Saturday, 17 September 2011

Review - Bully's

This was my third visit to Bully's in the fictional area of Pontcanna (really, it doesn't exist, you are either Canton or Riverside folks).

The first time we went I was very impressed. Good food, not perfect but to be honest that probably makes it more interesting. Lovely relaxed, friendly vibe. Fab.

Second time, 2 months later, was good but an identical version of the first time we went. What's that all about? The menu was identical for crying out loud! I'm sorry but a changing menu for me is essential and speaks to the quality of a restaurant. If I wanted the same thing every time I'd go to Nando's. It worries me when a chef sticks so rigidly to a menu paying no attention to what might be good from their supplier.

A quick visit to their website recently showed me a largely, yet still not completely, new menu, so I thought we'd have another bash to see if this time I would be sold one way or another.

To start:
  • Spiced parsnip soup
  • Salmon tartare, keta caviar, herb and truffle water dressing
The soup was fine. Essentially curried parsnip. Nothing to get excited about but fine. I had the salmon which was lovely. Very very fresh (as raw salmon absolutely has to be) the caviar lovely, salty etc. Not really sure about the truffle water, it didn't seem to add much at all. Is that surprising when you are adding water to a dish? Didn't spoil anything but probably not necessary.

  • Parsnip and sage risotto cake (with extra pan fried foie gras)
  • Fillet of Welsh black beef, caramelised baby turnip, gaufrette potatoes, game crumbs, Madeira jus
He had the beef which I have had before and it was as good as it always is. The gaufrette potatoes (essentially fancy McCoy's crisps) were good and crispy but at £25 always feels a bit over priced. The game crumbs were an unnecessary item on the plate and added nothing.

I had the risotto cake which had a lovely flavour of caramelly parsnip but was under fried and anaemic. I always make extra risotto so I can have risotto cakes on day 2 and I really expect them to be lovely and golden. Done properly they are a thing of deliciousness but it is probably a bit of a lazy veggie option to be honest.


  • Granny Smith apple tarte tatin, caramel sauce, summer berry ice cream
  • Dark and white chocolate mousse, banana coulis
 The chocolate mousse was exactly as you would want, rich velvety and smooth. I thought banana coulis an odd choice but I was reassured that it worked well.
The tarte tatin was (like a couple of other items) under cooked. Whilst the apples were lovely and soft, the caramel rich and sweet, the pastry was completely pale and underdone which is unforgiveable since the updside down cooking method of a tarte tatin should mean that the pastry comes out perfect every time. I also thought that the addition of summery berry ice cream was a shame, overpowering the lovely simplicity of apples, pastry and caramel. Why would you do it? A good quality vanilla ice cream is all that should be needed. If you must faff about with it go for a caramel or honeycomb icecream but don't give me blackberries and raspberries - I scraped the ice cream off and left most of it.

The strangest thing about our visit was a product of the three large groups they had in on that night. Bully's is far too small to cope with this and I think it showed in the cooking. It also showed in the service. Only one of the 2 waiters on that night knew anything about the food, the other, when we asked about the game crumbs told us that he knew nothing and was 'just helping out'.

When we were ready to order dessert and clearly getting irritated that we had been left with the menu for 20 minutes AND had run out of wine 10 minutes earlier which is rubbish in anyone's book, the waiter came over for a bit of a sit down and asked that we wait for a bit while 'we get this group out of the way'. We were left waiting for another 10 minutes before anyone came to take our order which really is poor service.

Another mixed experience from Bully's and I remain unconvinced that they can justify their very high prices. The lack of consistency is the key issue and I want to love it, I really do but it hasn't quite hit the mark for me yet.

Bully's 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.

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 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.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Review - The Crown Social

As it was my birthday (and no I'm not telling) last Friday, the other half offered me my choice of restaurant for dinner. My choice was The Crown Social which I had heard mixed reviews of, but since we had been to The Crown at Whitebrook the same time last year, and had been very impressed I thought we should give it a go.

I was already aware that the format was 'small plates' and I was intrigued by how it might work. I kind of enjoy the 'mock tapas' that we get in this country and I enjoy sharing food and it's always how I serve when we have friends round for dinner, partly because I can get flavour in to food but rubbish at the presentation bit.

The waiter (dressed all in black like a Bobbi Brown makeup counter person) came and talked us through the idea and suggested 4 starter between 2 but didn't explain whether we should follow the same for the main course.

This comes from the menu:

'Rather than offering individual starters and main courses, the Crown Social has designed the menu for sharing. We suggest that you pass our plates amongst your friends and companions.'

To start
So we ordered as follows:
  • Cheese fondue with onion madeleines
  • Poached duck egg, rarebit topped choux bun, béarnais
  • Sardines
  • Home made black pudding, apples, watercress
What came was an unusual experience to say the least. Most succesful was probably the cheese fondue - especially since fondue is clearly made for sharing. The fondue itself was good and the madeleines were fine although the onion flavour was overpowered. The sardines were also good, fresh and grilled. The black pudding was a thin, overcooked slice and very dry with some sliced apple. Not good for a fiver! The duck egg/choux bun was very very good but completely unsuitable for sharing.

That in a nutshell was my problem with the starters. Only one of the 4 was designed with sharing in mind. The 4 plates were brought out and put into the middle of the table. We weren't provided with plates were expected to eat half a choux bun with runny poached egg then pass the plate on. Completely unsuitable for anything except long standing couples or the closest of friends!

We ordered:

  • Slow cooked lam shoulder, crisp lamb breast
  • Beef skirt steak
  • Chips
  • Buttered cabbage
The mains were much more successful and the lamb in particular was very good, soft meaty and delicious. The sides were also good, although his steak came with what I think was a fondant potato. It's never good when you are left deciphering your veg because a. it isn't obvious and b. no one has bothered to explain what you're eating.
The chips were good though.

We ordered:
  • Warm filled doughnuts, vanilla milkshake
  • Honeycomb souffle with lime sorbet
This is where we had real problems.

The doughnuts were heavy and clearly not freshly made but the fillings were tasty. It is pretty easy to please him so any pud where he isn't completely happy is worth noting.
I had the souffle which I had read very good things about elsewhere. This was pretty bad. The honeycomb was burned and inedible and the sorbet was so sour that it completely jarred with the rest of the dish. When I mentioned the burned honecomb I received a mumbled apology but when the bill came the desserts had been removed. Nothing more was said.

The service was formal. Too formal for me probably and it was the only duff note at The Crown at Whitebrook where the absence of any sense of humour made me giggle like a fool every time something was placed in front of me with so much fanfare it made my ears ring.

Overall I was distinctly underwhelmed. The place is far far too expensive for so many mistakes.

The other big issue is the venue. For all the design in the world, it still looks and feels like a hotel restaurant. There's not getting away from them big industrial air-con controls and fittings that populate the less 'designed' areas. The other joy was leaving the rarefied atmosphere to be greeted by v. v. v. drunk people capering about by the taxi rank.

To be honest all of this is now completely academic since I read here that the place is closing. But I went so I reviewed. So there.

Review - The Potted Pig


I finally made it along to The Potted Pig last week for a booking made 3 weeks ago. Apparently they are running at about a week in advance for bookings at the moment. I'd been checking the menu and trying to put together my ideal dinner since the day we booked. It turns out that this is a really bad habit. The whole crab with chips and mayonnaise disappeared from the menu about a week before our booking. I'm keeping an eye out for it's return though!

So, we arrived a little early (the waitress had been very clear with us that we would be seated PROMPTLY - but fair enough) so that we could sample one of the dozens of gins on offer. I chose the Brecon Special Reserve gin from Penderyn Distillery with fever tree tonic. All very nice and I really enjoy a G&T but I think I could do with a gin tasting session so that I can compare the different flavours. Just drinking one on it's own I find it hard to tell one gin from another.

A mix of starters were ordered round the table, I ordered the Welsh Rarebit with truffle which was maybe a little disappointing. No concessions to presentation were evident. Literally half a slice of topped bloomer bread was what arrived. I will say that it was tasty, deliciously savoury and soft but at £6 felt a little 'under sold'. I don't doubt for a second that there was truffle in there but it couldn't be tasted over the cheese and given that it couldn't be seen either it may as well have not been there.
2 differing opinions were given on the eponymous Potted Pig itself, one person thought it was a little dry whereas another thought it was wonderful.
The chilli eggs with avocado on toast were very good, perfectly poached egg, ripe avocado and just enough heat. I was jealous.

The mains were pretty much a success all round. The Slow roast Herefordshire pork belly with baked carrots, spring greens & gravy was truly delicious. Wonderfully soft meat with a light, savoury gravy and the vegetables were vivid and stuffed full of flavour. I would love to know what they did to the carrots! Been a greedy mochyn myself I ordered a side of chips that everyone had been raving about and I couldn't resist. To be honest the vegetables would have been enough, but since when has eating out ever been about having just enough?

A couple of people had steaks, one of which had been ordered rare and was considered to be slightly overdone although the steaks were pretty thin so rare would have been quite difficult to achieve.

One person had the duck liver which was very rare. This was perfect for them and was judged to be very good indeed.

Very very good and friendly. Nothing more to be said really.

A great addition to the Cardiff food scene. I maybe thought the house reds could have been a little better and we were in there an hour before the starters arrived. I don't think this is a problem at all but we could have used some bread or similar to soak up the gin!

I highly recommend this place, good food, nice friendly relaxed atmosphere.

A few interesting places seem to be cropping up in the town centre at the moment, wouldn't it be great if this was part of a trend to reclaim the area and make it a more friendly weekend destination?

The Potted Pig on Urbanspoon
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