Sunday, 29 January 2012

Pho Bac, Cardiff Vietnamese Restaurant Review

Update - Pho Bac has closed down. It has been replaced by Kimchi, Korean restaurant.

When I heard a Vietnamese restaurant was opening in Cardiff, I was able to cross off one of the entries on my rather short Cardiff food wish list (Remaining priorities include a proper BBQ joint, a Burger place in the style of In-N-Out and an authentic Mexican restaurant).

I’ve eaten plenty of Vietnamese food in my time from some of their best exponents in the East end of London including Cay Tre and VietGrill. In spite of this, with great food consumption doesn’t come great food knowledge. I know the things I love about Vietnamese food; the light, herby, fragrant flavour combinations. But equally I’m not entirely sure what a definitive version of Pho or Banh mi should taste like. So you’ll have to bear with me.

The rather pleasant downstairs dining room of Pho Bac was rammed at 9pm on Saturday evening so we were shown to the slightly more cramped, cobbled together upstairs dining room. Slightly rubbish Asian Karaoke muzak played softly in the background and I remember humming along to Lionel Richie’s Hello whilst waiting for the bill. It was fine but basic. Downstairs is definitely the better room.

The nicer downstairs dining room
Thankfully the menus and Hanoi beers were brought quickly and the fun process of choosing food could begin. For those who are pretty clueless about the intricacies of Vietnamese food (that includes me) the menu rather helpfully includes a photo along with a description of each dish. I persuaded Mrs G that 3 starters would have to be ordered so that there would be sufficient food to review.

Summer Rolls (£5.00) - I’ve eaten my fair share of summer rolls  and if I was ever to go on a diet (unlikely) I think this is the kind of thing I’d live on. Rice noodle rolls were packed with vermicelli, roast pork, prawns, coriander and mint. Served with a peanut dipping sauce, they were very good but the outer casing was a little chewier than some of the best I’ve eaten.

Ribs with Tamarind sauce (£5.00) - A mound of ribs served in a sweet, sticky and spicy tamarind sauce.  The ribs were darn fine; the meat was crisp and tender. My only issue was the ribs were light on meat and I had to be careful to not bite through the rather soft bone with each meat-searching mouthful.

Deep fried dumplings (£5.00) – Did exactly what they said on the tin. Crisp little parcels of pork and prawn mince served with a fruity dipping sauce; very moreish and very enjoyable but nothing out of the ordinary.

Chicken with ginger and lemongrass (£7.50) – Mrs G won on the main course front. Tender chicken thigh and leg fell of the bone into an intensely chickeny gravy fragranced perfectly with ginger and lemongrass. I could have licked the bowl clean. It was served with perfectly cooked rice and lightly pickled vegetables.

Bun thit nuong with grilled beef (£8.50) - Spicy, citrusy, nutty grilled beef was accompanied by vermicelli noodles, a salad of lettuce and cucumber and a bowl of light sauce to pour over everything. The contrast of textures, flavours and temperatures was lovely. I could imagine this would be the perfect food to eat for lunch on an oppressively humid day in Vietnam. However on a frosty winter’s evening I think I could have chosen better.

With the bill of £35 paid we headed off to town for a few drinks. Pho Bac is a very, very welcome addition to Cardiff’s rapidly improving bevy of dining out options. If you’re reading this review a few years down the line hopefully my eating out wish list will be complete and you’re munching on a taco or pulled pork sandwich.

The Details:
Pho Bac, 72 Cowbridge Road East, Canton, Cardiff
Telephone 029 2034  4320

Sunday, 22 January 2012

.CN Cardiff Chinese restaurant revisited

We revisited the brilliant .CN last night and I thought I'd share a few photos. The food was once again unique, expertly cooked and most importantly delicious. If you want to read my slightly more detailed thoughts on .CN then check out my previous review here.

Half of our table of 7 opted for Chinese hotpot. A bubbling pot of broth (half chicken flavoured and half fiery red, littered with dried chilli, chilli flakes and sichuan peppercorns) was brought to the table along with a cornucopia of raw ingredients. The table groaned with overflowing plates of king prawns, scallops, whole squid, wafer thin lamb, tofu, fish cake, fresh vegetables and noodles. A couple of bowls of sesame sauce and garlic and chilli dip also accompanied the hot pot to add a bit of extra seasoning. For £15.99 you can eat as much as you want for 2 hours (dangerous for those with large appetites). It was greatly enjoyed but after a while there were a few jealous glances from the other half of the table as they began to crave a little more variety in texture and flavour.

Myself and the other half of the table ordered from the regular menu. New highlights included a spicy, sticky and sweet kung po chicken and some addictive guoti (pan fried meat dumplings) filled with a moreish combination of pork and leek. Dan ordered the slightly more off the wall cold shredded pig maw with spring onions in chilli oil. The cold chewy maw was pretty tasty but ultimately just a bit too different for my palette. 

Pig's Maw
Kung Po Chicken
Salt and pepper squid
Pork in Peking sauce with pancakes
Crispy lamb breast with ground chilli
Guoti (pan fried dumplings)
Golden King Prawn
If you haven't been to .CN yet then you really must. It's totally unique as far as Cardiff's restaurant options are concerned. 

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

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Mirchi, Indian / Pakistani restaurant, Cardiff review

It’s common knowledge to most Londoners that curry houses on Brick Lane are generally worth giving a wide birth. Annoying touts try and harangue you into choosing their identikit restaurant, tempting you with the prospect of ridiculous offers including corkage free byo and 60% of the bill.

Instead, those with a little insight into East end curry patiently spend their time waiting in line for the phenomenally brilliant and bargainous Pakistani food served up by Tayyabs a short 10 minute walk away (Mrs G and I would have gone there on our first date if we hadn’t decided we were too hungry to queue). Their grilled meats (lamb chops in particular), masala fish and dry meat hold cult status amongst most London food bloggers.

So when I started to hear good things about Mirchi’s Indian/Pakistani restaurant and takeaway on City road I started to count lamb chops in my sleep......

We opted for takeaway as we were feeling particularly antisocial.

Mango and sweet lassis were pleasant but average (£2.00)

The best dish of the meal was a paneer butter massala (£5.50) with a deliciously rich and creamy sauce. Karai chicken (£4.90) was well spiced but stingy on the meat front and the sauce was on the watery side.

Paneer butter massala (midground), Karai chicken (foreground)
The nan bread (90p) was more travel pillow than goose feather pillow and the pilau rice was dense with a powerful taste of clarified butter (£2.00).

Surely the dish I was looking forward to the most, the mixed grill (£9.90) would show off Mirchi’s skills with the grill? Sadly not. The lamb chops (and the rest of the meat in fact) were well charred but a little on the dry side and the spicing was just ok. None of the fresh herbs and grilled onions which add an extra dimension to Tayyabs exemplar version were present.

I did add some more sauce after this photo was taken...honest
Unfortunately with such a high bench mark set by Tayyabs, Mirchi's wouldn’t have to go far wrong to disappoint. Don’t get me wrong all of the food served by Mirchi’s is highly edible. But that’s about as much praise as I can give. It’s not really enough to make me hurry back.

Mirchi, 89 City Road, Cardiff, CF24 3BN
029020 492344

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Purple Poppadom, Cardiff review, Food Blog

I've been trying to sample a true representation of Cardiff celeb Chef Anand George’s food for yonks. The food he served at Poppupadom, Cardiff’s first pop-up restaurant was a disappointment; most likely due to the unfamiliar kitchen. Equally the delicious food served at Mint & Mustard, the restaurant where he was formerly head chef, gave an indication of his abilities but vitally was not cooked by the man himself. This is why I was so eager to sample the food at Purple Poppadom. Would Chef George’s food, cooked in his own kitchen and with his own team live up to the billing?

Purple Poppadom is very good. The flavour, concept and presentation of the dishes is bang on and the dining room with its little bar area is pretty funky.

I’ll get the minor quibbles out the way first so I can get onto the good stuff.

As far as the food is concerned the only bum note came from a rather odd powdery textured nutmeg ice-cream accompanying one of the desserts.  My only other issue with Purple Poppadom is their poncy menu descriptions. They give the impression of style over substance and sell the place short. According to the menu the concept behind Purple Poppadom is nouvelle Indian cuisine. I understand the implication that the food is a lighter, fresher, contemporary take on Indian food. But surely the phrase "nouvelle cuisine" is as dated as Noel Edmonds’ hairstyle?  The mullety descriptions extend to the names of some dishes. Anyone for Prawns in the Pink? Maybe Lamb in a Thrice then? How about a “side-by-side” presentation of crème brulees?

The positives of Purple Poppadom are many and overwhelm the minor criticisms. The food is largely brilliant and the service was friendly and professional.

The Starters rather cleverly showcase two or more cooking styles of similar ingredients.

My Fresh from the Dairy (£4.95) included a deliciously charred & subtly spiced piece of paneer, a lovely samosa of Welsh Tintern cheese and spiced cashew nuts, and a well balanced goats cheese, beetroot and spinach salad.

Mrs G’s starter of Scallops side-by-side (£6.95) was equally delicious. Poached scallops were served in the shell with a moreish coconut milk sauce gently seasoned with garlic and ginger. A spice crusted scallop served with a red grape and ginger dressing was pretty neat too.


Mrs G’s Nawabi Chicken (£13.95) was the standout dish of the mains. Beautifully presented, the dish included an astonishingly moist and well seasoned piece of tandoori chicken. The dish also came with an adorable boneless spiced chicken thigh, and a rather clever mint sorbet.

My Lamb Varattiyathu was a generous lamb-fest (£10.95). Oodles of melt in the mouth lamb was served in an intense gravy heavily flavoured with curry leaf. This was better than Mint & Mustard’s version.

A third main of Chilli coconut King prawns (£13.95) was rammed with ginormous crustaceans served in a plate-lickingly good sauce of coconut, kaffir lime, mustard seed and curry leaf. The sides too bear mention. Supremely fluffy coconut rice had just the right level of coconut, the pilau rice was good enough to eat on its own and a peshwari naan was filled to the edges with sweet coconutty goodness.

We sampled most of the desserts on offer and they didn’t let the side down.

The signature dessert, the Chocomosa (£5.50)  is definitely a dessert for the sweet tooth. Sweet, intensely chocolatey, oozing ganache is enrobed in a crisp samosa casing.

Tandoori pineapple (£5.00) meanwhile was subtly charred to intensify its flavour; a perfect palette cleanser to end the meal.

The perfectly textured "side-by-side presentation" of crèmes brulees (£5.00) included a delicious rose petal number which was reminiscent of Turkish delight (one of my favourite treats). Less successful was the delicious but slightly too subtle green tea brulee.

Purple Poppadom is a little more expensive than a run of the mill curry house. However it’s easily worth the extra bucks to sample Chef George’s creative take on Indian food. 

The details:
Purple Poppadom, 185 Cowbridge Road East, Cardiff, CF11 9AJ
Tel: 029 2022 0026