Vibrant, hospitable and de-stressing define Ricardo Romells' pubbing exprience in wales.
We walk into The Hanbury Arms, a pub in Caerleon, Wales. We pick an empty table in their outdoor, riverside seating area; there's something incredibly relaxing about chugging down a pint and devouring a warm, freshly-cooked meal, outdoors on a nice summer day. Charming as Wales is with all its magnificent castles and fascinating history, there's nothing like spending a relaxing evening in one of the several pubs.
From smaller villages to urban city centres, you'll find pubs everywhere. The best part is that whether you're in a big city or a smaller locale, they are never more than a mile away. Public transport is efficient and you will almost always find a nice place for a pint near any railway station, market or city centre. Each town or city will have its local favourite and the best way to find them is to ask around for recommendations and why people like a particular pub. Alternatively, you can look up places before entering.
Walk into a pub in Wales and you’ll be greeted by a sea of wood, which adds to their warm ambience. Generally well-lit and slightly noisy, they turn into supporter hubs on the day of a sports event. From youngsters to senior citizens, you'll find people of all ages and gender, except children. While some pubs do allow kids, it's best avoided to bring kids along.These pubs have been around for quite a while and have years of tradition and service. Some have weekend events, some host sports pay per views, while others have pub games like cards and darts. For the Welsh, a pub is a 'public house', essentially permitted to serve alcoholic drinks and hence there is no dress code or entry charge, except maybe on event nights like sports nights or festivals and holidays, when you may have to pay a cover charge. Pubs rarely organise individual events and parties, but they celebrate local events and festivals like Halloween and Saint David's Day, which mostly coincide with holidays. But if you're a student, head to one of the pubs on Wednesdays, where they have a wide variety of events from karaoke and themes nights to live acts and happy hours
Each pub has a well-established menu, but you should try the specials. They recommend them for good reason! The better ones have a homely touch that the average restaurant fails to deliver. The smaller pubs dish out some of the best-prepared meals and the menu, though not exhaustive, has enough variety to pique your curiosity. Most pubs will serve more than just grub food and have full-course meals on their menu, which include well-prepared steaks and pies, Sunday roasts, steak and Ale pie, Welsh lamb and on certain days, especially at the pubs along the countryside, you would be lucky to try some game meat (duck, quail, rabbit). But you'll always find the favourites like burgers, bangers and mash, curries, fish and chips, calamari rings, smoked Scottish salmon, and wings and crisps. I quite enjoyed their bakes (they're incredibly good at baking in the UK).
If you're keen to taste some of their famous Ales, ask the barman to recommend something and to give you a free sample. They are very liberal when it comes to allowing you to sample the Ales and will let you try as many as 4-5 Ales, in 60 ml shot glasses. From Blonds to Dry Stout, to Browns and Irish or Indian Ales, there is never a shortage of variety though there are not as many English beers for you, if that's your poison.
As far as the music goes, you can expect anything that gives you a feel-good vibe; from newer indie tracks to classic, 80's pop and even old school hip-hop. The music in most places always sets a great mood, inviting you to indulge in conversation with even complete strangers...or may be everything just sounds better a few pints down.
Compared to other places, pubs in Wales and in the UK are non-pretentious, warm and friendly. The establishments never try to be any thing they were not; in essence they stick to what they are good at. It's a place where you can unwind with your friends after a long day at work or a day spent shopping, without any 'contemporary electronic music' jarring in your ears as you attempt to make conversation.
As told to Avril-Ann Braganza