Sunday, 29 September 2013

The Grazing Shed, Cardiff - Searching for Cardiff's best burger

Apparently the retail units on Barrack Lane around the back of St David’s 2 have been there for the last couple of years. Who would have guessed?

This really boring revelation adds to my list of recent others:

- Tim Vine is Jeremy Vine’s brother.
- Myriad can be used as an adjective and a noun.
- A baby puffin is called a puffling.

Anyway, I digress.

The Grazing Shed opened on Barrack Lane last week.

Pitched as a gourmet fast food joint, Grazing Shed fulfils its gourmet billing through its list of quality suppliers, uber-tasteful décor, stylish branding and restaurant-level pricing. It’s also most certainly a fast food joint - orders are placed at the counter, seating is bench style, drinks are self-service, you’ll be in and out in 20 minutes and the menu is dedicated to the mighty burger.  

The Burgers – The John Wayne & The Bunga Bunga

1. How was the patty? A really well flavoured, juicy, 100% Welsh beef patty served medium-well done.

2. How was the bun? A light and fluffy yet vitally sturdy seeded Penarth Bakery bun

3. How was the other stuff in the bun? 

The John Wayne
The John Wayne comprised of mild oozy mild cheddar fondue, streaks of thickly sliced smoky bacon, caramelised red onion confit, smoky BBQ sauce, spicy Cajun mayo & a couple of leaves of richness-balancing lettuce.

The Bunga Bunga was similar to the John Wayne except it swapped cheddar for an intensely savoury blue cheese fondue and BBQ sauce for ketchup.

Both flavour combinations were pretty much on the nail. However, I’d swap the John Wayne's BBQ sauce for a squirt of ketchup next time.

4. How were the fries? Super crisp, super fluffy skin-on chips. Excellent.

5. What was the price? £7.95 for just the sandwich, £10.95 for a meal with chips & a bottomless soda. (We visited during the first week when it was buy one get one free)

6. How was the service? Fast & friendly

7. How was the other stuff? Bottomless sodas are provided by six times Great Taste Gold winning Lovely Soft Drinks. Whilst the absence of Coke might perturb some, the deliciously floral elderflower presse and fiery ginger beer both did the job.

8. So what's the verdict?  Grazing Shed are serving up some ace burgers. It’s great to see an independent in Cardiff finally successfully embracing the gourmet burger trend. Whilst it’s not exactly cheap for a fast food joint, the quality of Grazing Shed’s ingredients and the fine finished product mean it’s now my Cardiff burger joint of choice.

The Details:

Address - The Grazing Shed, 1 Barrack Lane, Cardiff
Twitter - @TheGrazingShed

Saturday, 28 September 2013

The Chef's Table @ Laguna at The Park Plaza, Cardiff review

Laguna at The Park Plaza does a good job at avoiding the obvious hotel restaurant clichés.

Couples, families and friends enjoy meals out; there’s no sign of the usual tables of 1 populated by Alan Partridges ordering dubiously named cocktails on expenses.

Laguna also has atmosphere - it feels like a restaurant rather than a breakfast buffet in waiting.

Most importantly, however, Laguna know how to knock out awesome food.

My previous visits to Laguna have involved a tidy Sunday Lunch and a solid Afternoon Tea. This time round, I was visiting Laguna to experience their new Chef’s Table concept.

Available for pre-booked groups of 6-12 people, the Chef’s Table offers a 5 course set menu and 4 glasses of wine for £45.

The Chef’s table itself is located a couple of metres from the pass and therefore in theory affords a view of the food being plated in the kitchen. However, this element of the meal is a bit of a red herring – there’s not that much action to be seen and half the table have their backs to the pass anyway.

Where the excitement really lies is with the lavish menu of crowd-pleasing food made using superb ingredients and the 4 large glasses of top-notch booze (bubbly, white, red & dessert wine) for £45. It’s a bit of a bargain…

A selection of bread was crisp and soft.

First up was an excellent plate of tender, gently smoked ribbons of Brecon venison, dollops of gently creamy Neal’s yard goats curd, chunks of earthy heritage beetroot, slices of fragrant muscovado baked peaches, a drizzle of opulent truffle honey and a scattering of coriander shoots. 

A sociable seafood platter to share was next; it’s exactly the kind of dish which is fit for a celebration.

Seafood platter for 2
The highlight was plump scallops served in a pastry-topped shell with paprika-spiked chorizo butter. A selection of cold smoked, hot smoked and dill topped, beetroot cured salmon was lush too.

Crevettes and lobster served in the shell with herby pilau rice were tasty but would have benefited from being a little juicier. Equally, a cold marinated seafood selection (mussels, octopus, whole baby squid) and a dish of cold buttered samphire and cockles were decent but pickled seafood is one of the very few things which doesn’t float my boat.

A palette cleanser of Bombay Sapphire Gin & Tonic sorbet was lightly citric with an unmistakable note of booze and quinine. It was the perfect prelude to the meaty goodness which was to follow. 

Laguna's open beef Wellington is one of the best dishes I’ve eaten all year – two sizeable pieces of blushing pink, deeply flavoured beef fillet, a slice of rich goose liver parfait and a layer of crisp pastry sat atop an unctuous garlicky potato fondant. Caramelised shallots, wild mushrooms and a potently meaty jus completed the picture. Shazam.

Dessert was equally banging. A Jersey cream crème brulee comprised of a hyper creamy, vanilla flecked custard topped with a thin & crisp sugar top. It was accompanied by textbook shortbread and a piece of passion fruit which counterbalanced well the dessert’s richness.

A matched glass of stunningly good Moscato Passitto dessert wine deserves a special mention too; the notes of honey and lemon curd made it very special.

Rounding off the meal was a safe yet enjoyable truffle selection.

Laguna’s Chef’s Table is cracking. Now I just need to find 5 friends so I can visit again…

I was invited to Laguna - all food and drink was complimentary.  

The details: 
Address: Park Plaza Hotel, Greyfriars Road, Cardiff, CF10 3AL
Telephone: 02920 111 103
Laguna Kitchen and Bar on Urbanspoon

Monday, 23 September 2013

Smoke Dawgs by Hang Fire Smokehouse, The Canadian Pub, Cardiff

If it’s not enough that the Hang Fire Smokehouse team have already brought incredible American BBQ to the people of Cardiff, they’ve only gone and brought us kick ass hot dogs too.

Having assembled an Avengers like team of suppliers - Charcutier Ltd, One Mile Bakery, Inner City Pickle & Jones O Gymru – Hang Fire have delivered another of the UK’s hottest food trends right to my doorstep.

Taking place on a separate evening at The Canadian pub to Hang Fire’s BBQ, the inaugural Smoke Dawgs night took place last Wednesday. And, due to it its rip-roaring success, the next event is scheduled for Wednesday 16th October.

Hang Fire's Smoke Dawgs menu is made up exclusively of their interpretations of a number of classic American hot dogs.

All the dogs consist of a sweet, complex flavoured & slightly too dense One Mile Bakery sourdough brioche bun, a well smoked and snappily cased Charcutier Ltd pork & beef frankfurter and a fistful of Jones O Gymru ready salted crisps.

The wieners are then finished off with a colossal quantity of different toppings. There are 6 different ones to contend with including the Hang Fire Smoke Dawg which is topped with 18-hour hickory smoked pulled pork.

I ordered 2 dogs, which is ample for most normal humans. However, I could have tucked away a third if I was feeling greedy…

First up was the Native New Yorker (£6.50) topped with super-golden Sabrett-style caramelised onions and a mound of delicately vinegary and subtly fruity papaya juice sautéed sauerkraut.

Second was the unbelievably good Detroit Coney with cheese (£7) topped with finely ground, immensely meaty and mildly spiced beef chilli, a scattering of diced white onions, a generous squirt of American mustard and a mound of mild Welsh cheddar.

By the time I’d demolished both hot dogs my face was plastered in meat, mustard and onion. However, if the tastiness of a hot dog is correlated with how messy it is then Hang Fire is most certainly onto a winner.

Disclosure - One of the hot dogs was a freebie

The details:
Address - Hang Fire Smokehouse, The Canadian, Pearl Street, Splott, CF24 1PN
Telephone - 029 2045 3141

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Charcutier Ltd, Chaiholics, Urban Diner - New openings Cardiff roundup

In the last couple of weeks a trio of interesting openings have popped up in Cardiff...

Charcutier Ltd

Last week, Carmarthenshire based Charcutier Ltd began selling their piggy-wares at Roath & Riverside markets - they’ll be there on a weekly basis.

On Tuesday, Charcutier Ltd also pulled off the stonking achievement of winning the meat category at The Young British Foodies.

llltud Llyr Dunsford, the owner and founder of Charcutier Ltd, comes from a Carmarthenshire farming family who’ve always cured and processed their own meats. Illtud has also expanded his curing repertoire through experimentation and study (he went on the ridiculously fun sounding Annual Sausage and Processed Meats Course at Iowa State University). As a result, he transforms his pedigree Welsh pigs into a cornucopia of international charcuterie.

I purchased some awesomely beery and sage packed bratwurst. 

I also picked up a fuet (a Catalonian air-dried sausage), fennel seed packed Italian sausages and some immensely meaty bacon. Naturally, I guzzled the last two for breakfast.

The details:
Tel: 01554 810345
Address - Saturday - Roath Market, Keppoch St, Cardiff / Sunday - Riverside Market, Fitzhamon Embankment, Cardiff


Chaiholics is the first UK outpost of Singaporean chain Chaitime. Their trendy interior, slick branding, enthusiastic staff and menu of interesting chai lattes are all bob-on.

I ordered a Railway Platform chai, a blend of Assam black tea and spices with a peppery kick, whilst Mrs G ordered a fragrant Truck Stop chai with fennel, cardamon and ginger in the mix. Both were excellent.

Mrs G followed this up with a mango lassi which was lacking a little in mango fragrance and yoghurt sharpness.  In contrast, another friend’s iced chocolate tea was reportedly bloody lush.

The details:
Web -
Address - Unit 6, The Globe, Wellfield Rd, Cardiff

Urban Diner

*Update* - Urban Diner has closed down

Last week, Pontcanna’s Urban Diner was taken over by Cardiff culinary legend Padraig Jones (CV highlights include leading the kitchen of Le Gallois during its peak era and a stint as head chef of Fish at 85).

As we visited during the first few days of opening, it’s understandable things are still probably bedding in. However Urban Diner’s Welsh beef burger-centric menu (with the addition of a few steaks and a whole lobster) reads well.

Mrs G was a big fan of the flavour combinations of her Urban Italian (£10) which incorporated toppings of pesto, mozzarella and crispy parma ham. It was let down a little by the awry burger to bun ratio (pictured above).

My Urban Smokey (£11) comprised of a well flavoured, peppery patty, oozing Monterey jack, spicy barbecue sauce and crisp streaky bacon. However, as the patty was served medium-well it was a bit dry. It would also have benefited from the freshness of a little greenery. 

A side of of hyper-crisp red onion rings (£2.50) were tasty but a little unusual. Mojitos were so good Mrs G ordered 2 and I was once again consigned to the role of designated driver. Lastly, a dessert of a gooey warm brownie (£5) with pistachio ice cream was frigging lush.

The details:
Address - 175 Kings Road, Pontcanna, Cardiff
Telephone - 02920 341 013

Thursday, 12 September 2013

La Becasse, Ludlow, fine dining restaurant review

It doesn’t take a stretch of the imagination to speculate that winning a Michelin star is one of the main reasons many fine dining chefs get up in the morning.

The adulation that winning a coveted Macaron brings from peers, diners and critics provides motivation to push boundaries and strive for perfection. Also, the increased bookings that a star brings would be a bonus in the notoriously low margin fine dining sector – all those pre-desserts and petit fours don’t pay for themselves.

I can imagine, therefore, it’s an understatement to say that losing a Michelin star would be a bit of a bummer.

One of the most well known downgradings in recent years is La Becasse in Ludlow - Head Chef Will Holland managed the remarkable feat of winning a Michelin star at the age of 29 which he then held for three years.

Having visited the restaurant twice, the first time shortly after La Becasse won its star and the second time a couple of weeks ago, I can safely say that Will Holland is still banging out bloody fantastic food.

It’s rather sad therefore that Chef Holland is leaving La Becasse this weekend to move onto pastures new. Wherever he ends up next, they’re in for a treat. And, whoever takes over the reins at La Becasse has a tough act to follow...

Having bagged a last-minute lunch reservation, we arrived at La Becasse as soon as their doors opened. Once we were ushered upstairs to the quaintly wonky bar area, Mrs G rubbed in the unfortunate truth that I was designated driver by ordering a large G&T. I begrudgingly supped on a glass of tap water.

Fortunately, a trio of nibbles kept my spirits up whilst I chose from the bangingly good value set-lunch menu (3 courses for £30) – home made purple potato crisps, sweet popcorn with a tabasco kick and plump olives set the bar high from the start.

We relocated downstairs to the imposing wood-panelled dining room and the freebies kept on coming.

A cube of crisp, light, cheesy and buttery parmesan polenta was topped with a pungent black olive tapenade. Lush.

A pre-starter of sprightly gaspacho was served with little pieces of fragrant poached peach and under-flavoured peach jelly cubes.

Excellent warm soft tray-baked rolls were flavoured with cardamon, poppy seeds and black olive.

To start, I ordered a rich risotto packed with brown crab and smoked haddock. The dainty dish was topped with buttery stands of courgette spaghetti and fragrant fennel. Whilst the flavours were perfect, the rice was a touch too soft.

Mrs G’s starter of duck confit terrine was bang on - rich pate studded with pieces of confit duck was accompanied by crisp toast, micro-leaves, sweet pickled cucumbers and caramelised plum puree.

Whilst my main of slow-cooked pig’s cheek looked a bit sloppy, the darn-tootingly good flavours more than made up for it. Unctuous, tender, spiced meat combined with a crisp buttery potato rosti, sweet and sharp poached gooseberries and delicately soused cabbage.

The other main of supremely tender chicken thighs, chorizo flecked pearl barley risotto, avocado puree and micro-coriander leaves was equally exceptional.

Pre-dessert took the form of the ultimate Solero – creamy, fragrant passion fruit curd topped with refreshing passion fruit granita.

My dessert was one of the best dishes of the year so far -  light, slightly bitter chocolate mousse balls coated in amaretti crumbs were balanced perfectly by sharp lemon curd, fragrant candied lime peel, bitter cherries and salted caramel jelly. Wow wow wow.

Meanwhile, a trio of cheeses (including an amazingly complex 3 year cave aged gruyere) from the well stocked trolley were accompanied by excellent homemade chutneys.

Accompanying post-lunch coffee were a raggle taggle bunch of macarons. Whilst they looked a bit squiffy, they were crisp and chewy in perfect proportion and filled with delights including chocolate puree, lemon curd and spiced cream flecked with raisins.

At £30, the set lunch at La Becasse is one of the best value meals going; the quality of ingredients, level of technique and generosity of portions are all exceptional. Ludlow will miss the talents of Will Holland.

The details:
Address - La Becasse, 17 Corve Street, Ludlow, Shropshire, SY8 1DA

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Bone Daddies, Noodle Bar, Soho, London review

Where's the wally?
Another lunch in London and another opportunity to demonstrate how far I am behind the times...

One of last year’s hottest food trends was tonkotsu ramen - a Japanese noodle broth made by boiling pork bones for hours & hours until the milky marrow is unleashed and a creamy, unctuous stock is produced. 

Bone Daddies, my lunch destination, is headed up by Ross Shonhan, the Antipodean former head chef of celebrated celeb-hangouts Zuma & Nobu. He's also just opened another new gaff which everyone's talking about.

Understandably, Bone Daddies exclusively serves ramen and a few sides.

I ordered the tonkotsu ramen (£11). The thick, deeply meaty and fatty broth was accompanied by a whopping slice of tender pork belly, a melt in the mouth egg, bean sprouts, bamboo shoots, spring onions and thin noodles.

Whilst a bowl of soup noodles might seem like a light lunch, I can assure you it wasn’t. In fact, it was a bit like eating a bowl of gravy - albeit rather delicious gravy. A drizzle of chilli oil & a scattering of ground sesame seeds helped to cut through the richness which eventually took its toll.

I preferred my dining companion’s lighter dish of sweet 3 miso ramen (£10). A staggeringly complex sweet chicken broth with fruity pineapple notes was accompanied by chargrilled corn, wobbly egg, soft chicken, bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, noodles, seaweed and... a knob of butter.

A side of fried chicken (£5) was über-good. Crispy, juicy, grease-free and perfectly seasoned, the bite-sized boneless pieces allowed for rapid inhalation.

Lunch at Bone Daddies was delicious and I’d heartily recommend a visit if you’re looking for a quick bite in Central London.

The details:

Address - Bone Daddies, 31 Peter Street, London W1F 0AR
Telephone - 020 7287 8581 (No reservations)