Monday, 26 September 2016

The Grove of Narberth, Pembrokeshire restaurant review


It’s been five and half years since Mrs G agreed to let me blog about our honeymoon in West Wales. With hindsight, I’m not really sure she knew what she was letting herself in for.

As a result, a precedent was set and I’ve photographed and picked apart pretty much every single meal out we’ve had since.

During our trip all those years ago we visited The Grove, a luxury restaurant with rooms just outside the beautiful market town of Narberth in Pembrokeshire. It was frigging awesome.


So, when I heard earlier this year that Allister Barsby had taken over as The Grove’s new Executive Chef, an imminent revisit was always going to be on the cards. Barsby was previously Head Chef at the 2 Michelin starred Gidleigh Park where he worked under Michael Caines. His arrival at The Grove is a bit of a coup for Wales.

Pre-lunch drinks were taken in the bar. A Green cooler (£6) lived up to its name – the brightly coloured mocktail combined the sweetness of pineapple with a refreshing lime, mint and cucumber twang. Mrs G ordered a deliciously potent Grove Classic (£15) champagne cocktail which would have benefitted from being a touch colder. 


They were served with lovely spiced nuts and plump olives.


The stonking snacks which followed set the standard for the rest of the meal. A delicate squid ink wafer was topped with smoky mussel puree, a daintily fiery wasabi cream and fronds of dill whilst a crisp crostini was dotted with black olive tapenade, aubergine puree, fresh as you like tomatoes and metallic basil. 


At lunch, The Grove serve three different menus, the 7 course tasting menu (£89), 3 course a la carte (£59) and the blindingly good value 3 course set lunch (£24). I ordered the set lunch whilst Mrs G went for the a la carte.

Bread was of the highest order. Crisp, warm and soft, a local stout bread was the pick of the bunch. It was served with beautifully light whipped butter. A mini loaf of cheddar and rosemary bread was also very good. 


An amuse bouche of creamy as heck celeriac velouté was topped with the crunch of nut. 


Mrs G started with perfectly caramelised wobbly foie gras accompanied by sweet roasted apricots, apricot puree, candied hazelnuts and a good drizzle of honey. The contrast of soft and crunchy, sweet and savoury, fruity and fatty was absolutely bob on. 


For me, light chicken mousse filled tortellini were bathed in a crystal clear mushroom consommé dotted with funky wild mushrooms and a blob of thwackingly savoury black garlic reduction. 


Onto mains and tender pink saddle of venison was served with cumin spiced carrot puree, jasmine fragranced juicy raisins, crispy kale, caramelised chicory and a cracking glossy sauce. 


My dish of a long cooked piece of spoonably tender beef short rib was garnished with sweet roast shallots, smooth and buttery potato puree, buttered spinach, crispy shallot rings, a killer shallot and horseradish confit and another awesome sauce. 


For Mrs G’s dessert, a lovely pistachio soufflé was joined by excellent pistachio ice cream and a viscous bitter chocolate sauce. 


My dessert was the pick of the two. A soft, seriously rich 70% dark chocolate ganache was balanced by cleansing milk granita, potent coffee cream, caramelised pecans and a crisp biscuit crumb.


We moved back to the bar area for coffee. Intense mint and chocolate macarons and soft and chewy fruit and nut nougat rounded off a hugely memorable meal. 


With the arrival of Allister Barsby in the kitchen, The Grove has taken up their luxury level another notch. Both mine and Mrs G’s lunches were absolutely cracking but the set menu is an unmissable steal at £24.

The Details:

Address - The Grove, Molleston, Narberth, Pembrokeshire. Wales SA67 8BX 
Telephone - 01834 860 915 

Saturday, 17 September 2016

The Discovery, Cyncoed, Cardiff pub review


When I called The Discovery to ask for details about the Dirty 30 it was a little bit embarrassing.

I’ll save you the blushes - if you visit The Discovery or another Knife & Fork Food pub (The Conway, The Pilot and The Old Swann Inn) on a Monday or Tuesday until 29 November and you order a main course then you get 30% of all your food.

This means their already well-priced pub food is now cheap by most people’s standards.


Crisp crumbed croquetas oozed ham studded bechamel (£3.85). They were a tad salty but balanced nicely by sweet garden peas in a cream sauce. 


A trio of finely minced curried swordfish fritters (£3.85) were deeply golden and paired well with salty samphire, garlicky aioli and over-oiled leaves. 


Onto mains and my burger (£6.65) was a handsome beast. A toasted brioche bun contained a whopping loosely-packed patty (requested medium but served a juicy well done) laden with tangy burger sauce, lettuce, tomato, red onion, a good slick of mild melted cheese and crisp thick cut bacon.


It was accompanied by very good thick cut chips. The Discovery’s burger can most certainly hold its head up high alongside Cardiff’s specialist burger gaffs. 


Mrs G’s dish sounded good on paper but unfortunately didn’t deliver on its promise.

A plump piece of cod (£8.40) flaked beautifully but lacked crisp skin. It was served with a chestnut “veloute” which was actually more of a lukewarm puree, a huge piece of roast cabbage which was frustratingly difficult to cut and lovely potato croquettes.


For dessert, a crisp tart containing sweet frangipane (£3.85) studded with soft pears and blueberries was paired with excellent stem ginger ice cream that packed a good punch. 


I haven’t eaten arctic roll (£3.85) in about twenty years so I ordered it out of curiosity. A thin layer of slightly wet and cold chocolate sponge surrounding smooth chocolate ice cream was joined by a very good punchy morello cherry sorbet, poached cherries and whipped cream. It was a decent dessert but it didn’t make me regret my last two decades of arctic roll free living. 


Despite a couple duds, the majority of our meal at The Discovery was very good. Throw in some cheap prices, friendly service and a good beer selection and I’d certainly head back for an early-week burger.

The Details:

Address - The Discovery, Celyn Avenue, Lakeside, Cardiff CF23 6FH
Web - http://knifeandforkfood.co.uk/venue/the-discovery/
Telephone - 02920 755 015


Saturday, 10 September 2016

Barley & Rye, Cardiff bar and restaurant review


There’s a reason I hadn’t visited Barley & Rye on Greyfriars Road before yesterday.

It’s because it’s on Greyfriars Road, a street I associate with binge boozing, bad dancing, loud music and not much else. Except for the Park Plaza and New Theatre of course.

So, without having even crossed Barley & Rye’s threshold I’d lumped it in with its more raucous neighbours. I shouldn’t have been so quick to judge because on the evidence of last night’s visit it stands a league apart.

The first thing that strikes you is the slickness of the interior, all brooding dark woods punctuated by sweeping white curves.


The second is the number and quality of beers on offer - Mrs G and I worked our way through halves of Goose Island IPA, Caledonian Three Hop, Tiny Rebel Cwtch and Whitstable Bay Blonde lager but there’s even more interest to be had in the bottled beer selection. 


Finally, and most importantly, the chef knows how to cook flavour-packed food.

To start, a mackerel toastie (£6) was a delicious riff on Kenny Atkinson’s signature dish at the House of Tides. The richness of a mackerel fillet wrapped in golden fried bread was balanced by cider & apple jelly, pickled apple pieces, fennel puree and a slightly too lip-puckering lemon gel. 


A mound of meaty wild mushrooms (£5.50) in a cream sauce twanged with truffle were served on sweet toasted brioche. An accompanying mushroom soup was deliciously shroomy but it was a little too thick to be drunk from a cup and I wasn’t a fan of the cold mushroom foam sat on top. 


Mains were both on the nail.

Pink, herb-crusted lamb cannon (£16) was joined by crisp lamb skin, smokey aubergine puree, soft sweet potato fondant, roast shallots, golden-crumbed tangy goats cheese croquettes and a good sauce. 


A long-cooked cwrw braf braised featherblade of beef (£15) could have been eaten with a spoon. It was coated in a thick beefy and beery sauce offset by sweet roast shallots and carrots, green kale and herby chive mash which could have been a touch looser. 


A generous bowl of roast vegetables (£3) included butternut squash, peppers, courgettes and onions. 


Desserts didn’t let the side down.

Thin crisp pastry cradled warm almond frangipane (£5.50) fragranced with lemon thyme and a layer of roast peach jam. Honey ice cream was smooth, creamy and delicate. 


A chocolate delice with a filling of cherry sauce (£5.50) was every bit as rich and squidgy as you’d want. A layer of chocolate sponge, lightly soaked kirsch cherries and a great pistachio ice cream finished the dish. The only downside to both desserts was a pair of slightly soft tuilles. 


Overall we had a delicious meal at Barley & Rye and it’s no doubt an exciting independent addition to the city centre. With the excellent booze, lovely service and pretty interior, I’d recommend a visit.

The Details:

Address - Barley & Rye, 2 Greyfriars Road, Cardiff CF10 3AD
Telephone - 029 2034 5051

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Arzak, San Sebastian restaurant review


Located in suburban San Sebastian, Arzak has held 3 Michelin stars without a break since 1989 and currently sits at number 21 in San Pellegrino’s 50 best restaurants in the world.

Overseeing the kitchen are Elena Arzak Espina and her father Juan Mari Arzak.

The dining room is split over 2 floors of their former family home, a building which dates back to 1897. There’s a super swanky yet friendly vibe to the place and service was flawless throughout the evening - staff were friendly, jokey and interested to know what we thought of each dish.

Furthermore, the maitre'd Adolfo was the slickest of operators. He explained we should send anything back immediately if it was not quite to our taste and he switched one of the desserts on our tasting menu so we could try an extra dish.

 
All this luxury comes at an eye-watering cost as the tasting menu will set you back a whopping €205 euros a head.

Snacks kicked things off.

The finest of white and wholemeal breads were served with a gorgeously grassy olive oil.


A wooden and metal shelving unit nestled a crispy sliver of banana topped with a spiced squid and banana concoction. It was good but not wow. 


Clean tasting cured sardines with a delicate brininess were balanced by the sweetness of fresh strawberry.


A moringa (apparently a “superfood” plant) and prawn gyoza tasted ostensibly of prawn but had a beautiful bright red exterior.


Milk bottles of super-refreshing ice cold raspberry soup were reminiscent of gazpacho. A melon cork was a nifty addition.


The final snack saw a sliver of mango wrapped around a smokey chorizo mousse perched on top of a crushed beer can. 


Onto the first course proper. Beautiful sea bream was marinated in patxaran, a sloe based liqueur, but still retained its freshness. It was served cold with a creamy sauce, spring onions, chia seeds, a dusting of purple corn and a gimmicky tablet computer with a video of crashing waves. 

 
Next up, vivid coloured scarlet prawns were paired with finely diced cucumber and avocado marinated in lemongrass and mint. They were topped with a crispy krill cracker which tasted like a prawny prawn cracker. Apparently krill is pretty difficult to get hold of (unless you’re a blue whale) but Arzak have some good connections.


Red spaced egg followed. I was a little underwhelmed by this dish but Mrs G loved it. A 65°C egg coated in a red pepper skin was all run and wobble. It was served with crispy pig ear pieces that weren’t that crisp and a trio of different blobs of sauce - parsley and spinach, red pepper and yellow turmeric.


My fish course smashed it. Beautifully rare albacore tuna was served with fresh melon pieces, a spiced jack fruit sauce and crispy potato straws. 


Mrs G’s monkfish dish was also a belter. Meaty monkfish, a crispy salty squid ink cracker, pecan nut paste, hieroglyphics (as you do) of pumpkin and a chickpea sauce were all on the nail.


One of the best pieces of lamb I’ve ever eaten came next. Stunningly medium-rare loin was served with a lamb sauce and potato shavings. It was joined by a nut and armagnac spread and the aroma of cypress - it was difficult to detect any of these individual flavours but the dish was beautifully fragranced. 


Before dessert, Elena Arzak came out of the kitchen to say hello. When we told her we were from Wales she said “Ah Gales”. I misheard her and replied “Yes, Gareth Bale”. Great work on my part and to compound it further I tried to initiate some chat about David Moyes. She departed soon after.

A palette cleanser of citrusy yuzu ice cream and acai sorbet was delightfully different and refreshing. 


Finally, a pair of desserts were a masterclass in chocolate. A giant truffle contained an intense chocolate mousse and meringue which began to melt when hot chocolate sauce was poured over the top. 


Meanwhile, a cube of chocolate was filled with a cooling mint liquid and served with shavings of dehydrated kiwi and a neroli (an oil produced from the blossom of the bitter orange tree) sauce.


Fresh mint tea was accompanied by a bird cage of delights. Frozen chocolate exteriors contained a trio of different liquids - ginger, chocolate and apple. 


Dinner at Arzak was supremely good yet also supremely expensive.

It was the cherry on the cake of an incredible holiday in San Sebastian. But, it was just that, a lovely addition to the incredible pintxos we ate during the week which will stay in the memory for longer than our meal at Arzak.

The Details:

Address - Av Alcalde Elósegui, 273, 20015 Donostia, Gipuzkoa, Spain
Web - www.arzak.info  
Telephone - +34 943 27 84 65