The Woodman is the pub closest to where I live and is another I'm very happy to call my local. However, I've had a love/hate relationship with the place over the years – thankfully more loves than hates, but we'll look at both over the next few hundred words.
Located on Mumbles Road just opposite Blackpill, The Woodman is an instantly recognisable building, which would look more at home on a quite country lane than on a busy main road. Before you even walk through the doors the theme of the pub is obvious, and can be summed up in one word: rustic.
Despite almost seeming to be an independent, family-run country pub, it is a Chef & Brewer owned establishment, and has been for some time now (I recall it was Beefeater owned around 15 years ago).
The pub went through a refurb a few years back, but it remains the only pub I know to look older after the refurb than before! It's the look they're going for though, and it's a look that works very well. Exposed beams, bare brick walls, stacks of wood ready for the roaring fires (in the winter) – it's all very homely and comfortable.
When people ask me whether The Woodman is a pub or a restaurant I usually stumble and stutter, then end with a shrug of my confused shoulders. It's a pub with good, restaurant quality food and a restaurant that you can easily just go to for a drink – a bit of both I guess.
The food is where the love/hate relationship begins. Now I don't think I've ever had any qualms with the food quality – it's actually some of the best pub food around and is clearly made by a chef, not some 15-year-old warming things up à la microwave. No, the quality is near perfect. However, the areas sometimes letting it down are the portion sizes and common sense.
You can end up receiving a meagre portion for the asking price of some of the meals. Sometimes you can feel a little cheated out of five pounds for a starter when you're presented with a slice of baguette, three prawns and a sprinkle of rocket.
I mention common sense with a specific menu item in mind: The Chef & Brewer Platter. It's recommended that three people share it as a starter, a recommendation myself and two friends opted for at Christmas time. When it arrived it looked visually pleasing, but there were only two of some of the items. Just two chicken skewers when it's meant for three to share? It's a fight waiting to happen. (We actually tossed a coin - while the others tossed the coin, I ate the skewer).
Portions and common sense aside, the food is generally a hit. The menu changes occasionally and there are usually a host of specials to choose from, including fresh fish dishes and 'theme nights/weeks' such as game (i.e. partridge and pheasant, not Scrabble and Cluedo), fish, Welsh and Scottish. On the night I visited to take a few photos, the pub was celebrating their new summer menu (hence the balloons in above photos), which I indulged in.
The Summer Bruschetta looked fantastic as you can see from the photo and tasted even better. For my main course I opted for the new Brewer's Chicken (chicken strips topped with bacon and cheese on a barbecue and ale sauce). Again, portion size isn't the biggest, but it's aesthetically pleasing and tasted lovely.
I didn't mind the portion size too much as I saved 20% on my food bill that evening, because I joined the email club, which is worth it if you eat there often. I think I saved £6 last time I was there by doing this, which is £6 more to spend on beer!
For the ale drinkers among you, you'll usually find a nice selection to keep you occupied. Recently I have enjoyed guest ales such as Hobgoblin, Proper Job, Tribute and Doombar and there always seems to be something from Courage, Fullers or Marston's on tap (in addition to pub standards like Fosters, Stella, Strongbow and Guinness). There is also a good selection of wines to choose from.
What else can The Woodman offer you apart from good food, warm atmosphere and a nice beer selection? The service is one of the more memorable around – generally friendly, always witty, sometimes abrupt (but never rude). However, the more you go, the better it gets as the staff get to know you and some remember what you like (and what you don't!).
The only real service problem tends to arise if you are in a group of five or more. Three times I've been with a big group and we've had to wait over an hour and a half for food. That kind of thing can ruin an evening out. I've been many other times with big groups and it has been fine, but it's always the few that were ruined that I'll remember.
Elsewhere, there are two very small beer gardens which can be pleasant in the sunshine, but can also be irritating at times. One is outside the front of the pub, so you are essentially sitting on Mumbles Road: a very scenic view of the bay, but literally metres away when a police car zooms past, full siren blaring.
The Woodman is generally a big hit in all areas. Despite some of the food and service-time issues, I'm confident in saying it is one of the best pubs in Swansea.