Sunday, 28 September 2014

Frankie's Italian, Cardiff, Pizza takeaway review

One of the problems of food blogging is the obsession with the new – ordinarily I’m preoccupied with writing about the latest openings, often at the expense of older businesses which have been quietly doing their thing for many years.

So, whilst Cardiff is in the grip of a gourmet pizza renaissance, it’s not to one of the latest vans or pop-ups that I headed last weekend...

Frankie’s Italian in Roath was already open before I started writing this blog.

In that time, it’s been recommended to me on countless occasions and I can only hang my head in shame that it’s taken me until now to visit.

Primarily a takeaway (there are a couple of tables if you can’t wait until you get home to start noshing), Frankie’s menu is dominated by proper sounding pizzas (there’s not a trace of a hot dog stuffed crust or a bbq sauce base). If you’re not in the mood for pizza then pastas, risottos, salads & bruschettas also make an appearance.

Whilst most pizzas (12”) cost around £7.50, Mrs G and I took advantage of the “meal for two” deal which would have comfortably fed three. £16 bought us any two pizzas, garlic bread and two cans of pop. 

Even though I’m no “authentic” pizza expert, I’ve seen a lot them on t’internet and Frankie’s definitely fit the template.

A golden, bubbly, crisp, chewy crust. Check.

A thin base. Check.

A good smear of fresh, fragrant tomato sauce. Check.

My margherita bufala was simple yet lush. Topped with slices of creamy buffalo mozzarella and a couple of slivers of perfumed basil (a few more leaves wouldn’t have gone a miss), it’s the kind of thing I’d never get bored of. 

Mrs G’s pizza Frankie’s meanwhile was adorned with salty parma ham and iron rich spinach. 

A soft and chewy garlic bread pizza was drizzled with just the right amount of olive oil and whiffed mildly of garlic.

Frankie’s is a real gem. In fact, I liked it so much that I’ve attached their menu to my takeaway pinboard – a rare accolade indeed.

The details:

Address - Frankies Italian, 6 Mackintosh Place, Roath, Cardiff CF24 4RQ
Telephone - 029 2045 4234

Sunday, 21 September 2014

The Scran and Scallie, Stockbridge, Edinburgh pub review

Any restaurant which makes my fictional food fantasies become reality is a winner in my book.

I’d be a regular at any café which serves fizzy lifting drink.

And the drive-through which serves those ribs from the Flintstones would be a Friday night favourite.

The Scran and Scallie sell a Desperate Dan style cow pie which surpasses my childhood dreams and then some.

For this reason alone, I love the place.

However, there’s so much more that’s brilliant about Tom Kitchen & Dominic Jack’s Edinburgh pub.

The décor, a cosy mish-mash of exposed brickwork, animal horns, filament bulbs and and fur-backed chairs is the right side of trendy.

The beer menu showcases a broad range of small Scottish brewers – I ordered a flavour-packed flight (£4.50) which included a pair of lagers from Harviestoun Brewery and one from Fyne Ales

It’s the comfort food cooked with killer classical technique, however, which makes the place so darn astounding.

A sack of thick-crusted white and a light rye bread was served with soft, creamy butter.

A smooth, creamy chicken liver parfait (£7.50) without a hint of bitterness was matched perfectly with sweet and sour pickled cabbage. The only criticism – the toast was too dry. It sounds a bit ridiculous but the parched doorstops were just too heavy going and thinner slices would have worked better. 

A special of crisp endive, gloriously runny egg, caramelised onion, meaty gravy and wondrously soft textured black pudding (£6.50) was another superb dish.

And now to THAT pie (£16). In the middle of a golden quilt of puff pasty sat a hollowed out piece of bone filled with glossy, bone marrow rich bordelaise sauce. When lifted out, the sauce seeped into the pie, enriching the uber-beefy gravy which was chock-a-block with tender steak, mushrooms and onions. 

A boulder of supremely soft shredded lamb shoulder (£19) perched atop a fricassee of peas and carrots in glistening gravy. 

Golden-crusted cauliflower cheese was the best I’ve ever tasted (£5). Soft cauliflower, without a trace of tough stalk, was coated in a well-balanced cheesy, lightly mustardy sauce.

Roasted carrots (£3.50) were al dente and served in a not too rich glaze of honey and butter. 

Puddings were a pair of modern classics.

Creamy rice pudding (£5.75) with a hint of coconut sat beneath a crisp brandy snap topped with light raspberry sorbet. 

An immense blueberry tart (£5.50) with super thin pastry, a light frangipane and berries softened to the consistency of jam, was freshened up by the presence of fresh fruit and a stellar vanilla ice cream. 

As far as criticisms of the food go, there are none. In fact, it was my favourite meal of the weekend’s all star line-up.

However, as the restaurant was packed to the rafters and short-staffed on a bank holiday weekend, service at times ground to a halt. Thankfully, we weren’t in a rush so the two and half hours it took to eat three courses wasn’t too much of a bind. The waiter’s apology and complimentary coffees also helped somewhat.

The Details:

Address - The Scran and Scallie, 1 Comely Bank Road, Stockbridge, Edinburgh EH4 1DT
Telephone - 0131 332 6281

The Scran & Scallie on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Castle Terrace, Edinburgh restaurant review

I’ve given our trip to Edinburgh this year the unofficial title “The Big Tom Kitchin Love-in Weekender”.

Over the August bank holiday weekend we visited 3 restaurants in 3 days. Each had strong ties to the curly haired culinary maestro.

Saturday night was the turn of Castle Terrace, sister restaurant to The Kitchin.

On Sunday we visited Tom Kitchin’s gasto pub, The Scran & Scallie. And, when we popped into The Ship on the Shore for Monday lunch, who was chilling out on his day off? The man himself - I wasn’t stalking him… honest.

First, back to Saturday night.

Located in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle, Castle Terrace has held a Michelin star since 2011 thanks to the guidance of Chef Patron Dominic Jack. With the same ‘Nature to Plate’ philosophy as The Kitchin, their food is all about high-end seasonal Scottish produce prepared using classical French technique with a dash of molecular gastronomy thrown in for good measure.

The tasting menu (which we ordered) weighs in at a cool £75 whilst the a la carte has starters for around £15, mains for £30 and puds at £10. Finding anything in the weighty wine list for less than £35 is a bit of mission too - but after a good thumbing we stumbled on a beautifully floral viognier for a respectable £27.

A trio of canapés to kick off the meal were a mixture of good and outstanding. A striking jet black pastry was filled with a light salt cod mousse whilst a cumin twanged mini burger was let down by a squiffy burger to bun ratio. The clear stand out was a “Caesar salad” – a vivid green olive-like glob containing a wonderfully creamy, cheesy & salty liquid centre.

A basket of warm crusty bread was impossible to fault. 

Gazpacho, one of my favourite summertime dishes, saw a light cucumber jelly topped with a vibrant tomato-based soup with a venerable chilli kick. 

A Japanese influenced gurnard tartare was another perfect dish for the warm weather – finely diced fish was joined by crisp puffed rice, cubes of intense soy jelly, cylinders of pickled cucumber and a nose-tickling wasabi ice cream. 

A juggernaut of a scallop - hand-dived that day in Orkney - was as sweet as can be. An accompanying tart of caramelised shallots, anchovy and olive was equally lush. However, the sweetness of the two elements meant they’d have worked better as two separate dishes. 

It seems sacrilegious to say the best risotto to ever pass my lips isn’t made with rice but with that hipster favourite… spelt. But this dish of unparalleled indulgence still has me drooling almost a month after the meal. The nutty grains were bathed in a creamy sauce laced with Parmesan, sweet peas, fragrant summer truffle, crisp cubes of ox tongue and chorizo slices. Oofh.

A dish of extraordinary lightness and fragrance balanced the richness of the preceding course. A meaty fillet of hake was paired with a dainty raviolo of crab, a salad of cucumber, sweetcorn and radish, and a fragrant Thai broth, heady with lemongrass, coriander and fish sauce. 

The more I eat grouse the more I can’t get enough of it. Delicately gamey and perfumed with heather, Castle Terrace serve theirs (£10 supplement) with crafty interpretations of the classic accompaniments (a paper-thin game chip, a deep meaty gravy and a croquetta like cube of bread sauce) alongside a few extras (dainty parsley gnocchi, sautéed girolles and a buttery watercress puree).

Then, things came crashing down to earth with a clanger of a dish. A non-descript flavoured, overly set blackberry panna cotta couldn’t be saved by its captivating, geometric appearance. An accompanying handwash-like lemon verbena sorbet and a piece of shortbread, which rapidly became soggy in the presence of a watery blackcurrant sauce, were no better.

It’s a shame the only disappointing dish of the night was also the last. However, a clutch of killer petit fours pulled things back around - a salted caramel filled chocolate, a pistachio macaron and a perfectly soft and chewy piece of nougat were all faultless. 

I liked Castle Terrace a heck of a lot. However, I didn’t like it as much as The Kitchin.

Whilst the atmosphere at Castle Terrace was way better (a brilliant buzz of chatter reverberated around the dining room and Nina Simone provided a funky soundtrack in the bar), the food at The Kitchin felt less faffy and therefore let the unbelievable produce speak more for itself.

The Details:

Address - Castle Terrace, 33/35 Castle Terrace, Edinburgh EH1 2EL
Telephone - 0131 229 1222
Castle Terrace Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Falafel Kitchen, Crwys Road, Cardiff review

After hearing great things about The Falafel Café on Woodville Road, I was gutted when they closed before I ever had a chance to visit.

Thankfully, the closure wasn’t permanent; more of a hiatus.

After 8 months of hunting for new (and improved) premises, the owner has relocated to Crwys Road and renamed the business Falafel Kitchen.

Most importantly, it’s every bit as frigging good as I’d heard the previous incarnation was.

The daytime menu is simple yet focused – falafel, sabich (fried aubergine), chicken schniztel or spicy omelette are all served in either pitta or a baguette with houmous and salad.

In the evening there’s a slightly more involved menu featuring shakshuka, shawarmas and mezze platters.

However, with a name like the Falafel Café there’s only going to be one star of the show…

We both ordered the falafel (£4.50). 

Pitta bread, white for me and wholemeal for Mrs G, were both warm and pillowy.

A huge quantity of salad (which we helped ourselves to from the salad bar) featured a fresh range of shredded carrot and cabbage, finely diced tomato and cucumber, cleansing gherkins and pitted olives.

The main event, a generous handful of falafel, were moulded and fried before our eyes. Golden globes of herby deep fried chickpea goodness, they were epic. 

A good smear of silky smooth houmous and a couple of generous glugs of nutty tahini (it’s in one of the unmarked bottles on the salad bar) completed the masterpiece. 

I washed mine down with a can of pop whilst Mrs ordered an energising pot of cardamom infused Greek coffee.

Ridiculously delicious, excellent value and “healthy” by my standards, Falafel Café is a stellar lunch option.

Update 01/12/2016:

Falafel Kitchen's larger dishes are just as tasty and cracking value as their pitta pockets.

A falafel and shawarma plate (£8) saw tender spiced chicken and heroically good falafel joined by pillowy pitta, crisp fries, fragrant rice and a good dollop of super smooth hummus filled with creamy tahini.

You can also help yourself to a plate from the salad bar. Perky gherkins, sesame seed dressed carrots and cabbage and cucumber salads were all on the nail.

The Details:
Address - Falafel Kitchen, 76 Crwys Rd, Cardiff CF24 4NP
Telephone - 02920228228

Monday, 1 September 2014

Cwtch, St Davids, Pembrokeshire restaurant review

Situated in the UK’s weeniest city of St Davids on the Pembrokeshire coast, Cwtch has built up a big reputation since opening its doors in 2005.

Named the Good Food Guide’s readers’ restaurant of the year in Wales 2012, they’ve since changed ownership and former sous chef Andy Holcroft has stepped up to the role of head chef.

It’s very much Cwtch by name, cwtch by nature. The dining room is a cosy, warm kind of place furnished with soft cushions, flickering candles, exposed wooden beams and a fireplace waiting to be lit when the chill of winter sets in.

The menu, packed with comfort food made using local produce, sticks to the same theme as well.

Whilst we picked from the evening menu, which offers either 2 courses for £26 or 3 courses for £30, we noshed on a plate of enjoyably spongy olive focaccia. 

Starters were successful across the board.

A couple of generous doorstops of tender ham hock terrine, flecked with apricots and pistachios, were served with punchy piccalilli.

It would be a shame to travel all the way to the Pembrokeshire coast and not eat some locally caught fish. Thankfully, the fruits of the sea are well represented on Cwtch’s menu.

Potted Solva crab was laden with tender white meat, earthy brown meat, flecked with fragrant coriander and topped with a good glug of clarified butter. Slathered over toast it was a cracking starter. 

Onto mains, where a couple of glitches slipped in.

A crisp-skinned fillet of sewin was beautifully flavoured but a little overcooked. It was accompanied by soft and sweet confit fennel, salty samphire and a distinctively Welsh take on a sauce vierge packed with Penclawdd cockles, olive oil, diced tomatoes & lemon juice. 

Mrs G Thai-style main was highly rated. A couple of tender sea bass fillets were served with perfectly sticky & fragrant jasmine rice, a delicately fragranced lemongrass and coconut broth and richness busting pickled ginger. 

A bowl of seasonal vegetables however was pretty uninspiring – boiled potatoes, carrots, broccoli and cauliflower needed at least a knob of butter to pep them up a bit. 

For dessert, a crème brulee was well executed; the crisp crust and creamy custard were both present and correct. 

A bara brith sticky toffee pudding meanwhile was a successful mash-up of two classics. A soft, sticky fruit-packed cake was drenched in toffee and chocolate sauce and accompanied by smooth vanilla ice cream. The only problem, it was served an odd lukewarm temperature. 

Dinner at Cwtch was really good but not faultless. It’s somewhere I’ll certainly be heading back to when I’m in Pembrokeshire.

The Details:
Address - Cwtch, 22 High Street, St Davids, Pembrokeshire SA62 6SD
Web -
Telephone - 01437 720491

Cwtch on Urbanspoon