Saturday, 27 February 2016

The Classroom, Cardiff and Vale College restaurant review


With its top floor location in Cardiff and Vale College’s spanking new City Centre campus and sweeping views of the city, The Classroom isn’t your typical catering college restaurant.

The swish website, ambitious prices, almost regular opening hours (Mon - Fri lunch & dinner) and pedigree of the team overseeing the young trainees all make The Classroom feel, well, like a restaurant.


So, before I arrived for a mid-week dinner with a gang of friends, I needed to remind myself that this is a training restaurant where youngsters are learning their trade. Expectations must be kept in check. 


The Classroom’s menu reads very well with technically challenging sounding plates and local Welsh produce scattered across it.


To start, a trio of golden scallops (£8.50), cleansing & fragrant citrus segments and crisp salty Camarthen ham pieces made for a cracking flavour combination.


A succulent rabbit terrine (£6.75) was served with a distinct salad of carrot tops, dandelions and lightly pickled carrot. The terrine itself would have benefited from a touch more seasoning to make it deliver a bigger punch of flavour. 


I’m a sucker for crab on toast (£8.50), and The Classroom’s is a fine example. A huge amount of crab mayonnaise packed with earthy brown and sweet white meat was balanced by fresh pickled cucumbers and capers. 

 
Finally, a creamy risotto (£6.50) studded with tender globe artichoke pieces and peas and topped with sweet, caramelised button onions was a big hit across the table.


A generous bread basket was left at the table for us to devour throughout the meal - the wholemeal was good but a moreish cheese and chilli variety was inhaled quickly. 


The meal threatened to veer off course with the arrival of mains. Thankfully, some decent customer service and quality cooking kept things on track. 

I ordered the lamb. 

However, a mix-up with the electronic ordering system in the changeover to the new Spring menu, meant I’d in fact ordered the John Dory (£14.95). 

With the prospect of a 25 minute wait for a fresh lamb dish to be cooked (I’m incapable of watching other people eat without being able to get involved), I decided it would be wiser to stick with the fish.

It turned out to be a fantastic dish. A whopping piece of perfectly cooked fish, meaty of flesh and crisp of skin, was accompanied by soft and light herb gnocchi, salty samphire and a cream sauce studded with cockles. And, it was deducted from the bill after a number of sincere apologies had been made. 

Not the lamb
Pink duck breast (£15.50) was joined by savoy cabbage, a potato hash cake flecked with shredded duck meat and a meaty jus twanged with blackcurrants and the earthiness of wild mushrooms. Mrs G loved it. 


A brimful bowl of juicy mussels (£14) was topped with sweet charred baby leeks and bathed in a cream sauce pepped up with shellfish liquor, parsley and cider. 


Finally a golden corn-fed chicken breast (£13.75), sweet onion puree, chanterelles, fricassee of peas and asparagus and a glossy sauce were all on the nail. However, the dinky piece of chicken and lack of any substantive carbohydrate meant our friend was reaching for the bread basket. 


Desserts brought the only disappointments of the dinner.

Golden caramelised pear balls (£5.25), crumbled gingerbread pieces and creamy vanilla ice cream were delicious but a triangular pear parfait was light on flavour, slightly icy in texture and meant the dish was cream overload. 


A superb dark chocolate and rum torte deftly balanced richness, bitterness and booze (£5.25). A crisp biscuit base, creamy yet refreshing white chocolate sorbet and hazelnut brittle completed a very good dish. 


Finally, a tasty yet safe cheese selection (£7.25) contained punchy blue, funky goats and sharp cheddar accompanied by a well-spiced fruit chutney and disappointingly stale and unadventurous crackers. 


Overall, we had a very good dinner at The Classroom. The meal wasn’t without its faults, but with it’s impressive dining space and interesting backstory, it’s another fine addition to the City.

The Details:

Address - The Classroom, CAVC City Centre Campus, Dumballs Road, Cardiff CF10 5FE
Web - http://www.theclassroom.wales/
Telephone - 029 2025 03 77

The Classroom Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Saturday, 20 February 2016

Hare & Hounds, Aberthin restaurant review - revisit


It’s a hard life being a food blogger. You see, every week I “need” to eat at a different restaurant otherwise I won’t have anything to write about. #FirstWorldProblems

The problem is, ever since I visited the Hare & Hounds near Cowbridge last September, I’ve wanted to eat there every week instead of trying somewhere new. Yesterday, I finally returned, and it was just as frigging awesome as the last time.


In order to sample as much of their food as possible, we once again ordered the tasting menu. There’s been a slight price increase (£55) and you’ve now got pay a £25 deposit in advance (due to the scourge of no-shows) but it’s still cracking value for money. All of the below was included in the price.

Prosecco with fruity home-made sloe gin was the perfect apéritif.


A tray of snacks looked like a meal in itself. A floaty light Hafod cheddar gougère and a golden pie packed with yielding steak cooked in Rhymney dark beer were my picks. A bread tart filled with a sweet and savoury mix of butternut squash and Caerphilly cheese and toast topped with duck pate and seville orange jelly were also lush. 


Next up was a whopper of a rock oyster served with home-made chorizo. The contrast of ice cold mollusc and hot spicy sausage was lovely. Mrs G, a non-oyster eater, did even better with a plump scallop and a fine dice of the same chorizo. 


You know you’re onto a winner when you’d happily fill up on the bread. Home-baked sourdough, focaccia studded with butternut squash and tender red onion, and tangy home-cultured butter were all exemplary. 


I’ve only eaten snails once before and had a pretty bad experience; they were served cold and chewy on a salad bar. This time around was a different story. Soft, meaty and subtly flavoured, they were served like lollipops with a vivid parsley puree and crisp breadcrumbs seasoned with the warmth of roast garlic. 


Light and tender lemon sole was bathed in fragrant and salty seaweed butter. The sea lettuce was freshly picked from a local beach. 


A mainstay of the Hare and Hound’s menu since opening, the crisp crackling and unctuous flesh of pig cheek was balanced by punchy celeriac slaw laced with mustard and studded with cornichons and capers. A couple of slices of lightly pickled apple completed the plate. 

 
Meaty brill, plump mussels, sweet brown shrimp, salty cockles, al dente broccoli, fragrant dill and a supremely good sauce of mussel liquor and cream were a killer combination. We requested spoons so none of the sauce was wasted. 


If there’s an advert for quality Welsh produce then the lamb dish which followed was it. Grass-fed Torgelly farm lamb (located just a couple of miles from the pub) was as tender and flavour-packed as any lamb I’ve ever eaten. Served as a crisp-skinned chop and a piece of slow-cooked shoulder, it was accompanied by creamy butternut squash puree, meaty cooking liquor and a chargrilled spring onion. 


With my waistband feeling the pinch we moved onto sweets. A palette cleanser of gin and tonic granita deftly balanced booze, sugar and lime. 


A fluffy, fruit-packed plum soufflé was on the nail. And then it was made even better with a scoop of home-made vanilla ice cream plonked in the middle. 


A plate of warm and addictive madeleines and super-rich and super-smooth chocolate truffles finished off the meal. 


I love everything about the Hare & Hounds. The flavour-packed food, the local produce, the friendly service and the relaxed atmosphere. Go.

The details: 

Address -
Hare & Hounds, Aberthin, Cowbridge CF71 7LG
Web - http://hareandhoundsaberthin.com/
Telephone - 01446 774892

Hare & Hounds Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Cen, Celtic Manor, Newport restaurant review


Cen at the Celtic Manor is the first restaurant from Masterchef 2013 finalist and Cardiffian Larkin Cen.

Following the recent demise of his high-end takeaway Hokkei, it’s also now the only place to eat his cooking.

Located in the old Manor House part of the Celtic Manor, the former Patio restaurant has been given a stylish colonial overhaul thanks to the presence of wooden shutters, rattan furniture and moody lighting.


The menu meanwhile is packed full of pan-Asian classics with a cheffy twist; think seabass with tiger prawn won ton and lemongrass consommé or asparagus tempura with 55°C egg.

The Asian influence is also felt on the extensive booze list which includes a selection of sakes and Japanese whiskies. I drank a couple of bottles of Asahi (£4.60) whilst Jim quaffed a Samurai’s Surprise mocktail (£5.95), an enjoyably exotic mix of orange, mango, coconut, lime and tabasco. 


Crisp and grease free prawn crackers served with sweet chilli sauce kicked things off. 


A selection of uber-trendy Taiwanese bao feature on the starters menu. A pair of Korean chicken bao (£7) were bloody lush. The pillow soft buns, crispy breaded chicken, fizzy kimchi, citrusy yuzu mayo and fiery sriracha all combined with effect. I’d go back just to work my way through all the different varieties. 
 

A trio of golden and delightfully tender scallops (£8.50) were served with bonito flakes and a porky pancetta dashi broth. The flavours all worked well together and you get a good amount of scallop for your buck, but the broth was a bit tepid. 

 
Som Tum salad (£7) combined the fresh flavours of green papaya, al dente green beans, cherry tomatoes, crisp peanuts and dried shrimp bathed in a vibrant citrus and fish sauce dressing. It did, however, lack the whallop of chilli I usually associate with this dish. 


Onto mains, where we eschewed the awesome sounding sharing dishes - Peking duck (£68), Welsh beef sirloin with black bean jus (£68) or Korean Fried Chicken (£40) anyone?

Whilst the starters seem good value, the average price of a main (£25) seems way more expensive. 

Duck tamarind curry (£24) combined well-flavoured pink duck breast with Asian greens and a deep-flavoured curry sauce twanged with tamarind and coconut. 


Accompanying triple cooked chips were crisp, fluffy and swoon-worthy when dipped in the slightly sweet curry sauce. It's unquestionably a cut above your average chips and curry sauce from Chippy Alley. 


Across the table, a couple of slices of crisp and yielding Hakka style pork belly (£24) were coated in a glaze heady with five spice and soy. Accompaniments of puffy crackling and Asian greens were on the nail but a pair of dense, starchy and sweet yam fondant bricks were pretty unpleasant. 


For dessert, an interesting take on a trifle (£8) incorporated blackberries with pistachio sponge and and roasted pistachios. The generous portion could have been a touch lighter - the cream was slightly thick and the jelly a little over-set.


I ordered the chocolate (£7). The deconstructed pud saw an artful arrangement of smooth and rich chocolate ganache, creamy malted ice cream, tangy mandarin gel and wafer thin chocolate brittle. Nutty chocolate sponge and a firm chocolate truffle didn’t add much to the plate. 


I really enjoyed dinner at Cen and it’s certainly bringing something different to the dining options at the Celtic Manor. I’m sure the menu will be refined over the coming weeks (the yam dish has already been ditched from the menu) to improve things further.

Disclosure - I was invited to Cen, all food and drink was complimentary.

The Details:

Address - The Celtic Manor Resort, Coldra Woods, The Usk Valley, Newport, NP18 1HQ
Telephone -  01633 410262

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Ynyshir Hall, Michelin-starred restaurant review, Powys, Wales


Even the best restaurants in the world aren’t universally adored. As boundaries are pushed with unusual ingredients and challenging flavour combinations it’s likely opinions become polarised.

Recently I read a trio of blogger reviews of the same meal at Noma (currently the 3rd best restaurant in the world in San Pellegrino's 50 Best) - one person loved it and the other two thought it was pretty hit and miss.


Which brings me to Ynsyhir Hall, a boutique hotel and former home of Queen Victoria, located near Machynlleth on the west coast of Wales.

It’s widely regarded that Ynyshir Hall's head chef Gareth Ward is cooking some of the most innovative food in the UK, with diners travelling from around the county to taste his food. A former sous chef to the two Michelin-starred Sat Bains, Gareth has held a Michelin star at Ynyshir Hall since 2014 and has achieved a ranking of 34 in the Good Food Guide’s top restaurants the UK.

At dinner there are two tasting menus available to non-hotel residents. Both cost £89, are of a similar length and contain almost equally interesting sounding dishes. It was the presence of pork belly, crab and treacle tart that tipped the balance in menu one’s favour. 

Pre-dinner drinks were taken in the bar. Mrs G’s classic champagne cocktail (£18) was on the nail whilst a wonderfully citrusy virgin Paloma (£5) meant I didn’t begrudge being designated driver.


Top-drawer olives accompanied drinks. 


Moving through to the dining room it became apparent that Ynyshir Hall has a thing about sheep - charmingly bright coloured paintings by owner and artist Rob Reen adorn the walls and place settings. 


Not French Onion soup kicked off the meal. Intense sweet onion puree combined with a light dashi broth, tofu pieces and croutons. A hefty acidic note was the final taste on the palette. This was a cracking dish. 


Bread of the highest calibre was next. A slice of bronze-crusted, four day proven sourdough was joined by fluffy-as-can-be and meaty whipped Wagyu dripping. I could have eaten this bread all day long but there was only a single slice. 


The following course was the first I wasn’t sure about. Potently pickled mackerel pieces were dressed with shavings of al dente rhubarb (I think?), a sweet and glossy rhubarb sauce and snow flakes of back fat. The dominant flavours were sweet and acid.


Next up, plump flakes of white crab meat and a puree of earthy brown meat were topped by a wafer thin slice of icy cold pickled turnip. The crab was stonking but once again I wasn’t entirely sold on the strong taste of the pickle. 


A tepid piece of tender crispy duck, a sliver of salted pear and a blob of cold and viscous sweet and sour shiso plum sauce followed next. The unusual temperatures and textures tasted a little incongruous to me. 


Things picked up in a big way with a dainty Caesar salad that was constructed before our eyes. Lettuce broth and a cube of iceburg were topped by parmesan milk, panko, pancetta and anchovy crumbs, and shavings of dehydrated egg yolk and aged parmesan. Intense and indulgent, this was a Caesar salad dialled up to eleven. 


I liked the next dish a lot too. A super tender piece of pork belly was topped with a silky black bean sauce and toasted grains. 


A super-cool looking salt-baked swede jack-o-lantern was then brought to the table which filled the air with a distinct turnipy aroma. 


We were presented with a piece of soft sweet-baked swede accompanied by creamy back fat mayo and shavings of pickled swede. A cup of refreshing ice cold swede juice was served on the side. This was a really interesting dish but it's not the kind of food I dream about on a wet winter's night. 


The final meat course was similar to many which had come before - this time, a tender piece of partridge, a sweet puree, crisp grains and strong cold acidic pickled cabbage. 


We ordered the cheese course at a supplement (£6.50). A light and savoury Beauvale blue cheese mousse was balanced by crisp croutons, soft and sweet long-cooked onion pieces and a kick of acid. It was frigging lush. 


The final four courses seriously polarised opinion.

First up was Hendricks & Tonic. From what I could guess, this was a cereal flavoured frozen parfait topped with a vivid-green cucumber and tonic flavoured tapioca like substance. I couldn’t stand the texture of the green topping. In contrast, this was one of Mrs G's favourite dishes of the night. 


I almost loved the next dish whilst Mrs G hated it. A warm treacle tart filling twanged with miso was joined by crunchy croutons, home-soured cream and a cleansing sake granita. I wasn’t completely sold on the presence of miso in a sweet dessert. Mrs G meanwhile felt the sour cream was way too strong. 


A cuboid of aerated 64% dark chocolate was topped by blobs of a sweet cream and shavings of earthy and funky dried shiitake mushroom. It all worked well together at first… but then the mushrooms lingered and lingered on the palette.


I initially loved the last pudding as well. Rhubarb jelly, custard and crisp puffed rice were topped with a beautiful looking marjoram and rhubarb granita. The classic flavour combination of rhubarb and custard kicked ass until the soap-like marjoram taste took over. 


Instead of petit fours we were taken through to the kitchen where we chatted to the chefs and were served a quick frozen white chocolate mayonnaise filled with cumin cream. Crisp, aromatic and icy cold, I loved it.


So, what can I say?

There’s really innovative stuff going on in the kitchen of Ynyshir Hall - more so than anywhere else I’ve eaten in Wales. I loved some of the dishes, thought some were ok and some weren’t my cup of tea at all.

However, way more influential people than me have fallen in love with the food at Ynyshir Hall. Furthermore, it's a beautiful place to eat and the serving team are first rate. So, don't trust me and go and find out for yourself.

The Details:

Address - Ynyshir Hall, Eglwysfach, Machynlleth, Powys, Wales SY20 8TA
Web - http://www.ynyshirhall.co.uk/
Telephone - 01654 781209

Ynyshir Hall Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato