Mr Speakers Way, Tonypandy. 01443 430060 / www.stonehouserestaurants.co.uk
Food: **** Atmosphere: ***
Gastropubs may be guilty of a multitude of sins – principally pretension and overinflated prices – but you can’t deny that they’ve helped to raise standards generally. No longer can pubs that market themselves as places to eat get away with bland, uninspired stodge. Despite being given a recent upmarket rebrand and a new name by owners Mitchells & Butlers, the family-friendly Fulling Mill – formerly the Lord Tonypandy – couldn’t justifiably call itself a gastropub by any stretch of the imagination (not least because it’s too brightly lit, the music’s too loud and the décor, while fresh, exudes a chain-y feel). And yet it serves as evidence of the impact the gastropub phenomenon has had on the nation’s dining options.
At the bar there’s the merest of concessions to the popularity of craft beer and a disappointing choice of two non-local real ales, but our starters come served not on plates or in bowls but in miniature roasting dishes. Potato skins – though not so much ‘with’ sour cream, as advertised, as drowned in it – are nevertheless crispy and crumbly but not greasy, and the ribs, despite being slathered in a rather generic BBQ sauce, are succulent, without a hint of toughness.
The table buzzer alert system allows you time to relax, digest and then ask for your main courses to be prepared – perfect for a leisurely lunch or evening meal. A juicy burger with Louisiana melt ‘topper’ (slow-cooked BBQ beef doused in American-style cheese), accompanied by self-serve salad, largely hits the spot, while the Mexican pizza – well stacked with BBQ pulled beef, peppers, red onion and jalapenos and hefty dollops of salsa, sour cream and guacamole – is a carnival of colour and a riot of flavour. Certainly a more successful example of imaginative fusion cuisine than the fish finger pizza also on the menu, I’d suspect.
Among the desserts on offer, the baked banoffee quesadilla and the banana and chocolate ‘sweetizza’ imply a determination to get the most out of their pizza oven. Instead, we plump for chocolate meringue pie – sold as a new twist on an old favourite, but sadly one that only has us hankering for the sharpness of lemon to counterbalance the sweetness of the meringue – and a slab of chocolate brownie, warmed and perfectly gooey.
Fine dining is probably best sought elsewhere, but if it’s value for money – as well as exceptionally friendly, welcoming and attentive staff – you’re looking for, then the Fulling Mill comes up trumps.
words BEN WOOLHEAD