Saturday 2 December 2023

Tukka Tuk Canteen, Cardiff south Indian restaurant review

Anand George’s return to Whitchurch Road has a feeling of history repeating itself.

Cardiff’s godfather of southern Indian cooking first made his name in the city at Mint & Mustard on the same street when it opened in 2007. And next door, he subsequently launched Chai Street, a more informal street food interpretation of his spice-packed cooking.

There’s been a lot of water under the bridge since then, with Anand departing both businesses and building an even bigger reputation for himself at Purple Poppadom in Canton. He’s also opened Tukka Tuk, a street food venture in Cardiff Market and Barry Goodsheds, alongside his business partner Rupali Wagh.

But, there’s clearly unfinished business on Whitchurch Road as it’s where Anand has now opened Tukka Tuk Canteen, a destination where he can showcase a wider repertoire of southern Indian and Sri Lankan canteen-style cooking.

The dining space certainly fits the brief with its colourful cartoon adorned walls and bench and banquette seating. Tukka Tuk Canteen’s menu features a broad range of short eats, kothu roti, tiffin meals, kari, and sides. If you’re unfamiliar with this style of cooking then there’s a handy glossary of terms on the back of the menu and the exceptionally friendly front of house team are on hand to talk you through the dishes on offer.

We visited with a pair of mates and shared a heap of dishes so we could put as much of the menu through its paces as possible.

Pints of cobra (£5.85) and a bottle of Allan Scott New Zealand Riesling (£30) were well-suited accompaniments to the big-spiced cooking.

Bone marrow varuval (£10.90) was the star of an illustrious line-up of starters. A pair of beef bones were loaded with soft and buttery marrow which we are advised to mix through a rich and spicy coconut curry sauce.

It was epic dolloped onto the flakiest, buttery homemade parotta, which were probably the best I’ve ever eaten. There are well-known street food businesses which have built their reputation using frozen parottas; these knock spots off them.

Beef fry (£8) was a little bowl that packed a big punch. Stupidly tender nuggets of beef were coated in an intensely garlicky, gingery and peppery spice rub that was lifted by the fragrance of curry leaf.

A refined take on chicken kothu roti (£11.90), one of my all-time favourite southern Indian dishes, was packed with comforting flavours and textures. Soft pieces of homemade roti had been stir-fried with pieces of tender chicken, egg and mixed vegetables, and seasoned with warming spices. Just hand me a bowl of this and a spoon and I’d be a very happy man indeed.

Lamb rolls (£7.50) were as good as I’ve eaten too, the uber-crisp breadcrumbed cylinders densely packed with an exceptionally tender and intensely spiced mix of minced lamb and potato. A tangy chilli ketchup provided zingy contrast.

Keralan fried chicken (KFC) bites (£7.50) were the only short eat which was merely enjoyable rather than excellent. I didn’t think this version of the dish was as good as the one they serve at Tukka Tuk in Cardiff market as the meat was a little bit bouncy and the coating less crisp.

Following round one, we moved onto a selection of kari, tiffin meals and sides.

A behemoth of a folded masala dosa (£9.90) was commendably thin and crisp and stuffed with a spice-spiked potato masala. Its accompanying homemade chutneys provided a medley of flavour contrasts. There was a vivid green coriander chutney, a creamy coconut chutney, rich and sweet tomato and onion chutney, and an earthy lentil stew (sambhar).

A palate energising side of batu moju (£6.90) was one of the other highlights of the meal. Well caramelised soft discs of aubergine were coated in a potently sweet, spicy and sour sauce.

A trio of curries were all excellent but perhaps the most questionable when it came to value as each dinky bowl weighed in around the £13 mark.

Jaffna lamb (£13.90) was our pick of the bunch. Gorgeously tender pieces of meat bobbed in a gravy which was both intensely meaty and heady with spice.

Mangalorean fish curry (£13.90) saw meaty pieces of the halibut bathed in a creamy coconut sauce that was twanged with the distinct tang of tamarind.

A vibrant green chicken curry (£12.40) was fragrant with the aromas of coriander, coconut and curry leaf.

More of those superb parottas (£3.50) and a nei choru (£3.50), a bowl of buttery rice topped with cashews, raisins and almonds, were lovely with all the delicious curry sauces.

I’m normally stuffed by the time I get to dessert at Indian restaurants but we were still raring to go at Tukka Tuk Canteen. It was just as well, because their pudding selection is a cut above the ubiquitous bought in ice cream filled coconut shells.

A knickerbocker glory (£8) was layered with a kaleidoscope of sweet treats. There was fruit jelly, fresh kiwi, grapes and strawberries, thick creamy custard, rose-scented vermicelli custard, dried glace fruit pieces, and nutty chia seeds.

Pazham pori (£7.50) was a rather grown-up take on a banana fritter. Utilising less sweet ripe plantain that was stuffed with aromatic cardamom, toasty jaggery and grated coconut, it was coated in crisp batter and served with a scoop of cleansing berry sorbet.

Finally, a coconut pudding (£7) was a lovely riff on a panna cotta. The wobbly, not-to-sweet set creamy coconut milk was accompanied by the balancing sweet sharpness of berry coulis.

We had a fabulous meal at Tukka Tuk Canteen and Anand George’s return to Whitchurch Road is a triumph. Tukka Tuk Canteen is one of Cardiff’s best openings of 2023 and if this was a London restaurant opening then national critics would already be frothing at the mouth. 

The Details:

Address -  Tukka Tuk Canteen, 90-92 Whitchurch Rd, Cardiff CF14 3LY
Telephone - 029 2063 0704

Saturday 25 November 2023

The Bonny Comet, Low Fell, Gateshead restaurant review

My gastronomic recollections of growing up in the Gateshead suburb of Low Fell over twenty years ago are rather thin on the ground.

There were the honkingly potent garlic prawns and flamboyantly flambéed crêpes suzette from the Italia, which seemed to be perennially stuck in the 70s.

There was also the Imperial Chinese restaurant, located upstairs from a branch of Greggs, where I over-enthusiastically ate too much crispy duck and spare ribs, making myself sick during a family celebration.

And let's not forget the Indian restaurant, whose name eludes me, which had a rather tatty stuffed bear guarding its entrance. It was definitely the most memorable thing about the place.

So, last year I was rather excited by the news that the Bonny Comet, a rather chi-chi sounding all day dining destination and bar, was opening along the Fell.

That was until The Guardian's Grace Dent popped along for a meal and had a rather disheartening experience, dampening my expectations in the process.

Still, not to be deterred, Mrs G and I popped along for dinner during one of our biannual visits to the Northeast after a few craft beers at the excellent Beer Drop.

The Bonny Comet is a rather stylish looking place. With its deep blue exterior and beautifully designed dining room, it certainly wouldn't look out of place in ritzier destinations.

Their eclectic all day menu features oysters and pheasant as well as fish finger sandwiches and haggis on toast. So whether you’re looking for a bit of posh or something more casual, there should be something to float your boat.

On the booze front, I enjoyed a half of Dortmunder Union Pils (£2.75) whilst Mrs G preferred a zesty alcohol-free margarita (£6) to a rather too sweet glass of prosecco (£7.50).

To start, a northern portion of meteorite-like cheese and mushroom croquettes (£6) had a good earthy mushroom hit and were filled with plenty of pieces of soft spud. But they were light on the billed cheese and a thick puddle of mushroom puree didn’t provide much in the way of flavour contrast.

An excellent piece of black pudding (£8) had a soft boudin noir like texture and was sat in a pokey mustard sauce alongside pieces of soft potato. It was a big flavoured bit of cooking which wouldn’t look out of place in the bouchons of Lyon.

Both of our mains looked rather home cooked compared to the refined versions on the Bonny Comet’s slick social media account. But, they delivered in terms of flavour.

A golden crusted pithivier (£17.50) was filled with a coarse mushroom and chestnut duxelles and served with crisp, caramelised-skinned Jerusalem artichokes, charred hispi cabbage, which was a bit too firm in texture, and a curiously tepid mushroom puree. Despite its flaws, it was a tasty bit of Autumnal cooking.

A whopping puck of slow-cooked shredded beef feather blade (£20) had a lovely soft texture and a good beefy flavour but was at its maximum limit for seasoning. Its accompaniments all hit the mark - a rich glossy beer reduction, smooth mustard mash, which could have taken a bigger hit of mustard, roasted sweet root vegetables and parsnip crisps.

Dessert was the star of the meal. Sticky toffee pudding (£7.50) so often misses the mark by being too dense or too cakey. This was an absolute belter, the pudding was light yet soft and squidgy with a liberal amount of toasty toffee sauce, and a scoop of excellent honeycomb ice cream.

We had a very enjoyable meal at The Bonny Comet in a lovely setting with really friendly service. Whilst the reality is rather more down to earth and rustic than its swanky appearance, it’s a welcome addition to Low Fell's constellation of restaurants.

The Details:

Address -  
The Bonny Comet, 490 Durham Rd, Low Fell, Gateshead NE9 6HU
Telephone -  0191 816 2072