Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Bill's Cardiff, Review - Searching for Cardiff's Best Burger

Bill’s is an 11 strong chain owned by restaurant mogul Richard Caring. Caring also owns the celeb friendly Caprice Holdings (The Ivy, J Sheekey, Le Caprice), the uber trendy Soho House private members clubs and has a sizeable stake in Cote and Carluccio’s. The Cardiff branch of Bill’s in the Wyndham arcade is the latest addition to the family.

You can tell the owner of Bill’s knows the restaurant industry inside and out. The menu is crammed full of crowd pleasing comfort food, service is on the ball and the décor (eclectic furniture, exposed metal work, and shelves full of stylishly branded groceries) is very well conceived. Lastly, I’ve never been to another restaurant where you can purchase groceries from a tick list whilst eating your meal. Bill’s knows how to make money.

The Burger – Bill’s hamburger

1. How was the patty? I was asked how I wanted the patty to be cooked and requested medium .I was pleased to see it served a proper medium pink. Light char marks on the outside, juicy, flavoursome and seasoned correctly, this was an excellent patty.

2. How was the bun? A supremely soft, buttery and delicately sweet seeded brioche roll. The best burger bun so far in Cardiff.

3. How was the other stuff in the bun?
 A subtle ooze of Monterey Jack, gentle horseradish mayonnaise, tomato, lettuce and red onion. Just the right quantity and balance in relation to the bun.  

 4. How were the fries? Disappointingly generic, lukewarm sub McDonald’s style French fries.

5. What was the price? £9.95 + £1.20 for cheese.

6. How was the service? Efficient, warm and chatty.

7. How was the other stuff?

Mini Cumberland sausages (£4.25) coated in a delicious glaze of sticky honey and subtle mustard were as addictive as Breaking Bad season 4.

The mother in law ordered Bill fish pie (£12.95). It contained a generous amount of fish (queen scallops, smoked haddock, salmon, tiger prawns) and just the right amount of cheese in the mash.

Mrs G’s mezze board (£9.95) was enjoyable but unremarkable. The tomato salsa, extra virgin olive oil hummus, olives and halloumi skewers were all good but the babaganouj achieved the impressive feat of not tasting of aubergines.

A large chocolate brownie milkshake (£3.65) was chocolatey and creamy without being overly sweet. However, as it didn’t seem to have been made with ice cream it was a bit thin and not ice cold.

8. So what's the verdict? Bill’s burger really is top notch. I think I managed to inhale the whole thing in a couple of minutes. The bun is ace, the juicy patty is on the nail and the salad and cheese complete the picture. The only issues for me are the poor fries and the price - £11.15 for a burger and fries is a bit steep. For these reasons it's going in at joint first in the search for Cardiff's best burger. Taking into account the value of the North Star burger and their amazing chips, it's hard to separate the two of them. 

The Details:
Address - 27-39 Wyndham Arcade, Mill Lane, Cardiff,  CF10 1FH
Telephone - 02920 231524

Friday, 26 October 2012

Tenkaichi, Cardiff Japanese restaurant review

When an old friend who was visiting Cardiff on business offered to take us out for dinner as a way of thanking us for putting him up for the night, I excitedly concocted a plan for steak, chips, bearnaise, beer, chocolate pudding, cheese and port.

One text later and my hopes were dashed:

“Gourmet Gorro, take me to the healthiest and most nutritious restaurant in Cardiff!”

I should have seen it coming. After all, this is the friend who used to drink 3 litres of Evian a day. 

With this text it finally dawned on me. My childhood friend is the Anti-Gorro…

Putting my thinking cap on for something healthy that wouldn’t involve salad, quinoa, steamed vegetables or goji berries, I decided on Japanese food. Having already sampled Ichiban, it was time to put Tenkaichi through its paces.

Tenkaichi’s dining space belongs to the same mould as other utilitarian Japanese eateries. Walls are bare, seating is at communal benches and lighting is bright. Having pulled up a pew in the packed dining room, it was a good ten minutes before our drinks (and simultaneous food) order was taken.

Edamame were hot, bright and salty (£2.40)

Some tasty yet mediocre deep fried gyoza (£4.60) contained a homogeneous meat (chicken or pork?) and cabbage filling which was well seasoned with chive. They were accompanied by a good soy and chilli dip.

I ordered the Tenkaichi bento (£13.95) as it was first on the menu, sounded massive and also contained a broad spectrum of stuff I like.

It certainly didn’t disappoint in terms of volume. And, most of the box’s contents were rather lovely.

Vegetarian California rolls contained a light mix of avocado, cucumber and mayo. More importantly, the sushi rice was firm, moist and well seasoned. Salmon and tuna sashimi, were fresh and clean tasting. A pork katsu fillet had a supremely crisp crumb and relatively moist flesh. Chicken teriyaki was disappointingly generic in appearance and rather dry.  Miso soup tasted like miso soup. Lastly, a mound of sticky rice filled any modicum of space which remained in my belly.

Mrs G’s agedashi tofu (£4.20) contained 4 plump cubes of crisp on the outside, soft on the inside creamy tofu. Savoury bonito flakes, spring onion and a dashi broth all added some interest.

She also highly rated her chicken teri maki (£3.80) rolls filled with teriyaki chicken and cucumber along with a California hand roll (£2.50).

Overall, we had a good meal at Tenkaichi. We preferred it to Ichiban (Roath) - the nori was definitely less chewy and the panko crumbs crispier. And, it’s a country mile better than Yo! Sushi.

The details:
Address - 236 City Road, Cardiff, CF24 3JJ
Telephone - 02920 481 888

Friday, 19 October 2012

Almada, Portuguese restaurant, Cardiff review

I’ve been brushing up on my Portuguese pub quiz trivia by reading October's edition of Monocle magazine. 

Here’s a few highlights:
  •  There are 8 Portuguese speaking independent countries in the world: Portugal, Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Sao Tome and Principe, and Timor-Leste.
  • Collectively they are known as the Lusosphere and a Portuguese speaker is called a Lusophone.
  • Every country in the Lusosphere has a coast.
  • Nando’s serves Portuguese-Mozambican food.
This segues rather nicely into my review of Almada, a Portuguese restaurant located in Canton.

Prior to Tuesday evening, my only experiences of Portuguese cuisine were a handful of visits to the cafes of Little Portugal aka South Lambeth Road in Vauxhall, London. My main memories are of guzzling Super Bock and steak, egg and chips. Oh yeah, and I've been to Nando's a few times. 

Almada, is owned by a waiter and chef who formerly worked at Casanova, one of my favourite restaurants in Cardiff. To add to this good omen, we were visiting with friends who had already enjoyed a very good meal at Almada.

There’s a homely feel to the dining room and this is accentuated by the warm and good humoured service. Complimentary nibbles were brought to the table whilst we chose what to eat: crunchy, sweet and sour pickled carrots, plump mixed olives, and some excellent white bread.

As I was driving, I restricted myself to a solitary Super Bock (£3.50). The other 3 demolished 2 bottles of an excellent Portuta da Tinto (£17.50).

To start, I was always going to order the salt cod fritters (£4.75). A crisp, grease free exterior gave way to a filling of salty flaked fish and smooth potato. Simple yet delicious, it was served with dressed leaves.

Mrs G really enjoyed her starter of mushrooms in a cream, white wine and garlic sauce served in puff pastry (£4.25)

For main, I shared a seafood casserole (£32 for 2 people). Heaps of king prawns, plump mussels, pork fillet and chorizo were served in a flavour-packed broth. Salty shellfish liquor, paprika-rich chorizo oil and parsley all played their part.  The casserole was served with a bowl of very good homemade chips.

Mrs G reluctantly shared a small mouthful of her pan-fried duck served with parsnip puree, roasted asparagus and forest fruit sauce (£14.95). The richness of the pink meat, crisp skin and smooth parsnip puree was balanced perfectly by the sweet and sharp forest fruit sauce.

The only main course disappointment came from our friend’s chicken piri piri (£12.95). Having ordered it on her previous visit she felt the current version wasn’t a patch on the last. The char-grilled chicken thighs lacked any real spicing. In contrast, the previous version made using chicken escalope was slathered in piri piri marinade.

Desserts sadly let our excellent first two courses down.

Mrs G’s torta de natas (cream tart) looked and tasted like a block of cream (£4.75). It was saved only by some mixed berry coulis which added a little bit of interest.

I was looking forward to a Portuguese custard tart but sadly they were off the menu the night we visited.  I had to make do with a Portuguese take on a crème brulee (£4.75). Whilst it looked the part, the thin caramelised sugar top gave way to a disappointing set egg custard. I’m not sure whether this is a trait of Portuguese crème brulees, but I would have preferred it if it was less set and there was a bigger hit of cream and vanilla.

If it wasn’t for the desserts, I’d be raving about Almada. It’s a charming neighbourhood restaurant where I’d happily spend a number of hours drinking Super Bock and eating salt cod fritters.

The Details:
Address - 146 Cowbridge Road East, Cardiff, CF11 9ND
Telephone - 02920 226242

Saturday, 13 October 2012

La Creperie de Sophie, High Street Arcade, Cardiff review

It’s no surprise that La Creperie de Sophie’s menu is dominated by all things pancake.

Located in the High Street Arcade, we visited for Sunday brunch and arrived shortly after they opened at 11am (Mon-Sat 10am).

A key component to Mrs G’s brunch is always a good cup of coffee and she was happy with her Americano made using beans from The Welsh Coffee Company (are there coffee plantations in Bridgend?)

For the savoury component of our brunch, we were recommended the galette mixture which utilises buckwheat flour instead of wheat flour.

I ordered La Complète (£5.95). A crisp and soft buckwheat galette sheltered runny fried egg, generous tranches of wood smoked ham and melted cheddar. A lightly dressed salad balanced the richness of the dish well. It was an awesome alternative to a fry up. 

Mrs G’s Cocorico (£5.45) contained melted brie, a generous pile of herbed chicken and cranberry sauce. The flavours worked well together but the quantity of cranberry sauce rendered the dish a little sweet.

The Brittany crepe (£5.45) we shared for dessert was definitely the star of the show. Soft banana, golden homemade caramel, crunchy biscuit and whipped cream tasted stunning.

Pricewise, I’m not 100% sure whether La Creperie de Sophie have totally hit the mark. But, I guess it depends on your reference point. For instance, whilst there’s no doubting how chuffing lovely the Brittany crepe was, £5.45 is a steep alternative to a slice of cake with your afternoon tea. Saying that, you'd be hard pressed to find many slices of cake as delicious. 

The Details:

*Update - 16/06/2018 - La Creperie De Sophie is now closed*

Address - 16 High Street Arcade, Cardiff
Telephone - 029 2037 2352

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Moksh, Cardiff Bay, Indian restaurant review

“Each new recipe may be likened to the discovery of a new continent. Science is there not only to guide us but also to help us exercise our innate capacities for discovery and invention.”
Herve This, Molecular Gastronomy: Exploring the Science of Flavor

In the case of chocolate orange chicken tikka, I believe it’s a continent which would have been best left undiscovered.

At its best, the principles of molecular gastronomy introduce the palette to unexpected and new flavour combinations, textures, smells and sights.

At its worst, it’s the tailor for the emperor’s new clothes, resulting in dishes which are gimmicky, pretentious and detract from the quality of the component ingredients.

Moksh is the brainchild of Chef Stephen Gomez. His multi-award winning restaurant (Good Curry Guide – Chef of the Year 07/08 + 08/09) recently re-launched its menu with the proud acclimation that they’re the first Indian restaurant in the UK to use the principles of molecular gastronomy.

So, are the experiments carried out in the kitchens of Moksh Nobel prize winning?

Our table at Moksh was booked for 6:30pm on a Thursday. We were the first customers to arrive at the rather funky, graffiti adorned, amber coloured restaurant. Within an hour it was a full house.

Whilst we waited for our friends, we got cracking on some excellent poppadoms and chutney.

An interesting amuse-bouche of crisp deep fried bread sticks and a subtle pot of green tea jam raised my hopes about the weird and wonderful sounding dishes on the menu (it’s worth noting that there are a host of more traditional Indian dishes on Moksh’s menu, but I was there for molecular gastronomy)

However, a shot glass of a “palette cleanser” was indistinct in flavour (mixed spices and menthol?) and unappealingly fluorescent in appearance due to the glassware in which it was served.

To start, I couldn’t resist the Moksh Delight (£6.30) as it gave me the opportunity to sample a selection of the more unique sounding first courses.

A piece of tender pork served in a mild tomato based curry sauce was spoilt by a rice paper wrapper which clagged as soon it hit the tongue. Naming issues aside, a Hyderabadi mince cupcake was a very good Indian take on Shepherd’s pie; spiced mince, smooth mash and a beetroot foam all complimented each other well. Lastly, chocolate orange chicken tikka tasted exactly how it sounded - tender poultry infused with the taste of Terry’s chocolate orange. I’ll move on quickly.

Mrs G’s Avatar Aubergine (£5) was relatively successful but tasted a lot less complex than billed. Described as “an incarnation of baby aubergines”, this attractive looking dish was served with green tea cinnamon jam, spiced tamarind, pine nuts, mint foam and seasonal berries. Except for the soft aubergine, mild spicing and sweetness of berries, the other flavours were lost in the background.

A smooth and sharp pink grapefruit sorbet arrived as a palette cleanser.

I ordered Raan-e-Royals (£14) for main. If I had eaten the dish described on the menu then I’m sure it would have been excellent. A tender, tandoori cooked lamb shank was marinated in a lovely blend of green chilli, saffron, yoghurt, ginger and garlic. Unfortunately, the menu made no mention of the combination of oozing, sharp cheese and nondescript spherified fruit which clung to the meat. The dish was accompanied by a delicious mild curry sauce and an undressed salad of rocket and tomberries.

Mrs G’s Ratnagiri Mango Lamb (£13) was a delightful blend of spice and sweetness. Lamb pieces were served in a sauce made from mango pulp, coconut milk and chilli. This was a banging dish except for the reappearance of some more of the non-descript tasting spherified fruit and a damp squib of a dry ice generated cinnamon aroma (compare it to Casamia’s successful smell of the Amalfi Coast).

Garlic butter (£2) and peshwari naans (£3), and pilau rice (£3) were absolutely delicious.

If Mrs G hadn’t ordered the Gajar ka halwa Yorkshire (£4) then I would have done out of sheer curiosity. A warm grated carrot dessert flavoured with cardamom and nuts was served in a Yorkshire pudding and accompanied by vanilla ice cream. Mrs G rated it highly but I felt the Yorkshire was a little limp.

I ordered a traditional Indian ice-cream known as Matka kulfi (£4), flavoured with a mix of fruit and nuts.  Whilst the huge portion size and flavour were good, ice crystals had developed on its surface as it had been frozen in its earthenware pot.

The bill was accompanied by some lovely miniature Welsh cakes.  

Based on the Scientific evidence, what conclusions can I draw about Moksh?

Get rid of the wacky gimmicks, and it’s clear Moksh can serve some excellent food. 

The Details:
Address - Moksh, Bute Crescent, Cardiff Bay, CF10 5AN
Telephone - 029 2049 8120