Saturday, 24 November 2012

Hide N Sea, Cardiff pop-up restaurant review

When I was a chubby tweenager someone else in my class bought exactly the same Caterpillar school bag as me. To say I was hacked off was an understatement. I felt my unique sense of style had been violated (only 1 million schoolchildren across the UK had the same bag). However, my mum, who always knew the right thing to say, reassured me with the words “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”.

I’m sure Burger & Lobster in Mayfair, one of the London restaurant success stories of 2012, don’t need any such reassurance. For, a startlingly similar concept, a restaurant focusing on 3 dishes (burgers, steamed lobster & lobster rolls), has popped up in Cardiff for one weekend only.

The cleverly named Hide ‘N’ Sea is the Celtic Manor’s temporary Cardiff outpost. It’s located in the space where the short-lived Mimosa, Pontcanna was previously and except for the addition of some Hide ‘N’ Sea branding, the venue hasn’t changed one jot.

It’s normal to let a restaurant bed in for a while before reviewing it. However, considering Hide ‘N’ Sea is only open for 4 days, 1 day into service seems like ample time.

The first thing to mention is the slick front of house running the show. Hide ‘N’ Sea feels like a long established venue rather than a pop-up just finding its feet. Celtic Manor have clearly parachuted in their A-team..

On the booze front, they're on form too. Mrs G had a couple of excellent cocktails from the interesting list. Notable was a “The Bowrey” which comprised of a mix of champagne, Dubonnet, gin and bitters. I stuck to a couple of awesome bottles of citrusy Tiny Rebel Urban IPA.

This brings me to the main event, the burgers & lobster, and it’s disappointingly where things became a bit more average. As you could probably have predicted, neither Mrs G nor I could be faffed to crack our own lobster. Instead, we ordered a burger (£15) and a lobster roll (£20) to share.

From first impressions, both the heaving boards of poshed up junk food looked the part…

Turning first to the lobster roll, I could have eaten a bucket load of the sweet & tender lobster meat bathed in Marie Rose sauce. In fact this was part of the problem - there wasn’t enough of the stuff. Compared to the Burger & Lobster equivalent, which overflows with crustacean, it felt a bit stingy. It wasn’t helped by the disproportionately large and disappointingly dry brioche roll.

It was a role reversal on the burger front. This time the fresh, slightly sweet brioche bun was on the money. However, the well flavoured Welsh beef burger was served well done and was rather on the dry side.

Both dishes were accompanied by huge pots of excellent, crisp fries. A gravy boat full of buttery Hollandaise-like sauce in the case of the lobster roll and a pot of incredible Big Mac-like secret sauce in the case of the burger made for excellent dips.

Dessert too was hit and miss.

The crisp pastry of my delicious Peek’n’Pie (£4.25) overflowed with pecans and gooey caramel.

However, a fridge cold Holy Moly Mousse (£3.95) was a bit dense and hardly crackled with the promised popping candy.

I really wanted to love Hide ‘N’ Sea. It’s the kind of restaurant I’d love to see in Cardiff on a permanent basis and we had a really fun evening. It’s just a shame that the restaurant’s namesakes didn't live up to expectations. With a few details ironed out, Hide ‘N’ Sea could be brilliant. It’s unfortunate it’s not going to be around long enough for a revisit.

The Details - 
Address - Hide 'N' Sea 175 Kings Road, Pontcanna, CF11 9DF
Telephone - 01633 410 262

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Wok to Walk noodle bar, Cardiff review

It’s amazing how the minor details leave a lasting impression. Whilst the noodles we ate from Wok to Walk for dinner last week were delicious, a couple of factors left a sour taste in my mouth.

Wok to Walk on Wellfield Road is the second branch to open in Cardiff (the first is on St Mary’s Street). 

The concept is rather simple:
  1. First choose the base of your dish from a choice of noodles or rice (£3.90).
  2. Secondly choose your additional ingredients from a selection of meat and vegetables (prices range from 70p to £1.80).
  3. Lastly choose your sauce from a familiar range of pan-Asian classics including black bean, satay and teriyaki.  

Once you’ve made your selection, your dish is cooked to order in front of you in a matter of minutes (precooked meat expedites the process). You can then either sit and eat your noodles on one of the utilitarian benches or dash home and slurp them in front of Masterchef.

I ordered udon with chicken, bamboo shoots, mushrooms and hot Asia sauce (£6). Everything tasted fresh and un-greasy. The noodles were firm, the veg sog-free, the chicken moist and the Asia sauce fiery hot.

Mrs G’s flat rice noodles with chicken breast, shiitake mushrooms, cashew nuts and Bali peanut sauce (£7.20) were also good.

So what’s there to gripe about? 70p for a meager scoop of bamboo shoots or white mushrooms feels stingy and the cost for a noodle box racks up quickly. Also, whilst I’m all in favour of loyalty cards, offering only a single stamp per transaction rather than per noodle box really gets on my moobs.

Whilst googling Wok to Walk, I wasn’t surprised to learn they’re a global franchise network with outlets across the globe in destinations including Columbia and Lithuania. I can’t help but question whether an independent would show such cynicism towards their customers…

Update 26th November 2012 - I received an email from the Wok to Walk marketing team - from January, Wok to Walk in Cardiff will be offering a loyalty card stamp with each noodle box, in line with all their other locations. 

The details:
Address - 17 Wellfield Road, Cardiff, CF24 3NZ

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Bully's, Cardiff French restaurant review

Having immigrated to Wales 4 years ago, I know very little about the history of dining out in Cardiff. I’ve gleaned the following sketchy, uncorroborated pieces of information from Mrs G:
  • The subterranean Pillar’s on Queen Street used to be insanely popular. Perhaps it still is but Mrs G hasn’t been in the last 10 years.
  • Picking your own meat / fish to be cooked from the chiller counter at Le Brasserie or Le Monde on St Mary’s Street was once the height of sophistication.
  • Bully’s was located in Llandaff, in a tiny, quirky space which was essentially someone’s front room. Their French cooking made it one of Cardiff’s first serious foodie destinations and it took weeks to get a reservation. .
Whilst Bully’s has since relocated to a larger venue in Pontcanna, there’s still an aura about the place. Its eclectic décor makes it one of the nicest dining rooms in Cardiff, front of house is run by the genial and knowledgeable Russell Bullimore, and it’s not every day Charlotte Church pops in to book a table whilst you’re having your lunch.  

We visited Bully’s on a Saturday lunchtime. Their express lunch menu is a very good value 2 courses for £14 or 3 courses for £17.50 including a glass house wine - I had a glass of highly neckable chardonnay.
It’s worth mentioning how accommodating Bully’s were of the 2 rugrats who formed part of our group. Colouring pencils were supplied and the place mats made ideal colouring-in sheets. Also, an off-menu vanilla ice cream cone with sprinkles was conjured from nowhere for dessert.
Organic white bread with unsalted butter garnished with tea smoked sea salt was a demonstration of how seriously Bully’s take their food.

Mrs G ordered the soup de jour. Smooth, earthy sweet potato soup had great background notes of coconut and chilli.

My crayfish tail and sunblushed tomato tian was packed full of plump crustaceans. The crisp, refreshing apple pieces and punchy balsamic dressing balanced the dish nicely.

My light main comprised of crisp skinned, moist hake, precisely cooked runner beans and new potatoes. Some delicately flavoured red pepper oil added lubrication to the dish but a little extra saucing wouldn’t have gone amiss.

Mrs G’s loin of pork was a triumph of richness. Tender meat, crushed potatoes, French beans and a seriously creamy and earthy wild mushroom sauce combined to make the ideal dish for a crisp Autumnal day.

For dessert I had a spot on pineapple and vanilla crème brulee. Crisp caramel gave way to smooth vanilla flecked custard with just the right hit of pineapple. An average almond shortbread was served on the side.

Mrs G’s cheeseboard included some interesting and delicious socky, salty, creamy and goaty numbers. 

Lunch at Bully’s was excellent and I can understand how they’ve established such a formidable reputation. I’m looking forward to sampling some of the more complex sounding dishes on their a la carte.
The details:
Address - 5 Romilly Crescent, Cardiff, CF11 9NP
Telephone - 02920 22 1905
Web -

Friday, 9 November 2012

Purple Poppadom, Christmas menu preview, Cardiff

On Tuesday evening Mrs G and I had a preview of one of Purple Poppadom’s Christmas menus. I've already waxed lyrical on two separate occasions about how much I enjoy Anand George’s food, so I won’t bore you again.

Mrs G and I sampled the seafood tasting menu (£45 per head). Suffice to say, everything looked and tasted pretty darn good. Furthermore, nothing was deemed too spicy by the spice wuss, Mrs G.

Here are the pics:

Kaffir lime marinated tandoori king prawn, crispy soft shell crab and spice crusted scallop

Spice crusted mackerel and salad with mango dressing

Mango sorbet

King prawns in a chilli and coconut sauce.

Halibut in a mango and ginger sauce

Tandoori salmon

Savoy cabbage, green beans, and carrot with curry leaf and mustard

Peshwari and Chilli naans

Tandoori pineapple, chocomosa and rose petal crème brulee

Mrs G and I dined as guests of Purple Poppadom

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

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Woods Brasserie, Cardiff Bay, Restaurant Review

Update - 23/02/2014 - Woods Brasserie has now closed down

On Monday evening a group of us visited Woods Brasserie to celebrate the birthday of Rhys 'the bottomless pit’.  

This was my first experience of the Knife & Fork Food group. Woods Brasserie, the oldest member of the family, has younger siblings in the form of The Old Swan Inn in Llantwit Major, The new Conway in Pontcanna and The new Pilot in Penarth.

The exterior of the grand stone building gives way to a large, contemporary bar area and a long, glass fronted dining space. It’s all rather sophisticated. And, judging by the crowd we shared the dining room with on Monday evening, it's a popular ‘date night’ destination.

Half the group, including myself, ordered off the table d’hote menu (3 courses for £20, available all day) whilst the other half chose from the a la carte.

To start I had an excellent confit duck leg. The crisp skin and moist, rich flesh were balanced nicely by a refreshing citrus and crunchy fennel salad.

Rhys ordered roasted pigeon breast, pumpkin & pernod puree and caramelised brazil nut (£9.50). Whilst this pretty looking plate of food was packed full of interesting flavours, the dainty dish was not of ‘bottomless pit’ proportions. For the steep price, a second breast of meat wouldn't have gone amiss.

Morg enjoyed his epic sized bowl of carrot and fennel soup (£4).

For main I had fennel roasted pork loin, buttered spinach, white onion puree and crackling. An excellent, just pink, piece of pork was accompanied by a heavy hitting meat jus. However, the dish was let down by the other components  – the spinach and white onion puree appeared in blink & you’ll miss them quantities. The crackling on the other hand was a complete no show. I only realised this when I got home and reread the menu – kind of funny when it’s the primary reason I ordered the dish!

A plate of highly decent thick cut chips added some welcome bulk to my main (£3)

There were no complaints with the portion size of Rhys’ main course. A generous quantity of unctuous, slow braised ox cheek (£16) was accompanied by smooth mash, buttered kale and an intense, star anise twanged meaty sauce. This was an excellent dish. 

Morg also enjoyed his fish & chips (£11) served with pea & mint puree and tartar sauce.

To round off the meal I opted for warm ginger sponge and rum & raisin ice cream. This was a very good pud but it was at risk of being spoilt by a scattering of brutally strong rum soaked raisins .

Unfortunately, Rhys’ chocolate fudge pudding (£5) was the nadir of the meal. This dry and bog standard chocolate sponge was less enjoyable than numerous supermarket chocolate cakes I consumed over 2 years of work ‘Friday cake club’.  It’s a shame because Rhys had memories of a damn fine chocolate pudding from another recent visit to Woods.

So, all in all our evening at Woods was a mixed bag. 

Whilst the service was friendly, there was a lengthy wait between mains and dessert. However, this can partly be excused by the fact the pared back serving team were caught off guard on an uncharacteristically busy Monday evening.

Furthermore, there's some top notch cooking going at Wood’s and the 3 courses for £20 menu is generally good value. It’s just a shame the food was punctuated by a few bum notes and some erratic portion sizing. 

The details:
Address - Woods Brasserie, Pilotage Building, Stuart Street, Cardiff, CF10 5BW