Sunday, 29 April 2012

Searching for Cardiff's Best Burger - Lolfa Mimosa Lounge, Pontcanna

The search for the best burger in Cardiff could be the subject of its very own blog. Other than steak, I can't think of any dish that's more ubiquitous on restaurant menus.  Inspired by the awesome London based burger detective Burgerac, I'm back on the hunt for Cardiff's best burger. Unfortunately I'm still not hopeful I'm going to find anything as good as a Big Mac.

By adopting an interrogatory style to this and future burger reviews, I can focus on the key issues in order of importance and make fairer comparisons between Cardiff's burgers .

The Burger - Lolfa Mimosa Lounge, Welsh Black Beef Burger

1. How was the patty? Served well done, the Welsh Black beef was still thankfully moist. It was well seasoned, herby and had a pleasant sweetness from some finely diced red onion. Unfortunately it more closely resembled a meatball in shape than a burger patty. This meant it didn't fit the bun properly and I had to dislocate my jaw to get it in my mouth.

3. How was the bun? It was pleasing to see a homemade focaccia style bun seasoned with rosemary. It was a step above countless other burger bun atrocities I've eaten. However it was slightly greasy due to the olive oil and it did break up too easily as I worked my way through the burger.

4. How was the other stuff in the bun? A smear of mayonnaise, a single slice of tomato and a tiny amount of rocket. Simple yet effective. The melted cheese was undetectable against the beef

5. How were the fries? Disappointingly soggy but there was a good background note of meat fat.

6. What was the price? £9.95 with fries (I'm not sure how much extra I paid for the cheese)

7. How were the sides? 

Onion rings were mindbogglingly brilliant. Perfectly crisp, ungreasy, sweet and salty. Perhaps the best onion rings I've ever eaten.

A starter of whitebait was crisp but a couple of the little blighters were unnervingly fishy tasting. The bread was also a little stale.

A Manhattan tasted like an ice-cold shot of neat whisky with a cherry. I've never had a Manhattan before and never will again. I'm guessing they're always this rank and it's not Mimosa's fault.

8. How was the service? Friendly but one of our groups' main dishes was forgotten. We were nearly finished by the time her dish arrived.

9. So what's the verdict? I'd enjoy eating Mimosa's burger again but I wouldn't drive past a McDonald's to get there.

The Details:
Address: Lolfa Mimosa Lounge, 175 Kings Rd, Pontcanna, Cardiff, CF11 9DF 
Telephone: 029 2037 3554

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Fabulous Welsh Cakes, Cardiff Bay, Welsh Speciality

One of the first, most important and only questions I ask myself when visiting a new country is “what national specialities do I need to eat?”

When I visited Germany for the first time I obsessed about sampling currywurst, the filthy late night speciality which I’d read about in my German GCSE textbook. My first trip to the USA was a dangerous 5 days in which I crammed countless foods I'd wanted to eat since childhood. I was half a stone heavier after consuming multiple pancake stacks, hot dogs, ribs, burgers, meatloaves, donuts, junior mints, pizzas, Reese's pieces, subs and philly cheese steaks.

I asked myself the same question when I moved to Wales. Over the last few years I’ve sampled Welsh rarebit, cawl, half & half, Glamorgan sausages, cockles & laverbread, faggots and the Caroline street speciality of chips & chicken curry off the bone. Perhaps though it's the humble Welsh cake which is my pick of the bunch.

Served cold they’re pretty lush with a cup of tea. But really there’s nothing nicer than to trough one warm cake after another when they’re fresh off the bakestone. For my occasional fix, I head to Fabulous Welsh cakes in Cardiff bay. Usually you can pick up a bag of these beauties (45p per cake) whilst they’re still warm. If not they’re still guaranteed to be exceptionally fresh and fabulous.

As well as the traditional combination of flour, butter, sultanas, caster sugar and mixed spice, Fabulous also do their own interpretations of the Welsh cake. An Easter variety had a moist core of marzipan whilst a dark chocolate and orange combination satisfied the chocoholic inside me.

Tourist or not, Fabulous Welsh cakes are one national speciality worth sampling.

The details:
Fabulous Welsh Cakes, Bute St, Mermaid Quay, Cardiff Bay, CF10 5DW
Tel - 02920 456 593
Web -

Friday, 20 April 2012

Filini, Radisson Blu Cardiff and why I never became a chef

Chef Gorro 18 years ago

From a young age I wanted to be a chef. As I grew older and more apathetic I revised my career aspirations to that of head chocolate taster at Cadbury’s. In the end I didn’t pursue either of these career paths and working in Subway and tasting vast quantities of canned fish at John West was the closest I’ve been to either job.  

Chef Mattias Wenngren, his kitchen at Filini and a plate of antipasti
Thoughts of what it would be like to be a chef have recently been close to mind as I’ve been reading Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential. Although it’s rumoured many of his anecdotes are slightly embellished you still get the impression that the world of the professional kitchen is not for the faint hearted. Reading about the relentless hours, machismo culture, off the wall individuals and shady business practices has reassured me that I definitely made the right choice in not becoming a chef. Although I still haven’t ruled out head chocolate taster for Cadbury’s.

King prawns, crab cakes, fillet steak and truffle arancini
However, I’ve had to recalibrate my thoughts on life in the professional kitchen since attending a tasting in the kitchen of Filini at the Radisson Blu hotel. From meeting Executive chef Mattias Wenngren it was clear the passion he felt for his chosen career and for the food he cooks. Over the course of the evening it was great to hear his enthusiasm for the meal he had prepared for us first hand (something often lost in translation by waiting staff). He also regaled us with various anecdotes of his life as a chef.

Ricotta Ravioli with a bisque sauce and parmesan foam
Although Mattias acknowledged that he conforms to the chef’s stereotype of having a short fuse, he was adamant that ruling a kitchen with fear is not the path to a successful kitchen. In fact, in the brief time we spent in his kitchen it seemed rather tranquil. Chefs prepared their dishes in peace without any of the swearing, sweating or knife throwing I was hoping I might witness.

Seabass with rosemary and lemon
More important than any insight into kitchen life I gained from the evening was the quality of the food I ate. Chef Wenngren prepared for us some pretty delicious food, showcasing the kind of dishes he likes to serve at Filini. By the end of the evening I was ready to explode (until I got home and ate an Easter egg). 

I’ve reviewed Filini previously but I would definitely give it a second look having met Chef Wenngren and sampled some more of his food.

Sardinian fregola with salsicca and pecorino cream
Lamb shanks with rosemary

Dessert selection - tiramisu, panna cotta and chocolate mousse
I was invited as a guest of Filini.

The Details:
Filini, Radisson Blu, Bute Terrace, Cardiff, CF10 2FL,
Telephone: 02920454777,

Thursday, 19 April 2012

The Felin Fach Griffin, Brecon, Review

Just over a year ago I married the amazing Mrs G and we had a fantastic food-filled honeymoon troughing our way round West Wales. Continuing the theme, for our 1st anniversary we decided to visit another Welsh Mecca of gastronomy, The Felin Fach Griffin. Situated close to Brecon, the award winning Griffin is an ideal base for exploring the Beacons and the book shops of Hay on Wye.

Having bagged ourselves a room on the exceptionally good value Sunday Sleepover deal (3 course Sunday lunch, 3 course dinner, bed & breakfast from £87.50 per person) we packed our elasticated trousers and steeled ourselves for the impending calorific overload.

The Griffin perfectly balances its dual identity as a country pub and foodie destination. The serving staff are laidback and friendly whilst also displaying an impressive level of knowledge and efficiency. More importantly the Griffin’s food is big in flavour and portion size whilst refined in presentation. The Griffin’s Sunday lunch normally costs £23.50 for 3 courses. In my mind it's a bargain for one of the best roast dinners I have ever eaten.

 As we deliberated over what to order, we nibbled on a board of delicious homemade sourdough bread and annoyingly fridge hard butter.

To start I had an astonishingly good buffalo mozzarella with Welsh coppa ham, sage & apple pesto. Fresh, beautiful and well balanced, the inclusion of sage and apple provided a different riff on a familiar combination.

Mrs G’s excellent starter of smoked salmon, poached hen egg, onion brioche and beetroot relish was also a refreshing twist on the well-known. The beetroot relish was a logical flavour match for the salmon whilst the smoky, onion brioche added an extra layer of complexity.

Our mains were quite simply the Rolls-Royces of roast dinners. Mrs G’s roast rib of Welsh beef and my leg of Llandefalle pork were accompanied by some bobby-dazzling trimmings; super crispy and fluffy roast potatoes, perfectly cooked veg, crisp and doughy Yorkshire puds and stonking gravy. In addition, an epically brilliant piece of crackling sat proudly on top of my meal like an angel on a Christmas tree.

Having licked the plates clean we were ready for dessert. My dark chocolate brownie with caramelised hazelnuts and malted milk ice cream was as blow your socks off good as the description suggested. One spoonful of the slivers of insanely chocolatey brownie, brittle-esque nuts and malted ice cream and I was nearly reduced to tears.

Mrs G’s dessert of pistachio cake with poached pear and sour cream was equally stunning. Curiously though, the pistachio sponge had a marzipan like taste to it. This was a winner in my book but the usually marzipan loathing Mrs G was a little taken aback. It’s a testament to the deliciousness of the dessert that she still cleared her plate with gusto.

The most sensible thing to do in the time between lunch and dinner would have been to go for a lengthy hike on the Brecon Beacons to work up an appetite and walk off a few roast potatoes. However, Mrs G and I decided a better idea was to go for a ten minute walk on the Beacons so I could get a photo, a shop in Brecon so Mrs G could buy a mountaineering jacket to wear round Cardiff and for both of us to have a nap.

With our appetites restored we were ready for round 2.

Once again we munched on some rather tasty soda bread whilst we picked from the menu. A benefit of the Sunday Sleepover package was that we had free reign to choose anything from the a la carte and set menus.

A delicious amuse bouche of onion veloute, which tasted like an onion bhaji in a cup, kicked off proceedings.

The rather excellent wine list at the Griffin is worth a mention. They’ve nearly 20 wines by the glass, they limit their mark up so you can get some pretty decent grog for a decent price and most members of staff have a wine tasting qualification so are pretty knowledgeable. I had a light and fragrant Ciconia Branco 2011 with my starter and a very quaffable Merlot/ Sangiovese, Ortonese 2010 with my main.

My starter of dressed Portland crab, with shaved fennel, dill and preserved lemon (£8) was greater in parts than as a whole. The clean tasting, lemony fennel washed away the creamy richness of the dressed crab. Evasive action was needed and I ate the fennel and crab separately to produce an enjoyable but slightly disappointing starter.

Mrs G’s starter of confit chicken terrine with smoked bacon, onion jam and toast (£7) was a bit of a downer too. The smoked bacon lacked flavour and the terrine as a whole lacked seasoning so it tasted only of cold chicken breast. Even with the onion chutney working hard the dish was on the dry and bland side.

The kitchen was back on form with mains.

My braised shin of Welsh beef (£18.50) with saffron potato, broccoli with Asian spices and chilli jam was a delicious piece of fusion cookery. Unctuous shredded beef, sticky sweet chilli jam and five spice infused gravy made this dish reminiscent of a Chinese roast dinner.

Mrs G’s moist loin of pork (I’m usually guilty of dehydrating mine under the grill) was accompanied by some excellent dauphinoise potatoes, spring greens and a truffle cream with just the right hit of fungus (£18).

For dessert my vanilla crème brulee (£7) was silky smooth with a generous amount of vanilla flecked through it. The accompanying shortbread was well flavoured but a little cakey in texture.

Mrs G’s cheese board (£10) was greatly enjoyed but I think the inclusion of only 1 Welsh cheese was missing a trick, especially in light of the safe options Sparkenhoe Red Leicester & Cashel Blue. The accompanying onion chutney was good however I don’t like it when a cheese course is served with bread instead of biscuits. If I wanted a sandwich then I would have ordered one.

Retiring for the night to our rather charming four poster bedded room, I began to look forward to my next meal. The Griffin’s cooked breakfast was lush. Well spiced sausage, perfectly runny egg and crisp fried bread oozing fat were the highlights of the usual menagerie of fried goods.

After breakfast Mrs G and I set off for look around Hay on Wye, the book capital of the UK. Whilst Mrs G was like a pig in mud when faced with shop after shop of second hand books and country chic knick-knacks, I kept myself sane with the prospect of an ice-cream at the end of it. And a cracking ice-cream it was too. Recommended by a member of the team at the Felin Fach Griffin, Shepherd’s ice-cream parlour served me some rather lovely chocolate & mint choc chip in a charmingly retro ice-cream dish.

Making our way home, we pondered how lucky we are to have so much beautiful countryside and so many interesting places to visit within a short car ride from Cardiff. More importantly, we’ve got a heck of a lot of decent country eateries in close proximity. The Felin Fach Griffin keeps fine company amongst places like The Walnut Tree, The Hardwick, The Foxhunter and The Pony & Trap. It’s an ideal base for exploring the Brecon Beacons or Hay on Wye. But equally it’s worth the drive just for their Sunday lunch.

The Details:
Address: The Felin Fach Griffin, Felinfach, Brecon, Powys LD3 0UB
Telephone: 01874 620 111

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Cote Bistro, Cardiff Bay, Restaurant Review

I’ve had a rather decent brunch at Cote Bistro in the bay previously. So when Mrs G and I went for a midday promenade in the spring sunshine we thought we’d give them a punt for lunch.  The restaurant was bustling, I’m guessing as a result of the rather excellent value lunchtime and early evening menu offering 2 courses for £9.95.  I went for the set lunch whilst Mrs G ordered from the regular menu.

Warm sourdough baguette (£1.85) was perfectly fresh with a crisp exterior.

My starter of breadcrumbed calamari arrived swiftly and was crunchy, well seasoned and un-rubbery. The lemony tartare sauce was packed with gherkins and capers.

For mains I ordered the steak frites (£2 supplement). The steak was well flavoured with a good char and the melted garlic butter was perfect for dipping the crisp frites. The menu described the steak as being served pink. Unfortunately it was very much served brown. It wouldn’t have been a problem if it hadn’t been mis-advertised.

Mrs G’s main was catastrophic. Her chicken and walnut salad (£9.95) had plenty of chargrilled chicken breast but was lacking the walnuts and avocado it should have contained. We sent it back and whilst waiting for a replacement I polished off my entire main course. This served as a reminder why we’re always so reluctant to send food back - it ends up spoiling the occasion of eating out further. When her salad returned it contained walnuts and avocado but now lacked mustard dressing. As you can imagine we couldn’t be bothered to send it back again.

A bit of a shame really. I had a pretty decent lunch but Mrs G ended up with a bowl of undressed leaves. If there’s a moral to this story it’s to order red meat and anything deep fried instead of salad. This is a mantra I’ve happily lived by for many years.

The details: 
Cote Bistro, 25 Mermaid Quay, Cardiff Bay, Cardiff CF10 5BZ
Tel: 029 2045 3780

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

The Potted Pig, Cardiff restaurant review, Food blog

Jay Rayner recently described the Potted Pig as a gift to the city. He’s right. There’s so much to like about the Potted Pig including its pared back dishes which focus on ingredients and not on frippery; its charming setting in a former bank vault which creates an atmosphere unlike any other in Cardiff; their selection of over 20 gins at the bar which allow for impromptu tasting sessions and their knowledgeable and friendly team of staff who give the impression that the Potted Pig is a place which is serious about food.

The only slight problem is that the Potted Pig isn’t as good as umpteen London gastro-pubs (think Anchor & Hope, Bull& Last and The Gun) which serve up similar food. In spite of this, our very good but flawed meal stands head and shoulders above most other local restaurants’ offerings.

Having been ushered downstairs into the vault by a greeter on the door (I guess it saves people without bookings a trip down a flight of stairs), we were shown immediately to our table. Fortunately for my camerawork we were seated at one of the few tables which wasn’t enveloped by an atmospheric gloom. We started with gin & tonics from their bounteous collection. I had a Hoxton gin infused with coconut and grapefruit. I loved it but my brother, Gourmet Gilly, felt it was too reminiscent of Malibu. Mrs G had a rather good sloe gin whilst Gilly had an Old Raj gin infused with saffron.

Starters were a success across the board. These included a buttery, slightly aromatic and tender shredded potted pig with toast and pickles (£6), a crustacean equivalent in the form of potted shrimp (£6) and a well constructed dish of smoked trout with poached egg, béarnaise sauce and potato blini (£5).

Mrs G’s starter was the standout of the bunch. Her duck hash (£6) was an unctuous, crispy, meaty melange of shredded duck, potato, herbs and a runny egg yolk. It was a scrumptious piece of comfort food.

As someone who is impartial to the odd pun I couldn’t resist the Offaly good breakfast (£6) with Mark’s homemade ketchup. It was good but there was nothing to elevate it beyond being a very good cooked breakfast. In fact it tasted a little out of place as a starter on a dinner menu. In spite of this, all the elements were on the nail including medium cooked pieces of liver and kidney along with some quality bacon, black pudding and runny egg. Unusually for homemade ketchups, Mark’s version was pretty good with a decent amount of spicing and vinegar.

Onto the mains and these too were largely on the money. Unfortunately, this too was where the flaws in the meal lay in wait.

Two steaks were ordered by members of the group but sadly Fat Dad’s medium-rare 8oz Rib eye steak (£15) was served cold. It was promptly sent back and returned swiftly at an appropriate temperature. In the end both steak eaters were happy with their offerings with one opting for béarnaise and the other for green sauce to go with their slabs of meat. More on the accompanying amazing chips in a minute.

Gilly and my mother both ordered the whole bream with Jerusalem artichokes, purple sprouting broccoli and béarnaise sauce (£14). Both loved their fine fishes and Gilly went so far as to repulse the whole table by eating everything down to the eyes.

Mrs G’s slow roast Hereford pork belly with baked carrots and greens (£14) was another piece of top drawer cooking. Moist flesh was capped with magically crisp yet yielding crackling. I was a big fan of the accompanying cider sauce but Mrs G felt it lacked depth of flavour.

My main dish had leapt out at me from the menu on numerous online viewings. I was warned by the waiter that my whole Devonshire brown crab, served cold with mayonnaise & chips (£18) was a lot of effort and mess but that it would be worth it. Armed with crackers and a crab fork I was ready for battle when Mr Crab (I inspected his skirt to verify his gender) was plonked down clutching his garnishes. With all the nasties removed, I was informed that any meat I could get my hands on was edible. Under the bonnet lay the easy to extract rich, sweet brown meat. It was the white meat which posed the bigger challenge. Mr Crab wasn’t going to give it up without a serious fight. After half an hour’s scrapping I was beaten. The crab meat was perfectly cooked and absolutely delicious but I’m not sure I’d agree that it was worth the effort. Next time I’ll just stick with dressed crab.

Both my dish and the steaks were served with some of the finest chips I have ever eaten. These Heston-esque triple cooked bad boys were supremely crisp on the outside with perfectly fluffy interiors.

The less that can be said about the other side dish the better. Truffled Welsh Rarebit (£5) was one of the most offensive things to have passed any of our lips in quite a while. Whoever decided that Welsh rarebit is short on flavour and so would benefit from the addition of a cart load of horseradish, mustard and truffle oil is misguided. Perhaps one of these ingredients would have worked but the vicious concoction only served to produce an umami laden dirty bomb.

Things picked up again with the desserts.

Mrs G’s lemon posset with lemon and thyme curd was absolutely brilliant. A creamy, light, citrusy posset was topped with a generous dollop of sharp and aromatic curd and some crumbly biscuit bits. Gilly’s chocolate mousse with brandy cream (£5) was enjoyably rich and boozy but the accompanying shortbread wasn’t short enough and would have benefited from another brick or two of butter.

My retro banana split (£5) was perfect in every way from the brilliant glass dish, to the perfectly ripe banana, creamy scoops of chocolate & vanilla ice creams, whipped cream, chopped nuts, booze soaked raisins and rum infused caramel. Zoweee.

There’s some pretty awesome cooking going on at Potted Pig and it’s certainly helping to drag Cardiff’s dining out scene into the 21st Century. It’s just a shame the few bum notes left a little bit of a sour taste in our mouths. In fact maybe that’s just the taste of the Welsh rarebit which I can’t get rid of.  

The Details:
27 High Street, Cardiff CF10 1PU
Tel - 029 2022 4817