bar – and decided to bring the concept to Aberystwyth.
They deserve our respect for trying something new, although on the Saturday lunchtime we visited, it was awkwardly quiet and lacking in atmosphere.
The McG’s are hoping to attract “families, students, everyone”, and the menu is designed to appeal to the maximum audience without frightening anyone.
The first page has a range of burgers and pizza, and the second page has “Old School Favourites Under a Fiver” (fish fingers, toad in the hole), a few salads, and baguettes.
Nothing much for anyone keen to try something new – nothing you can’t get in a dozen places already.
While it emphasises fresh cooking and local produce, the menu is a bit generic – unlike, say, Backyard BBQ where the whole place is driven by one clear idea.
There are some promising wine & pizza deals (our favourites!), but the nephews were with us so we decided to try their range of burgers.
We were impressed by the glassware.
The soda came in a wee milk bottle and the coke in a glass jar with a handle.
No real ales on tap (only the awful Felinfoel and its nitro-keg IPA) but they do have a decent range from Ceredigion’s Mantle Brewery in bottles. There is also an appealing cocktail list (around £6 a go) and selection of wines and spirits.
As we sipped our drinks, we realised we had taken our coats off too soon – the place was freezing cold. Admittedly it was a 6C outside, but is it too much for a place to have some heating in winter?
(Irie’s had been freezing the week before – maybe you’re not supposed to eat out in Aber in the winter?) Bethan didn’t warm up till she’d been home two hours.
After ordering, we asked if we could play table tennis while we waited.
We were told it was £3 for half an hour, but free if you spend £25 during the week.
We protested we were spending £40, and the place was empty (more atmos on the Moon).
After a little muttering, they let us play for free, and we had a great time.
Having people actually playing gave the place a bit of life, but whether you’d want to eat your lunch with people shouting and whacking balls around is another matter.
Still, the game helped to pass the time – half an hour or so between ordering and service. The food did look the business on arrival.
I had ordered “sliders” – three small burgers – although this did confuse our waitress (on her first day?)
She asked what I wanted, and then proceeded to list the extra toppings available. (In fact, ordering sliders gives you a choice of miniature versions of their burgers.)
All the meals came with very skinny fries, which were a little under-cooked, and which went cold faster than Bethan’s feet.
The brioche buns were terrific – the best part of the meal – adding a rich contrast to the meat. Coleslaw was fine and came in generous portions.
Bethan’s pulled chicken burger (really a sandwich) was a little dry, and the sweet chilli sauce lacked oomph.
Much better was the pulled pork burger, which stayed moist, flavourful and a little smoky.
And the regular beefburger was fine too.
I had the chicken and pork sliders, plus a lamb one that was a little dry.
We didn’t fancy the desserts. Bethan & I are not nostalgic for school dinners, and the nephews eat them every day, so Spotted Dick or Jam Roly Poly seemed a concept too far.
Burgers and drinks for four was £38.50, which isn’t bad.
The smaller of the front rooms has table tennis and may be hired for a small group, which would be fun.
A separate side room has attractive booths and banquettes (good for a works’ do?) and retains the comfortable sofas of Orangery days.
However. no matter how hard we tried, we couldn’t imagine coming here for a bottle of wine or cocktail after work.
Our waitress was friendly and polite, but seemed nervous and unsure of menu or procedures – a little extra training will work wonders.
It’s a nice looking place, and I hope it becomes more popular.
Maybe once the students are back, it will become buzzy of an evening.
I can imagine the main room packed and full of noise, while less exuberant types use the lounge at the front. There’s definitely some potential there.
But I don’t think the current menu – seemingly devised around what is easy to cook – will attract the range of people the owners want, and I wonder if they should become more focussed on a particular demographic, eg become a little more partyish for the 18-30 market (how about a school disco theme to tie in with some of the decoration and the menu?), or replace the table tennis table at the back with a small stage for sophisticated cocktail jazz.
The ever-popular front room, sunny sofa’d and relaxing, has nothing in common with the cold, echo-ing ping pong room. It’s incoherent, jarring.
Trying to appeal to everyone can leave you appealing to no one.
Wiff Waff Bar
10 Market St,