Showing posts with label restaurant. Show all posts
Showing posts with label restaurant. Show all posts

Monday, 3 September 2012

Deer Prudence - The Stagg Inn review

As is now traditional for my birthday, my boyfriend went in search of a convenient Michelin starred venue within reasonable distance for a slap up meal. This year he turned up The Stagg Inn, a Michelin Starred pub in Titley, Herefordshire, a mere 2 hour jaunt away (!). We booked in for dinner and to stay overnight in one of the rooms above the pub. All the Michelin starred places I had eaten at before this meal had been fairly formal 'fine dining' affairs, and given that I would rather eat my own arm than get dressed up, this sounded like my kind of place.
The Stagg Inn
The Stagg Inn

Once sat at the table we were brought some homemade salted crisps and a super sharp balsamic foam which was a fun start and certainly jolted my palette into life! A quick look at the menu and we had chosen.

To start, he had the soup, a delicately spiced curried lentil with onion bhaji. The soup was fine but the bhaji was crisp and light and I would have been very happy with a plate of those and some mango chutney.

I had the Cornish crab cake, tapenade, tomato (£8.50) which was very good. The crab cake was crispy without a hint of grease with the very strong crab nicely balanced by the tapenade and sweet tomato.


Cornish crab cake
Cornish crab cake
For main, I couldn't resist the classic Fillet of Herefordshire beef , bearnaise, watercress, mustard dressing, chips (£22.90). I ordered the fillet medium and it was a touch overdone for me, however the Bearnaise and chips were absolutely wonderful! Light, crisp and fluffy chips, the sauce rich and buttery it was hard not to lick the bowl clean.

Fillet of Herefordshire Beef
Fillet of Herefordshire Beef
Yummy chips!
Yummy chips!
He ordered the Sea bass fillet,braised fennel, coriander, dauphinoise potato (£16.90) which came with perfectly crisp skin, creamy potato and a subtle braised fennel that cut through the fish well.

Sea bass fillet with braised fennel
Sea bass fillet with braised fennel
 To finish he went for the Cinnamon doughnuts with apple puree and milkshake (all desserts at £6.50). The shake was probably the most successful component, the doughnuts were a little heavy although they did have a heady hit of cinnamon.
Cinnamon doughnuts
Cinnamon doughnuts
 I opted for the Strawberries, Black Pepper Meringue and Cream which was a sort of deconstructed Eton Mess. The meringues were melt-in-the-mouth sugariness but the black pepper was a little lost on me.
Strawberries and black pepper meringue
Strawberries and black pepper meringue

We enjoyed our visit to The Stagg Inn very much, the menu isn't particularly challenging, being full of classics as opposed to experimental gastronomy but this ties in well with the lack of pretension in the service. They seem to be very well rooted in the local community listing their suppliers on a board in the 'bar' and with a small handful of locals enjoying a pint of real ale. If I had one tiny gripe it is that I was hoping for a bit more 'pub'. In the bar area there was only one table that wasn't laid out for food and I was hoping for somewhere that we could sit and have a beer before (and after!) dinner. As it was, once we had finished eating, we shuffled off back to our room and had a whisky there instead. Such a minor point certainly didn't spoil our evening and if I was in the area again I would be very tempted to call in for a bar meal.

The Stagg Inn Titley, Kington, Herefordshire 01544 230221
http://www.thestagg.co.uk

 


Stagg Inn on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

'Get fresh!' - ffresh restaurant review, Cardiff

Another weekend, another pre-theatre dinner (it's a old tough life!) but this time the destination was ffresh, the in house restaurant underneath the rather wonderful Wales Millennium Centre. ffresh has been building a good reputation in Cardiff over the last couple of years and, in keeping with the rest of the venue, is pursuing as strategy designed to encourage punters outside the pre-theatre slot with 'guest chef' and themed nights. We have been before as à la carte customers so we were looking forward to a good dinner.

When we arrived the Centre was buzzing and the bars were all full so we headed straight in to be seated. We were offered our choice of table and provided with the set menus at £18.50 for 2 courses or £22.50 for 3.

To start I ordered the Perl Las soufflé, port and fig jam and rocket salad. The twice baked soufflé was pretty good, but then I am a sucker for a soufflé. The texture was light and fluffy but the flavour was a little muted and I would have liked a stronger hit of blue cheese. I question the presentation of the brown smear of jam and the rocket salad was very tired and limp and a bit brown round the edges.


Per las souffle at ffresh
Perl las souffle at ffresh
My boyfriend ordered the 'Carmarthen ham and melon salad'. Again this was fine if pretty uninspiring. The ratio of melon to ham was probably a little off but you know what you are getting with ham and melon and this was it.
Carmarthen ham and melon salad at ffresh
Carmarthen ham and melon salad at ffresh
 For the main I had the 'Sirloin of Welsh beef, cottage pie, green beans and turnips'. The sirloin, like the salad, was a bit listless and dry, as if it had been sitting around under a heat lamp for just that bit too long. The cottage pie was decent enough, but nothing special and was frustratingly difficult to eat it out of a deep narrow ramekin dish!

Sirloin of Welsh Beef and cottage pie at ffresh
Sirloin of Welsh Beef and cottage pie at ffresh
He ordered the 'Rump of Welsh lamb with rosti dauphinoise, broad beans and peas', sweet lamb with a good gravy was pretty decent but again nothing to shout about.
Rump of Welsh Lamb at ffresh
Rump of Welsh Lamb at ffresh
As it was a set menu we decided to go for a dessert but I just didn't fancy any of the 3 options, none of them were screaming decadent to me so I went for the 'Selection of True Taste cheeses'. This was placed in front of me without ceremony and I had to call the waiter back to talk me through what was on it! The plate was made up of Perl Las, Perl Wen, Caerphilly and Y Fenni, some crumbly oat biscuits and a blob of chutney with grapes. All good quality cheese, the Caerphilly in particular was a winner, so no complaints from me.

He ordered the 'Summer pudding with Ty Tanglwyst Chantilly cream', a good example of a summer pudding, sharp berries and sweet soft cream (I think he would have preferred custard though!).

Overall we were happy with our meal but we have definitely had much better from Ffresh when we have gone as à la carte customers and on a night when there wasn't a show on. My tiny gripe is that none of what we had was cooked 'Ffresh' to order and as a result there were elements that felt a bit 'canteen-y' and this is a crying shame because this restaurant knows what it is doing. I know that for this type of menu there is a trade-off to meet the quick turnaround and the volume of covers but I would have liked to have seen a little more flair and just a bit of actual cooking instead of just plating up.

ffresh restaurant, Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff,
http://www.wmc.org.uk/eatanddrink/ffresh/45151/

Ffresh Bar on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Woods Brasserie - review

Now I am a little older (if none the wiser) one of life's pleasures is an evening at one of Cardiff's theatres preceded by a nice dinner. Back in January, on a trip to London we had the pre-theatre dinner by which all future such dinners will be measured, at Les Deux Salons.

At £18 for three cleverly balanced, tasty and satisfying courses we refer back to it often. Pre-theatre dinners can be a great way for restaurants to boost turnover and for punters to try out a restaurant on a budget. These menus can also be tricky to get right. The pricing needs to be sharp, the 3 courses taken together should be filling without leaving the diner stuffed (and liable to nodding off during the performance) and the plates should have a fairly rapid turnaround so nothing that needs lots of fiddly last minute cooking and plating.

Dinners like this are hard to find in Cardiff and I often struggle in town centre but in the Bay it is a little easier. I only rarely head down to Cardiff Bay to eat, only when I am in the area for cinema or the wonderful Wales Millennium Centre, preferring to avoid the plethora of family friendly chains that populate the front. Woods Brasserie is an exception to the rule and although there is no specific pre-theatre dinner, there is a 3 course Table d'Hote, available all evening for £20, so we decided to give it a try.

Woods describes itself as 'a contemporary restaurant situated within the iconic pilotage building of Cardiff Bay' and this is borne through in the decor. A beautiful stone building with glamorous touches inside, and a light conservatory serving as a dining room at the back which takes full advantage of the bayside views.

To start I had the Potted Pig which turned out to be 3 different types of pig; ham with the addition of tomato, slow cooked pork and a ham fritter all served on slate with smears of mustardy sauce and chutney. Of the three, my favourite was the slow cooked ham with tomato that flavoured the fat. The pork was the least successful of the three, the fat being unpleasantly greasy and lacking in flavour.  I felt there was just too much food on the plate for a starter and I would have been happier with about half that portion.

Woods fish and chipsFor main I ordered the Woods fish and chips and a very good it was too. The fish had been fried beautifully, the batter was crisp and light, the handcut chips were crunchy, fluffy and there was an absolute mountain of them. The traditional accompaniments were fine, but the pea puree was a touch too thick for me and didn't have a strong enough pea flavour, and I personally would have preferred a little more bite to the tartar sauce.


The other main was braised blade of beef with garlic mash and red wine gravy. I am told that this was good with a very rich gravy and soft beef, but that the ratio of meat to potato was slightly off. We had been recommended to order some vegetables with this but as I covered in a recent post after a visit to The Social, it irritates me when accompaniments don't form part of the dish. When I order I really think that the plate should be composed together and then if people want to add to it, fine, but don't give me half a dinner!

Braised blade of beef at Woods Brasserie

Frozen bread and butter pudding at Woods BrasserieBy this point I was absolutely stuffed, but as it was a set menu I decided to try the Frozen Bread and Butter pudding. This turned out to be dull old white bread layered with plain ice cream and raisins and felt like a half-attempt at a pudding. It was saved by an indulgent caramel sauce which provided a much needed extra dimension and sweetness.

The service at Woods is quite formal and deliberate, although not unfriendly, and the whole experience offers a very pleasant, more sophisticated alternative to the pizza, burger and fried chicken places further along.

Overall we enjoyed our dinner and thought that it offered exceptional value for money at £20. Looking at the A La Carte menu even that wouldn't have been much more expensive and it is well pitched for the Cardiff market. For me personally it was far too much food across 3 courses although I certainly have friends who would have been very happy with the portion sizes!

We will definitely be back.

Woods Brasserie, Pilotage Building, Stuart Street, Cardiff, CF10 5BW (029) 2049 2400
http://knifeandforkfood.co.uk/woods Wood's Brasserie on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 10 June 2012

The Social Restaurant - review

I think we are all familiar with fate of The Crown Social by now, the naked ambition for a Michelin star for Cardiff that got us all very excited last year. I went (review here) and was underwhelmed. A flawed concept (shared poached egg anyone?) alongside inconsistent cooking and service wasn't destined for success and we were all left little deflated and not surprised at all when Martin Blunos and The Parc Thistle parted company after 5 months.

The Crown Social closed and a pared back verion, The Social, opened last autumn under executive chef Iain Inman. It has taken me some time to put to bed memories of my last experience there but when a tempting Travelzoo voucher was made available (£39 for 2 glasses of Prosecco, starters, mains, deserts) I decided it was worth another punt.

As we arrived the restaurant looked quiet through the window but the bar was not with a large group of fairly loud ladies gearing up for a night in town. Sitting in the bar sipping a glass of prosecco and reading the menu, entertainment was provided by the stream of people heading towards St Mary Street dressed in a variety of what I will generously call 'outfits'.

To start:
  • Cured sewin, laverbread puree, crab vinaigrette, shaved fennel, candied lemon and chilli (£8)
  • Red and white onion risotto (£6.50)
Before the starters were delivered a bread board with 3 different breads was brought out. I tried a decent irish soda bread first, followed by a horrid piece of heavy, chewy focaccia that i think may have been raw in places.

Cured Sewin at The Social CardiffRed and white onion risotto at The Social CardiffThe cured sewin was a pretty good start, not a bone in sight, and the candied lemon, chilli and fennel salad was a fresh counterpoint to the fish. The crab vinaigrette felt utterly pointless though and with 2 microscopic blobs on the plate came across as almost stingy.



The onion risotto was good, al dente and strong/sweet with onion. This can also be ordered as a large plate but I suspect it might have been a too one-dimensional to work as a main.


Mains
  • Fillet of Usk Valley beef (£25)
  • Rump of Welsh lamb, braised shoulder, smoked aubergine, Nicoise jus (£20)
The beef had a £5 surcharge and came only with mushrooms and red wine jus so we had to order chips on top. Call me crazy but if a main is twenty five quid I don't want to have to pay extra for a fried potato. The mushrooms too were disappointing and turned out to be boring old baby button mushrooms.

The lamb dish was a real disappointment. The rump was unevenly cooked with some parts pretty much raw and had quite a lot of indigestible fat. The braise hadn't been cooked long enough and was unpleasantly flabby too. The smoked aubergine just tasted burned and wasn't pleasant to my taste.

Desserts
  • Pithvier [sic] of dark chocolate, milk chocolate mousse, white chocolate ice cream
  • Board of Welsh cheeses 
Pithivier of dark chocolate at The Social CardiffThings did improve with the desserts. We disagreed about the chocolate pithivier which I think had used salted butter in the pastry. I liked the saltiness but he was less sure. The white chocolate ice cream was very good.
Welsh Cheese Board at The Social Cardiff

I had the Welsh cheeses, Perl Las, Caerphilly and 2 others that I can't remember (sorry), a generous amount of good quality cheese, biscuits and chutneys.




The service was good and the front of house team know what they are doing. They were keen to make sure that their customers enjoyed and when I asked some questions about the aubergine on the lamb dish the Maitre d' was very happy to chat and even went so far as to take it upon himself to bring another  spoonful so I could taste it again - above and beyond the call of duty!

For the second time I left The Social feeling a little let down and here's the issue. If we had been paying full price the total bill would have come to somewhere around £120 for 2 people - a significant sum in anyone's book. As it was, with the voucher, we paid a more realistic £66 for the quality of the meal we had.

According to its own press releases, The Social is still ambitious which is laudable but with venues like The Park Plaza and The Parkhouse Club having recently launched new menus in the same space and within walking distance the competition's hotting up.

Crown Social (Parc Hotel) on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

La Galleria restaurant review


When I started blogging about food and restaurants, a mere 9 months ago, I didn't realise what a job it would be to keep up with all the new restaurants opening, and here we go again, in Canton, with the latest new kid on the block, La Galleria.

Ordinarily I avoid all new places in the first month, particularly if I am planning to write about it, but the promise of 'Italian food the way it should be' tempted me and once you throw in a 2-4-1 offer it would be silly not to. I was looking forward to something more than your standard Italian restaurant.

La Galleria describes itself as a 'restaurant lounge bar' which I found intriguing. The reality was an unnecessarily lengthy description for what is in fact a restaurant.

The interior seemed equally unsure of itself; a mix of modern ('feature' wall and squishy sofas in the front - presumably the lounge bit) and a curiously old fashioned look in the main restaurant. White table cloths, a strange arrangement on the walls of thick horizontal strips of cream wood interspersed with thin mirrored strips, and generic Italian looking paintings in a Jack Vettriano style. Traditional is one thing but old fashioned is another. And while I'm at it the tables were absolutely rammed together, I can image it getting very cramped when they get booked up.

But enough of the decor, the food is what it's all about.

The menu is pretty standard UK Italian restaurant fare, antipasti and bruschetta starters; pasta, pizza and a handful meat/fish dishes. It also bears more than a passing resemblance to the menu at Bellini's so if you like that there's a good chance this will be your thing.

We ordered bruschetta and olives to start, both were good, the bruschetta strong with garlic and the tomatoes properly salted.The olives were good and came with carrots, celery, chilli etc. (again like the olives in Bellini's)

The 2-4-1 could be used on either pasta or pizza so he ordered a Calzone and I had the Rucola (parma ham, rocket, shaved Parmesan). These were both good with generous toppings but for me the pizza base could have been a little thinner and crispier. We were offered, and I accepted, the offer of chilli oil for the pizza. This came in a oversized comedy bottle that needed two hands to lift it and was without a stopper for drizzling. This added an unnecessary frisson of danger and was so unwieldy reduced me to giggles.

Service was fine and efficient but would benefit from being a little more welcoming. There is a difference between service and hosting and as a general point the latter is much harder, but is normally the way in the best Italian restaurants. There were some teething issues evident but to be fair they were all dealt with cheerfully and quickly. While this would have been a problem somewhere more established, it wasn't a problem at all for somewhere open less than a week so let's not hold it against them.

Our bill with the discount was only £22.75 for the bruschetta, olives, 2 pizzas, 2 glasses of house red (an easy Montepulciano) and a coke; ridiculously good value in anyone's book. Without discount it would have been £31 which is still pretty sharp.

As we left we walked home past La Lupa and the Italian Way, both full and lively, and here for me is the issue. The food was fine, the service was fine but La Galleria seems to be a little confused in terms of what it is aiming for while at the same time not offering anything new. The description and the street view promise robust Italian cooking with a modern twist but this isn't completely followed through to the menu. If feels like 2 people have been locked in separate rooms with one working up the design and marketing while another worked up the menu. Canton is already well served with established Italian restaurants practically next door so where is the USP?

I'd really like La Galleria to do well. We have traditional Italian restaurants in Canton so there is space for something a bit different. Both La Vita (gorgeous pizzas) and Casanova (wonderful seasonal cooking) have already managed this and it would be good to see La Galleria carve out its own space.

La Galleria - Restaurant Bar Lounge
147 Cowbridge Road East, Canton

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Almada restaurant review

I moved to Cardiff about 7 years ago and in that time the options for eating in Canton have improved significantly. One of the first places I ate after arriving was a little neighbourhood Turkish place called Seren, which at the time was very tasty and exceptionally good value. Over the last 2 years though, the quality took a bit of a dive and earlier this year it quietly closed and a new Portuguese restaurant opened in its place. I had heard rumours that the chef used to be at Casanova (an excellent Italian restaurant on Quay Street in town) so when I booked a table for Saturday evening, expectations were high.

When we arrived at 8.00pm we were the only people there. I did not take this to be a good sign. One other couple arrived about 20 minutes later but that was it for the evening.

I liked the place when it was Seren and I still like the interior, however I find it hard to relax in an empty restaurant. Apart from trying to hold half whispered, self-conscious conversations, I become very aware of being watched over by hovering waiters!

Almada restaurant Cardiff dining room

In any case, when we sat down we were brought a dish of huge, shiny olives that almost needed a knife and fork to deal with them. Some bread also appeared along with a delicious tomatoey sardine paste which I thought was a very nice touch. I tried a glass of reasonable house red and looked through the menu.

Mussels with garlic and white wine at Almada CardiffTo start I ordered mussels with garlic and white wine (apologies for the naff photography). When they arrived there was enough shellfish to make a decent main course and while the mussels were good quality (their fish comes from Ashtons in the central market) if there was garlic in there, I couldn't find it.

The other starter of smoked salmon with beetroot salad was off balance. Far too much beetroot which completely overpowered the salmon.

For the main we ordered a Cataplana for two people at £35. Having never been to Portugal I had no idea what a Cataplana was, but the friendly and helpful waiter was very happy to explain and it turns out that it is a sealed metal cooking dish. This version had mussels, prawns, pork and chorizo and came with 'chips'. (Is this a standard 'Cataplana' or is it like a tagine with lots of variations? Comments welcome!)

Cataplana - Almada Cardiff
The seafood, as with the starters was good quality with lots of whole prawns and mussels on the top. The pork however was chewy rather than soft, and again the flavours were disappointing even with the chorizo and I found the whole thing a little bland and crying out for a good punchy sauce. The chips were fried potatoes rather than chipped, no problem at all, but why describe one thing then serve another?

We skipped dessert (the options didn't inspire me) and settled the bill.

Overall I thought that it was expensive for what we had. The total bill came to £70 for 2 starters, the main, 2 glasses of wine and a soft drink. The service was good and friendly but given that there were only 4 customers in that is to be expected. Almada faces some stiff competition on Cowbridge Road East which now has plenty of options for anyone looking for good, value for money, independent places to eat. I suspect that Almada will have to improve either their offering or their pricing to keep up with the competition.

Almada on Urbanspoon

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/


Oscars of Cardiff on Urbanspoon

Monday, 19 March 2012

The Corner House

Last week I risked the displeasure of a few close friends and finally got round to visiting The Corner House. This is the place, in case you have been living in a black hole for the last few months, which opened just before Christmas on the site of the first gay pub in Wales, the much loved King's Cross.

The King's, which had been established for 40ish years, found itself smack bang in the centre of 'chromeandglassland' when St David's 2 opened and therefore changed overnight from shabby but friendly into prime real estate. Mitchells and Butlers now had an opportunity to revamp it into one of its core brands (along with Browns and O'Neals) as a 'gastro pub'. A well organised and enthusiastically supported campaign was pulled together but the writing was on the wall and the King's closed down.

What reappeared in its place was a monolith of beige 'tastefulness' squarely pitched to resonate with those who have taken neutral tones in home decor to their hearts. There is nothing individual or interesting about The Corner House. It is inoffensive in the extreme.

We had booked a table for a (pre-grand slam!) Friday evening, and my first impression of the interior was much the same as the exterior. The place was packed out and we were asked to go the bar for a drink while they checked on our table upstairs.

We sat, read through the menu and ordered sharing breads, roasted garlic and olives to start. A couple of bottles of a very decent and drinkable merlot, and mains. The breads and olives were fine if unremarkable, and the roasted garlic was a good addition.

My order was for a burger which came with 'onion, gherkin, mayo, relish and fries'. Both of us who ordered burgers were very pleased. The cooking was spot on, still pink inside and the meat was clearly good quality with plenty of flavour. The chips were good too, crispy and fluffy. My only comment, is that thinking back, I don't really remember tasting relish. Mayo and gherkin yes, relish no.

One thing that sprang to mind, which is also something I recently experienced at The Meating Place, was the discrepancy in portion sizes. I had asked about accompaniments for each of the mains (these are bizarrely missing from the menu) The burgers, pizza and spit roast chicken were all there or thereabouts, but my friend who ordered lamb rump was crestfallen and immediately ordered a side of vegetables which were very good if brought suspiciously quickly.

Only one desert was requested (and it wasn't mine so I have no comment) brought at the same time as a round of coffees. Then the plates were cleared and THEN...

...we were quickly told that our time allocation for the table was up.

This was interesting for a few of reasons:
  1. This policy wasn't made clear when I booked. I have seen this on other websites (London mainly) but not on this one.
  2. We were late being shown to our table, I think by the time we were seated it was nearer to 7.30 than 7.00
  3. We didn't order starters
I'm not sure how I felt about this, it certainly wasn't well handled by the restaurant, although it was clearly very busy, it was handled brusquely and left a sour taste in my mouth.

Would I visit The Corner House again? Maybe. Not for a special occasion, but if you are catching up with friends in town where you are paying more attention to the conversation than the food it is a solid option.

If there is nothing offensive about The Corner House, there is equally nothing exciting. Everything was fine and I am sure it will make money but it is crying out for some of the personality it had in it's previous incarnation.

The Corner House, Bar and Dining Rooms, Caroline Street, Cardiff
http://www.cornerhousecardiff.co.uk/

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

eat.cn (takeaway)

It struck me the other day that I hadn't really talked about takeaways at all on this blog which is surprising because I do have takeaways a couple of times a month. So why haven't I?

I suppose it is because, unlike with restaurants, I tend to stick to the same couple of places. Local, reasonable, reliable. I am not as adventurous when bringing food home. Takeaways tend to be reserved for those occasions when I have arrived home too late, or I am too tired to be bothered with cooking rather than seen as a treat.

Generally most takeaways have uninspiring menus. Low quality ingredients, poor value and full of MSG.
The other option is to look at restaurants which also offer takeaway, or even better, a delivery service. One upshot of the current economy is that restaurants looking to increase their revenue are starting to see this as a viable additional service where previously it was seen as taking their food down-market (a bit like when film actors decided, post Keifer Sutherland on 24, that TV wasn't so bad after all).

So, I was very excited to find out that .cn, a restaurant reviewed and praised by food bloggers in recent months had started offering not only takeaway, but a delivery service. Utopia!

The website describes the food as 'influenced from the Northern provinces of China' although with a strong presence of chilli and Sichuan pepper on the menu the food reminded me more of my brief visit to Guilin in the south.
Ingredients for the adventurous (shredded pig maw, beef tripe and chicken gizzard) sit alongside the more usual but no less tasty options (lamb breast, meatballs, sea bass). What is immediately obvious is that this is no ordinary menu sanitised for Western tastes.

This is the second order from .cn that we have had. The first (Sichuan chicken, crispy pork in Peking sauce with pancakes and guotie) was so good we went back for more the following week.

The guotie last time were a revelation so this time we ordered a stuffed steamed bun each. The bun was fluffy and the filling of pork, leek and spring onion was savoury and moreish. I smiled like a loon with every mouthful.

The mains were pork in Sichuan pepper and chilli sauce (left) and crispy lamb breast with ground chilli.
The pork was good, plenty of chillies in the sauce and if you were unfortunate enough to bite down on a piece of Sichaun pepper it felt like you had lava in your mouth (in a good way)
The lamb was delicious, the layer of fat was soft and full of flavour, although the dish had maybe been compromised a bit by the necessity of transporting the meat in a plastic container. This had the unfortunate effect of steaming something that should be crispy. I can only assume that is what happened since I haven't been to the restaurant yet and it's hard to see how they could avoid this happening.

The thought that has gone into a varied and challenging menu, the care that is taken over the ingredients, the high quality cooking all results in an impressive all round experience and you still get a strong sense of the personality of the place when eating this food at home.

I'm already planning my next order!

http://www.eatcn.co.uk/

Monday, 24 October 2011

The Hardwick, Abergavenny - review

When a friend suggested visiting The Hardwick for his birthday Sunday lunch my thoughts were mixed. The first time I visited The Hardwick I was less than completely impressed. The food was fine but the service was not. My overall impression was that the restaurant was far too busy being pleased with itself than it was concerned with providing customers a thoroughly pleasant dinner experience. I was however, absolutely prepared to accept that my experience may have been a ‘one off’ and that the restaurant deserved its write ups and awards in the national press including The Observer Food Monthly Awards, so I kept my misgivings to myself and back I went.

To start
We ordered bread with butter and olive oil. The bread and butter were good but the olive oil, which on first taste promised to be delicious, left a bitter, acrid after taste that was really unpleasant.
Now I would normally list all the starters but there were 6 of us so I can’t really do justice to each one but I will talk about 2:
  • Organic Salmon & Cod Fishcake with Crab Mayonnaise, Deep Fried Ortiz Anchovies and Lemon
  • Pan Fried Diver Caught Scallops & Crispy Breadcrumbed Gloucester Old Spot Pork Belly & Black Pudding with Apple & Mustard Sauce and Fennel & Dandelion Salad £5 Supplement
I had the scallops which were very very good, sweet and smooth but weirdly appeared to have been cut into rectangles to match the shape of the pork belly (?) This looked like slices of terrine and the black pudding was running through it like seams in a coal mine. The portion was huge! In all honesty I would have preferred the black pudding served separately – the seams running through the pork belly were very thin and so they were lost in the über savouriness of the pork. this publicly. Undo
He had the fishcake, which he said was good but could have done with being a little more crispy on the outside.

Mains
  • Roast Rib of Herefordshire Beef with Yorkshire Pudding, Roast Potatoes,
    Seasonal Local Organic Vegetables and Gravy
  • Deep Fried Cod in Beer Batter with Triple Cooked Chips, Lemon and Tartar Sauce

I had the beef and lovely and beautifully cooked it was too with the biggest best Yorkshire pudding I have seen in a long time. One of the children with us who ordered it had a huge grin on his face from the moment it appeared from the kitchen. Roast potatoes were good and cooked in goose fat (mmm…) so a real treat. The veg was a little disappointing, all boiled, with kale that had enough salt to sink a battleship.
He had the cod which was apparently very good indeed with a crispy, flavourful batter.
Desserts
  • Vanilla Panna Cotta with Fresh Strawberries
I had the panna cotta which although nice and wobbly, seemed to me to be on the verge of splitting. It was also served straight from the fridge which was a shame as this dulled the vanilla. The shortbread biscuit though was as crunchy and buttery as shortbread should be.

Service

This was the element of the meal that let The Hardwick down for me last time and I’m afraid the experience wasn’t much better this time. Despite having a small army of people there, trying to get hold of someone to take a drink order was hard work. We also had to ask several times for the bill (after a 25+ minute wait) despite being the last people there. When I have to explain what a double espresso is I also have to raise an eyebrow. I know you won’t all agree, but I would much more readily forgive the couple of minor issues with the food if the dining experience was a bit more friendly and competent. Having spoken to a few other people it seems that I am not the only one to think so.

Final thoughts

A good menu that should have an option to satisfy everyone. It was a real pleasure to be able to eat somewhere of that quality and see children being equally well catered for. However in my opinion the service lets the kitchen down.
Will I be back for a third time? Hmmm…

The Hardwick is a restaurant in Abergavenny, Monmouthshire. Stephen Terry is the head chef.
http://www.thehardwick.co.uk/index.php/restaurant  Hardwick on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Review - Canteen on Clifton Street


I have been meaning to visit this place for a long time and finally got round to it a few weeks ago.

Canteen on Clifton Street seems to have a strong, enthusiastic following and with good reason. The menu changes very regularly (essential as far as I'm concerned) and looking at old menus on their website and pinned to the wall in the restaurant itself, they are often themed. The other point to note is that the menu is mostly vegetarian, some vegan and coeliac friendly. The inventiveness of the dishes make no concession to dietary requirements however and the menu looks inventive and fun.

To start
  • Plantain and sweet potato torte
  • Mushroom Galette
I had a plantain, sweet potato torte which was very unusual and surprisingly tasty. One thing we were noticing was that the smaller more creative menu was encouraging us to try things that we might not otherwise try. I normally avoid sweet potato having had bad experiences with sweet potato chips elsewhere but here the combination with the plantain was very good.

For main
  • Greek thali
  • Chicken and vegetable laksa
I had a greek thali for main, made up of a stack of aubergine, potato, tomato and a béchamel sauce with Houmous, salad, pitta etc around it. I am a big fan of this style of eating so it suited me perfectly. The 'thali' description presumably a nod to the rest of the menu which was mostly Asian although Indonesia rather than India. The other half had the chicken and veg laksa. Very tasty but for our taste could have had more spice. To be fair their website does say that they will adjust spicing to taste, we just didn't ask.

Afters
We both had the sticky toffee pud which was delicious and I believe is the only standing item on the menu. Designed to be coeliac friendly the flour must have been gluten free and had a wholemeal taste which added to the flavour rather than detracting.

Service
Service was very very relaxed (think flip flops!), efficient and friendly. A couple of really good points were the pacing between courses, a good 10 minutes or more which suits me, and a jug of water on the table. The atmosphere was that of a friendly neighbourhood restaurant and it seemed that a number of the people there were regulars which is always a good sign.

Neither of us are veggies but happy to eat veggie food and we will definitely be back and I would be happy to recommend to others. The whole bill came to £43 including a couple of glasses of wine and a cognac which we thought was exceptionally good value.
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