Sunday, 28 July 2013

Beirut Moon - Mina Restaurant, Cardiff, review

Yesterday, when I was looking for somewhere for dinner, two things occurred to me. Firstly that I hadn't visited the Cathays area of Cardiff for quite a long time, and secondly that I hadn't had any good Middle Eastern food since our holiday visiting the temples of Egypt 5 years ago. There was only one thing for it, and that was a trip to Lebanese Restaurant, Mina on Crwys Road.

Mina Restaurant, Cathays, Cardiff

The restaurant exterior is unassuming, the dining room relaxed but charming and the service is friendly and attentive. Large groups of friends and couples are equally well catered for and the textiles covering the walls absorb the sound meaning that even when full, the chatter of other tables provides a pleasant background hum.

I can recommend the Lebanese beer, and looking around, most other tables agreed.
Almaza Beer at Mina, Cathays, Cardiif

We started with the Selection of Mézzes for 2 people (£12) which included an excellent Hummus, Falafel, Stuffed Grape Leaves, and Kibeh. Star of the show for me was the Baba Ghanoush which was smoky and pefect scooped up with some fresh Tabouleh by the thin flat breads.

Selection of Mézzes, Mina, Cathays, Cardiff

Flatbread, Mina, Cathays, Cardiff

We ordered kebabs to split and share. The chicken, or Shish Taouk (£11.95) could only have been improved by the addition of flatbread to soak up the juices from the meat. The chunks of chicken were moist and charred perfectly as were the grilled peppers, onions and tomatoes. A half dome of rice was tasty and a pot of yoghurt dip provided some sharpness and moisture.

Chicken kebab, Mina, Cathays, Cardiff

The lamb kofta (£11.50) was fantastic. Simply seasoned and all the better for it. This main was served with the same vegetables and sauce as the chicken but with the addition of flat bread rather than rice.

Kofta kebab, Mina, Cathays, Cardiff

We were both far too full for dessert so the bill was requested and the total came to about £45 for the starter, mains and 4 drinks. We left stuffed and happy and I definitely won't be a stranger to this side of town in future.

Mina Restaurant
43 Crwys Road, Cathays, Cardiff, CF24 4ND
02920 235212


Mina on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Out On The Water Coast - Cote Bistro Cardiff, review

My frustrations with certain elements of Cardiff Bay have been well documented. While no one can deny the popularity and commercial success of this regenerated area I cannot help but regret that quite so much of the docks has been demolished. With the notable exception of the stunning Port Authority building, the few examples of interesting architecture that remain are largely boarded up and neglected.

Mermaid Quay in particular, is so architecturally bland, and stuffed full of chains, that you could be in absolutely any UK town on the coast. In any case, enough of my complaining, because there is at least one good reason to visit and that is Cote Bistro. It may be a chain, and there will always be haters who take issue with it purely on that basis, but it is actually rather good, and having eaten there on  4 or 5 occasions, I can also say with some confidence that it is consistently good.

Cote dining room, Cardiff
Cote dining room
The dining room is understated but clearly French, with leather banquettes, glass, dark wood, marble and globe lights dangling from the ceiling. Happily the designers have stayed on the right side of pastiche.

Tomate Breton Cote restaurant, Cardiff
Tomate Breton
The menu is classic French, fairly simple, and unashamedly crowd pleasing, everyone is well catered for including vegetarians. A starter of Tomates Breton (£5.85) is generous and satisfying. Sweet juicy tomatoes, perfectly seasoned and accompanied by runny, herbed goats cheese saturated a slab of sourdough bread.

Melon and Parma Ham, Cote restaurant, Cardiff
Melon and Parma Ham, classic for a reason
From the specials, seasonally ripe Melon and Parma Ham (£5.95) is decent and happily no attempts have been made to twiddle with the winning combination.

Salmon fishcakes, with spinach salad and a dill and mustard sauce, Cote Cardiff
Salmon fishcakes, with spinach salad and a dill and mustard sauce
A main of Salmon Fishcakes (£10.50) featured pleasingly chunky patties of potato and salmon, and was made more than the sum of its parts thanks to a sharp dill and wholegrain mustard sauce.

The second main of Fish Parmentier (£11.95) was a slightly mean portion but was smooth and comforting.

Fish Parmentier, Cote restaurant, Cardiff
Fish Parmentier
The service at Cote is charming, friendly and competent and they cater very well for solo diners, of whom there seem to be a number of regulars. Every table is delivered an earthenware bottle of water on arrival and were it not for the irritating habit of automatically adding the tip to the bill (just sod off, I am perfectly capable of deciding on my own tip thanks) I would have moved on to the theatre 100% happy.

Cote Restaurant
25 Mermaid Quay, Cardiff Bay, Cardiff  CF10 5BZ
029 2045 3780


Cote Bistro on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Welsh Food Festival Roundup - guest post

The festival season is upon us: wellies are appropriately muddy, tents are suitably smelly, and our stomachs are fed up of the same old festival food. So why not treat your stomach to something with a little more substance than the standard burger from a van, and head to a one of the many food festivals that are happening across Wales this summer? Spectacular stalls and live displays will showcase some of the best Welsh produce and tantalising recipes of the moment, from the traditional to the unusual, treat your taste buds at a food festival.

26th – 28th July 
One of the best things about the Big Cheese is that it’s totally free of charge to attend; another has to be that the festival is dedicated to one of the greatest food stuffs known to man- glorious cheese! Held in the grounds of Caerphilly Castle, the festival highlights include live re-enactments, a fun fair, and live music and entertainment during the days and into the nights. More than 50 stallholders will gather to show off the best of Welsh local produce from chocolates to chutneys.

The Big Cheese Festival, Caerphilly
The Big Cheese Festival, Caerphilly
7th – 8th September
This is another free festival held in a unique open air setting at the National History Museum in Cardiff. The focus is on fine food here, with over 80 stall holders all set within the museums historic re-constructed buildings, selling food from the traditional to the exotic, with bread and cakes baked in the museums bake house and meat and sausages from animals reared in museum grounds. 

21st – 22nd September 
This is a big one on the South Wales foodie calendar, called ‘Glastonbury of the food festivals’ by the Observer, you’ll find a great atmosphere, plenty of stallholders across five different venues to browse, taste, and try the very best in local food and drink. As well as plenty to eat, there’s a wide selection of things to see and do, making this festival a perfect day out on a family holiday. There are live demonstrations and cookery workshops for kids plus the fantastic Party at the Castle on the Saturday night featuring an amazing fireworks display. 

This was a guest post by Elizabeth Bathurst a travel writer on behalf of Holiday Cottages. Elizabeth is heading up to the Royal Welsh show soon where you will find her exploring the Food Hall and the Food and Drink Pavilion.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Pray for Spanish Eyes - Ultracomida Restaurant Review

Ask anyone where to eat in West Wales and invariably Ultracomida (translation: ultra food) gets a well deserved mention, with 2 restaurants in Narbeth and Aberystwyth they have an enviable reputation for importing and serving fantastic Spanish produce. A recent stay at remote Pwll Pendre cottage on the glorious Hafod Estate involved no fewer than 2 trips to Aber which naturally meant 2 trips to Ultracomida.

The impressive cheese counter at Ultracomida, Aberystwyth
Ultracomida, Aberystwyth - a destination for cheese lovers!
photo courtesy of Ultracomida
In the front is the most amazing deli. On the counter a daunting range of Spanish and Welsh cheeses is made easier to navigate by knowledgeable and chatty staff. A range of dried goods including Bomba rice, slabs of membrillo, paprica, and amazing Spanish drinking chocolate (do try it) is opposite, while squished into every spare shelf are the wines, sherries and beers. I was recommended La Socarrada, a small batch ale made with honey and rosemary which I can confirm was delicious, although at close on £9 a bottle is probably too spendy to be anything other than a treat.

La Socarrada, from Ultracomida
La Socarrada, beautiful ale, best enjoyed with food
The dining room involves sociable and lively communal tables and a bar which wraps around the edges.   Anyone who has eschewed the tourist traps to eat with the locals in many areas of Spain will recognise this, and it is hugely pleasing that the service, both in the restaurant and deli, continues with this sense of camaraderie. Every single person we speak to is friendly, efficient and helpful.

The menu is a mix of tapas and sandwiches, and (importantly for a student town) is very affordable. Typical tapa of albondigas, tortilla and patatas bravas bump along happily with filled breads and most plates are around the £6 mark.
Bread and Olives at Ultracomida
The best olives I have had in a while, also available with cornichons in the deli
The obligatory bread and olives featured some of the best olives I have had in a while, and a rustic pan com tomate was heavy with chopped garlic.

Pan con tomate at Ultracomida
Pan con tomate with a lo-o--ot of garlic
A chicken, pork and chorizo paella, allegedly the tapa sized portion, came with a deliciously pungent aioli and punctuated with bits of crunchy rice or 'socarrat'.
Paella at Ultracomida Aberystwyth
The tapa sized Paella
A beetroot, goats cheese and watercress salad delivered the only flaw of our lunch, with a beautiful but slightly stingy portion of cheese that didn't last through the whole of the beetroot.

Beetroot, balsamic, goats cheese and watercress salad, Ultracomida
Beetroot, balsamic, goats cheese and watercress salad
 A panini of chicken and chorizo slathered in Chimichurri sauce was a big hit; rich, smoky and satisfying.

Chicken, chorizo chimichurri panini at Ultracomida
The chimichurri sauce MADE this panini
 If I have any complaint, it is that they weren't around when I was a student in the town myself!
Pwll Pendre, Hafod Estate
Pwll Pendre, Hafod Estate, very beautiful, just us and the sheep!
Waterfalls on the Hafod Estate

River, Hafod Estate

31 Pier Street, Aberystwyth, Dyfed SY23 2LN
01970 630 686

Twitter: @Ultracomida

Ultracomida on Urbanspoon
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