Showing posts with label Pontcanna. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Pontcanna. Show all posts

Friday, 23 November 2012

Peek a boo - Hide N Sea by Celtic Manor, Cardiff Restaurant Review

2011 seemed to be the year when things popped up everywhere. Restaurants, bars, galleries, and shops all popped up and popped back down again. This is a trend that is all about being in the know and quick off the mark.

Pop ups have been praised for making use of empty shops and units and for giving less established chefs the means to make a name for themselves. South Wales has embraced the supper club trend with several examples now established, but pop up restaurants haven't seriously caught on here but that may be about to change.

Now The Celtic Manor is getting in on the act, taking over, for 4 nights only, the unit on King's Road that Mimosa occupied for approximately 30 seconds this year. Pop ups are often themed and by their nature require limited menus and Hide N Sea is more or less a direct copy of the very successful Burger and Lobster, the London mini-chain with a haiku length menu of 3 items.

We booked in for opening night, trekked through some pretty torrential rain and wind, and arrived soggy and slightly grumpy for 7.30, surprised to find ourselves at the tail end of a launch 'party' that did nothing to improve my mood. Around 30 people, dressed up to the nines, were jostling around the cramped dining area and we had to push through to get to our table. The offer to hang our wet coats up was gratefully accepted and promptly forgotten which irritated further. Subsequently placed under some pressure to order food, we continued to be jostled and were unable to hold a conversation over the din. A quick complaint to the front of house team and... the problem was swiftly and professionally resolved. The party guests who were eating were encouraged to their tables, orders taken and good humour was restored.
The Bowery cocktail
The Bowery cocktail
I ordered a drink from the cocktail menu, The Bowery (Champagne, Dubonnet, Hendricks, Angostura Bitters) £6.95, expertly made and prettily presented. The drinks here are clearly as important as the food.

To eat I ordered a Lobster Roll at £20, (Fresh lobster meat smothered in spicy Marie Rose sauce in a sweetened brioche bun, served with smoked sea salt seasoned fries and dressed side salad), which actually arrived with a gravy boat of Bearnaise sauce. Plenty of lobster, lightly sauced, a good quality roll and the fries were good. If the salt was smoked, I couldn't taste it but I didn't care. By the time I finished I was stuffed.
Lobster Roll
Lobster Roll

He ordered the 8oz Welsh Beef Burger £15 (A succulent homemade prime Welsh beef burger on a sweetened brioche bun, topped with mature Welsh Cheddar, crispy bacon, tomato, lettuce and sliced gherkin, served with smoked sea salt seasoned fries and dressed side salad) which I was informed was cooked well and very tasty.
8oz Welsh Burger
8oz Welsh Burger

The other options are basically lobsters at 1lb for £20 or 2lb for £30 with the fries, sauce and salad and this is what most people ordered.

The atmosphere inside was jovial, and adjoining tables chatted away, making for a thoroughly fun dinner experience. I have to praise the front of house staff too, organised, efficient and keen to ensure that everyone had a good time. As an advert for The Celtic Manor they did well.

If you haven't booked in, you might be lucky to get a table before Hide 'N' Sea closes, if their aim was to create some buzz I'd say they've done a pretty good job. I have no idea what the overheads are, but assuming the venture turns a profit, I'd be very surprised if they didn't pop back up somewhere else at some point soon...

Hide N Sea by Celic Manor
22nd to 25th November 2012
Formerly Mimosa Lounge, 175 Kings Road, Pontcanna, Cardiff, CF11 9DF

http://www.celtic-manor.com/Hide-N-Sea.aspx

Thursday, 12 July 2012

'All rise' for Introduction to Baking Bread

Once upon a time, I made a curry upon which I had lavished love and attention. I ground my own spices, marinated chicken thighs, fried and simmered and then resisted the temptation to dive straight in and allowed it to stand and 'mature' overnight.

On my way home I thought about accompaniments. Pilau rice, quality chutneys and bread. Suddenly the thought of my lovely curry being insulted by a long life, mealy, brittle naan was more than I could bear and before I knew what was happening I was Googling recipes for Indian breads and shopping for ingredients.

The result was nothing less than a revelation. Having previously dismissed bread making as 'too technical' for a mere novice like me, I was amazed both by how straightforward, and how much better this bread was in comparison to almost any shop bought bread I'd had in recent memory (The recipe I used is here in case you're interested.)

I then set about trying to make a loaf at home, with, it's fair to say, varying degrees of success. The information I found was contradictory (add oil, add sugar, knead gently, slap the dough about etc.) and a lot the recipes were far too advanced. My main problems seemed to be getting good flavour into the dough and getting the loaf to hold it's shape. Early efforts looked more like very deep pan pizzas than loaves. I was frustrated, disheartened, dejected.

Then, as if by magic, a fairy-godbaker appeared and invited me, along with Nicky from Cardiff Bites, Mark from Corpulent Capers and Nikki from Your Last Mouthful along to be the guinea pigs in a trial run of The One Mile Bakery, Introduction to Baking Bread course.

If you have read this blog before you may have seen my previous series of posts about The One Mile Bakery, a micro business which recently opened, delivering bread, soup and jams in the Canton, Pontcanna and Llandaff areas by journalist Elisabeth Mahoney. It's fair to say that I am a fan of the produce that I've tasted so far so I was curious to see whether I would be able to make bread as successfully myself.

The course promises to teach 'the basic ingredients and techniques involved in making real bread. You will make a range of breads and be given advice on key stages: kneading, proving, shaping and baking.'

Raw bread dough
'This will be delicious... honest'
As we arrived the Welsh weather was making itself felt and it was pouring down; absolutely perfect for baking. We were greeted with coffee and tea and Elisabeth grilled us about our experience of baking and any issues we wanted to solve.

 After a discussion about the realities of mass produced bread and the differences between that and homemade bread , it's impact on health and digestion, and the sheer pleasure of the alchemy of baking, our interest was piqued and it was time to get 'hands on'.

The course is structured so that you make at least 4 loaves (which you also get to take home with you!). Starting with a simple loaf (you choose your own flours) and working through a flavoured rye bread, towards Elisabeth's favourite, a tasty pain de campagne that incorporates a pre-dough left to rise overnight, the slow ferment giving the loaf bags of flavour.

The day demystified the process of baking bread for me completely, reminding me that it should all start with 4 simple ingredients:
  1. Flour
  2. Water
  3. Yeast
  4. Salt
Dough ready to bake
The simple loaf before
Freshly baked loaves
 And after
These are some of the key points that I got out of the day:
  1. Pay attention to your raw ingredients. Stoneground flours, if you can afford them, produce the best bread, retaining more nutrients and flavour and are still very cost effective.
  2. Homemade bread stays fresh for ages and even when stale it can still be toasted or frozen as breadcrumbs for cooking - you don't need the preservatives found in supermarket bread.
  3. Don't bother with so-called easy-rise yeast (this is partly where I was going wrong) Dried yeast is really no more work and produces a far superior loaf.
  4. Having weighed your ingredients carefully don't use flour to knead, it just messes up your recipe, get yourself a scraper to help handle a sticky dough.
  5. The basic processes are dead easy, and once learned, the principles can be applied in lots of ways.
  6. Play with ingredients and flavours, adding spices, dried fruits or herbs can turn one recipe into a multitude of variations.
  7. Learn to shape properly, it takes practice but creating surface tension does produce a more even shape and crumb and encourages the bread to rise rather than spread (which is what used to happen to me!)
Shaping the dough
Nikki gets to grips with a slippery rye!

Pain de campagne
Pièce de résistance - pain de campagne
The course delivered exactly what was promised and since completing it I have been able to successfully make my own loaves at home and I am very proud to say that I haven't bought a loaf from a shop since!

If you want to know any more then you'll have to go on the course yourself which I highly recommend you do! For the princely sum of £70 you will learn loads and come away with a skill for life as well as having a really fantastic and fun day. I fully intend going back later this year to complete an Introduction to Sourdough. Or maybe the Italian Breads. Or maybe both!

End of the baking class at The One Mile Bakery
Four happy, floury blogging bakers!
We were invited by Elisabeth to try out and feedback on the new course and as such the day was complimentary.

Monday, 18 June 2012

The One Mile Bakery - Week 4 (the grand finale)

So we've made it to week four and this was the final delivery of my month long subscription of soup and bread from The One Mile Bakery.

This was the delivery this week and like last week's wonderful Harira, this felt like it could have been made just for me!

Le menu:

  • Chicken mulligatawny with spring onions, parsley, chilli and peanuts
  • Potato and honey sourdough
 Apparently mulligatawny means 'pepper water' in Tamil and this certainly lived up to its name! Beautifully spiced and warming, the addition of the extra chillis and the peanuts gave the soup extra bite and texture. The other standout feature was the generous amount of chicken in the soup, lots and lots of shredded chicken all swimming about in a curried broth with homemade chicken stock - absolutely wonderful.


Chicken mulligatawny from The One Mile Bakery
Chicken mulligatawny soup

 So now the first month is over I've been reflecting on the experience and a few things have occurred to me.
  1. Firstly, and this may sound strange in the context of bread and soup, but participating in the deliveries is really good fun. This is largely down to the unbridled enthusiasm of Elisabeth herself who has been a genuine pleasure to meet. I get a good sense of how busy the bakery has been according to how long she is able to chat on the doorstep and how much flour and dough she is wearing when she arrives! It is also because, beyond sharing your particular likes, dislikes and allergies, the contents of the delivery are a surprise each week which (despite this being paid for) makes it feel like receiving a lovely personalised treat every week.
  2. Although I take real pleasure in cooking, I have enjoyed having an evening off each week that hasn't meant compromising on what I eat and ending up with greasy takeaway food.
  3. It is ridiculously good value. At the current pricing, it works out to £5.50 a week to feed 2 people a nourishing meal, and because the bread is so well made, it easily lasts to the weekend.
  4. Lastly, and this for me is far and away the most important thing. I can eat bread again! I can't even begin to tell you what a joy this is. I adore bread but as I have *ahem* 'matured' over the last few years I have become less and less able to digest shop bought bread but this is not the case here. I can eat this with impunity. I am having bread for breakfast again and for that alone I am very grateful!

Of course we have been able to get both wine and organic vegetables on a subscription basis for years and it makes absolute sense to me that the model can work for other types of food. This looks like a real gap in the market since at the time of writing, and less than a month after the business opened, there are no delivery slots available for Tuesdays and it won't be long before Wednesday is full too. I hear that people are offering to pay extra if they can be squeezed in to the schedule - there's nothing like a 'waiting list' to create a bit of buzz, just ask Hermès!

This is a great little business run by a genuine food enthusiast, it's always heartwarming when someone is able to take their passion and translate it into their living. If a delivery slot should open up I highly recommend you try some produce from The One Mile Bakery.

And yes, in case you're wondering, I have re-ordered.


You can look back through the previous posts here:
Week 1
Week 2
Week 3

Saturday, 9 June 2012

The One Mile Bakery - week 2

Continuing my adventure of soup and sourdough from The One Mile Bakery this was the delivery for week 2, a rare week of glorious May sunshine, not the ideal weather for soup you may say but think again...

Le menu:
  • Spring minestrone with mint and almond pesto
  • Wild garlic loaf
  • Seeded rye sourdugh

Minestrone being the italian version of our Cawl, a whole meal in a bowl with as many varities as there are seasons, I was intrigued to lift the lid on the biodegradeable packaging and see what was in the pot. This spring version was beautifully fresh with green beans, artichoke and peas and pasta shells all bobbing about in a light stock.



As with week 1, the garnish added a whole new dimension, fresh mint freckling the stock and livening up the bowl.

We chose the (locally foraged) wild garlic loaf to go with the soup. This was a plain loaf marbled through with a wild garlic pesto, a subtle, almost sweet flavour that suited the delicate soup well.

The other of the 2 small loaves in the package was a seeded rye sourdough loaf that was as dense and heavy as a brick and made an excellently filling breakfast spread generously with last weeks jam. A thick slice of that kept me happily going until lunchtime and the loaf lasted me all week!

2 deliveries to go...

On to week 3
Back to week 1



Wednesday, 6 June 2012

The One Mile Bakery - week 1

The humble loaf has been a contentious topic in recent years with many people claiming gluten and wheat intolerances and swearing off bread as the cause of bloating and weight gain. In a 'Newton's third law of motion' kind of way there is an equal and opposite reaction in the form of those who are advocates for real bread. That is to say bread not made using the vilified ‘Chorleywood bread process’.

These advocates include anyone from artisan bakers to households throwing a few ingredients into a breadmaking machine of a weekend. This bread is the stuff that we homosapien have been eating for 30'000 years and is very different to the 10+ ingredient  offerings available in most shops.

Into this space steps One Mile Bakery, a micro bakery selling and delivering breads, soups and jams and run by bread enthusiast Elisabeth Mahoney (who also does a nice side-line in radio and theatre reviews).

The business model is this: you buy a subscription in a bread/soup/jam configuration that works for you and if you live in Canton, Pontcanna or Llandaff you get a weekly delivery of fresh, seasonal produce. The delivery is a 'doorstep surprise'™ but it will be handmade and different each week.
The beautifully designed and photographed site launched 3 weeks ago and it’s fair to say that I was poised with my PayPal account as the site went live and was I think (?) the first person to order.
This should tell you which side of the bread divide I am on. I LOVE bread but find the supermarket stuff hard to digest and have avoided it for the last few years.
I went for a 1 month sourdough and soup package which contains 2 sourdough loaves, 2 other loaves and 4 soups across a 4 week period for £22. So that you get a good sense of what a month of products involves, I'll post a blog showing you the delivery each week.

Week 1
It’s fair to say that I was quite excited about my first delivery and more than a little curious about the contents. What I received was:
·        Cream of asparagus soup
·        Hazelnut pesto & asparagus spears garnish
·        Pain de Campagne
·        Kalamata olive, pecorino and herb breadsticks
·        Strawberry, rhubarb, French vanilla and lavender jam (the jam was an added first week bonus for being an early adopter)



All the packaging (bar the stickers) is compostable and can be put into the food recycling caddy which keeps the 'ethical credentials' high.

The soup portions were enormous, more than enough for 2, fresh and vibrant with asparagus and spinach. At first I thought it was a tiny bit under-seasoned but then I realised that the soup is seasoned taking the garnish into account and the addition of hazelnut pesto soon sorted that out!

The pain de campagne was reserved for the jam. Ooh, the jam! This for me was the best bit and I will definitely be adding jam to my next order. This was a super condensed strawberry flavour with a kick of rhubarb and mellow vanilla reminiscent of rhubarb and custard sweets. I couldn't really taste lavender but that didn't detract in the slightest. That jam with a piece of toasted bread is a fabulous way to start the day.
The bread itself with a light but firm crumb was tasty and filling, a good foil for both the soup and the jam (and the cheese and the humous that I had the following night!)

I am a week behind with my posts so the next 2 will follow quickly!

On to week 2

Monday, 26 March 2012

Oscars of Cardiff

You might be forgiven for thinking that taking on the former site of the much loved and missed Le Gallois, would be to invite inevitable and 'hard to match' expectation. Speculation was rife and interest was high in news that another restaurant was taking over, but where Le Gallois was pitched squarely in the fine-dining bracket, Oscars, already well established in Cowbridge, is a rather different proposition.

Oscars of CardiffI went for lunch with a friend on one of those glorious, early spring weekends when going out without a coat and hat is still a novelty. When we arrived at 1.00pm there were already people outside enjoying the sun. A quick read revealed a very comprehensive lunch menu, from French Onion Soup (in a jar - not quite sure why) at £4 to an 8oz Fillet Steak at £24.

I ordered Slow Roast Ham, Egg and Maris Piper Chips at £8 and my friend had the Fish and Chips at £9. Both were very good and were stamped as Oscars interpretation of 2 classics.

Ham, egg and chips - Oscars of CardiffThe Ham that came with Egg and Chips was a slow roasted ham that was falling apart and was served hot, a twist on the familiar dish but it was soft, salty and very tasty. The addition of the leaves with red onion did feel like a bit of unnecessary twiddling.

The fish on the other meal wasn't battered and fried, but baked with an oaty crumb instead and all served in mock newspaper. The chips on both were good, crispy and with potato skin left on. We did have to chase down vinegar and sauces but this was our only minor complaint and to be fair this is being a bit picky!

I'd like to add a word of praise here for the menus at Oscars. If you are going to go 'off piste' with classics then it is important to manage expectations and Oscars does this very well. You get the headline of the dish followed by a short description.

Perfect.

I know what I'm getting and I don't have to trundle off a complicated order (take note The Hardwick!)

Included on the menu is a suggested wine to go with everything (even, amusingly, the Croque Monsieur) which is fantastic for a Luddite like me. The (extensive) wine list itself is helpfully grouped into wine styles. Whites and reads each have 4 sub-groups (for example 'Light, juicy and fruit driven' !) with lots of choice by the glass and range from £15 to £45 a bottle. There are also breakfast and brunch menus and coffee and cake during the day.

As we were finishing up, a group of young parents with children in tow arrived and we commented that it was great to see a place catering so well for families. As a non-parent myself I appreciate places that are adult only, but for a neighbourhood restaurant this was great. A quick look at the website showed a very clear policy:

'We are family friendly and offer a dedicated children’s menu for the under 12’s which is available from noon to 7pm.'

I enjoyed my lunch at Oscars. The food was good quality and well thought out, even the simplest of dishes are considered. The service was friendly and the pricing was very keen, presumably to encourage the repeat business that a neighbourhood place needs to be successful. I took it as a good sign that my lunch companion mentioned, in the 1.5 hours we were there, 4 or 5 different times he had been there with recently. The 'personality' that was so sorely missing at the competent but dull Corner House was in strong evidence here.

I'll definitely be going back in the evening soon to take that tempting wine list out for a walk.

Oscars of Cardiff, 6-10 Romilly Crescent, Pontcanna, Cardiff
http://www.oscarsofcardiff.com/


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