The Crown Social closed and a pared back verion, The Social, opened last autumn under executive chef Iain Inman. It has taken me some time to put to bed memories of my last experience there but when a tempting Travelzoo voucher was made available (£39 for 2 glasses of Prosecco, starters, mains, deserts) I decided it was worth another punt.
As we arrived the restaurant looked quiet through the window but the bar was not with a large group of fairly loud ladies gearing up for a night in town. Sitting in the bar sipping a glass of prosecco and reading the menu, entertainment was provided by the stream of people heading towards St Mary Street dressed in a variety of what I will generously call 'outfits'.
- Cured sewin, laverbread puree, crab vinaigrette, shaved fennel, candied lemon and chilli (£8)
- Red and white onion risotto (£6.50)
The cured sewin was a pretty good start, not a bone in sight, and the candied lemon, chilli and fennel salad was a fresh counterpoint to the fish. The crab vinaigrette felt utterly pointless though and with 2 microscopic blobs on the plate came across as almost stingy.
The onion risotto was good, al dente and strong/sweet with onion. This can also be ordered as a large plate but I suspect it might have been a too one-dimensional to work as a main.
- Fillet of Usk Valley beef (£25)
- Rump of Welsh lamb, braised shoulder, smoked aubergine, Nicoise jus (£20)
The lamb dish was a real disappointment. The rump was unevenly cooked with some parts pretty much raw and had quite a lot of indigestible fat. The braise hadn't been cooked long enough and was unpleasantly flabby too. The smoked aubergine just tasted burned and wasn't pleasant to my taste.
- Pithvier [sic] of dark chocolate, milk chocolate mousse, white chocolate ice cream
- Board of Welsh cheeses
Things did improve with the desserts. We disagreed about the chocolate pithivier which I think had used salted butter in the pastry. I liked the saltiness but he was less sure. The white chocolate ice cream was very good.
I had the Welsh cheeses, Perl Las, Caerphilly and 2 others that I can't remember (sorry), a generous amount of good quality cheese, biscuits and chutneys.
The service was good and the front of house team know what they are doing. They were keen to make sure that their customers enjoyed and when I asked some questions about the aubergine on the lamb dish the Maitre d' was very happy to chat and even went so far as to take it upon himself to bring another spoonful so I could taste it again - above and beyond the call of duty!
For the second time I left The Social feeling a little let down and here's the issue. If we had been paying full price the total bill would have come to somewhere around £120 for 2 people - a significant sum in anyone's book. As it was, with the voucher, we paid a more realistic £66 for the quality of the meal we had.
According to its own press releases, The Social is still ambitious which is laudable but with venues like The Park Plaza and The Parkhouse Club having recently launched new menus in the same space and within walking distance the competition's hotting up.