Wednesday, 29 January 2014

January 2014 Digested

The festive period feels like a distant, hazy dream, and not just because I spent most of it with a glass in my hand. Surprisingly the dodgy weather has done little to dampen the the plans of our local food businesses and it has been a busy month. Here are some of the highlights:
  • Just in case you missed Hangfire Smokehouse's announcement via The Cardiff Food Project that they will be spending the month of February at the marvellous boozer (and my local) The Lansdowne.
  • Chef Anand George had a stellar month with openings for Munchesters, his town centre lunch venue opening to positive feedback, and a glowing review for the Purple Poppadom from none other than Jay Rayner in the Guardian.
  • Food hygiene scores continue to make news with England hotly debating whether to take the plunge. Here in Wales initial indications are positive that mandatory display of ratings is raising the game of local establishments, Don't know about you but I'm noticing a number of places (those with less than desirable scores?) that aren't displaying yet. 
  • The Grove at Narbeth was awarded its third AA Rosette, one of only 4 in Wales this year.
  • At Bar 44, owner Owen Morgan gained his Official Certified Sherry Educator's Qualification so if you thought he had plenty to say about Spain's most famous tipple before you might like to sign up for one his new 2 hour sessions and hear what he has been learning. As if that wasn't enough, the Penarth Bar 44 launched a new tapas menu this month with a refreshed offering following on for Cowbridge soon.
  • Fish at 85 have announced the return of their original chef, Dan Howell which is great news. For a review of his fantastic cooking go here.
  • James Sommerin announced the opening date for his much anticipated restaurant as Easter weekend. Booking arranagements for 'Restaurant James Sommerin' are available via an interview with Mark at Corpulent Capers
  • And finally, huge congratulations to the team at Halen Môn who have secured protected EU status for their Anglesey Sea Salt.
Dates for the diary

February 1st, The Celt Experience Brewery, Fire Festival featuring The Super Furry Animals and Hangfire Smokehouse £10 entry.

February 1st, Got Beef Co are extending their pop-up at The Canadian (previously home to Hangfire Smokehouse) to the rugby internationals, Wales v Italy all confirmed, fingers crossed for the rest of the tour!

February 2nd, Wright's Food Emporium moves 2 miles to it's new home at the Golden Grove Arms in Llanarthne, expect expanded seating and an expanded shop to follow

February 8th, the first Celtic Manor cookery demonstrations for the year, 'Comfort Food Classics' £45 including drinks reception and 3 course lunch with wine.

February 14th, Purple Poppadom Valentine's night menu, £89.95 for two

February 15th and 28thPop-tŷ, the new Pontcanna pop-up has released it's February dates.

February 26th, Grady Atkins is hosting a dinner at Fish at 85, £32 for four courses which will be seated communally, small groups of 1 -3 people recommended.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Brown Eyed Girl - Browns Bar and Brasserie restaurant review

Credit where it's due, Browns Brasserie and Bar Cardiff have worked hard to create an 'authentic' brasserie atmosphere and they are largely successful. There's lots of shiny, dark wood furniture, twinkling lights and banquettes. The friendly and competent staff are smart and clad in white pinafores and the management are a constant and visible presence. This is a professional outfit.

The menu here is 'modern classics', think pastas, salads and grills. Everyone should find something suitable and for that reason Brown's is popular large groups and post work crowds and they pitch squarely at this group with a thorough drinks and cocktails menu but on a quiet Wednesday night we are here for the food.

An aperitif - Classic Bellini (£6.50) Browns, Cardiff
An aperitif - Classic Bellini (£6.50)
My starter of Crab and Avocado Stack (£8) might have been absolutely delicious and looked lovely but coming from the kitchen as it did, fridge cold, I might as well have been eating baby food which was a crying shame with such lovely (and pricey) ingredients.

Crab and Avocado Stack, Brown's Cardiff
Crab and Avocado Stack (£8)
The second starter of Roasted Goats Cheese (£7) came with wafer thin slices of beautiful golden beetroot and fared much better with a light, sharp, fruity dressing and pico de gallo salsa.

Roasted Goats Cheese, Brown's Cardiff
Roasted Goats Cheese
The Browns Burger (£12) was pretty good, flavoursome bread, a decent patty, classic sides and more of the pico de gallo salsa.

Browns Burger, Brown's Cardiff
Browns Burger
The Plat du Jour was the Duck Confit with a pork and beans cassoulet (£16), a duck quarter with disappointingly flabby skin and the cassoulet, powerfully flavoured with smoked ham, overpowered the duck completely and towards the end suffered from the monotony of the single flavour.

Duck Confit, Brown's Cardiff
Duck Confit
The desserts of Dark Chocolate Brownie with pistachio ice cream and Eton Mess (£6 each) were both solid efforts and delivered what was expected. A rich chocolate brownie topped with bright green pistacho ice cream and a blousy cloud of cream, meringue and fruit.

Dark Chocolate Brownie, Brown's Cardiff
Dark Chocolate Brownie
Eton Mess, Brown's Cardiff
Eton Mess
I can't really get very excited about the food at Browns, the menu is crowd pleasing and fitting for the area but there were some issues with the execution of the dishes that we tried, which at this price point isn't great. That said, we did have a very pleasant evening, the ambience and the service make this a reliable and solid performer for town centre.

Disclosure: I was invited to review Zest at The Marriott and my meal was complimentary, thanks to Brazen PR

Browns Bar and Brasserie
The Friary Centre, The Friary, Cardiff, CF10 3FA
029 2066 7096

Twitter: @brownscardiff

Browns Bar and Brasserie on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Take Me To The River - Cardiff Marriott and River Cottage restaurant review

The Cardiff Marriott might not instinctively be your first choice for a good dinner in Cardiff but a new partnership between the mega-chain and stalwart champions of local, seasonal food River Cottage might be just about to change your mind.

The principle is straightforward; to improve the offering at the restaurant by working with River Cottage and training the team to develop and deliver seasonal menus. The training included baking, butchery and a grounding in how to source ingredients from local organic and free range suppliers. It all sounds hugely promising but how would it fare in practice?

We started with Parsley Salad with Crab and a Soft Boiled Egg (£6.95) which was light and fresh, the richness of the crab cut through with capers.

Cardiff Marriott Parsley Salad, Crab, Soft Boiled Egg
Parsley Salad, Crab, Soft Boiled Egg
The second starter of Smoked Venison with Pickled Mushrooms, Crispy Garlic and Winter Leaves (£6.45) was rich and tender.

Cardiff Marriott Pickled Mushrooms, Crispy Garlic and Winter Leaves
Smoked Venison, Pickled Mushrooms, Crispy Garlic and Winter Leaves
A homemade focaccia was disappointingly under-proved and cake like.

The mains were rather special. Slade Farm Lamb, Smashed Celeriac, Chilli and Thyme (£14.95) was packed full of meaty goodness.

Cardiff Marriott Slade Farm Lamb, Smashed Celeriac, Chilli and Thyme
Slade Farm Lamb, Smashed Celeriac, Chilli and Thyme
Slow Cooked Organic Graig Farm Brisket with Anchovy and Rosemary Potatoes was comfort food at it's best. Softly yielding beef and rich dauphinoise hit the spot.

Cardiff Marriott Slow Cooked Organic Graig Farm Brisket with Anchovy and Rosemary Potatoes
Slow Cooked Organic Graig Farm Brisket with Anchovy and Rosemary Potatoes 
Sides of Chips and Aioli and Honey Glazed Rainbow Carrots (both £3) were completely unnecessary, but since when has that mattered? Both were excellent.

Cardiff Marriott Chips and Aioli and Honey Glazed Rainbow Carrots
Chips and Aioli and Honey Glazed Rainbow Carrots
The puddings maintained the high standard, an Almond and Orange Pudding with Red Wine Pear and Vanilla Ice Cream (£5) light enough to finish the meal.

Cardiff Marriott Almond and Orange Pudding with Red Wine Pear and Vanilla Ice Cream
Almond and Orange Pudding with Red Wine Pear and Vanilla Ice Cream
Despite the lacklustre presentation, a Vanilla Panna Cotta with Spiced Apricot and Biscotti restored my faith in the classic dessert after a couple of duff efforts recently.

Cardiff Marriott Vanilla Panna Cotta with Spiced Apricot and Biscotti
Vanilla Panna Cotta with Spiced Apricot and Biscotti
At the end of dinner I had a long chat with Executive Chef Anthony Barnes about local suppliers and the difference this new approach has made to the team at the Marriott.  Their enthusiasm is carried through to front of house with charming, knowledgeable service and can also be felt in the refreshed wine list (we had an excellent bottle of Rioja recommended by our server).

The menu showcases local suppliers and sets the tone.
I have to commend The Marriott for this new approach, going on the evidence of this dinner they have a talented team with more to offer than your standard hotel fare. Hopefully their buying power will be felt by the local suppliers with whom they engage and this can only be a good thing for us all. 

Disclosure: I was invited to review Zest at The Marriott and my meal was complimentary, thanks to Nylon Communications

Zest at the Cardiff Marriott in partnership with River Cottage
Mill Lane, Cardiff, Wales CF10 1EZ
Tel: 029 2039 9944

Twitter: @CardiffMarriott  Zest on Urbanspoon

Monday, 21 October 2013

Second chance - The Observer Food Monthly Awards 2013 and the Runners Up for Wales

The Observer Food Monthly Awards, now in their 10th year, are a high profile fixture in the food calendar and of particular interest to me as a Welsh food blogger. The organisation of the public vote 'runners up' into geographical segments gives Welsh food businesses a significant opportunity rarely seen elsewhere and are even more important given the demise of the True Taste Awards.

Here is a quick summary of the votes from Wales this year.

Best Restaurant – runners up
No big surprises in this category with reliable favourites The Hardwick and The Potted Pig appearing in both 2012 and 2013. This year the list included West Wales notable, Y Polyn (slogan – ‘fat equals flavour, live with it’) and it was refreshing to see an Indian restaurant recognised with Canton's Purple Poppadom making the cut.

Best Ethical Restaurant – runners up
This 75% Cardiff based shortlist understandably features 2 vegetarian restaurants, student favourite Vegetarian Food Studio, and the eclectic Milgi Lounge on City Road which comes complete with a yurt. One of my favourites, inventive neighbourhood restaurant Canteen on Clifton Street completes the Cardiff trio while the rest of Wales is represented by Treehouse in Aberystwyth.

Best Cheap Eats – runners up
Interesting category this, recognising restaurants at under £15 a head which is no mean feat given spiralling produce prices. I find it astonishing that anyone manages this, let alone in London where rents and rates are astronomical. From this category I can heartily recommend Ultracomida both to eat in and to shop from. Again, Cardiff was well represented with newcomer Katiwok and a second mention for Milgi. The one surprise for me was arts centre Chapter which has its place, but for my money there are better options at this price point.

Best Sunday Lunch - runners up
I've been on something of a mission this year to find top quality Sunday roasts which are often the best value meal at many restaurants. I heartily agree with the inclusion of The Potted Pig here, an excellent roast which I thoroughly enjoyed; and from the same stable The Lansdowne pub. We also have a third nod for Milgi and a new entry this year for The Plough in Whitchurch. A clean sweep for Cardiff then and I have to admit some disappointment that the Felin Fach Griffin was missing.

Best place to drink – runners up
Wales could never be accused of having a shortage of good pubs and the resurgence in real ale over the last couple of years has improved the quality of hostelries. In Mid Wales the Harbourmaster was recognised for its real ales and sea views. In Cowbridge, Bar 44 gets a well-deserved mention, I strongly recommend the sherry and cocktail menus, while in Cardiff Chapter appears again (in the most appropriate category to my mind) and is duly recognised for what might be the widest and most varied selection of beers, ales and ciders in the ‘Diff. Finally Porters with its mix of comedy, cinema and good beers makes the cut.

Best independent retailer – runners up
The category with the broadest geographical spread, special mention has to go to Gower Cottage Brownies for their 4th nomination, a fantastic achievement. Blasus Delicatessen in Carmarthenshire (a new name for me) gets a nod for their ‘olives and warm tarts’ and Cardiff newcomer One Mile Bakery for ultra-local bread and soup deliveries. Finally, Cardiff institution Wally’s Delicatessen rounds off the list, if for nothing else than for always being the answer to the question ‘Where can I get some halva/fresh yeast/czabi’

Fantastic to see so many great Welsh businesses promoted again this year and huge congratulations to all the businesses nominated but wouldn't it be great next year to see some businesses North of Aberystwyth included for an honourable mention?

Sweet Like Chocolate - Thorntons Continental Chocolate Review

When I mentioned to friends that I had been asked to review a box of chocolates by Thorntons it trigged a series of nostalgic stories from the days when fine chocolate were a very occasional treat and Thorntons was the only name on the high street. By now, quality chocolate is more readily available and tastes have shifted towards ever darker chocolate.

I was interested then, to see whether Thorntons chocolate could still impress as a high end chocolatier. Asked to select from their website I chose the Continental Chocolatiers Tasting Selection (£19.99).

Very prettily packaged, in simple black, white and pink, the box has 2 layers of chocolate on each tier.

The chocolates themselves are a comprehensive selection of pralines, truffles and include Thorntons classics like Alpini, Diplomat and Ganache au Marc de Champagne which is always a winner.

Particularly good was the Cherry Truffle, but at the other end of the scale the Scilian Lemon and Amour were disappointing, lacking in hits of lemon and marzipan respectively.

This would be an excellent selection for a group of people and would be a safe bet to take to a dinner party given the breadth of flavours and textures on offer. It also represents very good value when compared per 100g with other high end options.

For me, taking the box overall, I would have enjoyed more dark chocolate and some stronger and more interesting flavours. The brand is currently repositioning itself in a rapidly changing market and their efforts are paying off with sales on the increase, hopefully once on a more solid footing, this will follow through to a refresh of the product and another 100 years!

Thorntons Chocolates

Twitter: @thorntonschocs
Facebook: Thorntons Official

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