Saturday, 10 November 2012

Sherry baby - Bar 44 restaurant review

I have a confession to make. I love sherry. And no, I'm not currently sporting a blue rinse or sipping Bristol Cream from a schooner. I'm talking proper sherry. Bone dry, super cold fino or manzanilla, nutty, complex amontillado or palo cortado, or my all time favourite dessert wine, pedro ximinez, perfect with a chocolate brownie.

Despite having converted a handful of friends to the cause, most people still think I'm bonkers when I confess my love for Dot Cotton's favourite tipple, but I have found kindred spirits at Bar 44 in  Cowbridge as our Twitter conversations will attest.  I've been threatening to visit for some time, but when I learned that they were hosting a gourmet 'tapas y copas' evening with paired sherries and other Spanish wines from González Byass (£48.50) I booked in.

The evening kicked off with Rebujito’s (a fino cocktail) or Vilarnau Brut Cava NV, olives, almonds and pan catalan before we were seated communally around tables stuffed with cutlery and glasses. I was thrilled to find myself on the same table as Allison and Lucie  from González Byass, although considering the grilling about sherry and wine they received, they may have been less pleased than I was.


Smoked Anchovy, Chicory, La Peral Mousse - Bar 44
Smoked Anchovy, Chicory, La Peral Mousse

The first course of Nardín Beech Smoked Anchovy, Chicory, La Peral Mousse and crushed Hazelnuts is what the phrase 'so wrong it's right' was made for. Certainly on paper, blue cheese with oily smoked fish would just be plain wrong. However the reality was that the intense flavour of the cheese, mollified in a feather light mousse, complemented the lightly smoked fish well. This was perfectly paired with the big-hitter of the González Byass, crisp, and super dry Tio Pepe fino.


The second course of Gower Crab and Prawn Croqueta, Saffron Alioli, Tomato dressing was the course I was most anticipating and I wasn't disappointed. Beautifully crisp breadcrumbs gave way to sweet, meaty, salty prawns and crab. Utterly delicious and I could have eaten a bucketful. This was paired with Viñas del Vero Chardonnay Macabeo. Chardonnay wouldn't normally be my first choice but this wine I learned, had been spared heavy oak aging which made for easier drinking.

Gower Crab and Prawn Croqueta - Bar 44
Gower Crab and Prawn Croqueta
The third course was Calasparra Rice braised in Shellfish stock and Squid Ink, seared Hake, Green alioli and everyone agreed that this was the surprise plate of the night. The seasoning here was all with the delicious rice, the naturally mild flavoured hake treated simply and all the better for it. The course was paired with La Miranda de Secastilla Garnacha Blanca, probably my favourite and the most complex of the whites that we tried.
Calasparra Rice, Squid Ink, Seared Hake, Green alioli
Calasparra Rice, Squid Ink, Seared Hake, Green alioli
The fourth course of Baked Torta de Barros, Black Pig Sobrasada on Toast, Caramelised Shallot and Quince Relish was probably the least successful course for me, the Sobrasada toast being a touch too oily once paired with the also oily cheese. The sweet/sharp relish however was fantastic and would make a great addition to a cheeseboard. By now we had progressed to the reds and tried a Viñas del Vero Cabernet/ Merlot, quite a soft, easy wine.


Torta de Barros, Black Pig Sobrasada, Shallot and Quince Relish
Torta de Barros, Black Pig Sobrasada, Shallot and Quince Relish
The fifth course we were confidently back on form with Castilla braised Shin of Local Beef, Piquillo Pepper, Pea Purée, Pancetta, Pea shoots. Pea puree can easily be bland but this was anything but. An intense hit of sweet pea, cranked up to 11 by pea shoots was a good counterbalance to intensely savoury beef and wafer thin, crisp pancetta. This was paired with my favourite red of the night, Beronia Rioja Barrel Fermented Tempranillo. I was warned by Allison and Lucie from González Byass that this would be a special Rioja and they were right. This wine is no shrinking violet and needed to be paired with robust food that can stand up to it.

Castilla braised Shin of Beeft, Piquillo Pepper, Pea Puree
Castilla braised Shin of Beeft, Piquillo Pepper, Pea Puree
The sixth (and final) savoury course of Iberico Pork, Grilled Presa, Braised Cheek in Oloroso, Chorizo and Kale, ‘Ibérico Chips’was meal sized and I was disappointed not to be able to finish it. Special mention here has to go to the braised cheek, which was meltingly tender enough to be eaten with a spoon. I had to ask Tom what 'Presa' was, and apparently it is a specific cut from the shoulder which is suitable to light cooking and was served pink here. The course was paired with Finca Constancia Parcela 23, another soft, easy drinking red.
Iberico Pork, Chorizo and Kale, Iberico Chips
Iberico Pork, Chorizo and Kale, Iberico Chips
The dessert course read like a who's who of Spanish sweetness, Flourless Catalan Almond, Lemon and Orange Cake, Raspberry Crema Catalana, Sangria Sorbet, Turrón Ice cream, Pedro Ximenez and Raisin Ice Cream, Sweet Olive Oil and Carraway Biscuit matched with González Byass Nectar Pedro Ximinez (what else!). By this point I was insanely full and only managed a spoonful of each component. The flourless cake was my favourite, closely followed by a smooth, rich Crema Catalana, livened by sharp raspberries. For me, PX really needs chocolate to bring it alive and the syrupy consistency didn't really work with the sorbet.

This was my first visit to Bar 44 and there was some very impressive and consistent cooking on display supported by an efficient and friendly front of house team. I left feeling not only full, but satisfied, the way I do after a dinner that challenges with clever flavour and texture combinations. The imminent opening of a new bar in Penarth is an exciting development for the team, like many others, I will be watching with interest!

Bar 44, 44 High Street  Cowbridge, Vale of Glamorgan CF71 7AG
01446 776488
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