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!
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.
To 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!)
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.