Wednesday, 30 May 2012

The One Mile Bakery, Pontcanna Review

When Mrs G and I were lucky enough to get on the property ladder it was a two way battle between joining team Penylan or team Pontcanna. Both areas ticked all the right boxes for Mrs G; old houses with period features; plenty of coffee shops and most importantly a wide range of nicknackeries to feed her tat purchasing habit. Penylan eventually won and it’s a decision we’ve been very happy with……until today.

For today, we received a delivery from The One Mile Bakery.

Open for only two weeks, the One Mile Bakery produces homemade bread, soups and preserves which are delivered by bike or foot to within a one mile radius of proprietor Elisabeth Mahoney’s house in Pontcanna. The bakery works on a subscription basis (minimum one month subscription). Everything is fresh (our bread was still warm when we received it), seasonal (the bread contained Wild Garlic from Llandaff fields), locally sourced (see previous brackets) and most importantly delicious.

It’s probably worth talking about the bread first. After all it is a bakery. Both the wild garlic pesto loaf and the cheddar, chilli & coriander bread were stunning. Both warm and soft, the wild garlic pesto loaf was streaked with bags of mild garlicky goodness whilst the other loaf was flecked throughout with nuggets of cheddar, chilli and garlic. You can tell a loaf is good if you’ll happily munch it on its own. I ate half of each loaf.

Spring minestrone was the season of new life in a bowl; fresh, light, clean and full of greenery. The peas, French beans, celery, artichokes and conchigle all had the right amount of bite. And, a swirl of mint and almond pesto brought the dish alive with a wallop of flavour.

A final mention should go to the strawberry, rhubarb, vanilla and lavender jam. Having decided it was probably a sensible option to not have any more bread for dessert, I began to spoon it into my mouth straight from the jar.  It’s some of the nicest jam I’ve ever eaten; a perfect balance of fruit, fragrance and sweetness.

Before you start getting too excited, you need to know whether you live in the one mile radius of the One Mile Bakery. However, before you start holding a ruler up to Google Maps, I think as long as you’re in Pontcanna, Llandaff or Canton you’re probably in. You can also collect from the bakery itself. As for Penylan? Well, I’m 4.2 miles away so I’m well and truly out.

Now you can see my quandary. Do I sell up immediately and move to Pontcanna? Or do I pray that the one mile bakery becomes the four point two mile bakery? 

I was kindly sent complementary samples of The One Mile Bakery’s products.

The details:
Address: 21 Syr David's Avenue, Cardiff, CF5 1GH
Telephone: 07939 211809

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Pettigrew Tea Rooms, Cardiff Afternoon Tea review

David Le Masurier ‘s inspirational story is an example of someone who has pursued their dream. In 2010 he packed in a successful career in the hotel industry with the intent of establishing a traditional British tea room. Two years later Pettigrew tea rooms opened in the gate house of Bute Park.

David’s story isn’t unique. Other people pluck up the courage to follow their dream on a daily basis. What is unique is that David shared his journey via his compelling blog – Before I’d even visited Pettigrew tea rooms I was emotionally invested in the place. I was rooting for it to be fantastic. Thankfully it doesn’t disappoint. And the owner is just as affable in the flesh.

Pettigrew tea rooms is a slice of old fashioned British charm. Wooden display cabinets are filled with freshly baked cakes and loose leaf tea, and mismatched teaware and bunting all add to the vintage feel.

3 out of the 4 of us ordered the Pettigrew afternoon tea (£13.50 for one, £24.95 for two). This buys you a bucket load of food and drink: a choice of loose leaf tea, a selection of finger sandwiches, two scones with jam and clotted cream, and your chosen slice of cake.

I ordered a pot of Angel Peach tea; a refreshing blend of green tea with a taste of peach. Mrs G and Mrs G’s mum enjoyed their pots of pot pourri-esque Lavender Grey and seriously fruity wild berry blend respectively.

Finger sandwiches were on the nail. The bread was soft and the quantity of filling generous. Our selection included egg mayonnaise (with a welcome dash of salad cream), cheese & tomato, smoked salmon & cream cheese, ham & English mustard, and cucumber.

Mrs G’s sister rated her beef and horseradish sandwich (£5.45).

Next up were the scones. Even though the scones were a touch on the dry side, a generous dollop of fruit rich strawberry jam and indulgent clotted cream provided some welcome moisture. Having been advised to save room for our slice of cake, we each doggy bagged our second scone.

Saving some stomach space for cake was certainly sound advice. Pettigrew’s cakes are the star of the show. Freshly baked on the premises by a rather talented young baker, every cake on display in the retro glass cabinet looked equally tantalising. Thankfully we each settled on a different one.

My Victoria sponge was light and packed with strawberry jam and butter icing.

Mrs G’s lemon drizzle cake was as moist as can be with a delightfully sharp and oozing lemon icing.

The mother in law’s banana and pecan cake was a dense banana hit with a good background note of pecan.

Finally Mrs G’s sister ‘the self appointed carrot cake connoisseur’ gave her doorstop of carrot cake her seal of approval.

By the end of this tea and cake marathon I was suffering from the cake sweats.

As far as quintessentially British afternoon tea experiences go in Cardiff, Pettigrew tea rooms takes some beating.  

The details:
Address - Pettigrew Tea Rooms, West Lodge, Bute Park, Castle Street, Cardiff, CF10 1BJ
Telephone - 02920 235 486

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Mowgli's, Cardiff Indian Restaurant Review

Yesterday afternoon I was in an excellent mood. The sun was shining. I’d stood metres away from the best Olympic torch relay I’ve ever seen.  And, I was eagerly anticipating my birthday curry at Mowgli’s on Crwys road.

After a couple of refreshingly watery bottles of Coors Light in the Crwys, my hankering for poppadoms and chutney was growing out of control.

Mowgli’s, winner of the South Wales Echo 2012 Indian restaurant of the year, is a high street curry house with knobs on. In places this equates to interesting dishes which extend beyond the usual tikka massalas and bhajis. However, at times the bells and whistles, in the form of crazy QVC vegetable garnishes and a cornucopia of flamboyant crockery, detract from, rather than enhance, the enjoyment of Mowgli’s.

Poppadoms were crisp, chutneys were reassuringly garish and a bottle of Cobra was ice cold.

To start Mrs G and I shared a sharing platter of Chef’s special starters (any 3 for £13.95). Lamb chops were tender and well spiced but light on meat. Murgh Kadmanda was enjoyable in a guilty pleasure sort of way. The combination of spiced chicken, spinach, mushrooms and melted cheese was a little reminiscent of a tandoori chicken pizza topping. Finally crab cakes had a good hit of crab, coconut and chilli but were a little heavy on potato and had a curious chip shop style breadcrumb coating. I sampled someone else’s ostrich tikka. It was exceptionally tender but the metallic aftertaste was a little overwhelming.

Left to right: :Lamb chops, crab cakes, murgh kadmanda
For main I ordered the Chicken Sagor Ana (£8.95). Essentially a mixed kebab in a bhuna sauce it ticked all the right boxes; plenty of tender, charred meat and a complex tasting sauce seasoned with cinnamon and curry leaf. Mrs G’s Mowgli grill platter (£11.95), of which I ate most as she’d filled up on dry roasted peanuts in the pub, was also a very enjoyable meat feast.

Mowgli grill platter
 Rhys the bottomless pit opted for the lamb shank (£12.95). He rated it as a 7 out of 10. A generous amount of meat was tender but not falling off the bone. It lived up to the medium/hot chilli billing. 

Lamb shank
Side dishes, rice and naans were of a high standard. My plain naan (£2.25) was fluffy and elastic whilst a dish of smoked aubergine (£2.95) was grease free with just the right intensity of smoking.

Smoked aubergine
I’ll happily add Mowgli’s to my arsenal of high street curry houses. Prices are reasonable, especially with one of their ubiquitous 20% off discount vouchers and service was very efficient even on a packed out Friday night. Fripperies aside, Mowgli’s serves up a very good high street curry.

The details:
Address - Mowgli's, 151 Crwys Road, Cardiff, CF24 4NH
Telephone - 029 2034 3705

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Fish at 85, Pontcanna, Cardiff Restaurant Review, Food Blog

I know a lot about fish. No that’s a load of rubbish. I know a little bit about canned fish. Having worked for one of the UK’s biggest canned fish manufacturers for a couple of years I picked up a few bits of information about the UK canned fish demographic. Firstly, I know that anyone who buys tinned soft cod roe or cockles is the most prized of canned fish customer. They’re the ones who you want to remain brand loyal as they’ll buy every product you make. Secondly, I know tons of people in the UK don’t prepare much fish at home beyond tuna sandwiches, breaded frozen fish & the occasional salmon fillet. People are scared witless of cooking fresh fish. They don’t know what to do with it, they’re afraid of the bones and they don’t like the smell.

It’s surprising then that there aren’t more fish restaurants knocking around. If you won’t cook it yourself at home then you’d think it’s more likely you’d want someone else to do it for you. Which brings me to Fish at 85; Cardiff’s recently opened & only fish restaurant. It’s also perhaps my new favourite restaurant in Cardiff.

Sited in Pontcanna, Fish at 85 is the first retail venture of Channel Fisheries, fish suppliers to the Royal Household (how appropriate for the Jubilee weekend) and a number of the UK’s top restaurants. From Fish at 85’s base in Pontcanna they rather cleverly run three businesses in one, wholesaling fish to other restaurants in Cardiff, running a fishmongers and a rather charming 20 cover restaurant.

This closely intertwined trinity of enterprises does bring a few quirks to the dining experience at Fish at 85. Firstly, you’re squeezed into the dining room a little bit like sardines. Secondly, you have an audience of fresh fish watching you eat from their counter which runs the length of the dining room. Thirdly, the occasional customer might pop in during your meal to buy last minute ingredients for their dinner party. Lastly, there's a mild aroma of fish which you quickly acclimatise to. However, I think these idiosyncrasies just add to the charm of Fish at 85. Seeing your fish picked from the counter to be cooked for your dinner certainly reassures you about the freshness of the food you’re about to eat. What’s more as far as fishmonger interior design goes, it’s pretty darn tasteful. In fact, the whitewashed woods and eclectic fittings wouldn’t look out of place in a Country Living fish special edition.

Understandably, the menu focuses exclusively on fish with a couple of veggie options. A fixed price menu giving you 2 courses for £15 or 3 courses for £18 is available from 12pm-3pm and 6pm-7pm (if you return your table by 8pm). On the night we visited dishes included clam risotto to start and fish & chips or moules frites for main. Mrs G and I however couldn’t resist the a la carte menu. Alongside a good selection of starters (£7 on average) and classic main dishes (£14 on average) you can also select your own fish from the counter, choose how you’d like it cooked (roasted, pan fried or en papillote) and also the accompaniments & sauce to go with it. If you’re generally clueless like me and Mrs G then the knowledgeable waiting staff will give you an enlightening guided tour of the fish counter.

To start I ordered crab meat, nam jim and glass noodles (£8). Wow. One of the best crab dishes I have ever eaten. A generous amount of cold brown and white crab meat was garnished with a few glass noodles dressed in fish sauce, red chilli and spring onion. It was simple but with crab meat of that quality not much else needs to be done other than put it on a plate.

Mrs G’s starter of scallops, young asparagus, morels and dry sherry (£9) also demonstrated that quality fish doesn’t need to be messed with. 4 plump and perfectly cooked scallops were served with some fantastically umami rich morels, fresh asparagus and a buttery sherry sauce. Stunning.

My main of monkfish, green chilli and saag (£15) incorporated the only average note of the evening. A delicious & precisely cooked piece of meaty monkfish was let down by the accompanying saag which was a little watery, too subtle in spicing and laden with cardamom pods. I had to pick about 8 of the hard blighters out of my mouth. The irony is we didn’t encounter a single fish bone all evening. A minty raitha was the perfect dip for some crisp and fluffy fat chips (£3).

Mrs G’s main was the highlight of the evening. It’s probably the best piece of fish either of us have ever tasted. Her pan fried lemon sole from the counter (price by weight - £24.33) was sweet, crisp and juicy. I could have eaten it all year long. The accompanying beurre blanc enhanced the beautifully cooked piece of fish. A side of seasonal green vegetables (£3) was prepared just the way I like them; meaty and buttery.

You’d expect the desserts might be an afterthought in a place whose raison d’etre is fish. Thankfully the incredibly high bar set by the first two courses didn’t lower.

Lemon posset (£6) was incredibly smooth & creamy with a good sharpness of lemon. Basically it was everything you could want in a posset. The ricclarelli biscuits it came with were dusted in icing sugar and had a crisp texture halfway between an amaretti and biscotti.

My plum duff with Birds custard (£6) was a delightful throwback. My understanding is that plum duff is traditionally a fairly heavy suet based pudding of the Christmas pudding ilk. Fish at 85’s version is more of a steamed sponge. Enjoyably dense sponge contained a few soft, sweet plums. On the side were a few more stewed plums and a jug of custard. It took me back to the misguided, sleep inducing 3 course lunches of my schooldays (French onion soup, roast dinner and jam rolypoly anyone?).

Our meal at Fish at 85 was just brilliant. They’re certainly doing the fishing industry of the UK proud. We spent our whole journey home questioning why we don’t eat more fish and resolving to eat more different types of fish.  Hopefully they’ve helped me to branch out from my usual repertoire of tuna sandwiches and teriyaki salmon.

*Update - 16/06/2018 - this restaurant is now closed*

The details:
Address - 85 Pontcanna Street, Cardiff, CF11 9HS
Telephone - 02920 02 02 12

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Michelin star restaurant map of the UK

I've just been pointed in the direction of this rather awesome google map featuring every Michelin starred restaurant in the UK. The brains behind it asked me to share it on the blog and for once I thought I'd oblige. Now I can browse by location the restaurants I want to visit but can't afford to!

Filter between 1,2 and 3 stars by clicking on the tab on the left. Then click on the location of each restaurant to bring up its contact details.

Also here is a link to a  bloody awesome graphic showing the best value Michelin starred lunches in the UK.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

The North Star, Cardiff restaurant review

++ Update July 2016 - The North Star has now closed ++

It feels like a long time since I was a University student with the dodgy eating habits of someone who’s left home for the first time and is no longer able to rely on their mother’s home cooking.

Distant are the memories of stocking up on 10 boxes of cinnamon toast crunch from the supermarket just because there was £1 off. Faded is the recollection of my cupboard shelf stacked with tinned curries to crack open on a ‘special’ occasion.

When we were feeling particularly flash, we’d either make a trip to the local noodle bar for a plate of number 54 - peppered beef ho yo fan, the local curry house for a 3 course banquet for £10 or to Nandos where our table of 6 would surreptitiously share a single bowl of refillable frozen yoghurt for dessert.

If I was a student in Cardiff nowadays then The North Star would probably be my eating den and watering hole of choice. For the North Star serves up some cracking food at cheap prices, they’ve got a good selection of booze on tap, it has a suitably hip yet homely atmosphere, they have live music, service is friendly and most importantly it’s close enough to Talybont halls that you could wonka roll all the way home after a heavy night.

In fact, if it wasn’t for The North Star’s annoying location by the side of North Road (car parking is available in the Kwik Fit carpark after 6pm) instead of round the corner from my house in Roath, you’d probably find me there most evenings to this day.

The quality of the food is little more than you’d expect from a restaurant which has been featured in The Guardian’s top 10 Cardiff budget eats and is a sister establishment of The Potted Pig.

Whilst we waited for our starters Mrs G drank a large glass of excellent house Merlot (£3.50) and I tried a bottle of the alcopop du jour, Jeremiah Weed’s Root Brew (£3.50). Disappointingly it bore no resemblance to root beer and had more of a herby ginger taste. In spite of this, it was rather pleasant and far more enjoyable than Crabbies cloyingly sweet alcoholic ginger ale.

To start Mrs G ordered the roasted tomato, buffalo mozzarella & basil leaves on a toasted flatbread (£3.50).  Essentially, a caprese salad made with supremely creamy mozzarella sat on top of a warm & doughy pizza base. This was a winner in Mrs G’s book. The tomato wasn’t roasted as described but I’m not sure whether this would have improved it.

My pan fried Italian sausage and spinach on a toasted flatbread (£3.95) was equally delicious. The densely packed meaty sausage with a hint of aniseed combined well with the smoky tomato sauce and doughy flatbread. Oddly there wasn’t any spinach in sight but who needs veg anyway?

For mains I satisfied my meat cravings with a half rack of honey roasted hog ribs (£7.50). Tender ribs with a good meat to bone ratio were coated in just the right amount of moreishly sweet honey glaze. The excellent fat chips were crisp and fluffy.

Mrs G’s 10oz sirloin steak (£12.95) was equally impressive. Served a perfect medium-rare, the hunk of beef was well flavoured, tender and married perfectly with a jug of creamy blue cheese sauce (£1).

An excellent banana split (£3.50) rounded off the meal. Served in a retro dish like the one at the Potted Pig, the banana was laden with 4 generous scoops of lovely chocolate chip, strawberry ripple and vanilla ice cream, chopped walnuts and a drizzle of chocolate sauce. All that was missing was a dollop of cream.

It’s a good sign that I’m already looking forward to my return visit at The North Star. It’s just a shame I won’t be able to wonka roll my way back home. 

The Details:
Address - The North Star, 131 North Road, Cardiff, CF14 3AE