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 Herm├Ęs!

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, 17 June 2012

The Kings Arms Pentyrch - launch event

On Friday evening I was invited along to a tasting session at The Kings Arms pub in Pentyrch by the Otley Brewing Company to celebrate their official launch. The 18th century longhouse pub is owned by Brains but was taken over by Otley Brewing Company in March this year, and since then they have been working on a very sympathetic restoration. In these times when pubs are closing and being turned into houses there is a real benefit in breweries running them - yes there is food, and a dedicated dining area, but the pub is still a pub. When I stuck my head round the corner it was packed out with locals having a beer. Fantastic!

Dining room at The Kings Arms Pentyrch
Photo provided by Golley Slater

Dining room at The Kings Arms Pentyrch
Photo provided by Golley Slater
Nick Otley gamely hosted and set out the thinking behind the menus, “We’re fortunate in Wales to have some of the best food and drink producers and we’re looking to celebrate this produce through our menu and the drinks we put behind the bar. Our ethos is centred on sourcing sustainably and locally, much like our sister pub, The Bunch of Grapes in Pontypridd."

Since discovering that I liked Guinness on a trip to Dublin a few years back, I've been ditching lager in favour of ales and stouts but for some reason I haven't tried any Otley ale so I was intrigued.

Croeso - a lovely, easy drinking light session ale at 4.2% that we were informed could partner any food but may not  work well with strong flavours. I liked this one, it was very fresh and quite lemony

Thai-Bo - an unusual one this, a 4.6% ale flavoured with lemongrass, galangal  and lime. This had been a special edition but has been promoted to a more general release. I liked it but I think one pint would probably be enough!

Brains SA - already well familiar and now 50 years old, this didn't really need much of an introduction.

All at sea - a new offering from Brains Craft Brewery which has drafted *ahem* in the services of ale writers and reviewers to create the beers. This one and the Croeso were probably my favourites but at 5.2% I wouldn't be able to drink much without feeling the effects! Apparently they have a new ale, Barry Island IPA on the way in the next couple of weeks so keep an eye out for that.

From the barbeque I tried the lamb stuffed with black pudding (I'm a sucker for anything that has black pudding) and rosemary. The lamb was good and I do like pink lamb but it was probably a little underdone even for me.

Looking at the Summer menu there is a 12 hour confit shoulder of lamb at £15.00 that will ensure that I return very soon!

Thanks to Otley Brewing Company for the invite and the food and ales which were complimentary.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

My favourite weekday recipe - spicy sausage casserole

This recipe has done the rounds with my friends and family. Every person I've shared it with has told me that it's gone on to become a favourite.

I've used it for supper with guests, a restorative meals on wheels for a poorly friend and I've fed it to my Dad. He who was adamant that he didn't eat butter beans, but then I caught him having seconds!

It's nothing special, but it is super quick (half an hour tops), filling and very tasty.

The original recipe can be found here on the rather marvelous BBC GoodFood site.

Spicy sausage and butter bean casserole

  • Spicy sausages, about half a dozen or so (I like to use a mix of Gorno's Toulouse and Spicy Calabrian sausages)
  • Bacon - couple of rashers
  • Leek - one large, sliced
  • Chicken or vegetable stock - about 200ml
  • White wine - glass
  • Garlic - clove (or 2 to your taste)
  • Chilli flakes - half a teaspoon, again to taste
  • Butter beans - 2 tins
  • Parsley - chopped
  1. Brown the sausages and remove to a plate and when cool slice into chunks
  2. Fry the bacon then add the leek and garlic and soften
  3. Return the sausages and add the rest of the ingredients
  4. Simmer until the sausages are cooked through
  5. Add the parsley before serving
Super quick, super easy, super tasty and it needs nothing more than some leaves (spinach is good) and maybe some crusty bread.

When I haven't been able to get spicy sausages, which is always more difficult than you'd think it should be, I'll use the most interesting pork variety I can find, but then I'll vary the herbs and eat it with cheese and bread.

If you do get round to trying it I'd love to hear from you - similarly if you come up with another variation let me know by commenting below!

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

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