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

Friday, 30 March 2012

Pettigrew Tea Rooms opens!

After a looong search for premises, one false start, an entertaining blog and a lo-o-ot of shopping for display cabinets, furniture and china, Pettigrew Tea Rooms is open for business.

I popped in this morning for a flying visit, and picked up a very good takeaway coffee and tasted a totally cute shortbread biscuit in the shape of a teapot.

David LeMesurier, proprietor - Pettigrew Tearooms


Spread the word, and if you are passing or visiting Bute park, pop in for finger sandwiches, cake and a pot of tea!

Congratulations to David and the team and best of luck with the new venture.

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/
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