The things you do for love. If young Bob had an imminent school project on the sea life of the coral reef, I might have found myself face down off the coast of Sinai, gazing at little fish which we would later eat in a Bedouin tent on the beach. But no - were in Cardiff, visiting bloody Norman castles in the drizzling rain, and if anything, Bob is even less keen on seeing them than we are. Thank God then for the St. Davids Hotel, a little bit of the Med transported to Cardiff Bay where you can retire for solace at the end of the day, and soak away your historical malaise in a hydrotherapy pool.
The hotel, a collection of towering white blocks set on the edge of the bay, doesnt look so different from the other construction going on in the regenerated area, except that its finished. And its impressive. Fashioned on the roof is a structure resembling a bird of prey ready to take fight out over the bars and food outlets of the whimsically named Mermaid Cove; while inside each of the modern rooms has a bed big enough to lose yourself in and its own terrace with a wide view across the water. Admittedly Cardiff docks is not quite the stuff of picture postcards but the bay has its own charm. The hotel is built around a central, dazzlingly white lobby, the floors rising above in dizzying tiers from which, and I speak from experience, little bits of Pringles land with alarming velocity (em - sorry about that). Theres a spanking new spa, a pool, a gym, a sauna and a jacuzzi the size of Monaco where you can experience what it must be like to be shaken up inside a champagne bottle. Almost as nice as drinking the stuff. Though effervescent water and well-endowed fiftysomething ladies (in jewelry and full-make up) have a curious sea-side landlady humour when youre sitting in the midst of a ring of floating breasts, all bobbing like corks several inches higher than their normal position. This must be what they mean by uplift.
When I went out to the Crown and Castle in Suffolk several weeks ago, and whinged about the lack of space to park your posterior in front of their log fire, the owners wrote to say that originally they hadnt intended the place to be a hotel, but rather a restaurant with rooms. On this basis, perhaps you should think of the St. Davids as rooms with a restaurant. The Tides, the hotels dining room, suffers slightly from Hotel Restaurant Syndrome, trying to be all things to all palates - offering breakfast, lunch, fast food for fidgetting children and everything in between.
We had dinner on a busy Saturday night where the room was full to capacity with guests, celebrants, well-heeled football fans up for the next days match at the Millennium Dome, and hen parties of local Welsh lovelies in slinky frocks and kitten heeled slingbacks, drinking bubbly and squeaking loudly. Nevertheless, despite the huge number of guests, service was excellent - brisk, efficient and unfailingly friendly. This was the case throughout our stay when - falling Pringles notwithstanding - everyone from the concierge to the local taxi drivers were welcoming and enthusiastic.
After a day of desultory foot dragging round keeps and baileys I gave in to the two youngest and told them, yes they could have the flaccid potato skins topped with bacon bits and a dollop of unappealling, rubbery cheese, followed by Cardiff Bay burgers from the kids menu. And I let them leave early to watch Big Brother. The two eldest, however, did not escape. From the a la carte we sampled a miniature, lukewarm goats cheese soufflé with a distinctly warmed over feel served with salad, and an insipid, watery cucumber soup - chosen over things such as scallop and herb risotto, asparagus, and duck rillettes. From the market menu( 2 courses £20 at dinner, £14.50 at lunch) I had a trio of Welsh farmed Salmon, sourced, Im told from a local Cardiff supplier. The smoked and poached were fine, but the curl of gravadlax was fatty and flabby, the Jim Royle of fish.
The herb roasted loin of Welsh lamb was well cooked as was the sirloin steak from the market menu, though I was less keen on its accompanying Bovrilly, devilled sauce. The roast sea bass did indeed come with olive oil - a whole pool of it, but the star of the evening had to be a fantastic Fillet of Black beef with yet more bubble and squeak - this time of the culinary variety, made with laverbread.
Puddings consisted of profiteroles for the kids, a custardy rice pudding with clotted cream ice cream, and a very alcoholic Welsh whiskey parfait which smoothed the way nicely for the best part of the evening - upstairs eating peaches in bed and not worrying about the laundry. Total sticky bliss. Though what we were supposed to do with the complimentary bottle of Olive Oil left by the management next to the fruit bowl, I can only guess. But you can be sure absolutely no drizzling took place.