Saturday, 13 October 2018

Heaney's, Pontcanna, Cardiff restaurant review

There’s something exciting happening to the restaurant scene in the west of Cardiff.

Last week, the modern Welsh cooking at Pontcanna’s Milkwood was awarded a Plate in the Michelin Guide 2019.

Next week, the Heathcock, a sister pub to the utterly brilliant Hare and Hounds in Aberthin opens in Llandaff.

And this week, following a successful pop-up and crowdfunding campaign, Heaney’s finally opened its permanent restaurant in Pontcanna on the former site of Arbennig and Le Gallois.

Chef Patron Tommy Heaney has been one of the standout contestants on this year’s Great British Menu with his first rate looking DNA fish dish, contemporary cooking style, and cheeky sense of humour.

I’ve previously reviewed Tommy’s pop-up and it was beltingly good.

His permanent restaurant follows the same principle of small plates (£8 - £13) with a changing daily roster depending on what’s fresh and seasonal. 

The team have done a lovely job on the refurb of the place, opening out the space and giving it a more modern feel with its graffiti feature wall. 

A pair of cocktails were a delicious start to the meal - a Normandy Buck was a pleasingly dry yet fruity combination of calvados, amontillado sherry, lemon, vanilla and ginger (£8) whilst a Rooted Rickey (£3.50) was a winter spiced mix of carrot, ginger, lime and soda. 

Heaney’s toasted sourdough with marmite butter (£3.50) is already a classic in my book. As a platinum member of the toast and marmite fan club, I reckon this is as good a version as it gets. The bronze crusted bread was joined by smooth butter which combined creaminess with intense savouriness. 

Our first two dishes of the night were the standouts of the meal.

Wafer thin slices of meaty delicately-cured monkfish (£11) were adorned with a range of Scandi-lux tidbits - thin slices of grape, crunchy hazelnuts, potently aromatic dill oil, warming yet palate cleansing horseradish sorbet and a sweet and spicy cucumber, mustard seed and chilli relish. If you served this on a slice of rye bread then it would be like having lunch in Ikea’s Mayfair branch. 

Heaney’s barbecue lamb and anchovy (£12) featured in our meal at the pop-up and it was just as good as I remembered it. Spoonably tender smokey lamb fillet was joined by briny anchovy and salty sea vegetables as well as a gorgeously glossy meat sauce and savoury anchovy mayonnaise whose acidity cleverly balanced the dish’s richness. 

Next up came another fish and another meat dish - I would have preferred it if the fish dishes and meat dishes had been paired with each other.

A sweet-flaked hunk of plaice on the bone (£12) was garnished with caramelised cauliflower pieces and a buttery, smooth cauliflower puree as well as spiced potted shrimp, crunchy cubes of lightly acidic apple and capers and a nutty cider beurre blanc. 

Our lovely venison dish (£13) was outshone by its brilliant bonus accompaniment.

A dinky pot of long-cooked, intensely meaty and unfeasibly tender venison ragout was topped with light aerated potato and crispy onions. Woof. 

The main event of rare-cooked venison loin was joined by tart blackberries, al dente shredded cabbage, crisp burnt onion and another top-drawer meat sauce. 

A side of potatoes (£4) cooked over embers was a night by the fireplace distilled into a plate of food. If the crisp-skinned tender spuds weren’t compellingly smokey enough, they were sat in a puddle of melted smoked butter and topped with crisp seeds. 

Our first dessert (£7) was an assemblage of tasty things. Sweet and chunky apple compote, smooth and slightly sharp blackberry sorbet and buttery hazelnut crumble were all hidden beneath a cloak of airy and aromatic Earl Grey custard. 

An uber-rich and smooth chocolate ganache (£7) combined brilliantly with caramelised walnuts and a cleansing and not-too-sweet pear sorbet. However, the pud was let down a little by a poached pear which had a slightly unusual fizzy and acidic back note - I’m assuming it was just a dud fruit. 

Dinner at Heaney’s was lush. Tommy’s light, modern and flavour-packed cooking is going to be a huge asset to Cardiff’s dining scene.

The Details

Address - Heaney's, 6-10 Romilly Crescent, Pontcanna, Cardiff CF11 9NR

Saturday, 6 October 2018

10 great places to eat and drink in Faro, Portugal

Faro is often considered little more than an airport for travellers en route to resorts like Albufeira and Vilamoura.

But, the capital of Portugal’s Algarve region has a heck of a lot more going for it than just regular flights from Cardiff or Bristol.

Whilst it isn’t the most knock-out beautiful place we’ve ever visited, it has a scruffy charm and feels like a proper city rather than just a tourist resort. And there are so many buildings with beautiful facades to stumble across.

Located on the edge of the tidal lagoon of the Ria Formosa Natural Park, we took an afternoon boat trip to the idyllic Ilha Deserta with its sweeping sandy beaches.

Faro is also home to the macabre Capela dos Ossos, a small chapel built from the bones of more than 1000 Carmelite monks.

Estoi’s 19th century striking pink Rococo palace and the 5km long Faro beach are also just a ten minute Uber-ride away.

Most importantly, we ate and drank a bucketload of fresh fish, chargrilled meats, great value wine and cool beer.

Here’s a run down of some of our highlights:

A Venda
R. do Compromisso 60, 8000-252 Faro, Portugal

A Venda, is an enjoyably homespun restaurant which serves petiscos (Portuguese tapas) from its open kitchen.

A stew of slow-cooked pork (€6) was punctuated by pickled cucumber and cauliflower whilst crispy spiced slices of blood sausage (€5) were joined by cleansing orange segments and soft sweet onions.

As fresh as you like gazpacho (€2) was heady with pepper and garlic and a fricassee of wild mushrooms Bulhao Pato style (€5) was bursting with garlic, lemon and coriander.

Portas de Sao Pedro
R. de Sao Pedro 61, 8000-286 Faro, Portugal

Another small plates restaurant, Portas de Sao Pedro serves dishes from the Alentejo region of Portugal.

Light and creamy fresh goat cheese (€4,50) was drizzled with olive oil and fresh oregano and a mound of king prawns were fiery with piri piri (€7,50) that was tempered by a big hit of lime.

Crisp octopus was pleasingly tender and fried with a good whack of garlic and coriander (€6,50) whilst sweet peas and salty chorizo bathed in a porky broth (€5) had a distinctly autumnal feel to it.

R. do Alportel 29, 8000-129 Faro, Portugal

This buzzing neighbourhood bar serves tostas (toasted sandwiches) as big as the chopping boards they’re served on. At €7,50, a tuna tosta made for a delicious and great value lunch for two. The buttery sandwich was loaded with uber-mayonnaisey tuna flecked with tomato and onion.

Chefe Branco
R. de Loule 9, 8000-155 Faro, Portugal

I had a kick-ass espedata (skewer) of smoke-licked sweet giant prawns and meaty yet tender monkfish tails at this old-skool restaurant. Served with guilty-pleasure marie rose sauce and crisp fries, this dish was a steal at €13.

Mister Frango
R. Cruz das Mestras 51/55, 8000-261, 8000-151 Faro

When we visited Mister Frango, locals were queueing out the door for takeaway (always a good sign). Mister Frango’s ridiculously good spatchcocked chargrill rotisserie chicken was arguably the best thing I ate all holiday.

Half a chicken with fries and buttery rice was a poultry (sorry) €6,50. The crisp-skinned, juicy fleshed meat was served with a gravy boat of ferociously spiced peri-peri chilli oil.

O Murto
R. Infante Dom Henrique 136, 8000-256 Faro, Portugal

Does O Murto serve Faro’s best cataplana? I’m not sure, but it was bloody delicious. After a reassuring 45 minute wait for one of Portugal’s national dishes to be cooked from scratch, we were served a hulking copper kettle (€35) loaded with plump prawns, briny clams, meaty swordfish and tender bass bathed in a light broth littered with tomato, onion, potato and coriander.

Grains 864
Tv. dos Arcos 8, 8000-078 Faro, Portugal

Whilst I couldn’t get enough of the ubiquitous ice-cold bottles of Super Bock and Sagres beer, the craft Portuguese beers on offer at Grains 864 provided some welcome variety to my diet of booze.

With most beers costing around €3 - €4, highlights included Dois Corvos’s Matine session IPA and Oitava Colina’s Urraca Vendaval IPA.

Se7e Pedras
Tv. dos Arcos nº7, 8000-470 Faro, Portugal

This wine bar and restaurant is located just over the road from Grains 864. With its exposed brickwork and mishmash of retro furniture, it was a great spot for a glass of wine or a white port and tonic (especially during happy hour when any glass was €1,50) .

Bar Columbus
Praça Dom Francisco Gomes, 8000-168 Faro, Portugal

Bar Columbus is a great place to sit and people watch whilst enjoying an award-winning cocktail.

A Marajoka (€7,50) was a moreish tropical combination of passion fruit, lime buds, basil, vodka and bitters whilst a Scarlett (€9,50) was a dangerously drinkable mix of gooseberry, St Germain, hibiscus and gin.

Luxury Guesthouse Opus One
R. Serpa Pinto 37, 8000-431 Faro, Portugal

We stayed at the quirky Opus One guesthouse. With its charming front of house team, dinky swimming pool and activities including port tastings and fado nights, it was a great base for exploring Faro.

Their breakfast was also one of the best I’ve ever had at a hotel. Warm custard tarts, coconut brioche, fresh bread, squidgy chocolate cake, charcuterie, cheese, smoked salmon and freshly squeezed orange juice were just some of the epic selection we ate each morning.

We had lush stay in Faro - if you're looking for a weekend break of tasty food, great booze and lots of sunshine then I'd highly recommend it.