Saturday, 30 March 2013

Hooked on a feeling - Fish at 85 Cardiff review

Fish at 85 Pontcanna Cardiff

Fish at 85, situated in Cardiff's affluent media village Pontcanna, is the retail arm of Channel Fisheries. It may be hard to believe, given that Cardiff is on the coast, but it is our solitary speciality fish restaurant and has been pretty much packed out since it opened in 2011.

In 2012 came more news when former Le Gallois chef, Padraig (Padge) Jones joined the team as their new head chef, and this for local food lovers improved the pedigree far more than any old Royal Warrant ever could. The dining room is a tiny 20 covers and I get the feeling that they could fill it twice over since I have tried and failed to book a table more than once. The wet fish counter runs along one side of the room and in addition to ordering set meals from the menu, you can order a fish (sold by weight) from the counter, choose how you want it cooked, and pick'n'mix your dinner with the sides on offer. Let's be honest though, the triple cooked chips are so good that frankly I don't understand why you would order anything else.

As the restaurant was rammed on Good Friday and we had a little wait for our table, we tried some of the antipasti on offer, marinated sardine fillets and a beautiful mackerel, both delicious but both very simliar in terms of flavour.
Fish antipasti at Fish at 85, Cardiff
Fish Antipasti of mackerel and sardine
I started with the Salt and Chilli Squid with Nam Prik dipping sauce (£9), a frankly, intimidatingly huge portion of sweet squid that would have comfortably served 2 as a starter. Carefully cooked without a hint of elastic band chewiness it was served with a generous bowl of intense, sour, sharp sauce. Unusually for me, I decided that discretion was the better part of valour and stopped eating with half a plate left in anticipation of the main course.
Salt and Chilli Squid with Nam Prik dipping sauce at Fish at 85 Cardiff
Salt and Chilli Squid with Nam Prik dipping sauce
Another starter of Boksburg Souffle with Pear Chutney was light, salty and satisfying. 

A Fish and Chips main (£14), the batter made with Penderyn Whisky was a strong contender for best F&C ever, coming close to fish eaten on the seafront from a van in Tobermory harbour on Mull. 
Fish and Chips from Fish at 85 Cardiff
Fish and Chips main with amazing batter
My main was a beautiful lemon sole (£18) from the fish counter, pan-fried with triple cooked chips (£3) and a beurre blanc (£1.50). This came exactly as described, so simple and all the better for it. 
Lemon sole with triple cooked chips Fish at 85 Cardiff
Lemon sole with what may be Cardiff's best chips
A shared dessert of Chocolate Parfait with ‘Snickers’ & Salted Caramel Sauce (£6) sounded like it could be sickly sweet but was emphatically not. Salty caramel was spot on, would in fact be a perfect ice cream topping, and a smooth parfait with carefully balanced sweetness.
Snickers parfait at Fish at 85 Cardiff
Snickers for dessert? Hell yes!
The food here is straightforward, hearty stuff, the cooking carefully judged so that the quality of the ingredients takes centre stage, and act as an advert for the retail and wholesale arms of the business. The pricing however, belies the simplicity of the food and this is no neighbourhood restaurant even in Pontcanna. Our drinks and antipasti were comped in a lovely bit of customer service to make up for the  wait for our table, and the bill still came to £70 for 2. For great value, I suggest trying their lunchtime menu, a more pocket friendly £13 for 2 courses. 

It might be not cheap but I do love it here. Great food, unpretentious friendly service and a great atmosphere, but for me an occasional treat rather than a neighbourhood place. The retail business is worth a visit too and John is very happy to spend time talking you through the fish on the counter, how to cook it and offers a full prep services (essential for a fish luddite like me). Highly recommended!

Fish at 85
85 Pontcanna Street, Cardiff, CF11 9HS
Tel 029 20 020212

Fish at 85 on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 10 March 2013

All Together Now - Llwynhelyg Farm Shop, Ceredigion

Llwynhelyg Farm Shop, Sarnau, Ceredigion

This weekend we took Horace Greeley's advice and went West, spending 2 nights right on the Ceredigion coastal path, in a reclaimed Great Western railway carriage called Wendy in Aberporth. As we were in the area we called in (twice!) to Llwynhelyg Farm Shop, an award winning producer and Welsh food retailer in Sarnau, Ceredigion.

This farm shop is an Aladdin's cave of some of the best produce that Wales has to offer, including their own vegetables (we tried some marvellous Roma potatoes and a deliciously crunchy, unusual Hispi cabbage), meats and baked goods. I heartily recommend the pies. They didn't stick around long enough to be photographed, but the minced beef pie with peas and carrots was especially srcummy. For breakfast their own 'legendary pork sausages' are very good but top marks go to a crumbly, fatty black pudding.

If you're in the area they are well worth a visit! Here's some of their great produce...

Golwg Y Mor Aberport Welsh Lamb
Ultra local Welsh lamb from Golwg Y Mor Farm in Aberporth
A huge variety of chutneys and jams including Escoffier's Sweet Pepper Chutney
Wendy Brandon Gingered Fig Chutney
A spicy, pungent Gingered Fig Chutney by small producer Wendy Brandon, pairs well with
creamy cheese and Patchwork Organic Spelt & Oat Biscuits
Llwynhelyg Marmalade and New Quay Honey Farm Widlflower Honey
Seville Orange Marmalade and Pure Welsh Wildflower Honey from New Quay Honey Farm. The honey will be used for Petra's Honey Loaf from the Leon cookbook next week.
Stoneground flour from Felin Ganol and Y Felin
Baking law dictates that Felin Ganol flour must be purchased on sight, it's impossible to
get in Cardiff. They have a great range of flours and 
Y Felin stoneground will be a new
product for me but planning a wholemeal honey loaf.
Ty Tanglwst salted butter
IMHO, a rich salty butter like this is for the table and this is destined for some
toasted hot cross buns. Ty Tanglwst Dairy is an award winning dairy farm in Bridgend.
Llwynhelyg Farm Shop awards
Llwynhelyg Farm Shop awards
Sarnau, Ceredigion, SA44 6QU
01239 811079

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Greystone Chapel - Chapel 1877 Cardiff review

The restaurant at Chapel 1877 Cardiff
I doubt many of you can have failed to notice Cardiff’s latest restaurant, Chapel 1877. How could you? Having made it's conspicuous entrance late in 2012, in the renovated Pembroke Terrace Chapel on Churchill Way in Cardiff Town Centre, it has been promoting itself as the hottest place in town since.

The website makes confident statements, describing Chapel 1877 as a ‘jewel in the crown for Cardiff’ and promising fine dining of “superb quality” with “one of the finest menus around” in a “phenomenal setting”. I was intrigued, and hoping that the reality could live up to the hyperbole.

They are proud of the building, and rightly so, it is quite lovely. Sympathetically renovated, the fixtures complement the beautiful architecture, by turns dramatic, secretive, glamorous, it is a great space.
Chandelier Chapel 1877 Cardiff
Gorgeous chandelier, very "Phantom of the Opera"

The menu is ‘modern British’, crowd pleasing fare. Starters include the obligatory scallops with cauliflower puree, potted rabbit with piccalilli. A typical main might be pork belly with cider jus, Gressingham duck with puy lentils or a cut from the grill section. Not everything on the menu has provenance but there are sufficient producers referenced to keep the casual ‘foodie’ happy.

Whoever put the wine list together deserves a pat on the back for understanding their audience. A good selection at each price point with a varied and interesting selection at sub £20 a bottle. Bravo.

We started with drinks in the ground floor bar which inexplicably had numerous distracting televisions broadcasting muted Wales Today. 7 of us ordered drinks. Nothing was written down. 4 correct drinks arrived and it took a frustrating 3 attempts to complete the order.

My starter, a ‘Red onion tarte tatin, Pant-ysgawn goat’s cheese, rocket £5.50’ was slightly overdone, carbonised bitterness overpowering the natural sweetness of the onions. The creamy, salty goats cheese saved the day.
Red onion tarte tatin Chapel 1877 Cardiff
Red onion tarte tatin
A rib eye steak (£19), ordered medium, was well cooked but woefully underseasoned and bland. The pot of Béarnaise  used for chip-dipping, was delicious with a good hit of tarragon. A half tomato had been grilled to the point of mush and without flavour.

Rib eye steak Chapel 1877 Cardiff
Rib eye steak, Béarnaise sauce
I skipped dessert but tasted someone else’s ‘Merlyn liquor crème brulee, white chocolate cookies £5.50’. The brulee looked beautiful, but for me there was too much booze and I couldn’t taste the custard which was a shame.

It’s not hard to understand why Chapel 1877 is having an impact in Cardiff, and it's great to have a destination venue that isn't another chain. The setting is stunning and I’ll bet that it buzzes and hums of a Saturday night. Unfortunately for me, the food and service just didn't manage to live up to their own, self-aggrandising hype.

Dining booths at Chapel 1877 Cardiff
Romantic, 2 person dining booths
The bar, Chapel 1877 Cardiff
Ground floor bar
Chapel 1877
Churchill Way  Cardiff, South Glamorgan CF10 2WF
029 2022 2020

Twitter: @chapel1877bar

Thursday, 21 February 2013

We are the pigs - Recipe for Tatws Pum Munud

Martin Player Butchers, Cardiff. Back Bacon
Martin Player Butchers, Cardiff. Back Bacon

Sometimes a really simple recipe is what is needed. Don't get me wrong, mastering a complex dish, or a recipe in an unfamiliar cuisine is hugely satisfying, but there's something about the alchemy of taking 4 or so ingredients and conjuring something tasty and frugal that is joyful. Here is one of my favourite storecupboard recipes requiring just potatoes, onions, stock and bacon.

Finding great bacon isn't easy. Pop a supermarket rasher into a dry frying pan and you end up with a puddle of water which boils the meat rather than frying it (whether labelled as 'dry cure' or not). For great bacon, you might take advantage of your local farmers market, in Cardiff, Riverside Market is a good Sunday morning out. It should still be an economical purchase but being able to get a good caramelisation on the meat and a crisp rind makes all the difference.

Here in Cardiff we also have Martin Player Butchers in Whitchurch. This is a butcher where provenance is king. Every supplier is carefully chosen. Their bacon is amazingly good, a world away from even the 'finest' of the supermarket stuff and this recipe makes the best of it.

I got this recipe, shortly after moving to Cardiff, from my boyfriend's mother, the daughter of a farm labourer in Carmarthenshire where this was a traditional meal. I now understand that it was often eaten in winter when root vegetables and cured bacon might be what was available. It is called Tatws Pum Munud or Five Minute Potatoes, but as you will see, this is a bit of misnomer.

Tatws Pum Munud (Serves 2)
  • Potatoes - 4 medium, thinly sliced
  • Onions - 1 medium, thinly sliced
  • Back Bacon - 4 rashers, diced
  • Stock (whichever you fancy, I mainly use chicken) - about 300ml or so
Tatws Pum Munud, ready to cook
Tatws Pum Munud, ready to cook
  1. Fry the bacon well in a deep frying pan or chefs pan, let it 'catch' a little on the bottom of the pan
  2. Remove the bacon leaving the fat behind, then add the onions to soften for a few minutes
  3. Add the sliced potatoes and plenty of black pepper (no salt needed!) to the pan and mix through, then scatter the bacon over the top
  4. Add the stock so that it comes a centimetre or two below the bacon
  5. Simmer for about 25 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked through and most of the liquid is gone
Bacon, potatoes and onions - ready to eat!
Bacon, potatoes and onions - ready to eat!

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
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