Saturday, 30 March 2013

Hooked on a feeling - Fish at 85 Cardiff review

Fish at 85 Pontcanna Cardiff

Fish at 85, situated in Cardiff's affluent media village Pontcanna, is the retail arm of Channel Fisheries. It may be hard to believe, given that Cardiff is on the coast, but it is our solitary speciality fish restaurant and has been pretty much packed out since it opened in 2011.

In 2012 came more news when former Le Gallois chef, Padraig (Padge) Jones joined the team as their new head chef, and this for local food lovers improved the pedigree far more than any old Royal Warrant ever could. The dining room is a tiny 20 covers and I get the feeling that they could fill it twice over since I have tried and failed to book a table more than once. The wet fish counter runs along one side of the room and in addition to ordering set meals from the menu, you can order a fish (sold by weight) from the counter, choose how you want it cooked, and pick'n'mix your dinner with the sides on offer. Let's be honest though, the triple cooked chips are so good that frankly I don't understand why you would order anything else.

As the restaurant was rammed on Good Friday and we had a little wait for our table, we tried some of the antipasti on offer, marinated sardine fillets and a beautiful mackerel, both delicious but both very simliar in terms of flavour.
Fish antipasti at Fish at 85, Cardiff
Fish Antipasti of mackerel and sardine
I started with the Salt and Chilli Squid with Nam Prik dipping sauce (£9), a frankly, intimidatingly huge portion of sweet squid that would have comfortably served 2 as a starter. Carefully cooked without a hint of elastic band chewiness it was served with a generous bowl of intense, sour, sharp sauce. Unusually for me, I decided that discretion was the better part of valour and stopped eating with half a plate left in anticipation of the main course.
Salt and Chilli Squid with Nam Prik dipping sauce at Fish at 85 Cardiff
Salt and Chilli Squid with Nam Prik dipping sauce
Another starter of Boksburg Souffle with Pear Chutney was light, salty and satisfying. 

A Fish and Chips main (£14), the batter made with Penderyn Whisky was a strong contender for best F&C ever, coming close to fish eaten on the seafront from a van in Tobermory harbour on Mull. 
Fish and Chips from Fish at 85 Cardiff
Fish and Chips main with amazing batter
My main was a beautiful lemon sole (£18) from the fish counter, pan-fried with triple cooked chips (£3) and a beurre blanc (£1.50). This came exactly as described, so simple and all the better for it. 
Lemon sole with triple cooked chips Fish at 85 Cardiff
Lemon sole with what may be Cardiff's best chips
A shared dessert of Chocolate Parfait with ‘Snickers’ & Salted Caramel Sauce (£6) sounded like it could be sickly sweet but was emphatically not. Salty caramel was spot on, would in fact be a perfect ice cream topping, and a smooth parfait with carefully balanced sweetness.
Snickers parfait at Fish at 85 Cardiff
Snickers for dessert? Hell yes!
The food here is straightforward, hearty stuff, the cooking carefully judged so that the quality of the ingredients takes centre stage, and act as an advert for the retail and wholesale arms of the business. The pricing however, belies the simplicity of the food and this is no neighbourhood restaurant even in Pontcanna. Our drinks and antipasti were comped in a lovely bit of customer service to make up for the  wait for our table, and the bill still came to £70 for 2. For great value, I suggest trying their lunchtime menu, a more pocket friendly £13 for 2 courses. 

It might be not cheap but I do love it here. Great food, unpretentious friendly service and a great atmosphere, but for me an occasional treat rather than a neighbourhood place. The retail business is worth a visit too and John is very happy to spend time talking you through the fish on the counter, how to cook it and offers a full prep services (essential for a fish luddite like me). Highly recommended!

Fish at 85
85 Pontcanna Street, Cardiff, CF11 9HS
Tel 029 20 020212

Fish at 85 on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 10 March 2013

All Together Now - Llwynhelyg Farm Shop, Ceredigion

Llwynhelyg Farm Shop, Sarnau, Ceredigion

This weekend we took Horace Greeley's advice and went West, spending 2 nights right on the Ceredigion coastal path, in a reclaimed Great Western railway carriage called Wendy in Aberporth. As we were in the area we called in (twice!) to Llwynhelyg Farm Shop, an award winning producer and Welsh food retailer in Sarnau, Ceredigion.

This farm shop is an Aladdin's cave of some of the best produce that Wales has to offer, including their own vegetables (we tried some marvellous Roma potatoes and a deliciously crunchy, unusual Hispi cabbage), meats and baked goods. I heartily recommend the pies. They didn't stick around long enough to be photographed, but the minced beef pie with peas and carrots was especially srcummy. For breakfast their own 'legendary pork sausages' are very good but top marks go to a crumbly, fatty black pudding.

If you're in the area they are well worth a visit! Here's some of their great produce...

Golwg Y Mor Aberport Welsh Lamb
Ultra local Welsh lamb from Golwg Y Mor Farm in Aberporth
A huge variety of chutneys and jams including Escoffier's Sweet Pepper Chutney
Wendy Brandon Gingered Fig Chutney
A spicy, pungent Gingered Fig Chutney by small producer Wendy Brandon, pairs well with
creamy cheese and Patchwork Organic Spelt & Oat Biscuits
Llwynhelyg Marmalade and New Quay Honey Farm Widlflower Honey
Seville Orange Marmalade and Pure Welsh Wildflower Honey from New Quay Honey Farm. The honey will be used for Petra's Honey Loaf from the Leon cookbook next week.
Stoneground flour from Felin Ganol and Y Felin
Baking law dictates that Felin Ganol flour must be purchased on sight, it's impossible to
get in Cardiff. They have a great range of flours and 
Y Felin stoneground will be a new
product for me but planning a wholemeal honey loaf.
Ty Tanglwst salted butter
IMHO, a rich salty butter like this is for the table and this is destined for some
toasted hot cross buns. Ty Tanglwst Dairy is an award winning dairy farm in Bridgend.
Llwynhelyg Farm Shop awards
Llwynhelyg Farm Shop awards
Sarnau, Ceredigion, SA44 6QU
01239 811079

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Greystone Chapel - Chapel 1877 Cardiff review

The restaurant at Chapel 1877 Cardiff
I doubt many of you can have failed to notice Cardiff’s latest restaurant, Chapel 1877. How could you? Having made it's conspicuous entrance late in 2012, in the renovated Pembroke Terrace Chapel on Churchill Way in Cardiff Town Centre, it has been promoting itself as the hottest place in town since.

The website makes confident statements, describing Chapel 1877 as a ‘jewel in the crown for Cardiff’ and promising fine dining of “superb quality” with “one of the finest menus around” in a “phenomenal setting”. I was intrigued, and hoping that the reality could live up to the hyperbole.

They are proud of the building, and rightly so, it is quite lovely. Sympathetically renovated, the fixtures complement the beautiful architecture, by turns dramatic, secretive, glamorous, it is a great space.
Chandelier Chapel 1877 Cardiff
Gorgeous chandelier, very "Phantom of the Opera"

The menu is ‘modern British’, crowd pleasing fare. Starters include the obligatory scallops with cauliflower puree, potted rabbit with piccalilli. A typical main might be pork belly with cider jus, Gressingham duck with puy lentils or a cut from the grill section. Not everything on the menu has provenance but there are sufficient producers referenced to keep the casual ‘foodie’ happy.

Whoever put the wine list together deserves a pat on the back for understanding their audience. A good selection at each price point with a varied and interesting selection at sub £20 a bottle. Bravo.

We started with drinks in the ground floor bar which inexplicably had numerous distracting televisions broadcasting muted Wales Today. 7 of us ordered drinks. Nothing was written down. 4 correct drinks arrived and it took a frustrating 3 attempts to complete the order.

My starter, a ‘Red onion tarte tatin, Pant-ysgawn goat’s cheese, rocket £5.50’ was slightly overdone, carbonised bitterness overpowering the natural sweetness of the onions. The creamy, salty goats cheese saved the day.
Red onion tarte tatin Chapel 1877 Cardiff
Red onion tarte tatin
A rib eye steak (£19), ordered medium, was well cooked but woefully underseasoned and bland. The pot of Béarnaise  used for chip-dipping, was delicious with a good hit of tarragon. A half tomato had been grilled to the point of mush and without flavour.

Rib eye steak Chapel 1877 Cardiff
Rib eye steak, Béarnaise sauce
I skipped dessert but tasted someone else’s ‘Merlyn liquor crème brulee, white chocolate cookies £5.50’. The brulee looked beautiful, but for me there was too much booze and I couldn’t taste the custard which was a shame.

It’s not hard to understand why Chapel 1877 is having an impact in Cardiff, and it's great to have a destination venue that isn't another chain. The setting is stunning and I’ll bet that it buzzes and hums of a Saturday night. Unfortunately for me, the food and service just didn't manage to live up to their own, self-aggrandising hype.

Dining booths at Chapel 1877 Cardiff
Romantic, 2 person dining booths
The bar, Chapel 1877 Cardiff
Ground floor bar
Chapel 1877
Churchill Way  Cardiff, South Glamorgan CF10 2WF
029 2022 2020

Twitter: @chapel1877bar
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