Friday, 30 December 2011

Crown at Celtic Manor, Newport Restaurant Review, Food Blog

Update 19th June 2012 - Crown at Celtic Manor has been renamed Terry M. The same head chef and culinary team is still in place. 

I love the Michelin Guide. It’s a great read on the toilet and it’s generally a pretty good guide to high end dining. However as far as budget eats and the precision of the star ratings go I’m not convinced. In my book it’s bonkers that the staggeringly tasty and creative L’Enclume has only one star. In addition, the very good yet flawed Hand & Flowers should only have one star.

This brings me to the subject of The Crown at Celtic Manor. Under the guidance of Executive Chef James Sommerin and Head Chef Tim McDougall, Celtic Manor have a humdinger of a restaurant.The food, atmosphere, wine list and service last night was on a par with a number of Michelin starred meals I’ve eaten. Yet according to the Michelin Guide they don’t deserve a coveted macaron.

Our rather spacious and tasteful (if a little chintzy) room
Mrs G and I were staying at The Celtic Manor as part of a Crown Gourmet Escape. For £155 we were entitled to a 3 course dinner in The Crown at Celtic Manor, one night’s accommodation in a Superior Double room, use of the Forum Health Club and a Welsh breakfast in the Olive Tree. However as it was Christmas we decided to supplement our already ludicrous festive calorie intake and paid a £20.50 supplement per head for the tasting menu.  

Canapes - We started with canapés in the bar. These included a spoon of confit salmon with beetroot and a deliciously intense duck liver pate. However the highlight was a belting lobster bisque with nuggets of black pudding.

Bread - Warm fresh organic beer and onion bread was immense. The nigella seeds on top provided an aromatic dimension.

Pre-starter - A wonderfully light and delicately sweet potato espuma with curry oil.

First course – Beetroot gnocci, roasted winter vegetables, ewe’s milk cheese, horseradish. A delightfully fresh dish. The soft gnocchi perfectly complemented the subtle tasting ewe’s milk cheese and horseradish foam. However the roasted beetroot and the maggot-esque Chinese artichokes were aesthetically appealing but lacking in the flavour department.

Second course – Terrine of duck liver, ham hock and coco beans, sauternes , truffle, toasted brioche.  Smooth, rich duck liver surrounded a coarse mix of ham hock and coco beans. It worked well with the sweet and crisp brioche toast and the gentle acidity of the sauternes reduction.

Third course – Hand-dived scallop, spiced veal sweet bread, creamed lettuce. Two of my favourite ingredients on one plate. The scallop was exactingly cooked whilst the sweet bread was gloriously spiced. The accompanying cold creamed lettuce balanced the richness of the dish.

Fourth course – Sirloin of Usk beef, fig puree, butter jus. This perfect combination of flavours was let down a little by the quality of the piece of beef. It was a little tough and lacking in flavour. However I could have eaten ladles of the fig puree and the dish had an immense background note of truffle.

Fifth course – Mango and passion fruit kulfi, tropical fruits, coconut espuma. A welcome reminder of summer on a plate. One of the smoothest, softest, fresh tasting ice-creams I’ve ever eaten. The whole dish looked pretty as a picture.

Sixth course – Pineapple soufflé, salted caramel ice-cream. A supreme marriage of flavours and temperatures. Fluffy, fragrant, piping hot soufflé with a pocket of salted caramel sauce made a perfect spoonful with a dollop of cool ice-cream.

Petit fours – A cracking little selection including a wafer thin cinnamon palmier biscuit, a strawberry macaron, an apricot jelly, a mince pie and a honey Madeleine.

This was a Michelin starred meal in all but name. Perhaps the Michelin inspectors visited on an off day but as far as I'm concerned Newport has a fine dining restaurant which surpasses any of Cardiff's offerings. 

The details:

The Celtic Manor Resort, Coldra Woods, The Usk Valley, Newport, South Wales, NP18 1HQ 

Telephone: +44 (0)1633 413 000 

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Cote Bistro, Cardiff Bay brunch review, food blog

The people of Twitter were incredibly helpful when it came to recommending the best places for brunch in Cardiff. The most popular suggestions included Cafe BravaThe Pot, Pier 64 and Juno + Fino Lounges.

In spite of this, we plumped for Cote Bistro in the Bay which was recommended by @leybs. The menu read well, I expected the Bay would be quiet during the pre-Christmas shopping maelstrom and I’d been planning a visit to the small chain since it won the Best value restaurant accolade in the Good Food Guide in 2009.

During lunch and evening service, Cote serves well priced French bistro classics. In contrast the brunch menu (served before midday weekdays and 1pm on weekends) consists of a less Franco-centric range of brunch options.

As predicted Cote was very quiet – we were one of only 2 occupied tables - meaning the waiting time on the food was enjoyably brief. In addition I was impressed by the classy design of Cote’s dining room, the complimentary filtered water and the friendly waiting staff.

Most importantly the food was very good.

My Crepe Complete (£6.25) was spanking. A warm, soft crepe was filled with two perfectly cooked fried eggs, thickly cut bacon and shaved gruyere cheese.

Mrs G’s Eggs Benedict (£7.50) was on the nail. The poached eggs were runny and the homemade hollandaise was smooth and buttery. However it could have done with a bigger squeeze of lemon juice.

The full English breakfast (£7.50) was very good too. Free range eggs, bacon, sausages, mushrooms and toast were all cooked accurately. Tomatoes were excluded by request.

If you’re down the bay and looking for brunch I’d heartily recommend Cote. 

The details: 
Cote Bistro, 25 Mermaid Quay, Cardiff Bay, Cardiff CF10 5BZ
Tel: 029 2045 3780 

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Guilty Pleasures No7 - The Doner Kebab

KB's lamb doner
Everyone has special dishes which stir powerful emotions; your grandmother’s apple crumble; the dish you ate on the first date with your wife; the iced gems which you ate at your birthday party when you were around 5 years old.

However, there’s one dish which conjures stronger feelings for me than almost any other.

The Doner Kebab.

Make no mistake; I am referring to the Elephant’s foot; that rotating wonder of mystery meat.

The reason I have such a bond to the Doner is twofold.

It got me my first job out of university; a place on a training scheme at a top London ad agency. For the interview I had to talk about an object which best represented me. I chose the Doner. I waxed lyrical about how it's in touch with popular culture, how it’s misunderstood and how it‘s a perfectly balanced and refined individual. Somehow this charade worked and I ended up getting my dream job at the time.

The second reason I love the Doner is that it has been the closing chapter in so many of my most memorable (or should I say unmemorable) nights out. After a few too many shapes on the dance floor and a few too many shots down the throat, there’s nothing quite like a Doner to provide sustenance and to line the stomach for the difficult night’s sleep ahead. The Doner has it all. An endless mountain of spiced, homogenous shavings of processed lamb. Sweet and spicy chilli sauce. Creamy garlic sauce. A menagerie of palette cleansing salad. Finally the piece de resistance, a chewy, meat juice soaked pitta bread.

Not strictly relevant but a chicken doner from KB's
There have been many kebab shops which have held a special place in my heart. Athena in Newcastle, The Gardenia in Cambridge, Efes 2 in London and The Caspian in Chester. 

KBS on City Road in Cardiff is the current object of my affections. Their Doner meat is fresh and unelastic, they do a great range of salad and a darn fine mint sauce. You also have the option of a naan bread cooked fresh in their tandoor oven.

Where’s your favourite kebab shop in Cardiff? Is there a doner or a shish that’s too good to miss?

The Details:
KBS, 242 City Road - CF24 3JJ Cardiff

Sunday, 18 December 2011

GourmetGorro's top 5 dishes of 2011

Making a best of list is a highly subjective process which always provokes much discussion and debate. But that’s part of the fun isn’t it? Can that really be the best epic fail on youtube? Is that really the best album of 2011? Surely El Celler De can Roca is the best restaurant in the world? It's got to be better than a place where they put bits of foraged shrub on a plate.

So just to add to the fun here’s the 5 best things that I’ve eaten this year.

5. Bone in Ribeye steak, Delmonico’s, Las Vegas. I’m yet to have a steak in the UK which comes anywhere close to those I’ve eaten in the US. I definitely need to pay a visit to Hawksmoor in 2012.

4. Lobster fish finger, Roger Jones guest chef night,Ffresh, Cardiff. I’m still dreaming of this dish nearly 3 weeks later. I now understand why lobster is such a delicacy.

3. St Brides bay crab, lime jelly, mizuma leaves, saffronsnaps, The Grove at Narberth – The best meal of my honeymoon and therefore understandably fairly memorable. Clean tasting, fresh crab with perfectly balanced accompaniments.

2. Pine nut pannacotta, amalfi lemon sorbet, smell of theamalfi coast, Casamia, Westbury-on-Trym, Bristol –The only dessert in my top 5 and the most theatrical dish I’ve eaten in 2011. The Sanchez-Iglesias brothers are geniuses. I’m definitely going back in 2012 to sample their new seasons concept.

1. Double –Double animal style, In-n-Out Burger, Las Vegas – I’d love In-n-Out to open up in the UK. On the other hand I’d weigh 40 stone. 

Tregulland Cottage and Barns, Cornwall Review

Last weekend I had a wintry weekend away in North Cornwall to celebrate my friend Cynthia’s 30th birthday. It was great to spend some time with my Uni mates who I see far too little of since relocating to Cardiff. Our time together was spent eating, drinking, walking and engaging in organised fun.

The location for the festivities was a self-catering property tucked in a picturesque valley on the edge of Bodmin Moor. Having opened this year, Tregulland is an uber-stylish, state of art, eco-friendly, farm conversion. Targeted squarely towards large groups of discerning adults, the whole place has the feeling of a rural Primrose Hill. I could easily imagine Jude, Davinia, Sadie and Rhys decamping for the weekend and kicking back amongst the shabby chic menagerie of modern design and restored antique furniture.

Our party had booked out both the cottage (sleeps 12) and the barn (sleeps 10). Each bedroom is individually designed to a 5 star standard, with softer than soft linen, an en-suite bathroom and invigorating StKitts Herbery toiletries.

With such a large number of people holidaying in one place, it’s easy to imagine that things could have been a little claustrophobic. However Tregulland is so epically spacious that it was easy to hide away in one of the many cozy nooks with a blanket and book in hand. 

When we were feeling sociable, the grand dining room in The Cottage comfortably sat our whole party of 20 people. The all bases covered kitchen facilities even made cooking for everyone as relative a breeze as catering for that many people ever can be.

To cap off this epitome of bohemian hedonism there are a couple of other very special facilities at Tregulland.

The super cool Granary sitting room with its vaulted ceiling played host to the evening’s shenanigans and an afternoon film screening in front of the huge projector screen.

The UK’s first indoor fresh water pool was great for a relaxing dip. Finally, the outdoor wood fired hot tub played host to an ostentatious late night champagne guzzling session.

Starting at around £3,700 for a weekend break or £6,000 for both properties Tregulland certainly isn’t cheap. But for accommodation on a par with a 5 star hotel, £336 per couple for a weekend break or £545 per couple for a week is only moderately eye-watering. If you’re planning on organising a group getaway and want to have a taste of how the 1% live then you could do far worse than Occupying Tregulland. 

The Details: 
Tregulland Cottage and Barns, St Clether, Launceston, Cornwall, PL15 8QW
01566 770880

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Roger Jones Guest Chef Dinner, Ffresh restaurant Cardiff review

I like to think I’ve got a pretty good knowledge of Michelin starred chefs and restaurants in the UK.  In fact if you asked me to choose a specialist subject on Mastermind, this would probably be it. Clearly I’d win the wooden spoon. For my glaring lack of knowledge is evinced by the fact I didn’t know Roger Jones and his restaurant The Harrow at Little Bedwyn in Wiltshire existed until I heard he was to be the next guest chef at Ffresh at the Millennium Centre.

It’s not like he’s just gained his first Michelin star either. Roger Jones has held a Michelin star for 6 years and has won the prestigious accolade of AA restaurant of the year 2011. If I genuinely knew anything about top chefs in the UK then this Lampeter born legend is someone I should have heard of. Perhaps it's because he hasn’t courted the attention of the media? A man of few words, Chef Jones spoke only briefly to explain the Welsh provenance of the ingredients he would be using in the meal.

As I've come to expect from Ffresh guest chef nights, this was an evening of top quality food and equally good wine. In the same format as previous events, £49 buys you 4 courses of food with matching wines. Wines were by supplied Justerini & Brooks and were on the nail. Standouts included a beautifully delicate Ancre Hill Brut bubbly matched with the canapés and a floral Palliser Estate Riesling accompanying the fish course.

A few canapes to start in the bar.....

Smoked eel, bacon dust and pistachio - Firm yet moist smoky fish complemented perfectly by teriyaki dipping sauce and a background note of bacon. The pistachio was lost on my palette but did look rather pretty.

Welsh rarebit –The best welsh rarebit I’ve ever eaten. I polished off 5 of them. Cheesy pillows of awesomeness. A heavy hit of umami came from a good glug of Worcestershire sauce.

Scallop, banana and basil wantons - Feathery light, crisp wanton cases filled with fragrantly seasoned scallops with a hint of banana sweetness. It really worked but I’d have like the wanton to have been filled to the brim with scallops rather than the slightly meagre portion.

And then through to the restaurant for the meal proper.....

Pembrokeshire lobster fish finger – So long Captain Birdseye. This is the finest thing going by the name of a fish finger that has ever graced my palette. Moist, sweet lobster meat enrobed in a light batter. It was complemented perfectly by a smattering of tomberries and a pepper ketchup with some heat coming from a dash of smoked paprika. I often question the merits of lobster in comparison to its more flavoursome crustacean cousin the crab. However the Little Haven caught lobster truly won me over.

Caramelised belly pork with chilli squid - Both the squid and lobster were cooked to perfection; a delicately crisp exterior with a soft interior. However, the dish lacked a little punch for me. I would have liked a bit more of a chilli-kick from the squid and a larger smear of the aromatic, spicy sauce.

Welsh Mountain lamb with faggots and truffles - Utterly delicious but the lowlight of the evening in my opinion. The lamb was skilfully cooked but lacked a little on the flavour front and wasn’t the most tender. Equally the buttery truffle sauce was a little too subtle. Perhaps this may have been due to the powerfully flavoured faggot which rather overwhelmed everything with the taste of liver.

Bread and butter pudding, rum and prune ice cream – Lush – Firm and moist without being sloppy and packed full of winter spiced raisins, this was the perfect bread and butter pudding. The ice cream was light and creamy and interweaved with alcohol soaked prunes. My only criticism.... I could have done with a jug of custard.

Petit Fours and coffee – A nice little arrangement of goodies included a turbo charged chocolate truffle, fluffy marshmallow, creamy vanilla fudge, sour cherry and cinder toffee.

All in all then it was another staggeringly good Ffresh guest chef night. I’d put it in second place behind Bryan Webb whilst ahead of Bryn Williams in third.

If you’re interested in the next guest chef night at Ffresh it would be worth getting in contact with them. This is certainly the best value fine dining that I’ve ever experienced in Cardiff.

I was invited as a guest of Ffresh.

The details: Ffresh restaurant, Wales Millennium Centre, Bute Pl, Cardiff CF10 5AL Tel: 029 2063 6465, Web:

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Colman's Fish and Chip Shop, South Shields Review

Being judged the best of something is a heavy cross to bear. There’s a weight of expectation demanded of you by the critical public who enjoy the sight of a success story being knocked off its perch. Also, the more you are built up, the bigger the risk of being overhyped. I can still remember how excited I was before I tried my first Hershey’s Kiss which had been brought back from the US as a gift. Even more vivid is the disappointment of eating something which tasted more akin to vomit than chocolate.

Colman’s in South Shields is supposedly the best fish and chip shop in the UK. They’ve won the Best Fish and Chip Restaurant 2011 in the NationalFish and Chip Shop Awards. They’re Esquire Magazine’s Best Traditional Fish and Chip Shop in Great Britain. They’re featured in The Good Food Guide 2012. It’s the favourite restaurant of local MP David Milliband. Colman’s even has its own tourist attraction street sign; I wonder how many restaurants in the UK have one of these?

With all this hype Colman’s wouldn’t have to do much wrong to be a let-down.  After all with something as simple as fish and chips it’s the little things which make the difference between perfection and mediocrity.  

The Colman family have been frying fish and chips since 1905 so they should have managed to perfect their art by now. Located on the slightly bleak Ocean Road, they were rammed with people of all generations by midday on a half-term Monday. The dining room of Colman’s is a clean and bright affair with enjoyably twee seaside decorations including fishnets hanging from the ceiling, historical photos of the Colman family and an altar-like water feature adorned with the Colman’s logo.

The decision making process at a fish and chip shop usually extends to medium/ large haddock/cod and chips with mushy peas/curry sauce. However at Colman’s things aren’t so simple. The menu extends to a range of rather awesome sounding dishes which go beyond the average chippy. Hand prepared scampi is made with locally caught langoustine tails (a hefty £18.95) and a range of slightly more off-beat battered fish options includes Gurnard (£12.95) and Whiting (£7.50). Colman’s even cater for the diet conscious fish and chip shop diner (surely an oxymoron) with dishes such as locally caught lobster salad (market price).

Sticking to the original (and hopefully best) I ordered cod and chips (£7.95) with a side of mushy peas (£1.20) whilst Mrs G went off-piste with a choice of a trio of Colman’s handmade fishcakes (Thai prawn, Colman’s crab & lobster). These were an eye wateringly expensive £14.50 by fish and chip shop standards.

Whilst waiting a reassuring amount of time (presumably for our mains to be cooked to order) I nibbled on an enjoyably doughy stottie and washed it down with a can of shandy.

Onto the best fish and chips in the UK.....only they weren’t. Don’t get me wrong they were perfectly serviceable but nothing better than what I’ve had from umpteen fish and chip shops up and down the UK. In fact there was a fair bit to criticise. Even though the batter was delightfully crisp and formed a good shell around the fish, the cod was a bit of a mixed bag – half of the fillet was moist and flaked perfectly whilst the tail end was dry. The chips too were just ok. They weren’t particularly fluffy, they weren’t particularly crisp – they were just unmemorable, dense chip shaped pieces of potato.

Whilst my meal had already burst the hype balloon, Mrs G’s went someway to reinflating it. Her fishcakes were the finest I have ever tasted. These bad boys were jam-packed full of fish, complexly seasoned and bore no resemblance to the breadcrumbed mashed potato pucks I would typically expect. Again the crisp batter coating was on the nail and the accompanying soy & ginger and sweet chilli dips were rather excellent.

Sides were decent but un-noteworthy. The mushy peas were hotter than a furnace whilst the creamy coleslaw was a good dip for the chips.

After such an average serving of fish and chips I thought I’d be leaving Colman’s feeling sold short. In fact I was a pretty happy customer. Whilst Colman’s don’t make the best fish & chips in the UK, I can sort of understand how the judges decided Colman’s is the best fish and chip shop in the UK. I can imagine that after having sampled a trio of fishcakes, a lobster salad and a plate of £19 scampi and chips the judge must have been won over. It must be the strength in depth of the menu which sets Colman’s apart.

A sunny day by the seaside

In order to walk off lunch, Mrs G and I went for a bracing walk along the beach in the crisp Northern breeze. No trip to the seaside would be complete without an ice cream and thankfully I had vague recollections of a hut halfway along the beach from my early childhood (I never forget a meal). My memory didn’t let me down and I was rewarded with a cone of creamy vanilla ice cream with a generous helping of monkey’s blood. 

The details:
Colman's Fish and Chips182 - 186 Ocean Road, South Shields, Tyne and Wear, England, NE33 2JQ 
Tel - 0191 456 1202