Sunday, 16 June 2013

Million Dollar Bill - Bill's Restaurant Cardiff, review

Bill's Restaurant, Cardiff
Bill's Restaurant, Cardiff
We all love Cardiff's arcades right? Of course we do, they are a lovely shopping experience, and I make a point of spending my cash in the various shops and cafes there as often as possible. Like many of you, I frequently choose the extra walk to make purchases at the independents there, favouring it over the glass and steel temple-to-chain-shopping that is St David's 2.

A couple of weeks ago I finally caved in the face of needing a pre-theatre option in town, and booked a table at Bill's at the top of Wyndham Arcade. I'm sure we all know the story by know, but here it is again. Bill Collison's store was originally an independent grocer/deli/cafe in East Sussex and was very successful, enjoying a healthy reputation for tasty, simple food and overflowing with good produce. Enter stage left, Richard Caring (of the Ivy, J Sheeky et al) who buys a big chunk of the company, and Bill's shifts a gear, aggressively expanding first into London and then across the rest of the country.

Dining room, Bill's Place, Cardiff
Shabby chic
There is no mistaking the hand of a London brand agency as you walk into the restaurant, the whole shabby chic look and feel is too 'on purpose' for my taste. Bunches of dried chillies, industrial lighting and signs painted to look like chalkboards festoon the walls and ceilings.

Crispy lemon squid, Bill's restaurant, Cardiff
Crispy lemon squid
As for the food it is all ok, but nothing more than that. Crispy lemon squid with chipotle, garlic aioli ( thanks for clarifying Bill) and lemon (5.95) is only just this side of burned unlike the same starter delivered to the table next to us which looked anaemic. If there was any chipotle in there I couldn't taste it.

Bill's prawn and avocado cocktail with spicy tomato salsa and cocktail sauce garnished with deep fried tiger prawn, ciabatta crisps and lemon (£5.95) was decent but unremarkable.

Prawn cocktail, Bills Restaurant, Cardiff
Prawn cocktail
The mains were standard fare too. Bill’s hamburger served in a sesame seed bun with red onion, tomato, lettuce, horseradish mayonnaise and skinny fries (£9.95) plus Monterey Jack Cheese (£1.20) was disappointingly dry because of a well done patty and a substantial bun.

Bill's hamburger, Bill's Restaurant, Cardiff
Bill's hamburger
Bill's Burger, Bill's Restaurant Cardff
Well done burger
The best of the night was definitely the Home-made cod fish finger sandwich with tartare sauce, rocket and ketchup on toasted white bread served with skinny fries (£8.50). The fish was moist, tasty and nicely cooked and a huge portion for such a bargainous price.

Bill's Homemade Cod Fish Finger Sandwich
The best of the night, Bill's Homemade Cod Fish Finger Sandwich
Bill's success is great for Bill who remains a director of the company but is no longer hands on and it shows. If his ethos is to 'cook with the seasons' there is little evidence of it here, and just as a seasonal menu has been replaced with chain pub food, so the groceries have been replaced with eponymously branded cross-selling opportunities. Once you have eaten Bill's breakfasts, burgers, and butties you can now fill your boots with Bill's beer, balsamic and biscuits.

I see why it is popular, I really do and I am trying not to be a food snob, but considering the chain's history, and the juxtaposition against some of Cardiff's finest independents, the whole experience left me feeling full but also a little empty.

Bill's Restaurant
27-39 Wyndham Arcade, Mill Lane, Cardiff CF10 1FH
02920 231524


Bill's Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Monday, 27 May 2013

Sugar and Spice - Purple Poppadom, Cardiff Review

Purple Poppadom, located in the Canton area of Cardiff stands distinctly apart from other Indian restaurants in the area, describing itself as serving 'nouvelle Indian cuisine', which should give you a good idea of what to expect. Hidden away unassumingly above a parade of shops on Cowbridge Road East, the restaurant is housed in a dining room that isn't afraid to take a purple theme and run with it!

Pleased by the choices on a thoughtful drinks menu, which included a very good Snowdonia pale ale and a broad wine selection, these were well accompanied by poppadoms and interesting chutneys (beetroot, mint and lemon) to nibble.

Snowdonia Pale Ale from Purple Moose brewery
Snowdonia Pale Ale from Purple Moose brewery
Indian food is notoriously challenging to present beautifully. Fundamentally meat/vegetables in sauce doesn't lend itself well to twiddly fine dining presentation so you get the feeling that creativity has been let loose on the starters. Most options come in threes with cutesy descriptions (Lamb in a Thrice anyone?). Multiple components, processes and expensive ingredients abound all designed to show the diner that the team can deliver more than your standard curry house.

The Streets of Mumbai at Purple Poppadom Cardiff Indian Restaurant
The Streets of Mumbai
'The Streets of Mumbai' £5.95 (deep breath) Aloo Tikki – potato cake served on a bed of spiced chickpeas, Bombay Chat – pop-in-the mouth semolina pastry snack filled with yoghurt and homemade chutney, topped with gram flour vermicelli, Tangy puffed rice salad with tamarind chutney.

This for me was a case of style over substance. The plate looked absolutely stunning but was lacking in terms of texture. The Aloo Tikki could have been amazing but was drenched in yoghurt, making it sloppy. This then wasn't enough contrast against the Bombay Chat which was filled with the same yoghurt. The puffed rice tower was tasty but the texture of stale rice crispies didn't quite do it for me.

A trio of 'Chicken Connoisseur' £5.95 fared much better. Beautifully moist chicken and interesting contrasting, complimentary flavours, the fun was in deciding on a favourite.

Chicken Connoiseur at Purple Poppadom Cardiff Indian Restaurant
Chicken Connoisseur
The mains were both fantastic, both heavy with spice and lip tingling chilli and clearly a cut above our usual takeaway fare.

The Murgh Chatpata Kolaphur £10.95 boneless chicken with a thick tangy onion, tomato, fenugreek leaves and lemon juice, was very satisfying mopped up with an excellent saffron pilau rice, £3.95 although the chicken was disappointingly a little overcooked.
Murgh Chatpata Kolaphur at The Purple Poppadom Cardiff
Murgh Chatpata Kolaphur 
Saffron Pilau Rice
Saffron Pilau Rice
A Kashmiri Roganjosh £11.95 had the kind of heat that sneaks up on you and makes your nose run, the smooth, rich sauce punctuated with soft, tender chunks of slow cooked lamb. Utterly delicious.
Kashmiri Roganjosh Purple Poppadom Cardiff restaurant
Kashmiri Roganjosh
Tandoori Roti
Tandoori Roti
Faultless? No, there were elements that didn't quite work for me, but this is definitely Indian food elevated, and some very skilled and creative cooking indeed.

Purple Poppadom
185a Cowbridge Road East, Canton, Cardiff
029 2022 0026

Twitter: @purple_poppadom 

Purple Poppadom on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Trip report: Fuerteventura food

Betancuria Fuerteventura
We have been desperate for some sun during a disappointingly damp spring, and so we headed south in search of warmth and good food in Fuerteventura. 

What we found was a surprisingly gorgeous island, with small heavily developed pockets of tourist areas punctuating a striking, wild landscape. With a car it was easily possible to leave the British pubs and greasy spoons behind and discover some stunning and largely deserted beaches and harbours villages.
El Cotillo Fuerteventura
El Cotillo, very quiet, wild and remote
The best food on the island is as unsophisticated as the environment. Every meal in Fuerteventura starts with bread and bowls of alioli and mojo sauce. This sauce, ubiquitous in the Canaries, is made with garlic, salt and oil and then chillies and paprika for the red variety or coriander and cumin for the green.

Most meals are served with papas arrugadas (wrinkled potatoes) boiled in their skins, in heavily salted water and then finished off in the oven until the skin wrinkles. These are eaten drizzled with mojo sauce.
Bread, alioli and mojo sauce
Bread, alioli and mojo sauce. A great way to start
The best eating on the island, as you might expect, is simple, grilled seafood, eaten as close to the ocean as possible.

South of Calete de Fuste is Los Caracolitos, a beautiful fish restaurant in the tiny harbour village of Salinas del Carmen, special mentions go to the garlic mussels, billed as a starter but made for a good lunch, and a simply fried dover sole.

In Calete de Fuste itself is the no frills restaurant La Frasquita. There are no menus. Here the waiter brings out a plate displaying the catch for the day and on Wednesday there is all you can eat Paella for €10.

In the North is the harbour town of El Cotillo, which, despite being a short 15 minute drive from the tourist area of Corallejo, feels wild and remote but also has a great selection of restaurants. We ate at La Vaca Azul (The Blue Cow) and tried the local parrot fish, tasty but full of tiny bones.

Garlic mussels at Los Caracolitos Salinas del Carmen
Garlic mussels at Los Caracolitos  - the best fish restaurant in the area
dover sole with papas arrugadas Los Carracolitos Salinas
The dover sole with inevitable papas arrugadas
Parrot fish at La Vaca Azul El Cotillo
Parrot fish at La Vaca Azul - a challenge to pick all the bones out
Spanish tapas is also easily found. In Calete de Fuste, far away from the beach is Bar Tapas, a simple bar, busy with local workers during the day who come for the menu del dia (starter, main, desert, drink and coffee for €8) and visitors who come for the tapas.
Menu del dia rice chicken and rabbit Bar Tapas Caleta de Fuste
Rice, chicken and rabbit. A starter at Bar Tapas menu del dia and one of the
best things I ate all week.
The tapas combinados at Bar Tapas Caleta de Fuste
The tapas combinados at Bar Tapas. Potato and chickpea stew, chicken wings,
sausage and peppered steak
Taps selection at Bar Tapas Calete de Fuste
A tapas selection of Argentinian criollo sausage,
papas arrugadas and chicken croquettas
Desserts not hugely inspiring, even in the best restaurants!
Ron miel Fuerteventura
Ron Meil or honey rum, a pleasant liquer

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

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