Saturday, 26 February 2011

Sneak Preview of Crown Social Menu - Cardiff Thistle Hotel

Ok. So I was emailed the wrong menu (other one was the menu at the current restaurant). Here's the correct one. No prices confirmed as of yet but its very extensive and more exciting looking. The menu is divided up into nibbles, starters, mains and desserts. The menu is a small plate style concept with lots of flexibility so you can mix things up.


Crisp, pulled, lamb breast
Welsh pork boudin, shallot piccalilli
Welsh egg and mustard
Sticky beef rib middles
Hard boiled Quails egg & celery salt
Beer battered Whiting, tartare sauce
Onion Madeleine, taramasalata
Ruan’s spicy nuts
Marinated olives
Macaroons
Caramel Doughnut

XXXXX

Flat mushrooms, onion marmalade, toasted light rye bread
Warm chicken oysters, crispy skin, watercress
Poached duck egg, savoury choux bun, béarnaise
Swiss Pasta, welsh streaky, morel cream
Leek & Potato terrine, roast garlic, toasted hazelnuts
Welsh pork boudin, shallot piccalilli
Seared lambs liver, cauliflower, hot caper butter
Grilled mackerel, Russian salad
White onion soup
Cheese fondue, onion madelaines
Welsh cheeses, pickles, breads & biscuit

XXXXX

The SOCIAL CLUB
Buttered tiger prawn, Crisp pancetta, duck egg, gem lettuce.
The SOCIAL BURGER 
European wagyu beef, milk bap, tomato relish.

XXXXX

Creamed Pearl barley & artichoke.
Cockle chowder, lava ‘bread’
Fish stew, rouille, croutes
Pendryn glazed plaice fillets
Wagyu meat balls & pasta (5 or 3)
Slow cooked lamb shoulder, thyme sauce
Roast quail, satay, straw potatoes
Beef skirt steak, pickled chopped onions
Welsh pork belly, apples, Gwynty Ddraig cider
Crab tortellini, crab cream sauce (5, 3 or1)
Baby green leaf salad: French, Italian or lemon Dressing  
Tomato & Basil salad
Dripping cooked Wedges
Buttered Potatoes
Mash potato
Seasonal vegetables
Beer battered onion rings

Cheeses & Desserts

Welsh cheese, pickles, breads & biscuit
Cheese fondue, onion madelaines
Bitter Chocolate tart & orange
New York style apple cheese cake
Warm doughnuts, vanilla milkshake
The SOCIAL SPLIT
(Take on a banana split)
Chocolate & lava bread fondant
Blood orange, thyme soufflé
Chilled Rhubarb crumble
Salted caramel, chocolate slice
Pistachio nut bakewell
White chocolate & raspberry Burnt cream 2 share
BEING SOCIABLE
A selection of 5 desserts to share
Selection of Ice creams & sherbets
Per scoop

XXXXX

Selection of tea or coffee & Macaroons

Macaroons to take away
Selection of 3

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Filini Italian restaurant, Radisson Blu Cardiff Review

I was asked to review Filini's at the Radisson Blu Hotel on behalf my parents who are thinking of having a family pre-wedding get together there the night before our big day. I'd never normally consider eating in a hotel restaurant, perhaps it's the vision of Alan Partridge having a dinner for one at the Linton Travel Tavern, but on this occasion I was prepared to make an exception for my dearest parents (and they offered to pay).

It's the dining area
The Radisson Blu is a pretty impressive modern tower just opposite the entrance to the new John Lewis and inside the decor has a sophisticated and contemporary feel.This vibe extends to the Filini dining room which is a mix of simple wood furniture, banquette seating and walls lined with coolers containing a seemingly extensive selection of wine. My criticism of the dining space would be its lack of natural light and atmosphere. On arrival for our booking at 7pm we were the only diners in the restaurant and throughout the evening only two more tables became occupied. One contained a solitary business man reading a book and the other a couple of young arty types, also on business. I can imagine this is an issue with many a hotel restaurant; pretty dead save for those dining on expenses. If only a handful more people were prepared to forgo their room service club sandwich and get sociable, the atmosphere would have been that much better.

So what was the food like? Filini is billed as a contemporary Italian restaurant and the food on offer appeared to live up to the billing. To start with, we shared a 'large' Meat and Vegetable Antipasti (£14.50). At a push I would have described this plate of food as 'medium' in sized. In comparison to the Antipasto Massimo! at Carluccio's I felt it didn't cut it in terms of flavour, size or price. The dish comprised of a couple of slices each of very average chorizo and salami, some pretty good bresaola, deliciously smoky chargrilled courgette, run of the mill dressed leaves and black olives. The stand out of the dish was some intensely sweet yet acidic balsamic pickled onions. Bread, olive oil and balsamic vinegar accompanying the starter was delightfully warm and fresh. Of the 3 types on offer (we snaffled the lot), an olive bread was the pick of the bunch.

Do you think that's large?
Mains were a bit hit and miss. The other half's Roast Sea Bass (£17.50) with lemon and herbs was cooked to perfection. The skin was wonderfully crisp and the flesh moist and meaty. The sauce it was served had an intense and creamy taste of shellfish. Seriously moreish; if only I hadn't eaten all the bread it could have been put to better use. My rib eye steak with pizzaiola sauce however was not so top dollar. The steak was ordered rare yet was cooked to medium-well. Way off the mark by any chef's standards. The meat had a good taste to it but there was definitely an element of the chew factor which is a bit of a disappointment when paying north of the £20 mark. Rather peculiarly, my dish was also accompanied by some hot balsamic pickled onions (remember these?). I'd said they were tasty with the starter but wouldn't go so far as to say I was ready for their sequel 20 minutes later.  Other sides included black pepper and Parmesan fries (£2.50) which were nice but could have been a little crisper and cheesier as well as a Tomato and Cucumber salad (£2.50). The salad provided some freshness to the main and was served with a lovely pesto dressing.

Seabass

A rare steak?
Onto the puds. We decided to order off the bar menu for dessert as nothing really caught our eye off the standard menu. I opted for a blackberry and apple crumble (£5.50) which could have served three (I think the description 'large' would have been more appropriate here than for the antipasti). The crumble topping was deliciously er....crumbly and infused beautifully with the taste of cinnamon. The contents underneath was packed full of apples and blackberries of just the right sweetness. Dani opted for a caramel and pecan cheesecake (£5.50) which was just a bit 'meh'. The base wasn't particularly crisp and although there was an identifiable taste of caramel and pecan, it was definitely leaning towards the bland side.

A tasty crumble

A not so tasty cheesecake
So all in all a mixed bag. Service was exceptionally friendly throughout the evening, which goes a very long way indeed. Food was also excellent and mediocre in places. However, I fear the nature of the business target audience extends over into some of the rather steep prices on offer. In light of the vast array of mid-week dining out offers in Cardiff I can't really see Filini ever being packed to the rafters. Perhaps a week day set menu wouldn't go amiss? I'm undecided as to whether I'm going to recommend Filini to my parents for the pre-wedding shindig or not. I'll think I'll just let them read and make their mind up themselves.

The Details: Filini, Radisson Blu, Bute Terrace, Cardiff, CF10 2FL, Telephone: 02920454777, Web: http://www.radissonblu.co.uk/hotel-cardiff/dining

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Laithwaite's Wine Tasting Evening - St David's Hotel, Cardiff Review

I don't have the first clue about wine. Normally all I can muster up as a judgement is "That is drinkable" or "That tastes like cat's pee" or "That makes my mouth drier than 20 fags smoked simultaneously". If given the choice of an alcoholic drink it will, on 99% of occassions be a beer (the other 1% is reserved for Jagerbombs). So, to be honest my emotions were fairly mixed at the prospect of attending a wine tasting evening at St David's hotel with a couple of mates who are members of Laithwaite's wine club. Would I develop an appreciation for wine throughout the course of the evening or would I be left gasping for a pint of Carling?

Wine, Cheese, Crackers
Laithwaite's hold wine tasting events every couple of weeks it seems at different venues around the UK and as far as I am aware they are all of a similar format. You have a couple of hours (to stop people getting too drunk?) to sample 35 or so different wines from around the world. The room is set out with 11 tables, by geographic region (e.g. New Zealand, Old World, Australia), each with approximately 4 wines to try. As you wander from table to table there is a knowledgeable member of the Laithwaite's team stationed on each in order to answer questions (and prevent you from drinking the whole bottle). I thought the lack of formal  provision of information about each of the wines (e.g. an organised talk, information booklet) would mean I wouldn't learn very much. In hindsight however I can definitely say that I agree with the saying the best way to learn is through doing.

Checklist, Wine, Cheese on a stick

35 1/4-1/5 glasses of wine later, feeling a little worse for wear, I felt like I had discovered more about wine than I had up til that point in my life. It was fascinating to discover the variety of tastes of the different whites and reds through direct and immediate comparison. Also I managed to lay to rest my prejudice that all white wine tastes like cat's pee as I've found most bottles from tesco costing less than a fiver do. In fact, the two bottles of wine which I purchased at the end of the evening were both white: A Hans Lang Riesling 2009 which was fruity and a touch dry and Heritage de Chateau Sauvignon Blanc 2009 which tasted like a bottle of grapefruit juice (dangerous). I'd imagine, judging by some of the people round the room, that I was one of the lowest rollers and that especially after the considerable number of glasses of wine drunk by most (I didn't see much spitoon action), the average spend was probably far in excess of mine.

Underused spitoon in foreground, Infomation board in background. I can confirm that Viognier does taste of flowers.
Is it a good thing that a wine tastes of pencil shavings?

So all in all, an awesome evening. Tickets cost us £22 for 2 people (I think that might have been a half price special offer) and included tastings of all the wine on offer as well as a seemingly limitless supply of Carr's water biscuits and yellow processed cheddar. I'd challenge you to have a night out on booze for less anywhere in the UK, especially at a 5 star hotel.

A drunken reveller takes another sip of wine

The details: Laithwaites Wine Tasting Evenings Web: http://www.laithwaites.co.uk/DWBase/jsp/event/index.jsp?categoryId=cat480006, Location: Venues across the UK

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Guilty Pleasures No2 - The Crisp Sandwich

Crisp Sandwich
Sometimes I have an urge for a crisp sandwich. It's not something I eat often, due to its blatant disregard for the range of food groups (carbohydrate and a bit of fat anyone?), but it's a sandwich with which I associate strong memories from my youth. I'd occassionally tuck into one on the sofa after school whilst engrossed in an episode of Byker Grove or Mysterious Cities of Gold in order tide me over for an hour before my dinner at about 6pm.
The ingredients
The textural contrast of pappy white bread, super crunchy crisps and the smoothness of butter is fantastic. Similarly the simplicity of flavour is a welcome change to the overly fancy combinations e.g. smoked chicken, tomato and pesto which we're so used to nowadays. I normally just go for straight down the line ready salted crisps but on this occassion I only had salt and vinegar in the cupboard so they had to suffice.

I don't think we'll be seeing the crisp sandwich in gourmet deli's up and down the country anytime soon but I was interested to see that Asda launched a prepacked crisp sandwich briefly last year. For some reason I can't see it being a big seller..

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Punitha's Cardiff Review - Underhyped South Indian food.

*Update - Punitha's has now closed down*

As far as South Indian food in Cardiff goes, there's one place that seems to get all the hype - Mint and Mustard. As a result, I think it's a bit of a shame that the really pretty good Punitha's is very much overlooked. Granted the decor of the joint is slightly reminiscent of a bad 80s nightclub but this restaurant serves some of the most interesting Indian food I've ever eaten in Cardiff.

I've sampled quite a few of the dishes from the recently revamped menu over the past couple of years and have definitely come to the conclusion that you need to pick carefully. As far as the curry main dishes go, I tend to find that they can be a llittle stingy in terms of meat / paneer / fish content and I therefore tend to stick to the other  options. Saying that, a Paneer tikka massala (no longer on the menu) which I've eaten there before was one of the most interestingly smoky flavoured curries I've ever had.

Having whittled down my favourite menu options over time, my usual picks are as follows:

Zafrani Paneer

Zafrani Paneer: This starter actually recently replaced one of my previous favourites of Massala Paneer on the menu and I don't feel it quite lives up to its predecessor. However, as a starter it's a nice light way to start the meal. Lightly spiced pieces of paneer cooked in the tandoor combine perfectly with an onion salad and an immense coriander chutney.

Mutton Kothu Parotta, Egg Veechu Parotta and Cauliflower Manchurian

Mutton Kothu Parotta: Finely chopped pieces of parotta (layered flatbread), onion, tomato, chilli, curry leaf and mutton served with a curry sauce work together to make a really comforting plate of one of Tamil Nadhu's favourite streetfoods. The flavour of the lamb, parotta and curry leaf together is seriously special. Apparently you can walk down a street in Chennai and locate a Kothu Parotta seller by the sound of the metal spatulas chopping the dish into small pieces. I really can't rate this dish highly enough and it's one that I have weekly cravings for.  

Cauliflower Manchurian: An Indo-Chinese dish of lightly battered califlower florets served in a sweet yet spicy sauce. It really does taste a little bit Indian and a little bit Chinese.

Egg Veechu Parotta

Egg Veechu Parotta: This dish has doubled in price on the menu recently (grumble) as it now comes served with Sambar (a curry sauce) but I still have to order one every time. It's basically a giant chewy eggy bread Does that sound appetising? Well all I can say is I find this dish more moreish than a bag of Smith's Bacon Fries

As a takeaway these four dishes come to about £16 quid so aren't exactly bargainous but this serves enough for the two of us (with a little left over for a cheeky breakfast). Eating in does cost more but they have recently added a cheaper Tiffin Corner Cafe next door to cater for the demand from regular drop-in customers.

Details: Punitha's, Albany Road, Telephone: 02920473055, Website: http://www.punithas.com

Guilty Pleasures No1 - Sausage and Egg McMuffin

Sausage and Egg McMuffin in all its glory

Yesterday was my Stag do and with a serious day of drinking and partying ahead of me, I knew that it was a necessity that my stomach was well lined. With the house tidied and ready for the arrival of 15 overnight guests I was ready for my pilgramage to the McDonalds drive through.

Most of my waking hours are spent thinking about food and I've had a number of internal debates about which is the best chocolate bar, pudding, meat, type of cereal, flavour of milkshake, sandwich filling etc etc etc ad infinitum. With regard to the debate: "Which is the best breakfast?" there is only one winner for me and it is by a country mile at that.

McMuffin with Hash Brown

The Sausage and Egg McMuffin is the best breakfast in the world. End of Story. It knocks Eggs Benedict, French Toast, Waffles and Maple Syrup, Scrambled Egg and Smoked Salmon or any other lovingly crafted homemade breakfast into a cocked hat. Everything about this dish is perfect. The pillowy texture of the English muffin, the ooze of melted 'yellow' cheese, the perfectly herbed sausage patty (sage?) and the intriguing yet incredibly delicious fried egg ice hockey puck. I've tried recreating the recipe myself at home and must admit it just doesn't taste the same.

Too many McMuffins for one man?

Now one Sausage and Egg McMuffin is never enough so it always ends up being two. And, I tend to throw in a hash brown for good measure. McDonalds coffee ain't half bad either nowadays so all in all you can't go wrong. I'm not alone in my views either (which somewhat reassures me). The great man himself MPW likes to pick one up after he's been for a spot of shooting. I didn't go shooting after my McMuffin but it definitely helped me achieve my last place finish in Go Karting later in the day.

I've been thinking of starting a petition to get the McMuffin extended to the all day menu but perhaps I'm the only one crazy enough to have a hankering for one at 7pm in the evening.....