At £18 for three cleverly balanced, tasty and satisfying courses we refer back to it often. Pre-theatre dinners can be a great way for restaurants to boost turnover and for punters to try out a restaurant on a budget. These menus can also be tricky to get right. The pricing needs to be sharp, the 3 courses taken together should be filling without leaving the diner stuffed (and liable to nodding off during the performance) and the plates should have a fairly rapid turnaround so nothing that needs lots of fiddly last minute cooking and plating.
Dinners like this are hard to find in Cardiff and I often struggle in town centre but in the Bay it is a little easier. I only rarely head down to Cardiff Bay to eat, only when I am in the area for cinema or the wonderful Wales Millennium Centre, preferring to avoid the plethora of family friendly chains that populate the front. Woods Brasserie is an exception to the rule and although there is no specific pre-theatre dinner, there is a 3 course Table d'Hote, available all evening for £20, so we decided to give it a try.
Woods describes itself as 'a contemporary restaurant situated within the iconic pilotage building of Cardiff Bay' and this is borne through in the decor. A beautiful stone building with glamorous touches inside, and a light conservatory serving as a dining room at the back which takes full advantage of the bayside views.
To start I had the Potted Pig which turned out to be 3 different types of pig; ham with the addition of tomato, slow cooked pork and a ham fritter all served on slate with smears of mustardy sauce and chutney. Of the three, my favourite was the slow cooked ham with tomato that flavoured the fat. The pork was the least successful of the three, the fat being unpleasantly greasy and lacking in flavour. I felt there was just too much food on the plate for a starter and I would have been happier with about half that portion.
For main I ordered the Woods fish and chips and a very good it was too. The fish had been fried beautifully, the batter was crisp and light, the handcut chips were crunchy, fluffy and there was an absolute mountain of them. The traditional accompaniments were fine, but the pea puree was a touch too thick for me and didn't have a strong enough pea flavour, and I personally would have preferred a little more bite to the tartar sauce.
The other main was braised blade of beef with garlic mash and red wine gravy. I am told that this was good with a very rich gravy and soft beef, but that the ratio of meat to potato was slightly off. We had been recommended to order some vegetables with this but as I covered in a recent post after a visit to The Social, it irritates me when accompaniments don't form part of the dish. When I order I really think that the plate should be composed together and then if people want to add to it, fine, but don't give me half a dinner!
By this point I was absolutely stuffed, but as it was a set menu I decided to try the Frozen Bread and Butter pudding. This turned out to be dull old white bread layered with plain ice cream and raisins and felt like a half-attempt at a pudding. It was saved by an indulgent caramel sauce which provided a much needed extra dimension and sweetness.
The service at Woods is quite formal and deliberate, although not unfriendly, and the whole experience offers a very pleasant, more sophisticated alternative to the pizza, burger and fried chicken places further along.
Overall we enjoyed our dinner and thought that it offered exceptional value for money at £20. Looking at the A La Carte menu even that wouldn't have been much more expensive and it is well pitched for the Cardiff market. For me personally it was far too much food across 3 courses although I certainly have friends who would have been very happy with the portion sizes!
We will definitely be back.
Woods Brasserie, Pilotage Building, Stuart Street, Cardiff, CF10 5BW (029) 2049 2400