Saturday, 26 October 2013

Cardiff Marriott & River Cottage, Zest restaurant review

As far as strange brand partnerships go there are some absolute doozies.

The tie-up with Cardiff City and the Kenny Rogers Roasters chicken shop chain is a regular eyebrow raiser for away fans.

Manchester United’s partnership with Japanese paint company, Kansai, I guess, sort of makes sense. After all, under David Moyes, Man U have been about as exciting as watching…

So, in comparison, the recently launched collaboration between big corporate American hotel chain Marriott and the very British and charmingly dishevelled Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's River Cottage brand doesn’t seem too odd.

As part of the deal, Marriott’s restaurants are launching seasonal menus using local produce, 80% of which is sourced from within a 60-mile radius. Executive chefs are also undertaking a couple of week’s training at the River Cottage Chef’s school.

Initially the concept is being launched at 2 hotels, including the Cardiff Marriott. The plan is then to roll it out across the UK. 

The menu at Cardiff’s Zest restaurant reads exceptionally well; in fact, there are no duds to be found. Plates like smoked venison with pickled mushrooms, crispy garlic and winter leaves or herb spelt risotto with roasted beetroot, goat’s cheese and mint are chock-full of interesting ingredients.

Wholemeal bread with Calon Wen butter kicked things off on a positive note.

I started with a sprightly salad of parsley, crab, top-drawer mayonnaise and a soft-boiled egg (£6.95). A slightly too heavy hand with the red onion and capers threatened to mask the lightness of the plate.

Mrs G’s salad of marinated chicken, raisins, pine nuts (£6.95) was a subtle yet enjoyable start to the meal.

Mains were both knock-out pieces of near identical looking, slow-cooked autumnal food. 

An unctuous piece of long-marinated brisket (£14.95) was served with a deep red wine sauce, buttery kale and a salty and creamy anchovy and rosemary dauphinoise.

A tender, flavour-packed piece of rolled lamb leg and shoulder (£14.95) was served in a meaty sauce with more of the buttery kale and a good dollop of chilli-flecked, earthy celeriac mash.

A pretty side of rainbow carrots (£3) were al dente and lightly glazed in honey.

Desserts hit the mark.

A super-creamy vanilla panna cotta (£6) had just the right amount of wobble. It was accompanied by crisp biscotti and spiced stewed apricots.

My flourless chocolate cake (£6) was uber rich, moist and tasty. It was, however, a touch too dense. A dollop of cream with a kick of cider brandy was the ideal foil.

Marriott’s collaboration with the River Cottage is producing some seriously good food. The service throughout the evening was also exceptional. It’s just a shame the slightly characterless dining space doesn’t do everything else justice.

In spite of the swirly carpets the Cardiff Marriott is well worth a visit.

Disclosure - I was invited as a guest of the Marriott. All food and drink was complimentary. 

The details:

Address - Cardiff Marriott Hotel, Mill Lane, Cardiff, CF10 1EZ
Telephone - 02920 399 944

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Oz Urfa, Cardiff Mesopotamian restaurant review

*This restaurant is now closed*

My geography trivia knowledge is seriously ropey.

It was only this year I discovered that Washington D.C. isn’t in Washington State. Surely, I ignorantly believed, it’s only logical they’re in the same place.

Also, when it comes to the locations of British counties, I’m pretty clueless too. This is evidenced by my embarrassingly low high score on County Count-up.

So, you can imagine, when I heard City Road’s latest addition was Oz Urfa, a Mesopotamian restaurant, my first response was: Mesopotamia?

A quick Wikipedia search later, I was enlightened and back in familiar City Road territory. Kebabs.

Well, mostly kebabs. Oz Urfa also has a large selection of mezze for starters and some interesting casseroles and grilled fish dishes for mains.

On the Friday evening we visited, Oz Urfa was rammed. I’m guessing this is in part due to its high ranking on Tripadvisor, but also because there are only six tables. Its diddy size along with the bustling open plan kitchen and warm service all contribute to a cosy, homely feel.

Whilst we ordered soft drinks to go with our meal, we became increasingly envious of the tables next to us making good use of Oz Urfa’s BYOB policy.  

Starters were excellent. A complimentary basket of bread was up there with the best I’ve eaten on City Road – warm, soft and plentiful.

The standouts of our very good mixed meze (£4) were a light hummus, a zingy mint yoghurt dip, and a spicy, red-coloured dish made with peppers, aubergines and sun-dried tomatoes.

A wonderfully fresh, salad of tomato, cucumber, lettuce and pomegranate seeds, was dressed with sweet pomegranate juice and olive oil.

Lahmacun (£2), a Turkish pizza, was well proportioned, flavoured and priced; the thin, crisp base was topped with finely ground, spiced lamb.

However, things went off-menu with our mains.

My siverek, a mixed kebab (£10) was missing the advertised chicken shish & lamb rib. This left me with well seasoned yet slightly dry lamb kofta, superbly juicy flame-licked chicken wings and disappointingly chewy lamb shish.

A mound of sticky, buttery, noodle flecked rice and a chargrilled green pepper and tomatoes were both excellent additions to the place.

Mrs G’s main was even more renegade. Despite ordering Ali Nazik (£10), a dish of smoky aubergine topped with chicken shish, she ended up with a casserole, albeit a very good casserole.

The bubbling stew comprised of tender chicken, sweet tomatoes and soft onions in a peppery, garlicky, buttery sauce. When we pointed out the error to the helpful waiter, a plate of rather good aubergine b├ęchamel was delivered. Apparently, the two would combine to make Mrs G’s original order; I’m not convinced. 

Going someway to make up for the main course mess-up was a superb complimentary plate of warm, crisp baklava oozing with syrup and nuts.

I wish I could praise our meal at Oz Urfa without fault. However, the middle of the meal was just a bit too skew-whiff. In spite of this, I’d happily recommend a visit  – it would be worth the trip even for the bread and baklava alone.

The details:
Address - Oz Urfa, 156 City Road, Cardiff, CF24 3DR
Telephone - 07939429751

Friday, 11 October 2013

Madras in Wales, City Road, Cardiff restaurant review

*This restaurant is now closed*

Since the closure of Punitha’s, my almost weekly cravings for South Indian comfort food have been left unfulfilled. 

There’s one dish in particular that has left me longing… mutton kothu parotta.

One of Tamil Nadu’s most popular streetfoods, mutton kothu parotta is an alchemical mix of parotta (a slightly elastic layered flatbread), egg, onion, curry leaves, tomatoes, tender mutton and mild spices. 

Served with curry sauce and yoghurt chutney, it might look a mess but it’s the kind of dish that goes hand in hand with crisp autumn evenings.

Now that I’ve now discovered Madras in Wales’s version, I’m satisfied once more.

It’s not just Madras in Wales’s kothu parotta which is worth rabbiting on about. They’re serving a whole menu of interesting cheap as chips Indian dishes from their basic looking City Road restaurant.

A round of fruity and fragrant mango lassis (£2.25) quenched our thirsts but if you’re craving alcohol then you can bring your own and there’s a handy Tesco opposite.

To start we shared paneer Manchurian (£3.95), an Indo-Chinese classic. Meaty, slightly crisp cubes of paneer, finely diced onions and green peppers are combined in and a sweet and spicy sauce.

For main we ordered a chicken dosa (£4.50) to go with our mutton kothu parotta (£4.99).

The large soft pancake was topped with finely diced curried chicken and accompanied by a trio of pots including a coconut packed chutney and a fiery, creamy curry sauce.

A bowl of warm, light and delicately syrupy gulab jamun (£1.99) rounded off the meal perfectly.  

Madras in Wales is further evidence that City Road has the most diverse (and certainly some of the best) restaurants in Cardiff. 

The details:

Address -  Madras in Wales, 129 City Road, Cardiff, CF24 3BP

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Mission Burrito, Cardiff food blog

*Update - 16/06/2018 - Mission Burrito is now closed*

Light the Burrito Beacon.

Sound the Chipotle Klaxon.

At last, Cardiff has its own burrito shop and thankfully it’s bloomin’ lush.

Mission Burrito Cardiff is the sixth outlet of this small Oxfordshire based chain.

Whilst Mission’s shop on The Friary (the street with Revolucion de Cuba on) is weeny, its burritos are reassuringly brick-like in proportions.

On the food front, everything is present and correct.

First, choose whether you want a burrito, tacos, a salad box, or a rice box.

Second, choose your filling – chipotle marinated chicken, thyme & bay seasoned slow cooked pork, chipotle steak or mixed peppers.

Third, choose your salsa – mild pico de gallo, medium salsa verde, hot chipotle or very hot habanero.

Fourth, watch as your tortilla is packed with rice, meat, lettuce, sour cream, salsa, guacamole (70p extra) & Monterey Jack cheese (30p extra).

Finally, stuff your face.

I ordered pork with mild pico de gallo & smoky chipotle salsa (£5.45) whilst Mrs G ordered chicken with mild pico de gallo, guacamole & cheese (£6.45).

Both were the size of a shoe, loaded with filling and bursting with flavour.

The soft tortilla, tender meat, potent salsa, heat-moderating sour cream, fragrant guacamole, rich cheese and stomach filling rice were all on the nail.

Mission burrito is ace. Go and fill your boots.

The Details:

Address – Mission Burrito, The Friary, Cardiff
Web -
Twitter - @burritoHQ 

The Magpie Cafe, Whitby restaurant review

It’s hard not to fall in love with the food being served at The Magpie Cafe, a North Yorkshire fish and chip institution.

And, judging by the queues down their steps come rain or shine, it holds a special place in the hearts of many many others. This is no mean feat considering every other business in this goth-friendly seaside resort is a fish and chip shop.

However, the Magpie doesn’t just serve incredible fish and chips. Kipper pate, local oak roasted salmon, seafood stew, grilled woof and lobster thermidor were just a couple of the dishes which conspired to distract me from the task in hand…

There was nothing regular (neither size nor flavour) about my regular haddock and chips (£11.95). Every mouthful of fish was a joy – the perfectly flaky fillet enrobed by thin, crisp, grease-free and perfectly puffed up batter.

Chips were also things of beauty - chunky, crisp, fluffy and ever so slightly meaty (that'll be the beef dripping they're fried in). They were a delight to dunk in a pot of tartare sauce and a gravy boat of sweet & spicy curry sauce (£1.25).

Mrs G’s “small” cod and chips (£9.95) was top drawer too; the fillet meatier textured, subtler flavoured and larger flaked in comparison to my haddock.

Mushy peas (£1.50) were as they should be – savoury mushed marrowfats with only a slight sweetness (unlike cloyingly saccharine crushed petit pois which so often masquerade as the real deal).

Samphire (£2.25) with a scattering of onions were delightfully salty and buttery. They were only dragged down by the presence of a few woody, thick stalks.

Desserts were as enjoyably retro as the Magpie’s placemat & coaster bedecked tables. Sadly, I didn’t have gullet space for a spotted dick or jam roly-poly.

My knickerbockerglory (£5.95) was huge. Smooth, creamy vanilla and strawberry ice creams were interwoven with sweet & sharp poached berries and coulis, whipped cream & crispy meringues.

A lemon meringue pot (£5.45) combining creamy, sharp lemon curd, meringue pieces, whipped cream and lemon sorbet could have fed a family of four.

The Magpie is the kind of old-fashioned institution that only exists in the illusory rose-tinted recollections of “When I were a boy…” 

Groaning plates of textbook fish and chips, jovial waitresses and bowls of school dinner puddings all make The Magpie Cafe a very special place.

The details:

Address - The Magpie Cafe, 4 Pier Road, Whitby, North Yorkshire, YO21 3PU
Web -
Telephone - 01947 602058