Friday, 29 July 2011

A bit of navel gazing after 6 months of GourmetGorro

6 months into the blog and with 10,000 hits and counting, I think it’s worth taking a few moments to reflect on the progress of I’ve gained a lot of enjoyment from writing the 42 posts which have documented my thoughts on the copious quantity of food I’ve eaten this year. Hopefully I’ll enjoy reading them in years to come and take pleasure from the fact that I was able to consume so many calories and yet maintain such a respectable sized pot belly and pair of moobs. Also hopefully some others have gained pleasure and use from my thoughts on the various restaurants in Cardiff I’ve visited.

This leads me to think about the wider audience of the blog. It really is very hard to gauge the success of the blog in terms of readership, even through the pretty detailed statistical analysis provided by blogger. 10,000 hits seems like a decent showing for 6 months work but with almost all other bloggers opting to hide their hit counter, it’s very hard to tell. One of the only stats I have seen is that one of the most popular food blogs has 28,000 hits a day! In comparison to this, I am having a total ‘mare. This is compounded further by the low level of feedback (my parents telling me how great I am doesn’t count) which really does make it hard to tell who is reading my blog. Hopefully a decent proportion of my web traffic is coming from sources other than google image searches for pictures of Swarovski chandeliers (I hope they’re not looking for interior design inspiration) or from the occasional person looking for an explanation as to why they may be feeling ill after eating too many sausage and egg mcmuffins (I think the question answers itself). But in all honesty, who knows? So if you do enjoy reading by blog, if there are any restaurants you recommend I check out, if you agree or disagree with me on anything or if there’s something you’d like to share with me then please do.

I hope you continue to enjoy the blog.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Allen's Bakery, Arran Place, Roath, Cardiff Review

I’m so excited. I’ve definitely never been this excited about writing a blog post before.....  Who wouldn’t be when you’ve just returned from a bakery round the corner from your house that you didn’t even know it existed until 2 days ago? It’s not like it’s just been there for a few months either. I’m told it’s been there for over 100 years. I can’t even remember how I found out it. I think I stumbled across a link to a map to of it on Google but there’s really very little else about it on t’interweb. I was met with a wall of silence on Twitter when I asked whether anyone had been. It all feels a little bit like the Goonies and One-Eyed Willie’s treasure. It was there all along just waiting to be found. I’m doing the truffle shuffle right now I’m that happy.

Allen’s bakery is hidden down a side alley off Arran Place. It’s in fact located in what is the rear of number 11 Arran Place. As I approached at around 8am this morning I could hear voices emanating from what looked like someone’s garage and saw a slow trickle of people heading in its direction. As I got closer I began to smell the familiarly tantalising waft of fresh baking.

And there it was. Everything I hoped for and more. A charming but ageing sign heralded the presence of Allen’s bakery. In the front room of the shop stood a baker in whites separating bread whilst in the back room dough was being mixed, fresh loaves were sitting on a rack, bread ovens stood open, fresh pastries lay on the table and a fridge of cream cakes waited to be eaten.

I was so overcome by excitement that I bought a pain au chocolat, pointed at a granary loaf, paid £1.80, took a couple of photos and exited swiftly. In my haste I forgot to ask all the interesting questions about the history of the shop and whether it’s been in the same family all this time. These are questions that I’ll have to ask when I go back next week.

As soon as I got home, I unwrapped my bounty. The pain au chocolat was perfect; crisp on the outside, soft on the inside with melted chocolate oozing out of it. I had to have a slice of bread and butter as well. You know just to check it was as good as it looks (bear in mind I’ve already had my breakfast). And it did. Just look at the photo.

With all the recent talk of the homogenisation of the high street in Cardiff (I’m referring specifically to the opening of Gregg’s the bakers on Wellfield road and the rumours of a Tesco opening on Cathedral road in Pontcanna), it’s clear that supporting local bakers, butchers and grocers is vital if we want them to be around for generations to come. Allen’s seems like a wonderful place and I hope it’s going to be around for another 100 years.

The details: 
Allen's Bakery, Rear of 11 Arran Place, Roath, Cardiff , Opening hours: Monday - Saturday 7AM - 1PM

Friday, 22 July 2011

.CN Cardiff Chinese restaurant review

Named after the web address suffix for China, I don’t think there’s much to say about the rather fabulous .CN that hasn’t already been said by Corpulent Capers and Hungry in Cardiff. The food is interesting, generous, authentic and well priced. The restaurant is bright and modern feeling and the service is friendly.

A couple of weekends ago this newly opened Northern Chinese restaurant on City Road played host to the inaugural Tweatup organised by the author of the aforementioned Corpulent Capers, @GomezAdams. It was a great opportunity to meet some people who I exchange tweets with regularly & also to pillage a large proportion of .CN’s interesting looking menu.

The food ranged from the good to the excellent. I didn’t eat a single duff dish and that even extends to the tofu dish I tried (I bear a massive grudge towards tofu for being so flavourless). Highlights included a wonderfully tender yet fiery hot crisp lamb breast with ground chilli (£8.50), a clean yet powerfully spiced Beef in Sichuan pepper & chilli sauce (£8.00) and a crisp and well seasoned salt & pepper squid (£6.80).

Accompanying the bill were segments of orange and some rather familiar looking white rabbit milk candy. It was only when I got home and did some web research that I remembered where I’d seen them before. They were none other than the sweets which had been in the news back in 2008 as part of the Chinese milk scandal for having dangerous levels of melamine in them! I hope they’ve sorted out the melamine problem because they were kinda tasty.

If you haven’t been to .CN yet then I suggest you go. There is no other Chinese restaurant like it in Cardiff. Finally, apologies in advance for my photography but it’s hard to take photos of uneaten dishes when you’re the sixth person out of twelve to get your mits on them. Also I felt like a bit of a wally taking more than one photo of each dish. I normally have to take about ten before I get the desired shot.

Tofu - I'm not sure what the dish was called though
An action shot of the crispy lamb breast - I did well to even get it this focused as it was moving so quickly
Beef in Sichuan pepper & chilli sauce
Salt and pepper squid
Golden King Prawn - Probably

Crispy spare ribs with garlic - Crispy yet tender. Yum

Stewed chicken with mushrooms - Stacks of chicken on the bone which tasted really chinesey (lots of five spice I guess)

Hot and spicy golden crab
Pork in peking sauce with pancake - The pancakes aren't in shot

Crispy pork fillet - really good

The details: .CN, 228 City Road, Roath, Cardiff, CF24 3JH, Tel: 02920 48 66 88

Rosa's Thai Restaurant, Gelupo Gelateria - Soho, London review

On a recent trip to London, I met up with an old friend who works in the glamorous world of international art. I didn’t quite know what I’d let myself in for when I sat down for dinner with someone who critiques other peoples’ work for a living and asked him for his opinions on food. We’d decided upon Rosa’s Thai restaurant in Soho and having queued for a table for about 10 minutes (there was an hour’s wait for our first choice Dishoom) we were seated at a shared table for 4 in the downstairs restaurant.  Although the downstairs is pretty nice, it’s a little dark and generic in comparison to some of the brighter & more stylish wooden booths found in the upstairs dining room.

Rosa’s has been recommended to me both by friends and some of my favourite bloggers as a quality & reliable cheap eat in the centre of London. However, as has been happening a lot recently, expectations failed to match reality. This wasn’t helped by the critic sitting opposite me who used a wide range of acerbic language to describe some of the dishes we ate. We ended up with a very hit and miss affair. We ate one very good starter and one pretty poor starter and had the same experience with our mains.

The menu at Rosa’s reads really well with a ton of dishes I’d like to eat. In addition, the pricing is pretty keen and so I can understand why it sits firmly in the cheap eats category (we’re talking London here remember). Service was friendly and efficient and I especially liked the fact that we were brought a bowl of prawn crackers in between starters and mains in order to tide us over as we had a bit of a wait.

Vegetarian Summer rolls (£5.75) – The winner of the starters. Delicate rice noodle rolls filled with rice vermicelli, Thai Basil, coriander, lettuce and a crispy peanut sauce. They were served with a sweet chilli dip. This is one of my all time favourite dishes and this was a good version. They were light, moreish, fragrant and guilt-free. The critic wasn’t entirely satisfied and had issues with the consistency of the filling. He complained that one mouthful was just lettuce whilst the next was overpowered with coriander and basil. I didn’t have the same problem but that’s probably because I nearly snaffled a whole roll per mouthful.

Thai Calamari with plum sauce (£5.75) – Epically disappointing. Although the batter was crisp it yielded a lot of grease with each crunch. In addition the squid had the Chew-factor. The plum dipping sauce it came with worked well. Until we were told what the sauce was, we thought it was some form of citrus fruit with a hint of ginger (perhaps I shouldn’t admit to that).

Grilled squid, pan-fried tiger prawns and scallops stir-fried with mixed spices, yellow chilli, black peppers and lesser galangal. (£11.25)  –Again, supremely disappointing. I was drawn to this dish by the variety of different seafood and the interesting flavours in the sauce. What we got was a fairly unattractively presented dish of rather chewy squid, a few bonus chewy green-lipped mussels, some decent king prawns and queen scallops, all served in what can only be described as a really generic stir fry sauce. The predominant flavour was black pepper and none of the other described flavours came through.

Grilled rack of lamb in a spicy yellow curry.(£11.25)  -  In contrast, this was a real bobby dazzler of a dish. Tender chargrilled lamb chops served in a spicy and fragrant coconut based curry sauce with perfectly cooked pieces of cauliflower and carrot. I’ve never eaten cauliflower and carrot in a Thai curry before and they worked really well.

Having settled the bill, we headed out into the vibrant bustle of Soho in search of Gelato (one of the trends of the 2011 London food scene). We ended up at Gelupo, the rather perfectly branded shop owned by the rather trendy Italian small plate restaurant Bocca di Lupo (small plates are soooo 2010).  I can’t get enough of the wolf & iceberg logo and I also love gelaterias where the gelato is served out of metal lidded urns.

We ordered a 2 scoop cup each (£2.90?). I opted for sour cherry & ricotto along with honey, stracciatella & yoghurt. The critic ordered fresh mint stracciatella & coffee stracciatella. What’s to say other than this gelato rivals some of the best I’ve eaten in Italy. The standout flavours were the sour cherry which had huge chunks of fruit in it and the mint ice cream was like none other I’ve ever tasted. I’ve got a lot of time for toothpaste flavoured mint choc chip but this tasted like the real deal.

Oh yeah...we also bumped into Matt Lucas and had our photo taken with him.  He was being pestered by umpteen people for his photo, including me, yet graciously waited around to have his photo taken with everyone. What a legend.

The details: 
Rosa's Soho, 48 Dean Street, Soho, London, W1D 5BF, Tel: 020 7494 1638
Gelupo, 7 Archer Street, Soho, London, Tel: 020 7287 5555

Friday, 15 July 2011

Poppupadom, Indian Pop-up restaurant, Cardiff review

Having eaten a fantastic meal at Chai Street last week, the neighbouring Mint & Mustard was instantly promoted to the top of my list of restaurants to eat at. At the time I was under the impression that M&M was under the stewardship of the critically acclaimed Anand George. However, during a conversation at last week’s tweatup, a fellow blogger notified me that Anand had in fact left Mint & Mustard a few months ago to pursue other projects. This was news to me and has certainly not been widely publicised in Cardiff foodie circles. Coincidentally on Tuesday night I received an invite from a PR agency promoting the launch of Wales’s first Popup restaurant (they’re all the rage in London don’t cha know) being run by Anand George. Hats off to the person who came up with its incredible name - Poppupadom.

The PR agency explained that whilst Anand looks for the right venue to open his next permanent restaurant, he is pursuing a number of side-projects, Poppupadom being one. Open for one night only in Cardiff Bay at The Glasshouse and also set to feature in September at Abergavenny food festival for 2 nights, the PR agency invited me along as their guests to sample Anand’s food. If you were paying for the food, £39 would have bought you 4 courses of food along with a pre-starter and a pre-main.

I’ve never accepted a freebie before from a PR agency and have pondered on many occasions the ethics of such things. Having read a few interesting posts from other food bloggers I reached the conclusion that I would happily accept a free meal as long I disclosed that my meal was a freebie. Secondly I vouched that I would maintain impartiality when reviewing the establishment. On this basis, I present my review of Poppupadom.

Overall, I found the experience a little disappointing. Granted, some of the dishes I ate were very good indeed, the setting looking out over the waters of Cardiff bay was a lovely place to sit on a balmy summer’s evening and the service was friendly and efficient. However, I ate far too many mediocre dishes. Certainly not what you would expect if you had spent £39 of your hard earned cash on a special meal out. To draw a comparator, the meal I ate at Ffresh in Cardiff bay offered food of a significantly higher (although still not without its flaws) quality for £45 and this included 5 generous glasses of wine to boot.

In spite of this, I’m willing to give the team behind Poppupadom the benefit of the doubt as there were a number of mitigating circumstances. Firstly the kitchen at Glasshouse is far smaller than a typical restaurant kitchen and would have been unfamiliar to the chef. Secondly, as a result of dining with the PR agency we were the last to dine in a restaurant of approximately 40 covers. As a result, some of the quality of the banquet style food may have been compromised. Finally this was the first (and only) night of the restaurant being open and so there were inevitably the teething troubles associated with any new venture.

Prestarter - Dhaniya Shorba - A very average spiced tomato & coriander soup. The flecks of grease on the rim of the glass were a little unappetising.

Starter - Trio Alexander
Beetroot Pattice -An excellent spiced beetroot patty coated in crisp panko breadcrumbs.
Chicken Tikka – Well flavoured but unfortunately the meat was fairly dry.
Aloo Tikki – Delhi-style crisp potato cakes on spiced chickpeas. If I wasn’t made aware from the description of this dish that the potato cakes were meant to be crisp then I’d have been happy. However, there was no crispness anywhere to be found in this dish. The soft potato cake was very pleasant and worked very well with some lovely spiced chickpeas and a tamarind sauce.

Fish course - Seabass Pollichathu - A pleasant fillet of seabass cooked in a sauce of shallots, garlic and curry leaves. However, this dish felt more Mediterranean than Indian due to the sauce tasting mainly of tomato, shallot & garlic. It therefore felt a little out of place in an Indian banquet.

Pre-main - Passion fruit & coconut sorbet - This sorbet had a wonderful flavour, the sharpness of the passion fruit cutting through the creaminess of the coconut. However, I question the role of such a creamy dish as a palette cleanser. In addition the sorbet was fairly well melted by the time we received it.

Main Course –
Lamb Ulathiyathu – My favourite dish of the evening. Melt in the mouth pieces of lamb cooked in an intensely spiced sauce with tons of curry leaf.

Kadai Murg Borg – Tender chicken and a well spiced tomato based sauce. However, there was little to elevate this dish above a good run of the mill curry house.
Prawn Alleppey – King prawns in a spiced ginger and mango sauce. This dish tasted exactly as the dish described but unfortunately much like banana (I still reel at the thought of the chicken curry with banana from my local curry house in Newcastle – think curried banana milkshake), I don’t think mango works in a curry sauce.

Chicken (left), Prawn (right)
Dessert- A trio of desserts
Chocomosa – A crisp mini samosa filled with melted chocolate. Really rich and really tasty. 
Creme Brulee –A good taste of vanilla and perfectly crisp sugar top but unfortunately the brulee was very runny.
Fruit compote – There was no mention of this on the description of the dessert and it didn’t really add anything to either the chocomosa or the crème brulee.

In spite of the numerous mitigating circumstances in defence of this meal, my overriding feeling is still one of disappointment.  From what I’ve heard from other reliable sources, Anand George is a chef of considerable ability. I’d still very much like to try his food when he’s cooking in his own kitchen. Until then I’ll reserve my final judgment. 

Sunday, 10 July 2011

New York Deli, Cardiff Review, Food Blog

New York is the sandwich capital city of the world as far as I’m concerned. Although the Earl of Sandwich invented the good old sarnie, it’s the Yanks who really know how to make them properly. They’re not stingy with their fillings and they know how to steer well clear of unappetising pre-packed versions with limp sliced bread.

Much like their namesake, New York Deli, located in the High Street Arcade knows how to make a good sandwich. I opted for the New York Hoagie (Pastrami, Swiss cheese, coleslaw, thousand island sauce, lettuce and tomato) whilst Mrs G opted for a Reuben Hoagie (Salt beef, swiss cheese, thousand island, coleslaw).  Both our perfectly soft white rolls overflowed with flavoursome meat, creamy coleslaw and cheese. Perched on top were some phenomenally good dill pickles; sweet & fragrant with a hint of spice. These were some of the best I’ve ever eaten and I’m a bit of a Mrs Elswood connoisseur. If they’re not homemade then please let me know where I can get a jar from.

Mrs G rated her sandwich as highly as mine and was just thankful that she doesn’t work anywhere near the New York Deli otherwise she admitted she’d probably end up eating a sandwich from there every day. The only negative of our lunch was my cup tea which was pretty watery and flavourless. However, I noticed in the fridge they sell cans of A&W Root Beer. Next time.....

The details: New York Deli, 19 High Street Arcade, Cardiff, South Glamorgan CF10 1QR
Tel -029 2038 8388

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Chai Street, Cityfood of India, Cardiff Review

Chai Street has now closed and has been replaced by an expansion of Mint & Mustard

Chai Street is an Indian street food cafe-cum-restaurant located next door to and owned by the highly acclaimed Mint & Mustard. In the last couple of weeks they’ve started opening in the evenings instead of at breakfast and have also revamped their menu. To give the reshuffle a kick start, they’re offering a 2 for 1 deal until the end of August on all main courses.

Mrs G and I have been to Chai Street once before at lunch and really enjoyed it.  However we haven’t been back since as curry isn’t normally very high up my lunch time wish list. I typically associate curry with evening meals...... when you’ve got time to unloosen a belt buckle and digest for a couple of hours, when you don’t mind your nose running and your eyes watering or when you’re looking for a place to chill out after a few too many dance moves or a few too many pints. So with the news of Chai Street’s new evening opening hours and the bargainous discount on offer (received by the virtual carrier pigeon that is twitter), Mrs G and I headed off for an early dinner.

Chai Street is a really laid back, friendly place. Bollywood classics were blasting out the speakers when we arrived (I think the waiter must have been having a sing-a-long) but they were swiftly turned down to a more conversation friendly level. Chai Street also has some really cool branding going on - stylised cartoon pictures of Bollywood actors adorn the walls whilst the bar is festooned with hundreds of small photos of Bollywood actors and actresses. In a similar vein to Wagamama and other informal eateries, Chai Street’s small but well formed menu which offers a handful of starters, a few curries, a smattering of sides and a selection of Thalis, also acts as a placemat on the table.

Based on the menu descriptions, our decision making process was almost instantaneous.  The Grand Thalis sounded massive and also offered a variety of different dishes to try so we both ordered one (a chicken one for me and a lamb one for Mrs G). In addition we both ordered a mango lassi to go with our main; just in case there was too much chilli to deal with and also because it’s always nice to have a pudding to drink whilst eating your main course.

Our Thalis were fantastic. Each comprised of a bowl of curry, a papadum & chutney, curried potatoes, curried cauliflower & green beans, a bean dal, rice, a deep fried snack, Indian salad & a wholewheat chappati. In summary shed loads of food, all for the princely sum of £8.50 (£8.95 for the lamb Thali). However with the 2 for 1 offer thrown into the mix, each Thali cost just £4.50. This is far, far better value than any of the slightly hit and miss Groupon deals we’ve eaten lately. Highlights included the little grease free crisp parcel of pastry filled with veggie stuff, a tangy yet creamy cardamom infused raitha, a fragrant chicken curry packed with the wonderfully smoky flavour of curry leaf (one of my favourite ingredients) and a perfectly soft and subtly spiced potato curry. In fact it was all lush. There was only one minor niggle and that was the lamb in Mrs G’s curry. It wasn’t tough, it just wasn’t melt in the mouth either. It was just ok. The sauce was rather good though.  To quote John Lanchester’s cop out phrase in this week's Guardian it had a “a spicing so complex I couldn't identify one specific dominant note – which is one way of identifying a really good masala.”

Lamb Curry - Mrs G macro photo
Chicken Curry - normal photo
A special mention must go out for the bottle of homemade tamarind sauce which was placed on the table to go with our meal. This unctuously moreish ketchup equivalent, made from tamarind, palm sugar & ginger was more addictive than a boxset of The Wire. I had to resist the urge to slaver it over everything on the table before eating it; that includes the bill and the placemat.

Unbelievably stuffed we decided we would share a dessert rather than have one each; we opted to share a bowl of Gulab jamun. The two balls of soft, syrup infused pillowy goodness were the finest I’ve ever eaten and on a par with those Mrs G ate during her travels in India.

On the basis of the meal that we ate and how ridiculously good value it was, I urge you to get down to Chai Street before the end of August to sample their food whilst their 2 for 1 offer is on. Jai Ho!

 The Details: Chai Street Indian, 132 Whitchurch Road, Cardiff CF14 3LZ
Tel: 029 2062 0333
Opening hours: Monday to Friday 12pm - 3pm and 5pm - 10pm., Saturday and Sunday 11am - 3pm and 5pm - 10pm.