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

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