Thursday, 27 April 2017

Casanova, Cardiff Italian restaurant review - Assaggi menu

The recent launch of Casanova’s small plate (assaggi) menu offered the perfect excuse for a revisit to this Cardiff based Italian restaurant that's a fixture in both the Michelin and Good Food Guides.

Available Monday - Thursday from 5 to 7pm, it offers a more accessible price point than the evening set menu with each assaggio weighing in around the £4-5 mark.

As we browsed the menu we were given complimentary dinky glasses of Lettera penisola sorrentina, a beautifully fruity yet dry sparkling Campanian red wine. We ordered a couple more larger glasses for a bargainous offer price of £3.50 each.

Ragu’di manzo (£5) was a deep flavoured stew of red wine and tomato studded with yielding pieces of slow cooked beef and topped with a golden sheet of fried polenta. 

Ceci (£3.50) was Mrs G’s dish of the night. Tender chickpeas and soft butternut squash compote were cleverly fragranced with roast lemon puree.

A first rate piece of earthy, chilli-spiked black pudding (£3.50) was joined by sweet and tangy red onion chutney, fiery chilli sauce and pieces of roast apple that could have been a touch softer. 

A pretty head of golden roast cauliflower (£4) was seasoned with salty capers and lemon fragranced brown butter. It was lovely combined with the black pudding and the beef stew. 

Meaty, dill-fragranced house cured salmon (£5) came with a couple of blobs of creamy avocado puree and refreshing pickled cucumber. It would have been even better if the advertised horseradish in the puree was detectable. 

A goats cheese and beetroot salad (£6) was a great example of this classic combination - the tender cubes of beet were coated in a warming horseradish dressing whilst the tangy goats cheese was drizzled with fragrant truffle honey. 

Seriously savoury pieces of 36 month aged parmesan (£5) were balanced by spreadably sweet quince jelly.

A freebie salad combined well-dressed shavings of fennel with refreshing orange segments and crisp pecans. 

Finally, top drawer Tuscan salami (£4) was heady with the aroma of fennel. 

Soft and crusty white bread was a lovely mop for all the delicious sauces and dressings. 

Desserts were both epic.

A gorgeously wobbly coconut pannacotta (£6) was served with blowtorched pineapple, oat crumble and sweet lime curd.

A super rich and smooth chocolate torte (£6) was joined by salty caramel sauce and balancing creme fraiche.

Casanova is one of Cardiff City Centre’s few excellent independent restaurants. If you’re looking for an excuse for a first visit or a revisit, their new Assaggi menu is it.

The Details:

Address - Casanova, 13 Quay Street, Cardiff, CF10 1EA
Telephone - 02920344044

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Lyalena, City Road, Cardiff Lebanese restaurant review

This blog is long overdue a review of one of City Road’s many Middle Eastern restaurants. 

In fact, a handful of new places have opened since my last write-up.

Lyalena is the latest arrival. A Lebanese restaurant, it occupies the the former site of Mezza House

The restaurant has been nicely refurbished with a bright and modern feel whilst the menu is as you’d expect - a wide selection of mezze lead onto grilled meats and interesting specials like mansaf (fermented dried yoghurt with rice and meat) and kabseh (spiced rice with meat and a cucumber salad). There’s also a good range of freshly squeezed juices in lieu of booze. 

Orange juice (£2.50) was exemplary. I saw a big handful of fruit taken from the fridge for its preparation. The Power (£3.50) was a smooth and creamy ginger-twanged shake made from banana, milk, honey and nuts. 

Sujuk hallumi (£4.25) combined crisp and spicy pieces of Turkish sausage with well-crisped but slightly rubbery cheese. Accompanying side salad was a bit tired looking.

A pretty looking small mixed mezza (£7.25) was mostly very good. 

Hummus was hyper-smooth; a pair of aubergine dips (creamy mutabal and mixed pepper studded baba ghanouj) were lovely but could have taken a bigger lick of smoke; and falafel were crisp with a soft interior. The only disappointment were the yalanjey (rice stuffed vine leaves) as the filling had compacted into a stodge. 

Fresh bread was made in house. It was deliciously light with a slight chew. 

A lyalena mixed grill (£9.95) was right on the money. The trio of kebabs had a good smoky note - super-tender spicy chicken shish, well-herbed lamb kafta (mint and parsley I think) and juicy lamb shish.

Chilli sauce had a lovely fiery sweetness and a mound of fluffy rice was beautifully buttery. But, some sad looking salad let the team down.

Nicely stuffed, four pieces of homemade semolina cake accompanied the bill. Crisp, slightly chewy and moist from a good soaking in sugar syrup, it was lovely stuff.

We had a very tasty meal at Lyalena. It's another solid addition to City Road's cornucopia of kebab restaurants. 

The Details:

Address - Lyalena, 175 City Road, Cardiff CF24 3JB
Telephone - 02920 491 215

Lyalena Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Where to eat in London 2017 (Part 2)

I have a love-hate relationship with London.

Having lived there for three years straight out of university, I couldn’t wait to see the back of the unfriendly, expensive, busy, polluted, work-obsessed city.

However, my friends, the food, the art, the theatre and the diversity of the place keep pulling me back for more.

Whilst Mrs G was visiting for another conference I ticked some more places off my restaurant hit list:

Blacklock, Soho

Blacklock is the sister restaurant to the brilliant Hawksmoor. Whilst the former is all about steak, the latter is all about chops.

To make things easy, we went “all in” for £20 a head. For this we got snacks, chops and sides.

Snacks were great - crisp crackers were topped with smoky shredded pigs head and punchy kimchi; creamy as heck egg mayo topped with white onion and salty anchovy; and savoury stilton paired with crunchy pickled vegetables.

A groaning platter of chargrilled chops for two was a picture of beauty. A selection of sirloin of beef, loin, rib and belly of pork, and cutlet and t-bone of lamb were all crisp of fat and full of flavour. The pork and lamb were the standouts as the beef was a touch chewy.

Nestled beneath all that meat was a flame licked, garlicky, meat juice-soaked flat bread. You need it in your life.

Barbecued sweet baby gem lettuce were coated in savoury and buttery anchovy dripping. Woof.

Charred courgettes and chicory were topped with melted stilton. This place certainly knows how to make luxury veg.

Blacklock are known for their family-style desserts that are portioned out at the table. We had a bowl of light and creamy white chocolate cheesecake (£5) with a buttery biscuit base and side of fragrant rhubarb syrup.

We loved our meal at Blacklock and at £20 a head for the all in deal, it’s a great value central London meal.

Padella, Borough

When I rocked up to Borough Market at 11.40am on a Wednesday there were already 15 people ahead of me in the queue for Padella. And by the time this acclaimed little pasta joint opened its doors, there were 20 more behind me. Dare I say it, but it’s probably worth the wait for the stellar and good value food.

Pici cacio e pepe (£6.50), the restaurant’s signature dish, saw al dente slippery pasta worms coated in an indulgently simple yet devastatingly delicious combination of black pepper, parmesan cheese and lubricating pasta water.

Gossamer thin ravioli (£8.50) were filled with an unctuous and fragrant duck ragout and topped with fragrant sage butter. A good grate of parmesan completed this stonkingly good dish.

Hoppers, Soho

I was amazed by the weeny queue when I arrived at Hoppers just before midday. One of 2015’s hottest openings, this Sri Lankan restaurant is the kind of place you’d expect there to always be people waiting.

Bone marrow varuval (£6.50) was the highlight of the meal. Four whopping bones contained wobbly, buttery marrow that I scraped into a creamy sauce thick with spice and curry leaf. A flaky roti was the perfect mop.

Hot butter devilled shrimps (£7) sounded more flavoursome on paper than they were on the plate. Tender, buttery shrimp were served in a sauce littered with fresh spring onions and mild green peppers. It was all very fresh tasting but it could have done with a bigger heft of spice.

For main, I ordered the eponymous egg hopper (£4.50). A crisp, faintly tangy bowl-shaped pancake nestled an egg at its centre. Accompanying sambols and chutneys - smoky sweet onion, crunchy coconut and spicy coriander - were all excellent. A pot of black pork kari (£7) was deeply-spiced and loaded with tender pieces of meat.

I had a lush lunch at Hoppers. I still can’t believe there were tables free by the time I left.

Tacos El Pastor, Borough

Tacos El Pastor is the new taco joint from the Hart Brothers (of Barrafina fame). Set in a cool railway arch, it’s leading the charge for quality Mexican food in London alongside Breddos Tacos.

A trio of salsa pots (fresh tomato and citrus, fiery green, and smoky chipotle) ensured every mouthful was packed with flavour. And, each taco was heaped with filling too.

The signature al pastor (£2.50) made with 24 hour cooked yielding pork shoulder with crunchy bits, caramelised pineapple and guacamole was the pick of the bunch.

Chargrilled stone bass (£3) with caramelised onions and chorizo with crispy potato mash and salsa verde (£2.50) were also excellent.

Bread Ahead, Borough

The Borough market-based Bread Ahead produce Instagram-friendly doughnuts. A salted caramel number (£3) was stuffed to the brim with smooth, delicately caramel-twanged custard. But, the dough itself was a touch dry - I reckon Early Bird’s examples in Cardiff are better.

Salvation in Noodles, Finsbury Park

We grabbed a quick bite to eat at this achingly hip Vietnamese restaurant before a trip to the Park Theatre.

Bun noodle salads, with herby pork patties (£9.50) and crispy tofu (£9) were big, fresh, herby bowls of goodness.

The cold rice noodles, carrot, lettuce, cucumber, mint, coriander, crisp peanuts, shallots, and citrusy fish sauce based dressing were a healthy counterpoint to the rest of the food I’d eaten on my trip.

Dishoom, Kings Cross

This beautifully designed Indian restaurant is inspired by the Irani cafes of Bombay. Set over 3 floors with a seemingly infinite number of tables, we were told it would be at least an hour and a half wait for a table. Cry.

However, we asked about some empty tables outside and were seated immediately. The fact I needed gloves by the end of the night might explain why they were unoccupied.

Pao bhaji (£4.50) comprised of soft and sweet toasted bread rolls accompanied by a potently spiced vegetable mash. This was proper comfort food.

Lamb chops (£11.90) were tender, well-marinated and thoroughly flame-grilled. They were top-drawer… but not as good as Tayyabs’ version.

Black dhal (£5.90) was a corker - thick, velvety and rich with cream.

A folded roomali roti (£2.50) was paper thin and slightly elastic. It was perfect for mopping up all that dhal.

Malai kulfi (£3.50) was a facsimile of the dessert our friend grew up with in India. Looking like a gourmet mini-milk, the ice cream stick was soft, creamy and delicately twanged with caramel.

I had another kick-ass eating trip to London and can't wait for my next. In addition to my trip in January, I'm beginning to make a dent in my hit list.