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 canap├ęs 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

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Yakiniku Korean & Japanese restaurant, Cardiff review

Cardiff doesn’t have a destination restaurant right? Surely no-one would plan a visit to Cardiff just to eat out?  I can understand why someone would travel specifically to Abergavenny or Whitebrook. But Cardiff.....

How wrong I am. Koreans regularly visit Cardiff’s own Yakiniku from Birmingham, Swansea, Bristol and even Reading in order to get a fix of their national cuisine. Rather peculiarly Yakiniku is located in the almost rural feeling Seoul House Hotel a few metres from the welcome to Newport sign on the A48 in St Mellons. A few feet extra and Newport would have the destination restaurant.

When we arrived on Saturday evening, the car park was rammed and the party was in full swing. A large group of Koreans gave the homely dining room a buzzing, friendly feel.  It felt like being transported a few thousand miles away from Cardiff.

I’ve never eaten Korean food before but I’d already figured out a battle plan. Having studied the menu extensively in advance, I picked out the restaurant's recommended dishes which I’d encountered in my lost years of food blog trawling.  In fact I’d seemingly picked so well that our server noted that we’d ordered in a similar vein to their usual Korean guests. I had to explain that I spend a LOT of time reading about food on the internet.

There's no S before the h
As I sipped a refreshing bottle of Hite lager, a few bowls of complementary appetisers were brought to the table. The cold, fresh vegetables were the perfect way to take the edge off my eager stomach. Crunchy, slippery beansprouts were lightly dressed in soy; slivers of soft seasoned potato strips went down a treat and a bowl of slightly vinegary, chewy unidentified vegetable provoked debate.....I’m 31% confident they were mushrooms but forgot to ask.

For starters Mrs G opted for some extremely fresh California rolls. The moist but firm rice cosseted a well balanced filling of avocado, crab stick and cucumber. I’m normally a crab stick hater rather than a lover but they worked well in this case. My starter was the Seoul house chicken salad. I’ve wanted to try Korean fried chicken for ages and it didn’t disappoint. The chicken was beautifully moist and coated in a light, crisp almost tempura light batter. In contrast, the pedestrian iceberg lettuce leaves and chilli sauce it came with let the team down slightly.

Mains were where the party started. A switch was flicked in the middle of the table and in an instant it lit up like a 70’s electric coal fireplace.  After 10 minutes, the lid was whipped off to reveal a searingly hot electric Korean barbecue (Yakiniku). With it being patently obvious that we were novices, our server lent us a helping hand and placed our sesame oil marinated pork belly strips and vegetables on to cook for us. 5 minutes later the crisply cooked pork belly and slices of squash, courgette and aubergine (and so on) were ready to take off the grill with our chopsticks and dip into the silkiest soy and sesame oil dipping sauce I’ve ever tasted.

Lid on
Lid off
To go with our Yakiniku we also ordered Bul Go Ki. Tender, wafer thin steak marinated in soy, sugar and sesame oil almost had a slightly sweet meat stew kind of thing going on. It was good and worked well with the bowl of Dol Sot Bi Bim Bap we ordered. Served in a heavy hot stone bowl, this rice dish looked as pretty as a picture before it was stirred. Unfortunately I’ve only got the after shot. A bowl of rice was adorned with a mixture of vegetables, a relatively mild chilli sauce and a raw egg. When stirred together the egg cooked in the hot bowl to produce a sticky, eggy, slightly spicy bowl of moreishness.

I washed the main course down with a Lime Soju cocktail. Soju is a Korean spirit which tastes like a slightly sweetened vodka but overall the drink tasted like a pint of lime squash. Dangerously refreshing.

Nearly beat, we rounded off the meal with a bowl of matcha ice cream. Smooth, creamy and with a fragrant green tea after taste, it was the perfect end to an excellent evening. I can’t wait for my next Yakiniku rematch. In my mind I’ve already pre-ordered the Yum Yum Fried Chicken. I’ve got a strong feeling it’s going to be finger licking good.

The Details: 

Address - Cae Graw, Newport Road,St. Mellons,  Cardiff, CF3 2WH
Web -
Telephone - 01633 68 1662