Monday, 31 January 2011

Heath Kitchen Chinese Takeaway Cardiff Review - A good plate of brown

The Heath Kitchen
Whenever I fancy a plate of "brown" on the weekend Heath Kitchen is my number one option. There aren't many things quite as unhealthy or as delicious as a pancake roll, a large portion of chips and a pot of curry sauce. Nowhere does it quite like the Heath Kitchen. They do wicked crisp chippy style chips, their curry sauce has a meaty twang and their pancake rolls are crisp, greasy and packed full of meat and beansprouts. I'm salivating just writing about it. So, if your're looking for a plate of "brown" on a Saturday night to go with a couple of beers, head to the Heath Kitchen.

My plate of "brown" taken on my 2 megapixel camera phone

Maybe next time I'll review some more of the Chinese food they do rather than just the brown stuff.

Heath Kitchen, Whitchurch Road, Cardiff
Telephone: 029 2022 0482

Mediterraneo in the Village, Cardiff Review - Get your Group-on

---- Update -  22nd September 2012 - Mediterraneo has shutdown ---

I've been getting Groupon offers emailed to me over the last 6 months and nothing caught my attention until a couple of weeks ago when an offer for £40 worth of food for £16 at Mediterraneo dropped into my inbox. We've been to Mediterraneo's quite a few times and as far as neighbourhood Italian restaurants go I think it's pretty good, if a little on the pricey side. So as far as I was concerned, the Groupon offer was too good to pass up and I was interested to see if there would be any implications for our meal in terms of quality (would they skimp on portions knowing we're on a deal?) or service (I noticed over 700 people also bought the same deal!)? Well the answer is mixed....

We decided to make our booking for a Sunday evening and on arrival could immediately see the impact Groupon must be having on January trade. The restaurant was over 2/3 full compared to another Sunday we had dined when there must have only been 4 people in the place and this led to service being a little less than smooth at times. We waited over 45 minutes for our starters and it was only with a bit of gentle prodding that they turned up soon afterwards; a glass of wine which was ordered never turned up and it took a good while for someone to take our dessert orders. However it must be said that throughout the evening, the staff were warm and friendly which went someway towards compensating for the timing issues.

Onto the food and I'm glad to say that the quality was up to its usual standard. However, this isn't to say that all the dishes were a resounding success:

Starters included a good example of Calamari served with an enjoyably garlicky aioli. The batter was light and crisp and there was a reassuring lack of chew to the squid. Other starters included a Bruschetta pomodoro with anchovies. It was described as light and fresh with the anchovies (which were initially forgotten) providing an extra dimension to an otherwise pretty standard dish.

Calimari with aioli

Bruschetta pomodo e anchovies
Mains were also largely a success. I plumped for the spaghetti with chorizo and grappa. The spaghetti was beautifully al dente and combined with the chorizo, cream, grappa and tomatoes to make a delicously rich yet moreish combination. I must admit I couldn't particularly pick out the taste of grappa but to be honest I wouldn't know what I'm looking for!

Spaghetti chorizo e grappa
My other half's risotto was less of a success in my eyes. On paper, the dish had the potential to have stacks of flavour, combining scallops, leeks, pancetta, white wine and lemon zest. However, in reality it was just a little bland. The 4 plump scallops served on top were looked delicious but I had a taste of the risotto itself and felt that as well as somewhat lacking in flavour it didn't have the sauciness that a good risotto should and instead leaned towards the texture of a slightly dried out rice pudding.

Risotto Cappesante
The 2 other diners chose a veal with white wine, mushrooms and cream which was "slightly overdone but the creamy white wine sauce was delicious and accompanying veg were perfectly cooked" and a lasagne which had "a delicious tomato base with loads of meat and a lovely creaminess to it."

Vitello panna e funghi

I was getting pretty full by the time we got to dessert and was considering passing it up. However I couldn't be outdone by Rhys "the bottomless pit" who when questioned whether he was going to be taking up the challenge retorted with the classic rhetoric "does a bear shit in the woods?" My dessert turned out to be my biggest disappointment of the evening. An Opera gateau which supposedly combined multiple types of chocolate with a coffee ganache turned out to be a very bog standard, slightly on the dry side and bought in tasting chocolate cake (although the portion size was huge!). I had to ask for jar of cream to help it on its way. Rhys 'the bottomless pit' described his raspberry creme brulee as a 6/10. 

Opera gateau
Raspberry creme brulee
In spite its faults, our Sunday night at Mediterraneo turned out to be a very enjoyable evening. As far as neighbourhood Italian restaurants go I think it's a pretty safe option and I'll be going back in a flash if the same offer is ever on again.

The details:
Mediterraneo in the Village
Telephone: 029 2021 0063
Address: 22 Merthyr road, Cardiff, United Kingdom, cf141dh

Monday, 24 January 2011

VIP lounge Cardiff Bay Review

Is it fair to judge a venue according to your own taste when you're clearly not its target audience? Anyone could inadvertantly stumble through the doors of the VIP lounge in Cardiff Bay and in that respect it deserves to be judged as anywhere else that I might go drinking.

We visited VIP lounge on Friday evening with a few friends for a late night beverage. Tucked away round the corner and up some stairs from the new Cote Brasserie, VIP lounge cuts a fairly inconspicous figure as far as the Cardiff Bay drinking scene goes. Ascending the stairs (we could have taken the lift with plenty of room for wheelchair access) which are elaborately decorated with ornate crystal light fittings (just like my grandparents used to have) we were beginning to wonder whether we were about to gate crash someone's wedding reception judging by the sounds coming from within. It was only when we cast the doors open wide that the full spectacle was revealed. It is here I hand you over the words of VIP lounge's own website

"a world of almost sinful luxury. Velvet drapes in deepest red and dark lacquered wood set the sumptuous scene for this stunning new champagne bar/piano lounge. The interior features five 7-foot chandeliers, a 28-foot long ice bar, a 45 Swarovski crystal chesterfield and a grand piano, plus lots of little touches that just keep the wow factor going."

The ornate Swarovski chandeliers in all their glory

If this sounds like your bag then you're clearly the VIP lounge's target audience. However, I don't think I really fit the description - I'm often more of the opinion that less is more. VIP lounge certainly don't take this viewpoint either when it comes to the pricing of their drinks. A double gin and tonic will set you back £8.80 and a pint of draught Poretti lager will set you back £4.50 (ouch). To be fair though I must concede that these generous prices are slightly offset by the bar snacks on each table (plump green olives and Japanese rice crackers) and the immensely talented entertainment on show....

Now I must admit that crooner style cabaret singers do not feature heavily in my CD collection but it's hard not to be won over when the 2 acts on show are able to sing better than 95% of X-factor contestants and probably have a combined age greater than all of this years bunch of wannabe popstars put together. Old Frank sang a few rat-pack era classics including Mack the Knife and I've got you under my skin whilst the Tony Christie-alike took on cheeky little numbers, which had the room singing, including Sweet Caroline and Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen. I tried to resist from tapping my feet but the rhythm eventually got me.

A couple of drinks later and a whole back catalogue of Barry Manilow-esque singalongs later we emerged back into the harsh the reality of the year 2011 and the cold Cardiff winter's air. I don't think I'll be returning to VIP lounge in a hurry but who knows, next time I'm shopping down the bay I may just be drawn in by the siren's song of Engleburt Humperdink emanating from an upstairs window.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Simple butternut squash soup recipe - It's really gourd

I love the taste of butternut squash. It's rich, sweet and has such a velvety texture when turned into soup. This butternut recipe is ideal for a lazy winter's evening. It's really easy to prepare (no arduous squash peeling involved) and is really healthy.

  • 1 large butternut squash
  • 2 red onions
  • 2 vegetable stock cubes
  • salt and pepper
  • olive oil
  • cayenne pepper

  1. Chop the butternut squash (no need to peel) and peeled red onion and place in a baking tray.
  2. Coat in olive oil and sprinkle with salt and black pepper.
  3. Roast in the oven on Gas mark 7 for about 1hour or until a knife goes through squash easily.
  4. Make up a jug of vegetable stock (1.5 pints approx).
  5. Blend the squash (skin and everything), onion and vegetable stock together.
  6. Add cayenne pepper to taste.

Waterloo Gardens Tearooms review - Chichi Cardiff Chai

Waterloo Gardens Tearooms is a bit too cool by Cardiff standards. I sort of mean it in a good way but not entirely. Winners of the impressive accolade of best Coffee Shop in the UK, judged by the rather funky Beverage Standards Association (I wonder what they do? Perhaps they strive to uphold the standards of beverages around the country, making sure tea is not too weak and coke isn't flat) this trendy little tearoom located in Penylan has been providing teatime treats to the yummy mummies and trendies of the area for the past couple of years.

There's a lot of very very positive things to say about the place. They have a stunning selection of teas (but I'm a bit of an English breakfast man myself so it's lost on me), an amazing array of homemade cakes (chocolate and beetroot or courgette and lime anyone? The best Victoria sponge I've eaten in Cardiff), they do lovely aftenoon teas (served on pretty little cakestands and everything) and the interior design of the place is on the nail (think Scandinavian minimalism + an ever changing display of local art on show). So what isn't there to like? Not much really when you look at it on paper. It's hard to put your finger on it. Perhaps it's that it's just a bit too perfect, that everyone there is a little bit too chichi, that it's so popular on the weekend it can sometimes be hard to get a seat or that it's just a little bit on the pricey side. I don't know what it is. You should definitely decide for yourself. However, if I had to make a choice I'd say I'm more of a Coffee 1 #1 man. It's got more of a scruffy beatnik feel to it, it's less knowingly cool and the staff are that little bit more clueless.

The best Victoria Sponge in Cardiff

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Indigo Indian Takeaway Review

Indigo is the nuts as far as bog standard Indian takeaways go. It does everything well that it should. Fluffy naans, crisp onion bhajis, deliciously charred yet succulent Tandoori Chicken and reassuringly red Chicken Tikka Massala. With most takeaways people tend to have their regular selection. At Indigo, mine is the Murghi Massala and the Keema Naan. For those who've read my other posts they'll know that I've got a penchant for meat. In this instance it works out as a triple meat hit. Succulent Tandoori Chicken in a delicious spiced lamb sauce with an accompaniment of a lamb filled naan bread. Meatilicous. It hits the spot every time.


 Murghi massala with keema naan and pilau rice

Tandoori Chicken with salad and raitha

What else is there to say? Prices are fairly average, the delivery service is swift and incredibly friendly, the curries come in plastic trays which can be reused for packed lunches and finally branding is pretty good as far as curry houses as well. If you're looking for a decent curry takeaway in the Roath area, Indigo is the place to go. I like nothing more than slobbing out on a Friday night with a couple of beers, a triple meat hit from Indigo and a bit of crap TV.

The details - Indigo, 132a Albany Road, Roath, Cardiff CF24 3RU, Tel.: 02920 452 708

Michelin Guide 2011 musings

Another year goes buy and still no Michelin star or Bib gourmand for Cardiff in the Michelin Red Guide.

I must admit,  there's nowhere that springs to mind that is really deserving of either of these accolades in the Cardiff area. There's isn't anywhere whose food reaches the dizzy heights of The Crown at Whitebrook (near Monmouth) or The Walnut Tree (Abergavenny) nor is there anywhere that offers the quality yet value for money of The Hardwick (Abergavenny). The only place that springs to mind is Le gallois. Although I had a delicious meal there for my birthday in May, I felt that even though presentation-wise the food was of a starred standard, taste-wise was a bit hit and miss.

2012 gives me great hope for a Michelin Star in the name of Martin Blunos' new restaurant at the Thistle Hotel in Cardiff.

The Cricketers - It hit me for six (well maybe a four actually)

Ok first off apologies for the pun above but if I'm hoping to be hired as The Daily Star restaurant critic then I've got to show off my punning capabilities.

On Friday night we went to The Cricketers. I'm not sure whether it would self define as a gastro pub or a pub that serves good food but as far as Cardiff goes there aren't many places that fit the definition as well as this place. I've been interested in going for a while after reading somewhere that the Chef used to work for Gordon Ramsey.

Reading the menu and browsing the daily changing specials board I knew that there was great potential for a really good feed as there were plenty of exciting things I wanted to eat including  Laver Bread and Cockles, Tempura plaice and Rabbit all served with interesting looking sides. But could the food deliver on its potential. The answer is largely a yes.

For starters I shared a deli platter with my other half (£12.50) which was nice but a little pedestrian. It must be saying something if the highlight of the dish was a really delicious griddled slice of bread soaked in Olive Oil. Other things on the platter included olives (of the plain black and slightly boring variety), semi-dried tomatoes (really good texture and flavour), gherkins (tasty but a bit yawn), a lovely fresh tasting houmous and what should have been the star of the show the Charcuterie. I think by putting Charcuterie on the menu there is a certain weight of expectation especially with the quality of local produce available but what emerged was really 5 slices each of a very bog standard chorizo and salami. The other starters were declared very nice (but not mindblowing). One person had the cockle and laverbread crostini. This was served in a rather fun way with the crostini served in one dish and the laverbread and cockles in another so you could make your own. It was tasty but a little underseasoned. The other starter was crab cakes served with chilli jam. I managed to snaffle myself a taste and they had a lovely intense taste of brown crab meat.

For mains 3 of the diners in our group of 4 had taken the unoriginal yet understandable step of all ordering the same dish. They plumped for the lamb rump served (cooked to your liking) with dauphinouse potatoes and spinach (£15 approx). My other half  reported her lamb to be lovely and tender if a little on the fatty side and her side of dauphinoise as good but could have done with a litte bit more cream. The most thought provoking element of the dish was a discussion about the difference between potato dauphinoise and potato gratin (which was available as an extra side on the menu). We were unable to resolve the debate and neither could our waitress. If you have the answer the please let me know.

I however opted for the Sirloin steak served with chips and garlic butter (£15.95). I was seriously impressed with my main course. The steak was ordered rare and served that way (something that many places seem to get wrong). It was perfectly red on the inside and deliciously tender. However, it was the sides served with it that took the dish up a notch. The chips, described on the menu as 'fat', had a definite air of triple-cookedness about them. They were uber-crunchy on the outside yet pillowy soft on the inside. Immense. The grilled tomatoes served with the dish also had a whiff of semi-driedness about them giving them an extra intensity of flavour and a much firmer texture than your run of the mill example. This was a dish that I would return to the Cricketers for alone.

Suitably stuffed by the giant bowl of chips I felt unable to take on the pudding challenge. It was just as well because there was nothing that had tickled my fancy in the selection on offer (by this I mean there weren't any hot cakey style puddings or anything with chocolate in). The bottomless pit that is Rhys however took on a Vanilla rice pudding with Blueberry compote. It was nice apparently.

So all in all, a lovely place to sit and eat on an evening with a couple of pints. The service was incredibly friendly. Some of the dishes were a bit average but there was evidence of some really good cooking on show. I fully intend to go back and try some of the other dishes on offer and have some more chips.

The Cricketers 
66 Cathedral Road, Pontcanna, Cardiff, Wales CF11 9LL
Telephone: 02920 345 102

Sunday, 16 January 2011

New Himalaya, Roath, Cardiff Review

I've been to the New Himalaya on a handfull of occassions and really really enjoyed it. However, I've also had takeaway once and thought it was pretty awful. I tried to work out why it was that my takeaway experience had been so unenjoyable yet I had enjoyed it so much when eating at the restaurant . It didn't take much investigative work; I was very drunk the times I had dined out.

The New Himalaya is one of those late night drunken guilty pleasure curry houses where the food is the epitome of generic. Curries swimming in ghee - check. Half and half (for those outside of Wales this means half chips / half rice on the same plate) on the menu - check. People eating onion bhajees with their hands - check. Empty everynight of the week except from 10pm til 2am on a Saturday - check. Not that I'm criticising the place. There aren't many places where you can go at midnight on a Saturday except for a nightclub.It's really not that bad. It's also not that good either.

Onto the review then. We ended up going to the New Himalaya last night at approximately 12am. I say approximately because things really were a little hazy by this point. The restaurant looks as though it hasn't been refurbished since the mid 1980s. If this is the New Himalaya I'd love to see what the old Himalaya looks like. After being seated we ordered a round of poppadoms and chutneys. Poppadoms and chutneys were swiftly delivered to the table. Chutneys were the usual fare except for one bizarre addition; chilli sauce. I'm guessing it was included for kebab shop drunkards so that they didn't suffer from withdrawal symptoms.

After being served our poppadoms the service took a bit of a nosedive. I think this was largely due to the fact that nearly everyone in the restaurant had arrived simultaneously after being chucked out the pub so the waiting staff weren't really to blame. After a good half hour wait our mains arrived. As I'd already eaten dinner earlier in the evening I only had a light bite to eat. Foregoing my usual onion bhaji starter and side of keema naan I stuck to a Chicken Nawaabi and rice. The dish consisted of pieces of chicken breast in a spiced minced lamb sauce.Why waste your time with normal curry sauce when you can have meat in a meat sauce? I like to think of it as the crack cocaine curry equivalent; a more intense meat hit and more addictive.The reassuring film of ghee swam on top of the curry but as expected it was really tasty.

Having finished our meal the bill was delivered with an aftereight for everyone. The perfect way to round off a meal which finished after 1:30am. I'm looking forward to my next late night rendezvous at the New Himalaya so much that I might be tempted to get takeaway from there in the meantime. If I do I might down a couple of pints first.

The Details:
New Himalaya
24 Wellfield Road,
Tel: (029) 2049 1722

Sunday - Thursday : 6pm  - 1am
Friday & Saturday : 6pm – 2am
Price: Curry and Rice set me back about £8.50 excluding service