Sunday, 6 April 2014

10 questions for... Justin Llywellyn

Chef Justin Llewellyn’s career has seen him take the helm at some of the most prestigious hotels in South Wales including Resort Head Chef at the Celtic Manor, Head Chef at St David’s Hotel and Executive Chef at The Vale Hotel. He has been Head Chef at The Park Plaza in Cardiff city centre for 18 months.

1. Give us 5 words that describe your food.
Modern, British, Local, Quality Ingredients. You can mask cheap ingredients but I’d rather give a smaller amount and let the best ingredients speak for themselves. For example we buy chicken from Madgett’s Farm which has a completely different texture and taste, it’s really meaty and there’s no comparison to a supermarket chicken. We also buy a lot of heritage vegetables, old fashioned really, carrots and beetroot. 

2. Apart from your knives, what one piece of kitchen equipment would you never be without?
Thermomix probably is our pride and joy, it makes velvet purees. You can get domestic ones and you can just make anything in them. We don’t really use water baths, we’re more about traditional cooking. A lot of places use them but I think it’s just a lazy way of cooking. I’m not a dinosaur, I will try these gadgets and they are precise but for us it’s all about slow cooking.

3. Which book should be in every kitchen and why?
Daniel Bourdain is probably the latest one, my sister bought it for me, for Christmas. Thomas Keller, Under Pressure is a good one, that’s all about sous vide. I’ve got too many books, I’m on Amazon buying cookbooks all the time to be honest. Larousse I would recommend to young chefs. My sister-in-law has a pub and a couple of her regulars know I’m a chef and they bring back books when they go to auctions so I end up with all these 200 year old books. In Season is one of my favourites and I use that all the time. 

4. If you could give the 18 year old you one bit of advice, what would it be?
I’d still be a chef, I wouldn’t change it. A lot of people are unhappy in their jobs, I work 16, 17 hours a day so I can’t be unhappy! My parents had a guesthouse and I used to cook the breakfasts when I was 10 years old. I just like the hotel environment, I like the challenge of a 24 hour business. The only thing is that I’d probably go and work abroad, travel more.

5. People photographing their food - yes or no?
I think it’s a compliment to be honest. You see it all the time, especially with our afternoon teas. I’ve got no issue with it. Trip Advisor is really good, it has it’s downside but it’s another avenue for feedback. People take photographs and they put them on there. As a consumer that’s where I go first!

6. What makes for a great food experience?
It depends whether I’m taking my wife or children but really you just want really good service and quality food. I’m not the type of person to complain unless it’s really bad but really I think you look at what you pay for. I want good quality and to for the food to match what’s described on the menu. Decent portions too! I enjoy the experience of Michelin restaurants but I wouldn’t want to do it every day. 

7. Tell us about an ingredient that is underrated and what to do with it.
I think the flavour of Kohlrabi is amazing and we shred it and put it in salads or do a gratin, slice it with potato and press it like a terrine. We’ve been using quinoa for about 15 years now but it’s only in the last year you’ve been able to get it in supermarkets. We have potted rabbit on the menu now and we add chicken to it to encourage people to eat it.

8. What dish reappears on your menu regularly?
The pork belly. We buy whole woodland pigs, we take the belly and cook it really slowly at 90 degrees in duck fat for 24 hours. Once it’s done we roll it then cut it in to portions and pan fry it ready for the table. What we put with it depends what’s in season, maybe cauliflower puree or butternut squash. Sometimes we put scallops with it, pork and fish go really well together.

9. What do you see as the latest food trends?
I’m seeing a lot of Asian influence in food, we’ve got an Oriental duck salad on the menu which is lovely. People are also wanting to eat more healthily but it still has to taste amazing. Our owners are very healthy but they eat out all the time and they encourage us to look at this or that restaurant. Fish is so popular at the moment, we try to keep away from using fish like cod and use pollock or ling but when ingredients are trendy it pushes the price up. We are also using more raw food to keep the flavour and the goodness in.

10. What’s next for Justin Llywellyn and The Park Plaza?
We’re changing the menus all the time, the competition is so fierce in Cardiff so we’re just looking at our own quality and not getting too hung up about what anyone else is doing. We’re busy which is good and I’m trying to get as much feedback as possible, I want to do things right. One thing we're looking at launching is a gentleman's afternoon tea with a shot of beer, maybe a cigar on the terrace or steak sandwiches. 

Monday, 31 March 2014

March 2014 Digested

Spring has sprung and new produce is on the way. Crab, Jersey Royals and Spring Greens will be coming to a menu near you soon! Plenty of news and openings to talk about so here's the news for March...

  • In February's Digested I reported on a new opening planned for Saundersfoot, Coast Restaurant brought to you by the team at The Grove in Narberth. This month came the exciting news that Will Holland, formerly of La Becasse Ludlow had been appointed Head Chef when plans for his own restaurant fell through. Opening is currently planned for April 14th.
  • The Gravity Station, a small but perfectly formed craft ale bar and shop opened on Barrack Lane, handily positioned for a few post work beers and a burger at The Grazing Shed. Check the opening times though because their licensing is a tiny bit restrictive. 
  • Following a popular pop-up run at The Canadian in Splott, Got Beef opened in their permanent home on Whitchurch Road.
  • Anyone who has been to a festival in the last decade will already be familiar with Pie Minister. And by familiar I mean have had their festival more or less rescued by beer mopping Mothership. If you don't know what I'm talking about, get yourself to their new shop on St Mary Street for pie, mash, gravy and minted peas pronto.
  • While we're on the subject of festivals, Abergavenny, the granddaddy of food festivals in Wales will be hosting its first evening festival. Early bird stroller tickets go on sale at 2012 prices from Monday the 7th of April.
  • Nomad Restaurant had its inaugural dinner at the Clytha Arms on the 30th March and the food looked amazing. I say looked because I missed it but the pictures looked tantalising. Follow @nomadcardiff for details of the next event. 
  • And last, but by no means least, The Discovery opened in Cyncoed to general approval all round. For photos from the preview evening go here.

Dates for the diary

April 8th, Bar 44 in Penarth are holding a Calçotada. 'A what?' I hear you say. Take a look at this for the lowdown of what you might expect

April 14th, Coast Restaurant in Saundersfoot due to open

Late April, Restaurant James Sommerin due to open, exact date TBC

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Poles Apart - Y Polyn, Nantgaredig restaurant review

It has taken me over a year to make it to Y Polyn. I've been thwarted by snow (twice), car trouble and a mistimed attempt on Mothering Sunday, but I finally made the trip and I'm pleased to say that although it was worth the wait I'm kicking myself that I left it quite so long. The restaurant is run by husband and wife team, Sue and Mark Mason who have a thriving business out here in deepest, darkest, loveliest, Carmarthenshire.

The menu name drops plenty of quality Welsh produce (Pantysgawn cheese, Carmarthen ham and saltmarsh lamb) and there is sufficient choice to demand a stiff gin and tonic before I could order. This is food for getting stuck into so bring your appetite.

I had been warned about the bread, and the sea salt and rosemary crusted white was something special.

Bread at Y Polyn

A starter of wild rabbit tagliatelle was lip smackingly, deeply savoury and pan fried scallops with just a hint of fivespice accompanied by shards of crisp Carmarthen ham and a celariac puree.

Wild rabbit ragu at Y Polyn

Scallops at Y Polyn

Dovey Estuary saltmarsh lamb was served pink with a confit breast and a pungent onion, garlic and thyme puree.

Saltmarsh lamb at Y Polyn

Whole lemon sole was simply fried and swimming in a beurre noisette and brown shrimp.

Whole lemon sole at Y Polyn

Crème brûlée is my ultimate dessert and this did not disappoint. I often find my heart sinking when I see it on a menu, so many restaurants feel the need to mess about with it adding lavender or Earl Grey.

Don't. This is how it should be.

Creme brulee at Y Polyn

A fun yet grown-up knickerbocker glory produced a huge smile from my friend who grinned pretty much all the way to the bottom.

I might be late to the game, but I really liked Y Polyn and this is my kind of food. Quality ingredients, economically presented; by which I mean that nothing superfluous makes it on to the plate. No twiddly bits and no gimmicks. Special mention has to go to the front of house team who run the dining room casually yet professionally. I relax because they are relaxed and I honestly can't think when I've enjoyed a dinner this much.

I don't think it will be long before I'm back. In fact, anyone fancy a mini bus trip out West sometime soon?

Y Polyn

Y Polyn
Capel Dewi, Carmarthen SA32 7LH
01267 290000

Twitter: @ypolyn

Friday, 7 March 2014

The Discovery - Launch night

Last night I went along to preview the latest offering from Knife and Fork Food, The Discovery in Cyncoed which is just a stone's throw from Roath. Opening night is tonight (Friday 7th March) and I'm pleased to report that they've done a smashing job with the refurb, tastefully decorated in shades of stone and slate and punctuated with Eames style teal chairs, there are fires and plenty of comfortable seating. Here are a few photographs from the evening...

Eating area at The Discovery
Eating area at The Discovery
The bar team at The Discovery
The bar team
The bar at The Discovery
The bar area
Blackboard menu at The Discovery
Blackboard menu which will change regularly

And here's the food that we tried, the menu and food style will be familiar to customers of The New Conway and The Pilot.
Flame grilled mackerel at The Discovery, Cardiff
Flame grilled mackerel
Crispy Aromatic Duck Egg at The Discovery Cardiff
Crispy Aromatic Duck Egg

Ox cheek chilli con carne - serious umami hit!
Ox Cheek Chilli Con Carne - a serious umami hit!

Discover the burger - a pork and beef patty
Discover the burger - a pork and beef patty
Plank of Pig - exactly as it sounds, plenty of crackling and black pudding.
Plank of Pig - exactly as it sounds, plenty of crackling and black pudding.

Snickers tart - one for the sweets lovers, very rich and gooey
Baked Alaska - well retro!
Baked Alaska - well retro and very pretty

The Discovery
Celyn Avenue, Lakeside, Cyncoed, Cardiff, CF23 6FH
Tel: 02920 755 015

Twitter: @thediscoverypub

Sunday, 2 March 2014

February 2014 Digested

February has been wet and wild but there are encouraging signs that Spring is on the way which means carpets of daffodils, the end of the season for leeks, and Pancake Day which in my house involves caramelised banana and Chantilly cream. In South Wales news has been brisk with some new openings to note for the month.
  • A new restaurant is to open at Coppet Hall Beach, Saundersfoot and will be run by Neil Kedward and Zoe Agar, the couple responsible for The Grove at Narbeth. Coast will offer seafood and stunning beach views and is planned to open this Spring. The actual date is to be confirmed but this will be an exciting launch.
    • Former Oscars of Cardiff head chef John Cook has reopened as Arbennig Restaurant on the same site in Pontcanna.
    • On the 23rd of February longtime Cardiff Bay independent Woods closed its doors for the last time. Parent co Knife and Fork Food cited the changing nature of the Bay area as the main reason for the move. I'll miss Woods and I'm seriously hoping that the Pilotage Building doesn't end up housing another chain restaurant.
    • While we're on the subject of Woods, former chef Andy Aston has taken a 3 year lease on Brains pub The Kings Arms in Pentyrch following the exit of Otley Brewers.
    • Vegetarian favourite Canteen on Clifton Street, faced with the opportunity of buying the building, are raising money by selling shares at £80. They are also looking for structural engineers and builders interested in bartering services in exchange for food or cookery lessons. If this is you, get in touch with the restaurant direct.
    • Bryn Williams wrote this interesting piece for the FT naming his five favourite places to eat in Wales.
    • And finally, shouty 'sleb chef Gordon Ramsay has confirmed that he will be competing in Ironman Wales which takes place in Tenby later this year.

    Dates for the diary

    March 3rd - 8th, The Fig Tree Penarth welcomes back guest chef David Tomlinson and the return of their vegetarian week

    March 7thThe Discovery, the latest addition to Knife and Fork Food opens in Cyncoed

    March 14th, Just the one date for  Pop-tŷ this month, first come first served!

    March 3rd, 17th and 31st The Meating Place has launched a series of dates through March 'A Taste of...' starting with South Africa, Ireland and Australia. 

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