Monday, 21 October 2013

Second chance - The Observer Food Monthly Awards 2013 and the Runners Up for Wales

The Observer Food Monthly Awards, now in their 10th year, are a high profile fixture in the food calendar and of particular interest to me as a Welsh food blogger. The organisation of the public vote 'runners up' into geographical segments gives Welsh food businesses a significant opportunity rarely seen elsewhere and are even more important given the demise of the True Taste Awards.

Here is a quick summary of the votes from Wales this year.

Best Restaurant – runners up
No big surprises in this category with reliable favourites The Hardwick and The Potted Pig appearing in both 2012 and 2013. This year the list included West Wales notable, Y Polyn (slogan – ‘fat equals flavour, live with it’) and it was refreshing to see an Indian restaurant recognised with Canton's Purple Poppadom making the cut.

Best Ethical Restaurant – runners up
This 75% Cardiff based shortlist understandably features 2 vegetarian restaurants, student favourite Vegetarian Food Studio, and the eclectic Milgi Lounge on City Road which comes complete with a yurt. One of my favourites, inventive neighbourhood restaurant Canteen on Clifton Street completes the Cardiff trio while the rest of Wales is represented by Treehouse in Aberystwyth.

Best Cheap Eats – runners up
Interesting category this, recognising restaurants at under £15 a head which is no mean feat given spiralling produce prices. I find it astonishing that anyone manages this, let alone in London where rents and rates are astronomical. From this category I can heartily recommend Ultracomida both to eat in and to shop from. Again, Cardiff was well represented with newcomer Katiwok and a second mention for Milgi. The one surprise for me was arts centre Chapter which has its place, but for my money there are better options at this price point.

Best Sunday Lunch - runners up
I've been on something of a mission this year to find top quality Sunday roasts which are often the best value meal at many restaurants. I heartily agree with the inclusion of The Potted Pig here, an excellent roast which I thoroughly enjoyed; and from the same stable The Lansdowne pub. We also have a third nod for Milgi and a new entry this year for The Plough in Whitchurch. A clean sweep for Cardiff then and I have to admit some disappointment that the Felin Fach Griffin was missing.

Best place to drink – runners up
Wales could never be accused of having a shortage of good pubs and the resurgence in real ale over the last couple of years has improved the quality of hostelries. In Mid Wales the Harbourmaster was recognised for its real ales and sea views. In Cowbridge, Bar 44 gets a well-deserved mention, I strongly recommend the sherry and cocktail menus, while in Cardiff Chapter appears again (in the most appropriate category to my mind) and is duly recognised for what might be the widest and most varied selection of beers, ales and ciders in the ‘Diff. Finally Porters with its mix of comedy, cinema and good beers makes the cut.

Best independent retailer – runners up
The category with the broadest geographical spread, special mention has to go to Gower Cottage Brownies for their 4th nomination, a fantastic achievement. Blasus Delicatessen in Carmarthenshire (a new name for me) gets a nod for their ‘olives and warm tarts’ and Cardiff newcomer One Mile Bakery for ultra-local bread and soup deliveries. Finally, Cardiff institution Wally’s Delicatessen rounds off the list, if for nothing else than for always being the answer to the question ‘Where can I get some halva/fresh yeast/czabi’

Fantastic to see so many great Welsh businesses promoted again this year and huge congratulations to all the businesses nominated but wouldn't it be great next year to see some businesses North of Aberystwyth included for an honourable mention?

Sweet Like Chocolate - Thorntons Continental Chocolate Review

When I mentioned to friends that I had been asked to review a box of chocolates by Thorntons it trigged a series of nostalgic stories from the days when fine chocolate were a very occasional treat and Thorntons was the only name on the high street. By now, quality chocolate is more readily available and tastes have shifted towards ever darker chocolate.

I was interested then, to see whether Thorntons chocolate could still impress as a high end chocolatier. Asked to select from their website I chose the Continental Chocolatiers Tasting Selection (£19.99).

Very prettily packaged, in simple black, white and pink, the box has 2 layers of chocolate on each tier.

The chocolates themselves are a comprehensive selection of pralines, truffles and include Thorntons classics like Alpini, Diplomat and Ganache au Marc de Champagne which is always a winner.

Particularly good was the Cherry Truffle, but at the other end of the scale the Scilian Lemon and Amour were disappointing, lacking in hits of lemon and marzipan respectively.

This would be an excellent selection for a group of people and would be a safe bet to take to a dinner party given the breadth of flavours and textures on offer. It also represents very good value when compared per 100g with other high end options.

For me, taking the box overall, I would have enjoyed more dark chocolate and some stronger and more interesting flavours. The brand is currently repositioning itself in a rapidly changing market and their efforts are paying off with sales on the increase, hopefully once on a more solid footing, this will follow through to a refresh of the product and another 100 years!

Thorntons Chocolates

Twitter: @thorntonschocs
Facebook: Thorntons Official

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Saint or Sinner - The Saints at St Mary's Golf Club Pencoed Review

At St Mary's Golf Club in Pencoed, the times they are a'changing. A new restaurant, The Saints, a refreshed website and a new recruit in Head Chef, Paul Ngigi formerly of The Savoy was an intriguing proposition for a review.

The dining room of The Saints is quite old fashioned with dark green patterned carpets, pink tablecloths and is housed in the conservatory. Arriving as we did, in the dark on a Friday evening, we weren't best placed to appreciate any view of the location which I'm sure must be lovely in the daylight.

We settled in, and were brought an oversized amuse bouche of poached ballotine of turbot with spheres of tomato consomme and some sort of berry. Whilst the fish was well cooked, the curious mix of warm and chilled, fruit and cream, tomato and pickle wasn't particularly coherent.

The starters arrived but the very pretty presentation of a Perl Las Pannacotta £3.95 belied the flavour. My first clue that all wasn't well was the stubborn rigidity of the pannacotta which was missing any pleasing wobble. After carving a slice, the initial flavour was a hit of the fat with which the mould had been coated, which eventually gave way to a rubbery, fridge cold blue cheese.

A second starter of Smoked Haddock Fishcake was slightly better with a decent tartare albeit coated in suspiciously orange breadcrumbs and if anything, a little bland.

My main of Braised Lamb Breast £12.95, which came served with a five bean and chorizo cassoulet was unfortunately unpleasant. The lamb soft but the fat hadn't been fully rendered and the gloopy cassoulet seemed mainly composed of kidney beans.

The Corn Fed Chicken Breast £12.50, had been simply grilled and was tasty but quite dry, even with the madeira gravy.

With the dessert course, things suddenly picked up. A Dark Chocolate Fondant with Grand Marnier Ice Cream was surprisingly good and temptingly presented.

The Treacle Sponge was requested with custard rather than cream and the kitchen were happy to oblige. This was the high point of the meal, a classic dessert, executed beautifully.

Overall the meal at St Mary's was disappointing and incoherent. Elements of the menu are aiming for fine dining, featuring dishes such as Breast of Wood Pigeon in a Chocolate Orange Sauce or Pan Fried Calves Liver and this feels incongruous in a restaurant without a wine list. The most successful dishes by far were the puddings, which were well executed classics and I can't help wondering if there's a lesson in there for the team at The Saints?

Disclosure: I was invited to review The Saints and my meal was complimentary

The Saints at St Mary's Golf Club
St Mary Hill, Pencoed, Bridgend, Glamorgan CF35 5EA
01656 868900


Friday, 30 August 2013

Pork and Beans - The Potted Pig Cardiff revisited

2 years ago when I first started blogging about Cardiff food, a new restaurant called The Potted Pig was the first place I wrote about. It turned out that I was in good company and it has since been reviewed by Jay Rayner and named in OFM Awards as Best Regional Restaurant for Wales. 2 years and 1 day later I am back, this time for the Sunday roast.

I still think the dining room lovely, set in an old bank vault, and retaining some of the original fittings, it has great atmosphere. The frequently changing menu is Modern British, with occasional Italian or French touches and the encyclopaedic gin menu is also worth a mention, arranged into categories (dry, floral, fruity, spicy and so on) and paired with tonic suggestions, it is worth the visit alone. There are also a good selection of wines by the glass, although I found the Cabernet Sauvignon Villaraca disappointing.

The Sunday menu is £15 for 2 courses or £20 for 3. A starter of Truffled Welsh Rarebit was decent and has been on the menu more or less consistently since opening day.

The other starter of Fresh chorizo with char grilled squid & red pepper & rocket salad was a mixed bag. Excellent chorizo with sweet peppers but the squid had the rubber band twang of overcooked fish, the chunk of squid body pretty much inedible.

 The burger, served with cheese and crispy bacon was served well done and excellent. Straightforward and unfussy as a burger should be.

It gets better, the Welsh Topside of Beef was an absolute stunner. Thick slices of very rare beef with horseradish, marbled with fat, a crisp puffy Yorkshire pudding and a jug of properly thickened gravy (I don't appreciate 'pan juices' on a roast, I need gravy that has seen a spoonful of flour). I ended up with enough veg to feed about 4 people. The roast potatoes were beautifully crispy and tasty, I suspect they might have been finished in the same fryer as the chips. A mix of carrots and cabbage, and a bowl of cauliflower cheese that had seen a grill finished the meal.

We ordered just the one dessert, a silky smooth lemon posset topped with raspberries, perfectly balanced between sweet and sharp.

The bar that stocks 83% of the gin in Cardiff
This is straightforward food, the presentation disguises and hides nothing, you get exactly what is described on the menu. Refreshing, and to my mind, one of the very best roasts in Cardiff.

The Potted Pig
27 High Street (underneath Zizzi), Cardiff, CF10 1PU
029 2022 4817

Twitter: @thepottedpig

The Potted Pig on Urbanspoon

Friday, 23 August 2013

In a Big Country - Felin Fach Griffin, Sunday Roast Review

It's not for nothing that the Felin Fach Griffin was awarded Inn of the Year by The Good Pub Guide, located in Mid Wales between Brecon and Builth Wells, in a gorgeous location it has become a destination for country pub lovers and locals. Pleasingly, for a pub that takes its food seriously, there is a good amount of space retained for the bar too, we were here for Sunday lunch on a beautiful sunny weekend and keen to test drive a lunch menu that had been commended in the Observer Food Monthly Awards 2011.

The menu reflects the setting and the pub's own kitchen garden. Each dish is described unpretentiously and still shows clear ambition in terms of flavour combinations and processes. I had no doubt that I would be well fed.

A starter of Potted Oak Roast Salmon with Parsley and Brown Toast was very prettily presented, light and creamy with a metallic twang from the vibrant parsley. The brown toast was slightly impractical, so thin and brittle that it disintegrated under the slightest pressure from the pâté but provided some welcome accompanying crunch.

The Mushroom and Tarragon Soup was a meal in itself, thick and creamy and the tarragon stood up well to the earthy mushroom.

The Roast Rib of Beef was served rare with a milder than usual, homemade horseradish sauce and accompanied by a smorgasbord of vegetables. Cabbage, carrot, broccoli, and a wedge of sweet butternut squash. If it wasn't for the fact that the roasties were crying out for some salt it would all have been spot on.

The other main of Slow Cooked Pork Shoulder with Apple, Roast Beetroot, Horseradish and Lentils was excellent, small cubes of potato added texture alongside the soft pork and lentils.

A pudding of Crème Brûlée with Shortbread was practically perfect, and the best dessert I have had in ages. Smooth creamy custard, a stunning crunchy brûlée and a very short buttery shortbread. It was such a shame that the vanilla seeds were all in the bottom of the bowl but with a dessert that good I'm finding it hard to care.

Can I also draw your attention to the rather fantastic range of sherries on offer and suggest that you arrive a little early for an aperitif? I tried the No 35, La Bota de Fino Macharnudo Alto, quite dark for a fino and complex. it would be fantastic with some salted nuts or a fish starter.

The Felinfach Griffin
Felin Fach, Brecon, LD3 0UB
01874 620111

Twitter: @felinfachgriff

Felin Fach Griffin on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Sing For Your Supper - The One Mile Bakery Supper Club

The dining room, One Mile Bakery Supper Club Cardiff
Last night was the inaugural One Mile Bakery Supper Club and the theme was 'summer' so in a season of record temperatures in Cardiff, naturally there was heavy rain all day and most of the evening. In preparation I Googled the term 'supper club' and was amused to discover that I would be expected to 'fraternise with other guests' but then these events are as much about socialising as food.

As the guests arrived we were greeted with an aperitif and then moved into the dining room for our first look at the 5 course menu (£30pp and bring your own wine).

The first course was a light summer salad of watermelon, roasted baby beetroot and homemade ricotta with nasturtium flowers, served with a selection of OMB breads.

The fish course was an intense Marseille style fish soup with gurnard and mullet served with garlic rouille (a pungent garlic mayonnaise style sauce) croutons and gruyere.

Marseilles fish soup at One Mile Bakery Cardiff

Garlic Rouilles Croutons at One Mile Bakery Supper Club Cardiff

The meat course was soft, braised pork belly with fennel and lime salted apples, jasmine rice and a very tasty side of sesame greens.

Braised pork belly, One Mile Bakery Supper Club Cardiff

The cheese board was made up of Irish Artisan Cheeses which was served with figs and an apple and mint chutney.

Irish Artisan Cheese Board, One Mile Bakery Supper Club Cardiff

By this point I was threatening to unbutton something I was so full, but there was still dessert to tackle. Chocolate three ways, a verrine, an excellent tonka bean creme brûlée and frozen berries with hot white chocolate sauce.

Chocolate three ways, One Mile Bakery Supper Club, Cardiff

One Mile Bakery Supper Club, Cardiff

The food was all very good, the effort that had gone into the menu was evident and as always, the suppliers carefully chosen and featured a number of local producers. Most of all the evening was great fun and I met some lovely people and laughed. A lot.

The next supper club is planned for 2nd of November and guests will be drawn by ballot from emails to

Disclosure: I was invited by Elisabeth and my meal was complimentary

The One Mile Bakery Supper Club
21 Syr David's Avenue, Cardiff, CF5 1GH 
07939 211809 

Twitter: @onemilebakery

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Smoke on the Water - Hangfire Smokehouse at the Canadian, Cardiff Restaurant Review

Hangfire Smokehouse, Cardiff

Spotted any food trends arriving in Cardiff over the last year? You would have to have your head in a bucket not to notice that 'dude food' has arrived. Make no mistake, it may look simple but this type of food is not easy to get right (just ask Jay Rayner), but here in Cardiff we have a great example of what can be achieved with the right research, knowledge and skills. The product of an extended road trip around the Southern American states, Hangfire Smokehouse specialises in real smoked American barbecue.

The Big Smoke, Brains Craft Brewery, Hangfire Smokehouse Cardiff
Appropriately smoky ale
This is a real American experience, the tables are set with wooden forks, kitchen roll and wet wipes. Believe me, you're going to need them. We arrived early and grabbed a Brains Craft Brewery The Big Smoke Ale. It seemed appropriate. And under advice from Shauna. "you might want to order now, it will be really busy soon", we ordered as the kitchen opened.

Place settings, Hangfire Smokehouse Cardiff
Place settings at Hangfire (incidentally this is what you get at our house too)
Reassuringly there are no starters so we went straight in for the main event. The BBQ Pulled Pork Plate + 2 sides £8.50, a half pound of soft, gently spiced shredded pork was a winner. In fact, my boyfriend literally couldn't wait for me to get back from the bar before he started so there's no photo!

The Hangfire Plate + 2 sides £10, a mixture of ribs, chicken wings and more pulled pork was fantastic. The ribs had a gentle hickory smoke, plenty of meat, and pulled away easily from the bone, the wings were tasty with a light covering of spice.

The Hangfire Plate, Cardiff
A big plate of smoked meat - clean bones went back.
The sides are also worth mentioning. Very decent chips, sweet corn on the cob and a light coleslaw all complemented the meat well but special mention has to go to the BBQ Chili Beans with meat. Bloody brilliant they were. I couldn't tell you exactly what was in there but it tasted like smoky chipotle, garlic, paprika, and the trimmings from both brisket and pork. Pour that over the chips and you have an amazing supper.
Chili beans, Hangfire Smokehouse Cardff
The best chili beans ever
I also have to mention the homemade sauces which cut through the richness of the meats. We had three to try from, a traditional Kansas BBQ, a hot, vinegary South Carolina Mustard Sauce and my favourite, the dark, sharp, Texas Espresso BBQ.

Homemade BBQ sauces, Hangfire Smokehouse, Cardiff
Sharp homemade sauces
By the time we finished I'd used up half a dozen sheets of kitchen roll, 2 wet wipes and only lifted my fork to set about the coleslaw and beans. My only word of caution is that they alter their service times and locations, don't accept bookings and take orders only until they run out so aim to get there for as close to their opening time as possible!

The Canadian, Splott, Hangfire Smokehouse

The bar at The Canadian, Hangfire Smokehouse Cardiff

Hangfire Smokehouse
The Canadian, Pearl Street, Splott, Cardiff CF24 1PN
Tel: 029 2045 3141 

Twitter: @hangfirebbq

Hang Fire Smokehouse @ The Canadian on Urbanspoon
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