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


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