Saturday, 11 August 2018

The Honours Brasserie, Edinburgh, French restaurant review


Truly exceptional service in a restaurant comes along less often than a new season of Rick and Morty.

Darren, our waiter at The Honours in Edinburgh, was charming, super passionate about the food he served and all his recommended booze pairings were on the mark. He elevated what was already a brilliant meal into a truly memorable meal.

 
The Honours is the more casual restaurant of the double Michelin-starred chef Martin Wishart. The whole gaff oozes modern art deco sophistication. Wishart brings his bags of classical technique to bear on French brasserie food. This is brasserie lux. 

 
Pre-dinner drinks saw a textbook strawberry daiquiri (£10) made with berries that had been macerated in booze for 10 days. I had a highly drinkable Paolozzi lager (£5.50) from Edinburgh Beer Factory. 


A snack of haggis bon bons (£3.75) were golden crumbed morsels of well-seasoned meat. We quickly inhaled them. 

  
Sea bream tartare (£11.95) let its main ingredient speak for itself. Supremely fresh cubes of clean tasting fish were bathed in a light creme fraiche dressing with a subtle warmth of horseradish. It was punctuated by pieces of lightly pickled cucumber. 


Crab cappuccino (£9.50) sounded a bit naff but in reality was as cool as the Fonz. A light foam and creamy soup were the pure essence of crab. A mound of sweet white crab meat, a dollop of smooth saffron rouille and dainty gruyere topped croutons were the classic accompaniments dialled up a notch. 

 
A rump of Dornoch lamb (£24) was one of the best bits of sheep I’ve ever eaten. Ridiculously tender with buttery fat, it was bathed in a meaty, fragrant thyme jus. Accompaniments included painstakingly turned golden potatoes and precisely grilled courgettes and skinless tomatoes. A fine dice of sweet tomato, black olive and potent garlic brought a distinctly rustic feel to the whole plate. 

 
Across the table, a golden and juicy piece of guinea fowl (£24) was served with squidgy goats cheese gnocchi and a light fricassee of garden peas, artichokes and crisp pancetta. Another first rate sauce brought the whole dish together. 


A cracker of a cheese plate (£12.50) combined a nice mix of socky, tangy and savour numbers joined by a brick of quince jelly and pieces of warm and crisp fruit bread. 

 
An apricot souffle (£9.50) was unlike any I’ve eaten before. A light and sweet puck of plain souffle was bathed in a summery apricot sauce and joined by a super smooth apricot sorbet, candied pecans, honeycomb and apricot coulis. It was delicious but I think I prefer the theatre and burnished edges of a potted souffle. 

 
Dinner at The Honours was exquisite from the food to the service and setting. If you want relaxed French luxury then I can’t recommend it highly enough.

The Details:

Address - The Honours Brasserie, 58A North Castle Street, Edinburgh EH2 3LU 
Web - https://www.thehonours.co.uk/
Telephone - 0131 220 2513

Saturday, 4 August 2018

The Secret Garden cafe, Bute Park, Cardiff review


It might seem an odd decision to wait until the only rainy weekend of the summer to visit the Secret Garden cafe in Bute Park.

But, on the last two occasions we’ve tried to visit it was a full house with a decent queue.

This time, there there were plenty of free tables and no one waiting to be served. And there’s sheltered seating so we didn't get wet. Win.


The Secret Garden was taken over earlier this year by the lovely team behind Penylan Pantry and Cheese Pantry.

A hearty brunch menu (see the bottom of the post for pics) includes nutty granola, avocado on toast and sausage sandwiches. Lunches comprise of seasonal salad bowls, stews, toasted sandwiches and baked sweet potatoes.

If you arrive between 11.30am and 12pm on a weekend both menus are still in action…

A sugar free Karma Kola had a proper medicinal hit instead of being bland sugary fizzy water. Filter coffee was fragrant and delicate rather than harsh and bitter. 

 
A salad bowl (£6.50) was a pretty beast which included marinated mushrooms, dill-fragranced tomato and bread salad, vegetable couscous, creamy tahini dressed butternut squash and butterbeans, basil spiked red cabbage and harissa spiced new potatoes. 

 
A big wodge of frittata (£3.50) was flecked with tangy goats cheese, sweet butternut squash and tender courgettes and scattered with pine nuts. Mixed leaves were well-dressed rather than just shoved on straight from the bag and a pot of spiced apple chutney was a lovely accompaniment.  


Crisp wholemeal waffles (£6.50) were topped with buttery kale, tender avocado and a runny fried egg. A side of killer Welsh sausages (£1.50) were golden brown and loaded with peppery meat. It was a lovely plate but as the waffles cooled they unfortunately became rather soft and chewy. 


Whilst mains were very good, desserts knocked it out of the (Bute) park.

Soft serve ice cream (£3.50) was the creamiest I’ve ever eaten. It was topped with intense blackcurrant sauce and cinnamon spiced oat crumble. I inhaled it so quickly that I gave myself brain freeze. 


A slice of lemon and almond polenta cake (£3) topped with icing and flaked almonds was stupendously moist and fragrant. 

 
We had a delicious brunch, lunch and afternoon tea rolled into one at the Secret Garden. I can see why it’s been so busy on my previous attempts to visit.

The Details:

Address - North Rd, Cardiff CF10 3ER




Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Ondine, Edinburgh fish restaurant review


The top 50 lawn bowlers of East Anglia. The 20 best coiffured mullets of the 80s. Gateshead's 30 finest spam fritter wholesalers.

Countdown lists are a load of guff. But, they’re a load of fun even if they’re completely subjective.

This brings me to Ondine, recently named the best restaurant in Scotland and the 26th best restaurant in the UK in the National Restaurant Awards 2018.

Informal, with a bustling atmosphere and grand oyster bar which dominates the dining room, this Edinburgh seafood restaurant is located just off the Royal Mile. 

 
Light bread and gorgeously warm and airy cheese gougères were delivered promptly after we took our seats. I like places that give you something complimentary to swiftly put in your gob. 

 
My starter was epic. Crisp, warm and squishy mini crumpets were served with a heaving bowl of dressed crab (£15). Sweet white flesh, savoury brown crab mayonnaise and crunchy breadcrumbs were a delight slathered on the crumpets. 


A bowl of huge flavoured fish soup (£9) with a nice citrus twang came with the classic accompaniments - grated gruyere, crisp croutons and cayenne spiked rouille. Mrs G was a big fan. 


Onto mains, and a piece of deep fried haddock (£18) was an absolute unit. The fish was perfectly flaky but the golden batter was a touch greasy. 

 
Sides of thin chips and fresh mint-laced pea puree both hit the mark. 

 
A sea bream curry (£24) saw a bronze-skinned meaty bit of fish, cleverly filleted down the middle, bathed in a lush smokey and well-spiced curry sauce that was packed with long-cooked soft and sweet onions. 

 
Accompaniments came in the form of buttery, citrusy coriander-flecked rice and a fresh, cleansing chunky cucumber raitha. The only downside was that the super crisp edges of the bream had become a touch dried out. 

 
Replete after two massive courses, we passed on dessert.

Thankfully, a pair of delicious chilled chocolates filled with a smooth chocolate and berry ganache brought the meal to a close on a sweet note. 


Ondine is a lovely restaurant and we had a very good meal indeed. 

Is it the best restaurant in Scotland or even Edinburgh? Probably not in my opinion. But, countdown lists are a load of guff anyway... apart from rankings of Cardiff burgers or kebabs obviously ;-)

The details:

Address - Ondine, 2 George IV Bridge, Edinburgh EH1 1AD
Web - https://www.ondinerestaurant.co.uk/menu/
Telephone - 0131 226 1888

Saturday, 28 July 2018

Stanley's Bistro, Canton, Cardiff French restaurant review


The last time we visited Chez Francis on Cowbridge Road East it was the night of Wales’s ridiculous overtime defeat to France in 2017’s six nations.

This time, we visited the restaurant's new incarnation in the week of France’s World Cup triumph.

Perhaps there’s something about a Les Bleus victory that puts me in the mood for a hearty plate of beef bourguignon?


In May, Chez Francis was taken over by Francis Dupuy’s protégé Stanislas Becherie and renamed Stanley’s Bistro.

The restaurant’s charming decor remains the same and the menu has a similar focus on French comfort food classics. Plus ça change.

Pre-dinner fizz was served in glamorous champagne coupes which made us feel like extras from The Great Gatsby. 

 
Beefy buttery bone marrow (£6.95) was delicious smothered over lightly charred toast whilst accompaniments of sticky caramelised onions and well-dressed leaves were bob-on. A bit more marrow wouldn’t have gone amiss as I ran out pretty quickly. 

 
French onion soup (£5.95) was full to the brim with soft and sweet golden onions bathed in a light well-seasoned onion broth and topped with a melted cheese crouton. This was a nice alternative to the intensely meaty versions of the dish. 


Cassoulet (£16.95) was a proper rib-sticker. A melange of soft beans, shreds of confit duck, yielding lardons and garlicky toulouse sausage were topped with crisp breadcrumbs. But, the portion was significantly smaller than the version we had at Chez Francis

 
Boullabaisse (£19.95) delivered on the big hit of fish and shellfish it promised. The deep-flavoured broth contained a petite fillet of red mullet, plump mussels, a sweet langoustine, and heaps of squid (which was unfortunately a bit rubbery). A pair of croutons had a fried bread vibe going on but I’m not complaining - they were lovely mops for all that soup. This was a tasty plate but it felt a touch pricey. 


A cheese selection (£7.95) was a fine mix of French classics - creamy brie, funky camembert, socky comte and punchy bleu d’auvergne. Oat crackers and grapes were tasty accompaniments but some extra lubrication in the form of chutney would have been nice. 

 
An individual tarte tatin (£5.95) saw soft and sweet apple coated in buttery caramel sat on a layer of puff pastry, which was nice and crisp around the edges but a little soft in the middle. A big dollop of vanilla ice cream was a nice foil. 

 
We had a tasty meal at Stanley’s with their friendly service and proper French ambience. Whilst there were a few minor issues with the food, if you’re looking for an evening of classic French grub then it's worth checking out.

The Details:

We visited Stanley's on a Travelzoo Deal - available here 

Address - Stanley's Bistro, 185 Cowbridge Road East, Canton, Cardiff, CF11 9AJ 
Telephone - 02920224959

Tuesday, 24 July 2018

The Little Chartroom, Edinburgh restaurant review


Semolina, corned beef, sardines, oxtail, tongue, smoked eel, turnip, black pudding and blancmange.

I have a soft spot for many of the old fashioned, unfashionable dishes that turn the stomachs of many people. I take after my dad in this respect; I’m an indiscriminate glutton.

 
This brings me to the Little Chartroom on Edinburgh’s Leith Walk which opened last month. Owned by a wife and husband team who are the former head chef and restaurant manager at Dominic Jack and Tom Kitchin’s Castle Terrace, this cosy and stylish neighbourhood bistro serves a lunchtime menu of interesting small and larger modern Scottish dishes. In the evening there’s a more traditional starter, main and dessert format. 

 
Complimentary sourdough from Twelve Triangles bakery, located around the corner from the restaurant, was first rate. Crisp, chewy and tangy it was delicious with a good smear of salted butter. 

 
A haggis sausage roll (£4) looked and tasted the part - the well-spiced delicately offaly mince was enrobed in golden pastry. An accompanying blob of turnip ketchup was more of a smooth mash but it had an acidic note which nicely balanced the richness of the plate. 


Ox tongue (£8) is one of my favourite things and I wish it was on the menu in more places. A generous thinly sliced plate of the buttery meat was served atop a creamy yet richness balancing celeriac Waldorf salad punctuated by cleansing grape and the crunch of walnut. A slab of toasted sourdough provided heft to the dish. 

 
Onto dessert and a silky smooth dark chocolate ganache in a thin chocolate pastry case (£7.50) was adorned with pretty raspberries. Raspberry sorbet was pleasingly slightly tart and super smooth. 

 
Lunch at the Little Chartroom was delicious and served by a super-friendly team. With new restaurant openings of this calibre, the Edinburgh dining scene must be in rude health.

The Details: 

Address - The Little Chartroom, 30-31 Albert Place, Edinburgh, United Kingdom EH7 5HN
Telephone - 0131 556 6600

Friday, 20 July 2018

Heaneys Pop Up, Pontcanna, Cardiff restaurant review


The arrival of Tommy Heaney’s cooking in Cardiff is epic news.

I’m already a big fan of his eponymous restaurant in Bridgend. And he was a standout contestant on last year’s Great British Menu on the BBC.

Tommy has now taken over Pontcanna’s Arbenning and Arbennig Emporium and is running a six week pop-up in the latter whilst he refurbishes the former. He’s also in the final stages of Crowdfunding to help with the overhaul. 

 
We visited the pop-up in week two and managed to bag one of the last two tables available (it’s walk-ins only).

The compact menu reads exceptionally well with interesting sounding flavour combinations across the board. We ordered three plates and a side to share and it was the right amount for us.


A bottle of Tommy Heaney House Beer (£4) from Bang On Brewery was very drinkable if unremarkable with a fairly old-skool ale flavour profile. 


Toast and marmite, it’s a staple in our household. So, toasted sourdough with marmite butter (£3.50) was an essential order. The charred-crusted tangy bread and whipped savoury butter took it to the next level. 


Barbecued lamb (£11) was an absolute belter - gorgeously pink with a beguiling lick of smoke, I’d have been happy with just a plate of the meat. But, silky umami-rich anchovy puree, a glossy meat sauce and briny samphire and sea purslane all added something to the dish. 

 
Iberico pork tenderloin (£10) was super tender and served enjoyably rare. It was enhanced by the crunch of pistachios, sweet butteriness of burnt onion puree, freshness of cherry and crunch of kale. 

 
Flaky crisp-skinned cod (£10) was joined by the creamy tang of buttermilk and verdant fragrance of dill oil. Charred courgettes and buttered spinach provided a bit of heft to this pretty plate. 


I fell in love with Old Bay seasoning when we visited Boston and it’s great to see it on the menu at Heaney’s. Golden triple cooked chips (£4) with a textbook rustle were coated in a liberal amount of the compellingly savoury and slightly spicy seasoning. 


Onto dessert and an indulgently rich log of salted caramel parfait (£7) and crunchy caramel popcorn were balanced beautifully by a light and delicately tangy yoghurt ice cream. 


Strawberries, cream and basil (£7) are a killer combination and here they were cleverly brought together. Beneath a mountain of thin meringue shards was hidden rich sweetened mascarpone and fresh strawberries that were complemented by the herbal hit of basil granita and basil oil. 

 
Dinner at Heaney’s Pop Up was brilliant. Tommy Heaney’s cooking combines huge technique and clever yet comforting flavour and texture combinations. But, it’s also well-priced for the quality - our food bill came to £52. Tommy Heaney’s arrival in Cardiff is one of the most exciting new openings in the city of 2018.

The Details:

Address - Heaneys Pop Up, 6-10 Romilly Crescent, Cardiff CF11 9NR