The Cricketers in Pontcanna is one of a number of non-Brains-owned pubs on Cathedral Road which have been getting capital drinkers excited recently. Coming in from the cold on a wet night makes you feel like a country squire after a grouse hunt, complete with a dozy brown labrador slumped by the hottest mock-coal fire this side of Hades.
The huge bay window of this grand Victorian semi further opens out a vast drinking/eating/sitting/snoozing area filled mostly with smart diners: check shirts, v-necks and hush puppies are the order of the evening. So, too, is food. The Cricketers is definitely a gastropub and visiting just for the beer is clearly a bad choice given its grub was a regional winner at the Great British Pub Awards 2011.
Still the Evans Evans festival, running until December 14 with the pub’s sister company in Llandeilo, puts five brand new brews on tap to distract from all that lovely hake and pork belly you’re not eating. The Archers Strong Ale is certainly that at 5.5% and is described, in a way only ales can be, as “deceivingly quaffable”. It’s a bit sweet for my taste but is nice and rich as well as good value at £2.70.
Evans Evans are certainly asserting themselves lately having bought Swindon-based Archers in 2009, which they re-opened this year. They’ve also gone on a heavy publicity drive to celebrate 245 years of the Buckley family’s brewing in West Wales.
Cricketers manager Michelle Francis hasn’t had the pub for quite that long having taken it over almost a year-and-a-half ago. Regular John Griffiths (who we can forgive his pint of lager), says she “runs a tight ship”. “It’s very friendly and they let dogs in” he adds. This fact is clearly very important to Cricketers patrons, though it’s hard to imagine too many rottweilers get brought in. A picture of Mr Griffiths’s black labrador Thomas, sadly absent tonight, sits proudly behind the bar.
Mr Griffiths has another reason for his loyalty: after he was unlucky enough to be mugged in Bute Park recently, the staff kept things sweet with the guests whom he was meant to be wining and dining. “From the police station I phoned up and they made sure my clients were looked after while I was giving statements which was nice. I don’t go anywhere else,” he says. Now that’s service.