Showing posts with label review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label review. Show all posts

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Cellar Funk - The Lansdowne Pub, Cardiff

The British pub is in decline, figures from The Campaign for Real Ale show that they are closing at a rate of 12 a week. Conversely other figures show that Real Ale is growing in popularity for the first time in 20 years, particularly in community pubs that focus on 'wet sales'. Here in Cardiff we have a prime example in 'new old pub', The Landsdowne.

Purchased 3 years ago by The Chameleon Group (The Meating Place, North Star, Vulcan Lounge et al), the upper floors have been converted into flats. The Chameleon Group has a track record of breathing new life into interesting and neglected buildings, and in a town that has a reputation for demolishing beautiful architecture and replacing it with steel and glass homogeneity (cf. St Davids 2, 97% of Cardiff Bay), this is to be valued.

Following public opposition to the original plans, the ground floor has been reopened as a rather marvellous pub by Spoon Cardiff Ltd, the directors of which include local councillor Cerys Furlong, and the team behind The Potted Pig Tom Furlong, Alexis Myring and Gwyn Myring.

The bar at The Lansdowne Cardiff
The bar at The Landsdowne complete with
cheery jugs of daffodils
I finally have a good pub within walking distance of my front door and I've made several visits to The Lansdowne since it reopened. It is testament to what can be done when free of the often choking hold of a brewery. Just as with Chapter on the other, posher side of Cowbridge Road East, the bar offers an interesting and changing line up of ales, lagers and ciders. 

On my last visit there was an ale from Okells brewery, one from Tomos Watkin, Cwrw Celt and Cwtch from Tiny Rebel micro brewery. Last weekend, having left it late to book somewhere for Sunday lunch, we decided to try the local. There are no reservations, no menus, no starters here. On Sundays the brief menu is augmented by a Sunday roast. By the time we arrived at 12.30 several extended family groups had already claimed the larger tables, so we found a small table in the back bar and ordered a Homemade Burger with Chips (£6) and the Rare Topside of Beef with Roasties, Yorkshire Puds, Proper Gravy, Cauliflower Cheese (£8.95) and beers.
The simple blackboard menu at The Lansdowne Cardiff
The simple blackboard menu
The food, for the most part, is simple home cooking. The Sunday Roast along with crispy roast potatoes, simply boiled carrots and cabbage and a decent gravy. Unfortunately the slice of beef was well done, rather than the advertised 'rare' and the cauliflower cheese strangely un-cheesy.
Sunday Roast with crispy potatoes at The Lansdowne Cardiff
Sunday Roast with crispy potatoes
The burger and chips was fine but unremarkable. The patty needed seasoning and the chips not homemade which was a shame. It was exactly what you expect when paying the austerity friendly sum of £6.
Burger and chips at The Lansdowne Cardiff
Burger and chips
If all of this sounds negative, let me clarify. The food is good value and consistent with the pricing but it is not the main reason people come here. It is a sideshow to the main event which is in the cellar not the kitchen. The impression I get is that The Lansdowne wants to be a pub not a restaurant and this makes me very happy. If you want a great meal go to The Potted Pig. If you want a great pint and maybe a quick, simple Welsh faggots and peas on the side, then this is the place for you. You won't be disappointed.

The Lansdowne
Lansdowne Road, Canton, Cardiff, CF5 1PU
02920 221312

Twitter: @thelansdownepub

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


Stagg Inn on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

'Flip Your Wig' - La Crêperie de Sophie review

La Crêperie de Sophie and its proprietor Loic Moinon will already be very familiar to regular Riverside Market visitors where they whip up deliciously fresh crêpes and and galettes. There is something very satisfying about a humble batter, cooked on a simple hotplate 'en plen air' and transformed into a steaming envelope of cheese and ham loveliness of a Sunday morning!

One month ago Loic opened the latest arm to his venture; a charming cafe in the High Street Arcade and since I'm already a fan of their work, I was tempted to go along and try out the broader range of toppings on offer.

La Crêperie de Sophie, Cardiff High Street Arcade
La Crêperie de Sophie, Cardiff High Street Arcade

For the uninitiated, crêpes originated in Britanny but are a hugely popular street-food across France. The crêpe is made with a batter similar to our once-a-year Shrove Tuesday pancakes which are most suitable for sweet fillings, or there is the Breton Galette mix, which is better suited for the savoury fillings.

My own preference is for the savoury galette and the menu has a good selection of fillings from the classic ham and cheese (£2.95 to takeaway) to gourmet fillings like 'L'Italiene' of parma ham, mozzarella, olives and pesto (£5.45). On asking which was their most popular I was pointed towards the 'Cocorico' - chicken, brie, cranberry, and the 'Sweet Billy' - goats cheese, walnuts, onion chutney, leaves, balsamic, both at £4.45. I'm a sucker for goats cheese, and I'm trying to eat less meat so I went for the Sweet Billy.

Un galette s'il vous plait!
Une artisan au travail
Crêpe! That looks good...
Crêpe! That looks good...

The crêpes are all freshly made to order and generously filled with quality ingredients, The Sweet Billy was well balanced, the creamy cheese cut through nicely by the balsamic and the onions adding a sweet stickiness. The simple galette was the ideal foil, allowing the filling to shine through. Apparently the Welsh tend to favour the crêpe mix but I personally think that batter would have made the overall flavour too sweet.

Crêpes - The ultimate French street food
The ultimate French street food
The galette was very filling (probably too much for me of a standard weekday if I'm honest) which does help to justify the £4.45 price tag. To be fair the quality of the product is high with as much attention paid to the pancake as to the filling. It is also possible to get a ham & egg or sugar & lemon for under £3.00, competitive pricing for an everyday lunch against an M&S sandwich. If you prefer you can also get any of the options as a salad but let's be honest, why on earth would you?!.

The sweet crêpes looked absolutely amazing, coming in tempting combinations of of fruits, creams, caramels and chocolates. The added bonus of being able to sit 'outside' in the arcade whatever the weather is a draw considering our inclement summer and I'm looking forward to returning soon and working my way through some more of the menu!

I was invited along to try out the new menu and as such the lunch was complimentary. Thanks to Loic and the team at La Crêperie de Sophie.

La Crêperie de Sophie, High Street Arcade, Cardiff,

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,

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 Wood's Brasserie on Urbanspoon

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

Sunday, 10 June 2012

The One Mile Bakery - Week 3

So we are 3 weeks in and the weather has turned again. It is cold, it is grey it is wet. In other words it is Welsh. It is also post extra long bank holiday weekend during which I have consumed my fair share (and probably your share) of beer, wine and whisky. I need nourishment and comfort in a bowl and with that in mind I had a go at 'encouraging' Elisabeth to tell me what was for tea via Twitter but she was having absolutely none of it.

After last week's weather appropriate soup delivery I was hoping for something warming and Elisabeth didn't disappoint.

Le menu:
  • Harira with rose harissa, lemon and parsley
  • Rye, wheat and white sourdough
  • Fig and walnut sourdough

Before the deliveries started I was sent a few questions. What food don't you like? Are you vegetarian? What is your all time favourite soup? I was pathetically unable to limit myself to just one favourite soup but one of my comments was 'I love spice, the more the better!' and if there is such a thing as a food based spice gauntlet (that sounds kind of wrong) then this was it!

Before I start I have to warn you that I absolutely LOVED everything in the bag this week. I know I've been pretty positive about The One Mile Bakery so far, but this week has been the best yet.

We went to Marrakech for a long weekend last year and happened to be there during Ramadan. If you have been the you will know that Ramadan, in Marrakech, in August is no joke; fasting during the long summer days and heat take their tole on the locals. Harira is what most people eat to break the fast which should tell you everything you need to know. As soon as the sun dipped, flasks of harira appeared from under counters, customers were ignored and everything stopped for this soup. Warming, mildly spiced and filling with lentils, chickpeas and vermicelli, the addition of a wonderful, vibrant pink rose harissa took it to a whole new level. A squeeze of lemon and some fresh parsley finished the bowl nicely. Needless to say I had 2 helpings.

There were 2 loaves again this week and we had an exceptionally tasty rye, wheat and white sourdough with the soup. Packed full of flavour this is the kind of bread that works equally well on its own with nothing more than some of the quality salted butter I bought at Riverside Market a couple of weeks ago. I might have been unable to resist munching the crust end of the loaf with butter after my 2 helpings of soup.

The other loaf, a small walnut and fig sourdough I immediately had pegged for cheese and this is how I had it, topped with goats cheese and some fig chutney for tea on Friday and again for lunch on Saturday.

You should be, it was really, really good.

The One Mile Bakery single handedly ruined my diet last week. Thanks Betty.

On to week 4
Back to week 2

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.

  • 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.

  • 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

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

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.


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

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

Wednesday, 14 March 2012 (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!

Monday, 9 January 2012

Angela Gray's Cookery School - Bake it!

This year my boyfriend set down some ‘rules’ for our Christmas presents, designed I think to turn Christmas shopping into a sort of ‘Challenge Anneka’ type experience only without the skin-tight jumpsuit (hooray) or giant truck (boo). The rules included a second hand item, something made by you, a gift costing less than £10 and something consumable. The something consumable he got was a box of Maltesers but I definitely had the better end of the deal with the very exciting prospect of a day’s baking course at Angela Gray’s Cookery School based at Llanerch Vineyard.

The course description promised a lot which was just as well with a price tag of £140 for a full day course:
Re-discover the art of baking. Learn new skills, and how to add variety to your culinary repertoire. It’s the perfect way to spend the day, and you take home delicious eats to share with friends.
Make Carrot and sultana scones with cheese pate, Fougasse and Pissaladiere. Break for a well deserved lunch of Leek rarebit tart and winter salad and finish with Spiced chocolate brownies.
We all know that baking is having a bit of a moment with the Great British Bake Off having revived interest and being a bit of a sucker for a bandwagon I was keen to expand my own baking beyond your basic cakes and tarts.

The kitchen
The school itself is house in the grounds of Llanerch Vineyard which has seen some major improvements since it was sold in 2010, one of these being the cookery school which opened in April 2011.

It is housed in a separate building with a fully equipped kitchen area that has about 6 or so workstations, there is also a large farmhouse style table with an Aga next to it and although it was a cold January day when we were there, the kitchen has doors around 2 walls which looked like they could open right round when the weather allows. The whole area is finished to a high standard and is immaculate; in fact it all screams QUALITY at you.

The course
I arrived just before 10.00am to find Angela and one other student already there. Since it was the first course back after Christmas there were only 3 of us booked on and one didn’t turn up, so it was just the two of us. After coffee and chocolate cherry tart we were ready to start and first up was a basic bread dough which could then be turned into Pissaladiere and Fougasse.

Bread is one of the areas I have very little experience with so most of this was new to me. Angela took us through the basic dough recipe and taught us to knead the dough by slapping it against the worksurface (tres therapeutic) This was then placed into the oven on a setting specifically for rising dough (fancy!).

Next on the list was the onion topping for the Pissaladiere which we were reliably informed, is a pizza style style dish of Southern France which is usually served in small slices with an aperitif. The usual topping (which we were making) is slowly cooked onions with garlic, olives and anchovies but Angela also suggested roasted peppers, sausage, cheese etc.

We then made a start on the scones, the addition of carrot being a new experience for me. We prepped the mix and left it to one side to return to the dough which by now had doubled in size. It needed to be knocked back and then it was ready for use.

Half the dough was flattened for the Pissalaldiere and the onion mixture was spread out across the top, and dotted with olives and anchovies.


For the other half of the dough we added some very finely chopped rosemary before shaping into a sort of palm leaf shape with cuts through the dough (apparently it is sold hanging up in France). Again this could have other flavourings added; I am fancying parmesan and bacon! As you can see I had some issues with the shaping *ahem*


Then it was time to prep lunch which was a leek rarebit tart. Tart tins were lined with mustard and parmesan pastry, leeks sautéed in butter and added to a strong rarebit mixture.  A large salad with a pomegranate molasses dressing was prepared, and we sat around the large farmhouse style table for lunch and a good chat.

The final items to be made were the brownies and these were flavoured with cinnamon and my favourite spice, cardamom.

Final thoughts

I thoroughly enjoyed my day at Angela’s cookery school and the new skills for me were all about the bread making. Angela is absolutely lovely. Friendly, chatty and encouraging, no question was too stupid and nothing too much trouble. The quality of the equipment and the ingredients is all very good and the school seems to fit in well with the wider work happening on the site.

Whichever way I look at it £140 is quite a lot of money so if when I go again and have to fork out for it myself, it will either be for something a bit more technical (I really fancy the knife skills session) where I can really pick up some new skills, or for one of the taster courses which are a more affordable £50. Judging by the website I don’t think they are having much difficulty attracting customers with some upcoming courses already fully booked. I also hear that a certain red jerseyed rugby team are booked in for a session soon. There are more courses and some events (including a glamping day) planned for this year and the school is a great addition to an improving food scene in South Wales. I look forward to being able to visit again.

Angela Gray’s Cookery School is based at Llanerch Vineyard and offers a range of cookery courses and events including 2 day schools, demonstrations and a Lunch Club.
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