Saturday, 28 July 2012

My 10 favourite places to eat in Cardiff

If you’re reading this then you’ve contributed to me reaching 100,000 page views. Thank you very much.

I couldn’t let this moment go without a special post…….

So here it is, in no particular order. 10 of my favourite places to eat in Cardiff from over the last 18 months. 

Update Aug '14 - I've added another list of my favourite places to eat in Cardiff HERE. I've stopped updating the list below so follow the link to find out my latest recommendations. 

1.Fish at 85 – Fresh fish prepared simply. Wow

2..CN – If you’re in the mood for offal in an offaly hot sauce then this is the place for you. However, not all of the Chinese food at .CN is quite so challenging. Kung Po chicken, pan fried dumplings and crispy chilli lamb breast are my favourites on the menu.

3. Purple Poppadom – Anand George elevates comforting curries to the levels of fine dining.

4. Casanova – An Italian restaurant where the food transcends the obvious. There’s not a garlic mushroom or a pepperoni pizza in sight. 

5. The Potted Pig – The hottest ticket in Cardiff for years. Pared back classics, an atmospheric bank vault setting and a breathalysing busting selection of gins.

6. Madame Fromage – Dangerously large meat and cheese plates outweigh the often dangerously slow service at this lovely café.

7. Cafe Malaysia – Its interior may be cheap and cheerful but Cafe Malaysia's roti canai and beef rendang are absolutely epic.

8. KBS Kebabs – If I’m eating out in Cardiff after midnight then chances are I’ll be noshing on a kebab at KBS. Winner of the 2010 WKD Cardiff Golden Kebab award, their kebabs are so good I’d happily eat them sober.

9. Hang Fire Smokehouse - As far as I'm concerned, Hang Fire is the only place in Cardiff to go for BBQ. Brisket, pulled pork, ribs and wings are all smoked to perfection. They recently opened their first bricks and mortar restaurant in Barry (just to the west of Cardiff) and it's an absolute stunner.

10. Bar 44 Tapas, Penarth - Ok, so it's not Cardiff but it's pretty darn close. Bar 44 is worth the short car journey any day of the week. Just make sure you order their croquettas...

Updated - 30/03/2013 - With the closure of Punitha's (one of the restaurants in my top 10), I think now is a good time to update my list. In fact, I might try and do so on a more regular basis...

Updated - 30/06/2013 - Hang Fire added to the list.

Updated - 28/11/2013 - Cafe Malaysia added to the list.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Oscar's of Cardiff - Searching for Cardiff's Best Burger

01/02/2014 - Update - Oscar's of Cardiff has closed down

Whilst chuckling to myself reading this brilliant burger self-help quiz yesterday, I had a moment of clarity. Even though I’ve had some pretty good burgers in Cardiff, nothing has been out of the ordinary. No brioche buns, no medium cooked patties made from blends of rib, chuck and bone marrow and no sordid sides of chilli cheese fries and deep fried jalapenos.

Today, the search for Cardiff's best burger continued at Oscar’s of Cardiff.

Located on the former site of Le Gallois, Oscar’s serves a diverse international menu in rather tasteful and airy surroundings. As well as the burger, there were some rather lovely sounding dishes on the lunch menu including khobez sandwiches filled with Moroccan roast chicken (£6.95) or sea salt chilli duck (£8.00).

However, I was only there to eat one thing…

The Burger – Classic Oscars Burger

1. How was the patty?  Well done but still moist (this is a bit of a recurring theme), well seasoned and well suited in size to the bun.

2. How was the bun? A warm homemade bun with a scattering of mixed seeds. Crisp and toasted in all the right places yet soft and yielding to bite. Very good.

3. How was the other stuff in the bun? A couple of crisp, thick rashers of bacon and a layer of melted cheese. A layer of tomato relish made an appearance below the patty. In spite of the relish being a fairly good example, I’m yet to be convinced that sweet, thick tomato relish has any right to usurp tomato ketchup’s rightful place. Whilst no lettuce or tomato featured in the bun, a mixed salad was served on the side. Welcome pots of mayo and ketchup were brought to the table.

 4. How were the fries? Crisp, medium-cut maris piper chips. They were good but I've had better.

5. What was the price? £9.25 on the lunch and evening menu. £7 on the 7B47 menu available Tuesday-Friday 4-7pm.

6. How was the other food? A chocolate brownie sundae (£6.95) comprised of excellent warm, gooey, nutty brownie pieces, smooth, creamy vanilla ice-cream and a scattering of hazelnut truffles and raspberries.  It was very good but a little bit steeply priced for its manageable size.

7. How was the service? Efficient and very friendly.

8. So what's the verdict? Oscar’s burger is the epitome of tasteful. From the uniformly cut chips and the mixed seeded bun to the healthy side salad, this is a burger for the refined individual. As you know, I’m not. Although it’s very good, I like my burgers just a little bit more filthy.

I was invited as a guest of Oscar's - the burger and drink were complimentary.  

The Details:
Address – Oscars of Cardiff, 6-10 Romilly Crescent, Pontcanna, Cardiff, CF11 9NR

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Roganic, London review - Guest post by Odette Toilette

**Update 2014 - Roganic has now closed**

Odette Toilette is the queen of all things olfactory. Since founding Scratch+Sniff in 2010, she’s been curating regular events which help to people to explore their sense of smell. Odette’s website can be found at, her twitter account is @odettetoilette and she co-hosts the popular podcast "Life in Scents".

As a pair highly interested in dining (and attested for by our love of the TV show Man v. Food) it is a tradition of D and I to go out for a meal on our anniversary.  Fanciness has varied. We started year one with Midsummer House in Cambridge, then a few summers ago found ourselves in a Bruges sausage house. That D is vegetarian requires careful planning. He’s very much at the bon vivant end of the scale, delighting in eggs, cream, butter and hating anything resembling vegan.

This year we decided to make the most of Simon Rogan’s two year ‘pop-up’ in London -  Roganic. The restaurant offers no-choice set menus of 3 (£29), 6 (£55) or 8 (£80) courses, all of which come with a vegetarian equivalent. Sadly, unlike Man v. Food, there were no prizes on offer for consuming ten tasting menus in succession, not even a Roganic t-shirt. However, this was more than compensated for by the excellent service, which felt more like chatting to interesting people at a party than being talked to in a starchy, overly formal way. This risks backfiring massively, but all the team were charming, intelligent and clearly loved food.

An unassuming exterior and frosted windows gave little away of what would be inside Roganic. We’d have thought it was an old school caff, if it hadn’t been for the bourgeois pistachio coloured paint and genteel Marylebone location, pointing to the serious food experience within. 

Inside was high-class IKEA.  The small tables and straight-backed chairs were more suggestive of a quick meal than a three hour dining experience, but tasteful midcentury furniture ensured there was no risk of being served meatballs with cloudberry juice. 

Choosing the 6 course option, we kicked off with breads (including a great ale roll) accompanied by an artful smear of homemade butter on a slab. The carb-loading begin, as insurance should the subsequent tasting portions be minute.

The amuses brought Rosemary and Chickpea Wafers with lobster and apple jelly served on a cross-section of a log. D had beetroot wafer with goat’s cheese while I was brought a wooden box of hay, with a croquette of smoked pork and eel nestling inside. The croquette was an unami hit. We could have quadrupled the quantities of all the snacks, and taken the lot on a picnic.

Next up, a dish which came to the table looking like baby food: a puree of carrots with ham fat, pickled celery and bacon. Dredging the bowl with my spoon brought up the carrot, marbled with creamy melted lard. The crispy treats added crunch and a nice mix of the refreshing and the salty. The vegetarian version went without the pig and was creamy but with fewer surprises.

Course number two was our favourite. Mushrooms in stock with water mint and buffalo curd came in a dish that looked like a giant nacho. Both of us had this; it was deliciously meaty yet astonishingly vegetarian. The curd had a bouncy texture that held in the warm stock, and which gave a creamy twist to the mushrooms. The water mint offered anise-y, peppery flavour that we’d not before encountered.

Next up for me was Scallop with Apple and Oyster which was like gargling with rockpool water - very ozonic and refreshing. D had Beetroot dumplings with mace which were little bland cushions which didn’t quite match the heights of the previous course.

D then had asparagus three ways (roast, julienned and in a puree) with egg yolks, an interesting mix of freshness and richness and a departure from the asparagus with boiled egg theme. The garnish, resembling over-roasted broccoli florets was dry, and added little.  I had sole with marrowbone stock and roast tomato. With a globule of marrow perched on top and a toothsome, the simplicity of the fish was wonderfully framed with savoury, rib-sticking goodness. I could have eaten this many times over.

In our final savoury course, Mr D had cauliflower with strawberry glaze and pureed turnips which to him summed up the meal: an interesting combination of some lovely ingredients, but which didn’t quite come together. The strawberry glaze brought an unwelcome sweetness to what was otherwise a well-composed main.

I had roast duck with with duck sweetbreads and turnip. The little sweetbreads had been deep-fried into crispness, so as to resemble coral, and texturally sat very nicely agains the marshmallowey texture of the duck.

We finished with a Strawberry with Meringue Curd washed down with Douglas Fir Milkshake. Not a flavour we expect to find in a McFlurry any time soon, but delightful; a subtle forest taste in which the resiny flavour worked really well with the creamy backdrop. The strawberries weren’t that memorable. It’s all about the forest.

To end we had coffees accompanied by doughnuts with cherry jam, just for that extra hit of sugar. The cherry jam had a sharp kick but the doughnuts were a tad dry.

Final words: I found the Roganic experience to be nicely balanced. A food adventure but without the fuss and pomp, and a discovery into a number of wild and foraged ingredients not usually found on restaurant menus. D was less impressed, perhaps because the holy grail of vegetarian Fine Dining seemed to lie just beyond Roganic’s grasp. If all dishes had reached the heights of the mushroom and buffalo curd, he’d have been a very very happy man. But, for me, it was all about the bone marrow really, and as yet, that’s not available as a vegetarian option.

The details:
Address - 19 Blandford St, London, W1U 3DH

Friday, 20 July 2012

Park House, Cardiff fine dining restaurant review

Key milestones in life are often accompanied by celebratory meals. Mrs G and I’s engagement in Abergavenny was accompanied by a brace of delicious meals at The Walnut Tree and The Hardwick. However, a trip to a Thai restaurant for my 18th birthday was memorable for all the wrong reasons. A nut-allergic friend was rushed to A&E after his first mouthful of food. Thankfully he was ok but it certainly put a dampener on the evening.

Yesterday saw the end of another era in my life; a brief but memory-packed 3 years as a secondary school Science teacher. To mark the occasion we paid a visit to The Park House.

Since the hugely talented Roger Jones took over as consultant chef earlier this year, he’s spent time working with head chef Jonathan Edwards and trained members of the team in the intricacies of running a Michelin starred establishment. His style of classical French technique with Asian influences is evident across the menu and a number of his signature dishes from The Harrow at Little Bedwyn also make an appearance.

2 evening menus are available. The a la carte consists of starters (£10), mains (£26) and desserts (£7/10) which are uniformly priced across the board irrespective of ingredient cost. We opted for the 6 course tasting menu (£59) as we were dining using a group discount voucher. We chose the matching wines (£25) to go with it.

The 5 glasses of accompanying wine were excellent and matched the food precisely. Standouts included an Australian Riesling, an Argentinian Malbec and a Chilean dessert wine. The extensive wine list also includes a large selection of vintage champagnes and a number of hand-picked featured wineries. It’s unsurprising the wine is of such a high-standard as the owner Adam Pledger travels the world in his role of wine buyer. 

The bold pricing, expansive wine list, smart dress code and classical style of cooking clearly set out Park House’s stall in the fine dining camp. With high prices comes a raised bar against which things must be judged.

The dining room at Park House has the feel of old fashioned opulence. Wood panelled walls, oil paintings, a baby grand piano and bottles of vintage champagne dotted around the room all add to the atmosphere. In general it’s a success but it doesn’t all quite work - the contemporary leather sofas and black tables in the bar area jar somewhat with the rest of the classical décor.

Service was efficient throughout the evening. The pacing of courses in the tasting menu was just right so as to avoid the risk of a relentless food bombardment. However, it fell short in places. When Mrs G knocked over a pre-dinner glass of champagne and she made her apologies, it was dealt with in steely silence. Similarly, when I asked questions about the food during the meal, responses given displayed either a lack of knowledge or enthusiasm.

Excellent, fresh brown bread infused with porcini mushrooms and white bread with subtle notes of chilli and ginger kept the wolf from the door.

We started with an amuse bouche of sweetcorn veloute and tomato relish. Smooth, creamy and unashamedly sweetcorn tasting, this was a cracking soup. Flavour-wise, the spicy and smoky tomato relish was the perfect foil for the creamy veloute. However, the textural combination was a little odd and the intended way of eating the dish was unclear; a member of the serving team was unable to shed any light.

One of Roger Jones’s signature dishes was up next; St Brides Bay lobster fish finger. Sweet, tender lobster was coated in a crisp, light batter and accompanied by mushy peas and an intense tomato ketchup. This was a very good dish. The only issue – I’d experienced a similar tomato hit minutes earlier.

The feeling of déjà vu continued into the next course. Unctuous, crisp black pudding was bathed in a rich, meaty sauce of foie gras and topped with smoked mushy peas and a delicate, jelly like onsen egg. The egg was certainly one of the most unique things I’ve eaten lately and when I enquired as to whether it was prepared in a water bath, a rather brief, un-engaging response was given.

Next up was chilli squid and caramelised Kelmscott pork with chilli jam and carrot puree. This dish was the prettiest of the evening.  A nucleus of belly pork was surrounded by complementary orbitals of sweet carrot puree and fiery chilli jam. Perched on top of the pork were daintily placed pieces of soft, battered squid. The dish was let down by the pork’s slight lack of tenderness and crisp crackling which retained an element of chewiness.

The primary meat course came in the form of a duo of Highland Shorthorn beef. Tender, flavoursome fillet of beef was topped with unctuous shredded shin, coriander yoghurt and crisp shards of poppadom. Beneath the fillet lay earthy tarka dhal and a curiously meaty piece of abalone mushroom. This was a fine piece of seasonal cooking but unfortunately the season this dish belonged to wasn’t summer. This was all the more apparent in light of yesterday’s rare sunshine. 

A dainty pre-dessert of strawberry jelly, vanilla panna cotta, strawberry coulis and a miniature donut came next. Whilst the contents of the shot glass were all on the nail, the donut was a tad dense and dry.

Dessert fell into the trap of incompatible dishes unsuccessfully trying to work as one. A mini kilner jar of coconut panacotta was one of the best things I’ve eaten all year; I defy you to find a better representation of coconut. Equally, a booze-packed, refreshing mojito sorbet was reminiscent of the ubiquitous frozen cocktails I drank by the gallon full in the baking heat of Las Vegas. However, its potency pummelled the panna cotta into submission. An excellent pineapple and chilli salsa was literally caught in the middle.

Don’t get me wrong, we had an excellent evening at The Park House. The food, wine and company were all excellent. It was the details that let the experience down and sadly this is what makes the best fine dining establishments so special. Reflecting on the tasting menu, the recurring appearances of ingredients such as tomato, pork and pea left each dish without a distinct identity. Equally, the dominance of browns and beiges across the menu gave the impression of Winter rather than Summer - a bit like this year’s unseasonal weather.

The details:
Address - Park House, 20 Park Place, Cardiff, CF10 3DQ
Telephone - 029 2022 4343

Monday, 16 July 2012

The North Star - Searching for Cardiff's Best Burger

The North Star’s burger has been hyped up to me more than any other. Only this morning, someone was telling me that after extensive research their friend had concluded the best burger in Cardiff belongs to the North Star and that I must try it.

It’s lucky then that on this occasion I was able to reply that I’d already tried it. Here’s my verdict…..

The Burger – The North Star 10oz Gourmet Beef Burger

1. How was the patty? Well done yet moist, well proportioned and well charred. The patty lacked a little seasoning making it a touch bland.

2. How was the bun? A fresh soft seeded bun. Very good but it could have been improved with a gentle toasting or steaming.  

3. How was the other stuff in the bun? Oozing mild cheddar, crisp bacon, a couple of leaves of lettuce and a 
slice of tomato; a well balanced quantity of extra bits in proportion to the bun and patty. Pots of ketchup and mayo were provided for me to slather on the bun.

 4. How were the fries? Brilliant - some of the best chips to be had in Cardiff. Crisp, thick cut chips with a fluffy interior.

5. What was the price? On the lunch menu it’s £5 including chips. On the dinner menu it’s £7.95. On a Sunday evening it’s a stupidly cheap 2 burgers and chips and 2 house drinks for £10. Bacon and cheese are a supplement of £1 each.

6. How were the sides? A couple of crunchy, acidic gherkins cut through the fattiness of the burger and chips nicely.  

7. What about the other food? Mrs G ordered an excellent club sandwich (£5); plenty of crispy bacon, moist chicken, fresh salad and mayo on toasted bloomer. It was supposed to come with homemade crisps but we were able to sub them for chips at no extra cost.

8. How was the service? Excellent

9. So what's the verdict? The North Star’s burger is very good. Sadly, there are a few minor details which stop it being excellent.  It’s not Cardiff’s holy grail of burgers so the search continues. Saying that, I’ll certainly be heading back to sample another one on a Sunday evening. In fact, I’m also in training for their Man v Food 45oz version served on a Wednesday……….

Update - On a more recent visit, my minor quibbles with the North Star burger have been rectified. The bun is now toasted and the seasoning of the patty has improved. 

I've previously reviewed a full meal at The North Star - HERE 

The Details:
Address - The North Star, 131 North Road, Cardiff, CF14 3AE
Telephone - 029 2062 1736

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Purple Poppadom, Deep Blue Menu, Indian restaurant review Cardiff

Deep Blue.

It’s not to be mistaken with the infamous chess-playing, hulking black box of a supercomputer which shares the same name.

Nor is it to be confused with Deep Blue Sea, the shockingly bad Science fiction horror film featuring Samuel L Jackson, LL Cool J and a horde of genetically modified killer sharks.

Deep Blue is Anand George’s new summer menu at Purple Poppadom. And, unlike the two other Deep Blues mentioned above, it’s a thing of absolute beauty.  

With an emphasis on lighter flavours and fish to complement the summer weather, this shift in focus with the change of the season is a serious statement of intent from a restaurant which is a whole lot more than a curry house. It’s just a shame that with the recent awful weather, a more appropriate name for the menu would be Purple Rain.

We chose the tasting menu (£39.95 per person without beer and £47.95 with beer) comprising of 5 courses and a number of extras. The amount of food was belt-looseningly generous but not trouser-splittingly so. Having opted for the matched beer option, each savoury course was accompanied by a large wine glass of beer. Notable were the damn fine Brooklyn lager and Wales’s own Cwrw Celt. It’s hard to say whether each beer specifically complimented its accompanying dish but each one tasted rather delicious.

We began with some excellent poppadoms and chutneys. The date chutney had me licking the bowl clean and the lemon chutney was a mouth-puckering alternative to the ubiquitous lime chutney.

The first course was the most delicately spiced of the evening. Perhaps our taste buds were being broken in gently. Tandoori salmon was marinated in a mixture of honey and mustard, imparting it with a gentle sweet and spiciness. A pattice of tuna coated in crisp breadcrumbs was comforting yet subtle. The richness of these two components was balanced well by the clarity and fragrance of mango pieces in a passion fruit and chilli dressing.  I’d have liked a little more chilli in the dressing but that’s a matter of preference.

The second course was an absolute stunner. Tandoori grilled swordfish loin was marinated in an intensely aromatic combination of coriander and mint. This was my kind of fish dish – the sort that makes you think you’re eating steak. It was served with a wonderful South Indian style risotto with a sticky rice like texture. The risotto was flavoured with the sweet crunch of red onion and diced coriander. A drizzle of chilli oil around the plate added some heat to the dish.

An intermission of smooth mint and chilli sorbet followed next. This was certainly the contender for spiciest dish of the evening. The deceptive and surprising combination of cool temperature and chilli heat was a very clever piece of cooking. Mrs G however, was initially left wondering whether she’d dislodged a piece of chilli from between her teeth.

Back to curry and next we moved onto pan fried Kerala style sardine fillets on a mustard dressed salad. It was accompanied by Golden crispy battered squid and a smear of bell pepper sauce. Everything was executed remarkably well – the sardines were moist, meaty and packed with flavour whilst the Golden crispy squid was unsurprisingly golden and crispy.

The second interval brought us a sharp and smooth lemon sorbet. After the first rounds of curry, it jolted my palette back to life.

The next course was probably my favourite of the evening. And that’s not just because the portion size was the biggest. Halibut pieces were bathed in an intense Boatman sauce of chilli, curry leaves and smoked tamarind. Side dishes comprised of a mix of al dente, light vegetables flecked through with cashew nuts and coconut alongside a bowl of butter glazed rice which I could have happily devoured on its own.

Desserts were of an equally high standard. It’s often the case that desserts are less than an afterthought on the menus of Indian restaurants. Bought-in coconut ice creams served in their shells and rock solid chocolate bombes are an all too familiar sight. Purple Poppadom take dessert as seriously as they take their curry. Mango crème brulee was smooth, fragrant and creamy with a thin, crisp sugar top. A mini samosa filled with oozing melted chocolate was a killer chocolate hit. Both of these indulgent desserts were balanced well by a piece of complex yet refreshing tandoori pineapple.

Our meal at Purple Poppadom was quite simply excellent. With fine dining credentials surpassing almost every other restaurant in Cardiff and having recently been pronounced Welsh Curry House of the Year 2012, it’s only a matter of time before Purple Poppadom have more and more awards thrown at them . The spicing of their food is refined, their dishes are delicately plated and the service is jovial and slick. Judging by the fact the restaurant was packed out on the Wednesday evening we visited, a lot of other people in Cardiff seem to agree.

We were invited as guests of Purple Poppadom – all food and drink was complimentary.
I have previously reviewed Purple Poppadom – here

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