Saturday, 30 April 2011

Red Pepper Indian Restaurant and Takeaway, Cardiff Review

Update - Red Pepper has closed. It has been replaced by Mowlana, Persian restaurant
Photo courtesy of official website. Let me know if you want me to take it down.
It must take a bit of balls to open a new takeaway in Cardiff during these recessionary climes. I seem to get a different menu through my door each day and normally file them under BIN after glancing through them on the toilet. About a month ago I received a menu for the Red Pepper Indian takeaway which has recently opened on the edge of Splott, just off Newport road. Its menu caught my eye because it had an array of special offers on it which seemed more ridiculous than most. I’m normally pretty narrow-minded in my takeaway repertoire but resolved that I’d give it a punt on one of the many nights when Mrs G was working nights. Tonight was the night.

The offer I decided to plump for was their takeaway special which is available for collection orders only. £7.95 will buy you a couple of papadums with chutney, a choice of any starter, any main dish and any rice or naan bread. Their dine in offer is even more ludicrous; any time, any night of the week £8.95 will buy you papadums with chutney, any starter, any main, any rice and any naan.

Quite a lot of food for me to eat
I must admit I was pretty sceptical about how the quality and portion size of the food was going to be but my fears were allayed somewhat when I arrived at the restaurant to pick up my order. The restaurant is simply yet tastefully decked out and I had a good chat with the manager whilst waiting for my order to be brought out. He explained that business has started fairly well and that he’s trying to drum up business mainly through putting menus through doors and generating word of mouth. There was no mention of online promotion so here it is!

Overall the food was very enjoyable yet predictable as far as neighbourhood curry houses go. I’d most certainly give Red Pepper a go if you’re looking for a new local takeaway or restaurant. Papadums tasted fresh and crisp. A starter of mixed kebab was also pretty good - crisp, well spiced bhajees, fresh salad, a decent raitha, tender chicken tikka and a fairly average shish kebab. A main of Tandoori Maharaja massala was packed full of spiced minced lamb and chicken tikka, all brought together in a spicy yoghurt sauce. If I’m being honest I’d have liked a little more spice in the dish but I’m sure they'll accomodate this request this next time. 

It's a mixed kebab
Unsurprisingly its curry with rice and some papadums
The details: Red Pepper, 2 Four Elms Road, Roath, Cardiff, CF24 1LE

Friday, 29 April 2011

Guilty Pleasures No 3 - The KFC Krushem Review

I don’t know why it’s taken me until last week to try a KFC Krushem but I wish they’d been in my life a lot sooner. Perhaps it took me so long because of the woefully bad advertising campaign (“Do you remember your first Krushem” – a decent brand proposition in hindsight but annoyingly executed) or the normally disgusting nature of anything on the menu at KFC that is not fried chicken (limp, unsalted chips or claggy gravy spring to mind). Whatever your thoughts on the Colonel’s secret recipe chicken, I urge you to go out and try a Krushem as soon as possible.

A duo of Oreo Krushems
They’re pretty different as far as frozen milk based drinks go. They’re thinner and more refreshing than an ice-cream milkshake and they’re smoother and have more substance than a Starbuck’s style frappe. In addition they’ve got extra bits of stuff in them (hence they come with an extra wide straw) so you’re kind of eating whilst you’re drinking. I’ve tried the Dairy Milk, Strawberry Shortcake and Oreo Cooke flavours and all are fairly lush but I’d say the Oreo one takes the biscuit.

A royal banquet of transfats and cholesterol from BK to go with my Krushem

Thursday, 28 April 2011

1 Malaysia, Malaysian restaurant Cardiff review - Gourmet Gorro in brief

*This restaurant is now closed*

Another groupon, another night. This time 1 Malaysia located on Trinity Street in the centre of town. Overall, our meal was a bit of a disappointment. Although the service was charming and swift, our starters were pretty terrible and the mains were enjoyable yet average.

Starter - Sambal Squid - Lovely tender pieces of squid in a light batter. However, the accompanying curry sauce was fridge cold. A pretty unpleasant contrast to the heat of the squid. Also the portion size was pretty measly.

Starter - Soya Puff - Now this is described on the menu as "steamed, deep fried soya bean curd served with our signature plum sauce." This conjoured up an image in my mind of soft pieces of tofu in a deep fried yet puffy batter. However, what materialised is the above. It resembled giant pieces of Cadbury's flake but had the chewy texture of beef jerky, was devoid of flavour and was rather intriguingly served tepid. It definitely ranks as one of the most unpleasant dishes I've ever eaten. The plum sauce that covered the offending articles was in contrast very good and miraculously helped us to stomach most of the plate.

Main - Nasi Goreng - A pretty average but highly pleasant version of this dish. I love it when it comes with a fried egg on top but sadly this version didn't. Well cooked fried rice with a pieces of chicken, prawn, egg and other goodies in it. 

Main - Again a highly pleasant but ultimately fairly average curry. Tender pieces of chicken in fairly dry curry sauce with a decent taste of coconut and lemon grass.

If it wasn't for the starters then perhaps I'd have been more inclined to look more favourably on the main dishes we ate. It's difficult to know when to complain when perhaps the dishes are intentionally served that way and especially when we Brits seem so reluctant to kick up a fuss. Anyway, I don't think I'll be paying another visit to 1 Malaysia which is a shame especially when the service made us feel so welcome.

The details: 1 Malaysia, 22/23 Trinity Street, Cardiff, CF10 1BH, Telephone: 02920233298, Web:

The Aegean Greek Taverna, Cardiff Restaurant Review - A Groupon Odyssey

I’ve been a bit click happy on Groupon lately and so have a backlog of vouchers that I need to eat my way through. As it’s the school holidays and I've got some free time on my hands I thought it would be a good excuse to eat out on consecutive nights courtesy of the vouchers slowly becoming lost in my email inbox. 

Many of our friends have had some fairly shocking experiences with groupon lately; namely overcrowded restaurants, horrifically slow service and suspiciously small portion sizes. From my perspective this seems to rather defeat the purpose of a restaurant taking part in the scheme, which is presumably to generate repeat custom outside the offer period. Therefore I was feeling a little apprehensive about our selection of supposedly bargain meals out.

First up on our value mystery tour of Cardiff was The Aegean Greek Taverna on Whitchurch Road. Greek food is my 3rd favourite national cuisine (I love playing the rank your favourite national cuisine game). However, the freshness and quality of the cuisine often seems to be lost in transit resulting in some comically bad Greek meals that I've eaten in the UK. On the flipside places like the Real Greek mini-chain of restaurants based in London have in the past provided me with a consistently good souvlaki hit. So how did the food at the Aegean turn out?.....

Starter - Hummus (£3.90) and Borek (£4.50) - Pretty decent hummus, good taste of lemon juice and tahini; less of a chickpea taste than others I've eaten but this isn't a bad thing. The borek were much less successful. Although the filo pastry was crisp and greasless, the cheese in the filling was almost non-existent and the spinach didn't taste particularly fresh.

Starter - Grilled Halloumi (£4.50) and Pitta Bread (included with Hummus) - Well cooked halloumi but the portion size was a bit stingy and the side salad was pretty limp and lacked dressing or seasoning. The pitta bread was warm and pillowy with a less chewy texture than other pittas which I've ever eaten.

Main - Lamb Souvlaki (House Special) with salad and half and half (for non-welsh readers this refers to half rice and half chips) (£13.20) - Nicely chargrilled pieces of tender lamb with a really good honey and mint marinade. The chips were crisp and fresh but the rice was on the dry side and although the salad was dressed it tasted as though it was from a bottle.

Main - Souvlaki Platter (£11.95) - Mrs G really enjoyed her main. A large portion of tender pieces of chargrilled chicken served with a delicious tzatziki, chips and salad. Rather perculiarly, the salad was dressed with sweet chilli sauce. She quite liked this but I'm not convinced sweet chilli sauce is a specialty of Greece.

Overall we had a pretty decent meal at The Aegean but I'm undecided as to whether it would warrant a return visit at full price. We paid £14 for £40 worth of food but at full price some of the food is fairly expensive, especially some of the starters when taking into account their portion size. Positives included the service which was incredibly friendly and efficient. In addition some of the food was really enjoyable. If ever there is a midweek special or early bird offer at the Aegean I'll probably return but until then I'll keep on searching for the golden fleece of Cardiff dining experiences (what a bad pun).

The Details: 72-74 Whitchurch Road, Tel: 02920 345114

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

A Gastronomic tour of West Wales Part 3 - Fronlas and The Cawdor, Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire review and Y Polyn, Capel Dewi, Carmarthenshire review

The final stop on our gastronomic tour of West Wales was Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire. By now our waist bands were beginning to feel a little tighter and the cravings for salad were beginning to kick in. However, we decided to persevere with our nightly 3 course marathon. 

Llandeilo - Isn't it pretty

The chocolate box town of Llandeilo is intensively populated by women’s fashion shops and boutiques which sell a range sophisticated nick-nacks for the discerning lady. I can't say trailing my wife round these shops is exactly my idea of fun day out but she judged Llandeilo to be her favourite stop of our West Wales tour. The town also provided an ideal base for trips to the National Botanic Garden near Carmarthen and the rather well fortified Cennen Castle.

Cennen Castle - Some of the best fortifications I've seen in a long time
Norman Foster's big glass dome at the botanic garden
For two nights we stayed at Fronlas, an exceedingly stylish bed and breakfast located a couple of minutes walk from the centre of the town. In comparison to our previous hostelries, Fronlas lacked a bit of warmth décor-wise. Stylistically however, I couldn’t fault our room (dau) as the furnishings could have been lifted straight from a magazine and the views of the countryside from our window were impressive. As Fronlas didn’t serve lunch or dinner we were forced to go off piste using tripadvisor as a dowsing rod for where might serve edible cuisine. 

Exterior of Fronlas
Interior of Fronlas - Cool
Our first choice was The Cawdor Hotel located in the heart of the village. From what I had gathered on Tripadvisor, I was expecting War and Peace style epic portions of good value, no-nonsense food with little sprigs of green garnish on top. The Cawdor certainly didn’t disappoint on any of these fronts with starters which could be mains, mains which could feed a family of four and a fecundity of little green garnishes perched on top of each dish. The grand dining room of this Georgian hotel was busy by 7pm on Friday evening when we chose to dine yet a large serving team kept things moving swiftly throughout the meal.

 Starter: Goats cheese, pear and walnut salad, green garnish - Well dressed salad and the rest of the ingredients speak for themselves. Very enjoyable. The croutons were a little stale.

Starter: Tomato and basil soup, green garnish - My wife concluded this is the best tomato soup she has ever eaten and is now on a mission to make a tomato and basil soup of equal flavour.

Main: Pork belly, Spinach, Dauphinoise potatoes, Cider sauce, Apple sauce and green garnish - This is perhaps the best pork belly I have ever eaten. It was tender, flavoursome and large in portion size. The crackling would also give Mr Porky a run for his money. Accompaniments were on the money as well but a smear of garlic butter on top of the pork felt a little out of place.

Main: Chicken wrapped in Camarthen ham, with a leek, bacon and cheese risotto, green garnish - Good according to the other half. Chicken was beautifully moist and consistency of the risotto was unclaggy. The flavour of the risotto was the slight let-down; a little over-cheesy.

 Dessert: Bread and butter pudding, toffee sauce, vanilla icecream and green and red garnish, blizzard of icing sugar  - As a result of the  epic portion sizes, Mrs G shockingly opted out of dessert. This pudding was just the type of no-nonsense hotel grub I was expecting. It tasted as it looks.

On our second night we chose to dine at Y Polyn, something of a West Walian institution having won such accolades as AA restaurant of the year for Wales 2009/10. I booked two weeks in advance for a Saturday night  (granted it was Easter Saturday) and only a table in the bar area was available (however, the difference between the bar and restaurant area seemed pretty subtle). The restaurant has a laid back, exceptionally friendly, pub feel to it and the owners (former AA inspectors) are clearly aware of the importance of making guests feel relaxed and at home. This was perhaps the most convivial dining experience I have ever experienced. Mark, one of the owners, who runs front of house is the personification of bonhomie. On arrival I was greeted by my first name, after the meal we had an brief chat about food (my only topic of conversation) in London and when a glass of wine went astray (the only blip in service throughout the whole meal) Mark substituted it for a half bottle. This was model service, the kind of which creates incredibly loyal custom.

I've just been looking at the restaurant website to jog my memory a little (not that I really need to as I can still remember meals from when I was 8 years old) and the mantra “Fat equals flavour. Live with it.”pops up on screen as the site loads. I can’t agree with this take on food more whole heartedly and the generous food which we were served, both in terms of flavour and portion, did not disappoint.  Apologies once again for my blurry photography but I had a couple lighting issues in the twilight hour. 

What a good photo of a bowl of bread

Starter: Y Polyn Fish soup - A seriously good take on a classic boullabaise. A smooth and intense fish soup accompanied with gruyere and moreish croutons with rouille (cayenne spiced mayonnaise)

Starter: Isle of Skye Scallops, Crispy Carmarthen ham, lemon and chive dressing - A lesson in simplicity. Perfectly cooked scallops, simple salad and the ultimate bacon frazzle. Perhaps a little too simple...
Main: Chicken Tagine - The photo really doesn't do this dish justice. Crisp skinned, melt in the mouth chicken in a sauce of red peppers, courgettes and tons of almonds. It was the bees bollocks. Huge portion to boot. 

Main: Duck Confit, Braised puy lentils. - Once again, crisp skin and tender meat. Mrs G was a little underwhelmed by the flavour of the lentils. They had more of a subtle stock thing going on rather than a whack over the head. 

Accompanying veg - Worth writing about on their own. Included in the cost of the meal (£30 for 3 courses) comes a bottle of water and accompanying veg to go with the main dish. Brocolli with almonds, fennel and potato gratin were all cooked to perfection.

Dessert: Egg custard tart and Rhubarb Icecream - Best egg custard tart I have ever eaten by a light year (I've only eaten M&S or Greggs). Creamy filling, crisp pastry and hint of nutmeg. Good icecream.

Dessert: Stem ginger icecream and shortbread - As you've gathered myself and the Mrs aren't afraid to make ludicrously bold claims of "that's the best.....I've ever eaten". After one mouthful of her dessert Mrs G concluded that this was the best icecream she'd ever eaten. Silky smooth icecream with just the right amount of stem ginger. 

All in all a wowser of a meal. If Y Polyn was located in Cardiff I would without doubt be a local. Simple yet flavoursome food, a relaxed setting and service that makes you smile. 

The Details:

Fronlas, 7 Thomas Street, Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire, SA19 6LB,
The Cawdor, Rhosmaen Street, Llandeiolo, Carmarthenshire, SA19 6EN,
Y Polyn, Capel Dewi, Carmarthenshire, SA32 7LH,

A Gastronomic tour of West Wales Part 2 - Llys Meddyg, Newport, Pembrokeshire review

Llys Meddyg sign and two people putting stuff in the boot of their car

The second stop on our tour of west Wales was the little village of Newport, Pembrokeshire which provided a base for trips to the cathedral city/village of St Davids and the picturesque village of Solva (maximum views from the top of a hill for minimum walking effort).  Newport is the home of Llys Meddyg, a restaurant with rooms located in a Georgian coaching house. There’s very much a family feel about the place which made us feel relaxed throughout our stay. The chef, Ed Sykes, runs the kitchen whilst his wife, Lou Sykes, runs the front of house. Ed’s mum also helps out around the place and we had a good chat with her. She told us that her other son runs the successful Snail’s deli in Cardiff. I’d say she must be pretty proud of her sons’ achievements. 

All this view for just a few minutes walk. The other direction was pretty good as well.

The cathedral city of St Davids. I'd allow about an hour to see everything.

After the opulence of The Grove at Narberth, Llys Meddyg had a lot to live up to and in most places it succeeded. We were staying in The Red Loft room which had a contemporary seaside feel to it (red and white striped fabric and white painted wood) but with luxurious elements (double-ended bath, Egyptian cotton fabrics and flat-screen TV with sofa).  Pre-dinner drinks were served in the basement bar where we were also served a pre-starter and made our selections from the menu. We then moved upstairs for the meal proper. In a similar vein to The Grove, the restaurant prides itself on its use of local ingredients but there is more of a simple, bistro feel to the way they are served. We ate some excellent dishes but the meal wasn’t without its flaws - a couple of issues with taste, portion size and there does seem to be a bit of an obsession in the kitchen with Kilner jars and boards. Service was friendly and well paced except for a glass of port which went missing for about twenty minutes (profuse apologies were made).Onto the blow by blow account of each dish - apologies for the deteriorating quality of the photos but I had lighting issues.

Pea soup and daffodils

Pre-starter: Pea Soup - Fresh and light but a little lacking in the flavour department.

Bread: no issues, board number 1

Starter: Bread crumbed soft poached duck egg, pea puree - Crisp crumb without a hint of grease, perfectly poached egg. However we felt the dish was a little too simple flavourwise (I think I just wish there was a layer of meat so that it became a scotch egg).

Starter: Potted Newport bay crab, soda bread, first kilner jar, second board - My favourite dish of the evening. Layers of fresh white crab meat, flavoursome brown meat and a tasty unidentified green puree (asparagus?).

Main: Roast pork loin and braised belly, wild garlic, white asparagus, purple sprouting brocolli, potato dumplings - My wife's favourite dish of the meal. Melt in the mouth pork belly complemented perfectly by super fresh greens and soft potato dumplings.  I only sampled the crackling which was unfortunately verging towards the jaw-breaking.

Main: Well aged Hereford beef sirloin, triple cooked wedges, bearnaise, red wine jus, third board - Overall very enjoyable but I think the sum of this dish was greater than its parts; the wedges were delicious but the crisp coating to fluffy interior ratio was a little out of balance and there were about 2 jacket potatoes worth of them on the board, the steak was tender but lacking flavourwise and I'm not sure the jus was necessary as well as the bearnaise.

Dessert: Rhubarb jelly, buttermilk pannacotta, rhubarb sorbet, kilner jar number 2 - This was fab. Sharp rhubarby jelly magnified by the rhubarby icecream and a creamy pannacotta. After my carb marathon of a maincourse this was just what I needed to revive my tastebuds. However, there were a couple of unnecessary pieces of crisp meringue lurking beneath the icecream.

Dessert: Welsh cheese selection, quince and crab apple jelly, soda bread, fourth board - A fine selection of cheeses and some delicious jelly but a bit of description about what was on offer on the board (either verbally or in paper format) wouldn't have gone a miss. 

All in all a really fine meal, fantastic accomodation and the warmest of welcomes . It wasn't without its minor flaws but this didn't detract from our overall enjoyment

The details: 
Llys Meddyg
East Street
01239 820008

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

A Gastronomic tour of West Wales Part 1 - The Grove at Narberth, Pembrokeshire Review

Room key, Wedding rings and a half bottle of Champagne

I’m a very lucky man. Firstly, I’ve just married the best woman in the world. Secondly, we’ve just returned from our honeymoon which happened to be a gastronomic tour of West Wales. Thirdly, my new wife has agreed to let me review our honeymoon. I’ll stick to reviewing the food and accommodation rather than the company which would of course get 5 stars. 

The Grove at Narberth

First stop on our tour was the Grove at Narberth, recently voted the best place to stay in Wales in the National Tourism Awards, 2010 and has been described in the Guardian as ‘wildly romantic’. The cast of Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood also took over the place during filming in 2009. I cheekily looked to see if any members of the cast had written in the guest book and found Cate Blanchett’s entry. Look what she had to say about the place:

However, much more important than the views of any Hollywood actresses…….what did we think? We were staying at the Grove for 3 nights dinner, bed and breakfast in the Meadow Loft. The room was incredibly stylish - feature wall, Welsh woollen blanket, complimentary welsh cakes, Ren toiletries, wardrobe that looks like it might lead to Narnia and so on.  The hotel is an ideal base for the RSPB reserve of Skomer island (seeing puffins up close was really exciting), Narberth (a charming little town full of boutiquey shops and an immense Spanish deli called Ultracomida – affectionately nick named al queda) and the stunning Barafundle bay (previously voted the UK’s best picnic spot). 

The Meadow Loft - feature wall, toilet and Welsh woolen blanket
Up close and personal with a puffin (disappointingly small in the flesh according to my new wife)

The stunning Barafundle Bay
Onto the main event, the nosh. The dining room at The Grove is a beautifully wood panelled little jobby serving locally sourced/foraged, modern British food (3 courses for £40). I’d say the restaurant justifiably has Michelin aspirations and the team are working with Chef Consultant Robert Clayton who has previously held a star when he worked at the Bath Priory. The service was incredibly friendly and efficient throughout our stay.

Dining room with accompanying wood panels
Over the course of the 3 nights we managed to sample most of the menu (something I wish I could do in every restaurant) and we both reached the conclusion that the food was consistently pretty lush. There were no duds but there were definitely some stellar moments:

 Bread - warm, fresh and tasty.

Second night pre-starter of beetroot soup with horseradish cream - Beautifully sweet flavour of beetroot, very slightly overpowering flavour of horseradish.

 Second night pre-starter of Jerusalem artichoke soup with truffle oil - Velvety smooth with a delish truffle hit.

Starter: St Brides bay crab, lime jelly, mizuma leaves, saffron snaps - This was my favourite dish of the whole honeymoon. Heaps of fresh, clean tasting white crab meat interspersed with sharp lime jelly cubes and other nuggets of yumminess. I would happily eat a plate of this with some warm bread every night of the week.

Starter : Slow-cooked ham hock presse, green apple salad, cauliflower and wild garlic vinagarette - Moist and flavoursome terrine complemented beautifully by the apple salad and rather minimalist looking pieces of picalilli style cauliflower. 

Starter: Mille-feuille of goats cheese, spring onion and burgundy truffle, vegetable picalilli - This was the wife's favourite starter. Delicate pastry, creamy goats cheese and a salad of beautifully al dente vegetables.

Main: Cannon of Welsh lamb, sweetbreads, spring greens and potato terrine - This was a rolls royce of a main course with a mini-bus style portion size. I think the picture says it all; beautifully tender lamb, perfectly cooked sweetbreads, unctuous potato and a super-lamby sauce. 

Main: Anjou Rabbit, stuffed leg, rolled saddle, roasted rack, minted peas and lettuce - Very good. The little herby dumplings were immense, fresh peas were good. The saddle was a little underwhelming in terms of flavour but the micro-spare ribs were chock full of taste. 

Main: Organic Sewin, razor clams, fennel puree, saffron and shallot butter - My most disappointing dish of the stay but still delicious. The fish skin crisp which was delicately balanced on top of the fish was pretty gopping. There is definitely a reason why sea trout is not a popular flavour of Walkers crisp. The razor clams were also overcooked and so were chewtastic. However the fennel, baby leeks and piece of fish itself were absolutely stunning.

Dessert: Plum tart with vanilla icecream - Stunning. Delicate pastry, soft sweet fruit and creamy icecream.

Dessert - Rhubarb Charlotte, brown sugar and ginger parfait - Sweet yet tart, stewed fruit encased in a slightly too soggy for my liking bread case. Immense gingery and creamy parfait. 

Dessert - Almond choux bun, praline cream, cherry puree: If Greggs the baker did these then they would certainly take preference over my usual caramel custard donut. My range of hyperbole to describe this dish don't go over the top enough. Unbelievably delicious, supremely tasty. Warm fresh almondy pastry, cream that was not too rich so I could probably eat a bucket of it and a sweet yet sharp cherry puree to cut through the richness. It was the dog's knees. 

Bonus incongruous breakfast picture - French toast, bacon and maple syrup: Tasty

The details: 

Address - The Grove at Narberth, The Grove, Molleston, Narberth, Pembrokeshire, Wales, SA67 8BX
Telephone - +44 (0)1834 860 915