Tuesday, 17 April 2012

La Galleria restaurant review


When I started blogging about food and restaurants, a mere 9 months ago, I didn't realise what a job it would be to keep up with all the new restaurants opening, and here we go again, in Canton, with the latest new kid on the block, La Galleria.

Ordinarily I avoid all new places in the first month, particularly if I am planning to write about it, but the promise of 'Italian food the way it should be' tempted me and once you throw in a 2-4-1 offer it would be silly not to. I was looking forward to something more than your standard Italian restaurant.

La Galleria describes itself as a 'restaurant lounge bar' which I found intriguing. The reality was an unnecessarily lengthy description for what is in fact a restaurant.

The interior seemed equally unsure of itself; a mix of modern ('feature' wall and squishy sofas in the front - presumably the lounge bit) and a curiously old fashioned look in the main restaurant. White table cloths, a strange arrangement on the walls of thick horizontal strips of cream wood interspersed with thin mirrored strips, and generic Italian looking paintings in a Jack Vettriano style. Traditional is one thing but old fashioned is another. And while I'm at it the tables were absolutely rammed together, I can image it getting very cramped when they get booked up.

But enough of the decor, the food is what it's all about.

The menu is pretty standard UK Italian restaurant fare, antipasti and bruschetta starters; pasta, pizza and a handful meat/fish dishes. It also bears more than a passing resemblance to the menu at Bellini's so if you like that there's a good chance this will be your thing.

We ordered bruschetta and olives to start, both were good, the bruschetta strong with garlic and the tomatoes properly salted.The olives were good and came with carrots, celery, chilli etc. (again like the olives in Bellini's)

The 2-4-1 could be used on either pasta or pizza so he ordered a Calzone and I had the Rucola (parma ham, rocket, shaved Parmesan). These were both good with generous toppings but for me the pizza base could have been a little thinner and crispier. We were offered, and I accepted, the offer of chilli oil for the pizza. This came in a oversized comedy bottle that needed two hands to lift it and was without a stopper for drizzling. This added an unnecessary frisson of danger and was so unwieldy reduced me to giggles.

Service was fine and efficient but would benefit from being a little more welcoming. There is a difference between service and hosting and as a general point the latter is much harder, but is normally the way in the best Italian restaurants. There were some teething issues evident but to be fair they were all dealt with cheerfully and quickly. While this would have been a problem somewhere more established, it wasn't a problem at all for somewhere open less than a week so let's not hold it against them.

Our bill with the discount was only £22.75 for the bruschetta, olives, 2 pizzas, 2 glasses of house red (an easy Montepulciano) and a coke; ridiculously good value in anyone's book. Without discount it would have been £31 which is still pretty sharp.

As we left we walked home past La Lupa and the Italian Way, both full and lively, and here for me is the issue. The food was fine, the service was fine but La Galleria seems to be a little confused in terms of what it is aiming for while at the same time not offering anything new. The description and the street view promise robust Italian cooking with a modern twist but this isn't completely followed through to the menu. If feels like 2 people have been locked in separate rooms with one working up the design and marketing while another worked up the menu. Canton is already well served with established Italian restaurants practically next door so where is the USP?

I'd really like La Galleria to do well. We have traditional Italian restaurants in Canton so there is space for something a bit different. Both La Vita (gorgeous pizzas) and Casanova (wonderful seasonal cooking) have already managed this and it would be good to see La Galleria carve out its own space.

La Galleria - Restaurant Bar Lounge
147 Cowbridge Road East, Canton

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Almada restaurant review

I moved to Cardiff about 7 years ago and in that time the options for eating in Canton have improved significantly. One of the first places I ate after arriving was a little neighbourhood Turkish place called Seren, which at the time was very tasty and exceptionally good value. Over the last 2 years though, the quality took a bit of a dive and earlier this year it quietly closed and a new Portuguese restaurant opened in its place. I had heard rumours that the chef used to be at Casanova (an excellent Italian restaurant on Quay Street in town) so when I booked a table for Saturday evening, expectations were high.

When we arrived at 8.00pm we were the only people there. I did not take this to be a good sign. One other couple arrived about 20 minutes later but that was it for the evening.

I liked the place when it was Seren and I still like the interior, however I find it hard to relax in an empty restaurant. Apart from trying to hold half whispered, self-conscious conversations, I become very aware of being watched over by hovering waiters!

Almada restaurant Cardiff dining room

In any case, when we sat down we were brought a dish of huge, shiny olives that almost needed a knife and fork to deal with them. Some bread also appeared along with a delicious tomatoey sardine paste which I thought was a very nice touch. I tried a glass of reasonable house red and looked through the menu.

Mussels with garlic and white wine at Almada CardiffTo start I ordered mussels with garlic and white wine (apologies for the naff photography). When they arrived there was enough shellfish to make a decent main course and while the mussels were good quality (their fish comes from Ashtons in the central market) if there was garlic in there, I couldn't find it.

The other starter of smoked salmon with beetroot salad was off balance. Far too much beetroot which completely overpowered the salmon.

For the main we ordered a Cataplana for two people at £35. Having never been to Portugal I had no idea what a Cataplana was, but the friendly and helpful waiter was very happy to explain and it turns out that it is a sealed metal cooking dish. This version had mussels, prawns, pork and chorizo and came with 'chips'. (Is this a standard 'Cataplana' or is it like a tagine with lots of variations? Comments welcome!)

Cataplana - Almada Cardiff
The seafood, as with the starters was good quality with lots of whole prawns and mussels on the top. The pork however was chewy rather than soft, and again the flavours were disappointing even with the chorizo and I found the whole thing a little bland and crying out for a good punchy sauce. The chips were fried potatoes rather than chipped, no problem at all, but why describe one thing then serve another?

We skipped dessert (the options didn't inspire me) and settled the bill.

Overall I thought that it was expensive for what we had. The total bill came to £70 for 2 starters, the main, 2 glasses of wine and a soft drink. The service was good and friendly but given that there were only 4 customers in that is to be expected. Almada faces some stiff competition on Cowbridge Road East which now has plenty of options for anyone looking for good, value for money, independent places to eat. I suspect that Almada will have to improve either their offering or their pricing to keep up with the competition.

Almada on Urbanspoon
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