Sunday, 30 June 2013

Spice Route, Buffet restaurant, Cardiff Bay review

A couple of weeks ago we went out for a game of ten pin bowling and an all you can eat buffet.

It was a masterclass in skill, focus and tactical precision.

And that’s just the meal.

There’s a few unspoken rules which apply when visiting all you can eat buffet.

Firstly, it’s inevitable that half the food on display is minging – either because it’s been sitting out for ages, the ingredients are budget or it’s just been badly cooked. An initial visual screening is therefore vital to decided what looks edible.

Secondly, never ever take more than one spoonful of anything on first sampling. Looks can be deceiving - you don’t want to be stuck with a plate of steak that’s chewier than a Roy of the Rovers bar.

And that’s it. From then on, it’s just you versus the buffet.  

Spice Route, located in the Red Dragon Centre in Cardiff Bay, is one of Cardiff’s better all you can eat options. Despite offering a spectrum of national cuisines, their focus is Indian food.

Having ordered beers and a jug of tepid tap water, we commenced “mission all you can eat”.

A plate of starters was a mixed bag. Onion bhajis, slightly dry samosas, dense shish kebab pieces and bland battered fish were all pretty average. In contrast, tender well spiced chicken tikka pieces were top drawer.

Dosas, freshly prepared at a live cookery station, were highly rated by our Indian dining companion. My egg dosa was good in spite of the layer of egg compromising the crisp, delicateness of the pancake. Accompanying coconut and chilli chutneys were tasty.

Mains were generally very good. Highlights included a creamy murgh makhani, an intensely meaty lamb rogan josh (in spite of the fact it was a challenge to locate meat and not bone in the tureen) and a well spiced chicken madras packed full of tender meat. Rice was light and fragrant whilst a watery kofta curry with dense meatballs was very poor.

Crisp and soft Naan breads were freshly cooked to order.

Like most all you can eats, the dessert selection at Spice Route is uninspired – pre-sliced gateaux, jelly and dried out gulab jamun are the staples available. Despite this, a self-serve Mr Whippy machine largely compensated for the otherwise poor offerings.

Spice Route’s selection of decent Indian dishes, their live cookery stations offering fresh dosas, naans and noodles, and the fact they don’t rip you off for drinks (jugs of tap water are willingly offered and a pint of lager is £2.70) are all major plus points.

However, at £13.95 for a weekday dinner buffet Spice Route isn’t exactly a bargain. Furthermore it’s annoying to have to work out what’s worth eating.   

The details -

Address - Spice Route, Red Dragon Centre, Cardiff Bay, CF10 4JY              
Telephone - 029 2048 8820

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Where to eat, drink and stay in Girona

As far as Catalonian cities go, Barcelona tends to hog all the limelight.

As a result, the stunning city of Girona has flown beneath the radar compared to its globally renowned bigger sibling.  

Packed full of stunning old architecture, compact in size and rammed with bars serving Rioja & croquetas, Girona is an ideal destination for a mini-break. And, with direct flights from Bristol to Girona with Ryanair it’s pretty convenient too.

Hotel Gran Ultonia

We stayed in the Hotel Gran Ultonia. Modern and clean if a little corporate in style, the Gran Ultonia is located a couple of minutes walk from the vibrant Plaza Independencia and with rooms from around £54 night, it’s a bit of a bargain.

The details:
Address - Carrer de Jaume I, 22  17001 Girona, Spain

El Celler de Can Roca

If you’re willing to book over a year in advance then El Celler de Can Roca, “the best restaurant in the world”, should definitely be on your to visit list. Read more about my meal here.

The details:
Address - Ell Celler de Can Roca, Can Sunyer 48, 17007 - Girona, Spain


If you don’t want to shell out a couple of hundred Euros on dinner at El Celler, then 3€ will buy you a tub of the good stuff from The Roca brothers' ice cream parlour, Rocambolesc.

Rocambolesc’s upmarket Mr Whippy style ice cream served in flavours such as baked apple, chocolate and yoghurt isn’t their main selling point – it’s their epic selection of toppings. Highlights included madeleines, mini chocolate brownies, caramelised hazelnuts and praline sauce.

The details:
Address - Rocambolesc gelateria, Carrer de Santa Clara 50, 17001 Girona, Spain


Straight over the road from Rocambolesc is the bakery & patisserie Casamomer. Serving fresh bread, awesome sandwiches, cracking coffee & lush cakes, Casamomer was our breakfast destination of choice. 

The details:
Address - Carrer de Santa Clara, 46  17001 Girona, Spain

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Chucks Chicken & Burger, Pontcanna review

A pop up bar and restaurant in a disused dairy.

Checked shirts, wide-rimmed glasses, high tops and trucker caps everywhere.

We’re in East London right?

Nah, Pontcanna.

Street Feast Cardiff is popping up during weekends in June in the Dairy in Pontcanna. After then, the the building’s future is the subject of much debate.

With communal tables, a giant disco ball and a DJ playing an eclectic music selection, Street Feast is the kind of place where it’s easy to while away a whole evening.

Beer is supplied by Tiny Rebel & the fantastic Pipes, a Pontcanna based microbrewery. I was a particular fan of the easy drinking Pipes Bavarian wheat beer (£3.50).

Cocktails, meanwhile, are provided by Milgi’s. Mrs G tucked away a clutch of excellent spiced strawberry margaritas (£6.50).

Food is provided by Chuck’s Chicken & Burger. Understandably, the menu is dominated by chicken & burgers.

Chicken wings served a variety of ways were superb across the board. Buffalo wings (£6.50) were hyper crisp, super juicy and slathered in fiery hot sauce.

Honey & pistachio wings (£6.50) were equally brilliant. More of the excellent wings this time drizzled in sticky honey and crunchy pistachios. A side of delicious slaw (£2) was light and benefitted from the addition of mixed seeds which added complexity of flavour.

Burgers were average in comparison. A royale with cheese (£8) was tasty yet unremarkable.

The tightly packed, well done patty was the biggest let down. Other elements included a run-of-the-mill white bun, melted cheddar, lettuce, tomato, onion, ketchup and mayonnaise. French fries were excellent.

Street Feast is a cracking night out and I’ll hopefully be able to return for some beer and wings before the building is repurposed. It’s just a shame the burgers let the side down.  

The details:
Address – 200 Kings Road, Pontcanna, Cardiff

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

The Gallery, Barry restaurant review

Last Sunday, Mrs G and I caught the train to Barry. Unlike the hordes of families and students in our carriage heading to the beach, we were armed with neither bucket and spade nor a box of warm Carling.

We were equipped only with our appetites...  

The Gallery is one of the most exciting new restaurants to open in South Wales in a good while. With a weekly changing menu packed with top quality seasonal Welsh produce and a number of interesting foraged ingredients thrown in for good measure, it's the kind of place you want to go back to again and again.

We joined some good friends for Sunday lunch. As they’re regulars, we were given some extra freebies to sample in addition to the already excellent value for money 3 courses for £17.50.

We had pre-lunch drinks in the downstairs bar. A bowl of vanilla salted popcorn was washed down with a pint of light and summery Blorenge pale ale.

Mrs G, meanwhile, set to work on a litre of the house red (£15), a seriously drinkable Shiraz supplied by the barrel by Borough Wines and decanted into refillable bottles at the restaurant.

As we made our way upstairs, we passed a magnetic wall displaying the week’s menu, a lengthy list of the restaurant’s suppliers and the provenance of the restaurant's fish (the mackerel was sourced from a boat named Trust!)

Having taken our seats taken in the airy and informal dining area and with a jug of Pimm’s close to hand, I was ready for Sunday lunch.

I pay heed to the belief you can tell how good a restaurant is by the quality of their bread. The Gallery’s was bloomin marvellous. Warm breadsticks and toasted poppy seed and wholemeal breads (amongst others) were served with a fragrant and punchy wild garlic yoghurt dip.

To start, I ordered mackerel with beetroot and stilton. A huge meaty fillet of mackerel was topped with oozy savoury blue cheese. Sweet beetroot puree with a touch of vinegar cut through the richness of the fish and cheese whilst dressed foraged leaves, including sea aster and sea plantain, added salt and pepper notes to the dish.  

Mrs G ordered an unctuous ham hock terrine served with onion compote.

Our first bonus dish was the kind of thing that could easily persuade me that vegetarianism isn’t a bad idea after all. A galette stack filled with nettle cheese, hop shoots and ratatouille was light, meaty and complex tasting.

Chicken lollipops were the second freebie. Crisp crumbed meat was accompanied by a wondrously fresh tasting nettle mayonnaise.

For main I ordered the sea bream. The delicate tasting piece of fish worked exceptionally well with a mound of earthy Trealy farm chorizo butterbean mash, buttered chard and a fragrant citrus and dill sauce.

Mrs G’s excellent duo of lamb (a tender fillet and a yielding fattier cut) was accompanied by crisp roasts and rich gravy.

Mixed vegetables were all cooked as they should be – to the bite and well buttered.

However, the star of the show was a stellar homemade mint jelly. Turbo charged with mint, vinegary and sweet, it was easily the best I’ve ever tasted.

Horseradish cream (literally whipped cream with horseradish) which accompanied a banging rib of beef was equally stellar.

Dessert drew my only point of criticism of the entire meal. A good, vanilla salt topped treacle tart could have done with a slightly crisper base. It was served with excellent vanilla ice cream.

Mrs G’s traditional dessert, however, was on the nail. Gwent cream, a Chantilly cream made lighter by the addition of yoghurt, was accompanied by textbook shortbread and sweet and slightly sharp stewed gooseberries.

An digestif of white amaretto also deserves a mention. Combining the nutty sweetness of regular amaretto with cream and icing sugar notes, it had the complexity of a cocktail.

The Gallery is a seriously interesting restaurant serving seriously good food. With its weekly changing menu, super friendly serving team and gutsy flavoured food, it's the kind of place I'd love to have as my local. As it is, I'm going to be making the trip to Barry a little more often.

The details:
Address - The Gallery, 2 Broad Street, Barry, Vale of Glamorgan
Telephone - 01446 735300
Web -
Open - Thursday - Sunday

The Gallery on Urbanspoon

Friday, 7 June 2013

El Celler de Can Roca, Girona, restaurant review

Me: Great news. El Celler de Can Roca has just been named the best restaurant in the world. Less than two weeks until we go!

Sceptical friend: Best restaurant in the world...hmmm...I’ll be the judge of that.

Okay, so the concept of the “best restaurant in the world” is a little ridiculous.

Much like any other “best” in the world list - films...books...albums...crisps...

There’s no doubt there are seminal works – The Godfather...Catcher in the Rye...The White Album...Bacon Fries but it’s impossible to get away from the fact that different people have different tastes and opinions are always subject to change.

El Celler de Can Roca in Girona, Spain, is run by the sibling trio of Joan Roca (Head Chef), Jordi Roca (Head Pastry Chef) and Josep Roca (Head Somellier). Serving food which melds molecular gastronomy with classical techniques and Catalonian flavours, El Celler de Can Roca has been a destination restaurant for a lot longer than the couple of months they’ve held the title of “best restaurant in the world”. In fact, we booked over a year in advance to get a seat on a Friday night. And, since winning their recent accolade all reservations in 2013 have been snapped up.

With the most stunning dining space I’ve ever seen, a superb value wine list of biblical proportions and an uber-accomplished serving team, El Celler De Can Roca is an impressive restaurant.

There’s a choice of 2 tasting menus, both of which must be taken by the entire table – The Tasting of our classics menu, a modest 7 courses + extras (135€) and the Feast Menu, 14 courses + extras (165€).

We chose the Tasting of our classics menu with matching wines (55€) and hunkered down for 3 hours of eating and drinking.

A visually impressive start came in the form of a paper globe which opened to reveal 5 canapés reflecting the flavours of different countries. Notable was Mexico – a wobbly cased sphere of guacamole flavoured with tomato seed and coriander, and Morocco – crisp pastry filled with goats yoghurt flavoured with ras el hanout and honey.

Miniature olive trees were then placed on the table bearing olives coated in a thin layer of anchovy flecked crisp caramel. Salty, sweet and unmistakeably Mediterranean this is a bar snack that could dethrone the pork scratching.

Next up was a super thin shrimp crisp – essentially the ultimate prawn cracker.

Things got a little bit more classical with the bread – an earthy red wine loaf and a superb olive brioche were my picks.

We were then back on the molecular gastronomy bandwagon with four more amuses before we reached the first of the 7 courses listed on our menus.

A frozen sphere which melted in the mouth contained a perfectly balanced martini whilst a trio of fungal fancies comprised of a warm pillow soft dumpling-like truffled brioche, an unsettlingly fluid centred St George’s mushroom omelette and an ice cold St George’s mushroom truffle.

The first dish proper, a timbale of duck liver pate surrounded by caramelised apple and capped with vanilla sauce was the only mediocre thing to pass my lips all evening. Overly sweet and rich, it tasted more like a dessert than a starter.

Calamari parmentier comprised of tender baby squid in a light seafood broth accompanied by a wondrously smooth potato puree.

A fillet of sole with a quintet of smears (fennel, bergamot, orange, pine nut and green olive) was the stand out dish of the night. Clean tasting fish was balanced one by one by the distinctly Mediterranean emulsions. On this evidence alone, I suspect there’s a gap in the spreads market for pine nut butter.

The lightness of the previous fish course contrasted with the intensity of the next. Red mullet stuffed with its liver and served in a potent fish bone broth was served with a trio of fragrant gnocchi of orange, chervil and saffron.

Iberian suckling pig with its unctuous flesh and impossibly wafer thin crackling was a wonder to behold. Refreshing melon pieces countered the richness of the meat wonderfully.

The first of the desserts, bergamot cream, lemon compote and granite, madeleine ice cream and crunchy meringues juggled the fragrance, sweetness and sharpness of citrus fruit. The heady combination was intensified by the accompanying aroma of a specially designed fragrance (available in the gift shop for 50€).

The final pudding was cloudlike in its appearance and lightness. Delicately creamy sheep’s milk ice cream and sheep’s milk foam were joined by tangy guava sorbet and sweet cotton candy.

As we waited for post-dinner coffee, a Willy Wonka-esque petit four cart wheeled into view, bringing forth a bounty of stuffed cookies, madeleines, marshmallows, truffles, jellied fruits, chocolate tarts, candied fruits and macarons. Oof. 

What more is there to say? Almost everything were ate at El Celler de Can Roca was incredible. It’s certainly one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten.

However, I’m not sure it’s the best meal I’ve ever eaten.

Really though, who cares?

The details:
Address - Ell Celler de Can Roca, Can Sunyer 48, 17007 - Girona, Spain
Telephone - +34 972 222 157