Sunday, 23 February 2014

Koko Gorilaz, Cardiff restaurant review

*Update - this restaurant is now closed*

When Mrs G’s lab colleague recommended I check out the Indian food at Koko Gorillaz, I did a triple take. 

Ok, make that a quadruple take.

I mean, Koko Gorilaz… the tatty student bar in the heart of Cathays with sticky floors, dingy lighting and fridges filled with Brazilian WKD (apparently it’s limited edition)?

However, she's definitely onto something.

When they’re not busy cooking all day breakfasts and scampi & chips, Koko Gorilaz’s team of Indian chefs are dishing up interesting Indian food from an entirely separate menu. 

When we visited on Saturday lunchtime, Italy v Scotland was showing on the big screen. We placed our food order at the bar and returned to a table with the requisite wooden spoon in a pint glass.

We began with a couple of Indo-Chinese dishes. Whilst a £5 starter doesn’t sound like a bargain, both dishes were absolute whoppers – the size of generous mains.

Fish chilli (£4.95) comprised of tender white fish fillets in light batter, stir-fried peppers and onions, and a ginger, garlic and chilli packed sauce. The only let-down was the heavy-handedness with the soy sauce and corn flour.

Gobi Manchurian (£4.50) was fairly similar tasting. Battered cauliflower florets were coated in a garlic-charged, soy based sauce. 

Mains brought the biggest success.

Paneer Tikka Massala (£5.50) combined four generous pieces of charcoal-licked cheese in a richly spiced sauce, dotted with green peppers and onion. 

Fluffy rice (£1.50) was served in a huge portion whilst a decent Tawa Paratha (£1.50) lacked its distinctive flaky layers. 

The curry at Koko Gorilaz is well-worth checking out.  Sadly, the venue is devoid of any charm.

However, if you want to watch the Six Nations whilst munching on Tandoori king prawns, or you fancy combining a Saturday night session with a boozy curry, then Koko Gorilaz should definitely be on your radar. 

The details:

Address - Koko Gorilaz, 7 - 9 Miskin Street Cathays, Cardiff, CF24 4AP
Telephone - 02920 341 767

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Kimchi, Cardiff Korean restaurant review

Kimchi are taking a low-key approach to marketing themselves - in fact, they're just letting the food speak for itself.

After just over one month of trading, this Korean restaurant on Cowbridge Road East has garnered a handful of 5 star reviews on Tripadvisor, has no telephone number online (by the way it’s 02920227122), no social media accounts and no website.

Thankfully, it doesn’t seem to be doing them any harm – on the Saturday night we visited, it was packed to the rafters.

Furthermore the owner, who explained that he has opened the restaurant to service the needs of Cardiff’s Korean food crazy Chinese student population, has been thrilled by the reception they’ve received from locals and students alike.

I can understand why.

Having already waxed lyrical about Yakiniku, Cardiff’s other Korean restaurant, over two years ago, it’s much the same this time around.

Kimchi’s food is a breath of fresh air - a unique, sociable experience offering flavours and textures which are a refreshing change from my usual meals out. 

Whilst Kimchi’s lengthy menu may initially seem a little daunting, it essentially breaks down into two main sections:

Firstly, Korean barbecue – choose your marinated meats and vegetables and have a giggle whilst you cook your dinner on the hotplate in the middle of the table. 

The more Korean lagers I necked (£3.50 a pop - I preferred the Hite to the Cass), the less precise my cookery skills became. 

Secondly there’s food which you don’t cook yourselves – the eponymous kimchi, bibimbaps, stir fries, Korean pancakes, dumplings, casseroles, noodles and fried rice dishes.

The four of us ordered a load of dishes from the former section, a load of dishes from the latter section, ate them all and then ordered some more. 

Mrs G couldn't resist the cheap gag
The first of the barbecue dishes, beautifully marbled beef bulgogi (£7.90), was heady with the complexity of its sesame, soy, ginger, garlic and spring onion marinade. 

Bulgogi before cooking
Cigars of rib-eye (£9.50) were just as delightfully tender.

Rib-eye and beef bulgogi
Generous slices of smoked duck breast (£9.30) were flecked with pieces of spring onion which caramelised up a treat. 

So too did thin slices of sweet potato (£3.50) which picked up the meatiness of the dishes we’d cooked before. 

A complimentary plate of garlic put to bed any lingering remnants of Valentine’s romance. 

Pointed peppers (£3.50) meanwhile actually turned out to be chillies – most were enjoyably tolerable but a couple of excruciatingly hot ones had been thrown in for fun. 

That was the end of the bbq antics – but the other food was just as marvellous.

Korean fried chicken is world famous and with stuff this good, I now know why; a huge plate of crispy, tender, sticky, sweet and spicy chilli chicken (£9.50) was the very definition of finger licking good.

Vegetable bibimbap (£7.90) was as artfully presented as would be expected from any restaurant with fayne dayning aspirations. A searingly hot stone bowl was filled with rice, kimchi, tofu, seaweed, bean sprouts, courgettes, chilli sauce and a raw egg yolk – a swift stir and everything combined to make a colourful and clean tasting side dish. 

In contrast, the only dud of the night, special fried rice (£7.90) was pallid, clammy and imbued with the whiff of the seafood which was dotted amongst it. 

A selection of cold Korean salads (£3) provided further interest for the taste buds – cold, slippery bean sprouts; salty ozonic seaweed; spiced & vinegary white radish and cleansing cucumber. 

Lastly, the Kimchi itself (£2.50), a spiced, vinegary, fizzy fermented cabbage which is actually a lot less challenging than it sounds and is in fact surprisingly addictive, especially after a quick blast on the hot plate. 

The food at Kimchi is bloody marvellous. That’s all there is to say. 

The details:

Web - Nope
Telephone - Nope... oh go on then 02920227122
Address - Kimchi, 72 Cowbridge Road East, Canton, Cardiff

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Riverside Cantonese, Cardiff Chinese restaurant review

Sometimes, only a Lazy Susan will do.

Whilst curry and tapas are good fun to share with a group of mates, nothing quite compares with a rotating wheel of Chinese food for creating a sense of occasion.

And the jostling and tactics required to maximise the food to spin ratio, only add to the sense of excitement.

Okay…I’m a loser.

On Thursday night, a mob of us visited Riverside Cantonese.

With an English language menu consisting of familiar classics and a smattering of interesting seafood dishes like Szechuan style monkfish and salt & chilli soft shell crab, Riverside Cantonese also serves dim sum everyday between 12pm and 5pm. Furthermore, if you’re feeling adventurous, I’d hazard a guess there’s fun to be had on their Chinese language menu.

We stuck to the familiar.

As we waited for Susan to receive her goods, a couple of bowls of stale prawn crackers (£2.20) thankfully didn’t set the tone for the rest of the meal.

Starters were good. Not incredible, but good.

Sesame prawn toast (£6.50) were crisp and topped with a decent amount of crustacean. The bread, however, was a smidgeon too greasy; a ridiculous statement to describe glorified fried bread.

Barbecue spare ribs (£5.50) were coated with a pleasingly sweet and sticky sauce whilst roast spare ribs with salt and chilli (£6.95) were moreishly spicy and savoury. 

Duck lettuce rolls (£6.95?) did everything needed of them – huge leaves of lettuce, tender duck and crisp noodles combined effectively. 

The mains allowed Riverside Cantonese to demonstrate their class - every dish utilised impeccably fresh vegetables and light sauces which steered along way from gloopy.

Spicy Kung Po chicken (£7.75) with al dente carrot, cucumber, celery, green chillies, mushrooms and peppers was bejewelled with ultra crisp peanuts. 

The classic guilty pleasure, crispy shredded beef with chilli (£7.75), was pulled off with aplomb. Thin batter, tender beef, a light sauce and a liberal amount of diced chillies were all on the nail. 

Chicken in chilli and black bean sauce (£7.75) effectively paired the slight bitterness of black beans and sourness of green peppers. 

Even a vegetarian dish of aubergines with garlic (£4.95) was enjoyably meaty in texture. 

Special fried rice (£4.95) was fluffy and flecked with a generous amount of char-sui pork and prawns.

And Mandarin noodles with beansprouts (£4.95) were laced with the fragrant aroma of sesame oil. 

Having wiped every plate clean, I abstained from the usual uninspiring range of Chinese desserts (I picked up a Double Decker on the way home).

However, a friend’s banana fritters (£4.50) were crisp, tender and drizzled in lovely light caramel. 

Whilst old skool Cantonese often gets a bad rep for its dayglo MSG rich sauces, the Riverside demonstrates why a plate of Chinese nosh is one of the nation's favourite comfort foods.

The details:

Address - Riverside Cantonese, 44 Tudor Street, Riverside, Cardiff , CF11 6AH
Telephone - 029 2037 2163

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Five Guys, Covent Garden, London burger review

You’ve probably already read a bucket-load of Five Guys reviews.

However, considering I dropped the best part of £15 on a burger, fries and soft drink I feel I’m entitled to my tuppence worth.

Five Guys is one of last Summer’s duo of American chain imports; with 3 branches already open, and 3 more due in the coming months, their expansion across the UK has begun apace.

When I visited the Covent Garden branch on a Monday at around 11.20am (ok, I was hungover), there was no sign of a queue. However, at that time of day, it’s not surprising...

Ordering was straight forward, as well, it’s like any other fast food place.

Still, a friendly staff member took the time to explain about the free toppings available with each burger. What she didn’t mention was that a regular burger is frigging massive and comes with two patties and that a “little” burger is actually what most places would consider a normal size.

I ordered the bacon cheeseburger (£8.75) served all the way i.e. with all of the most popular toppings.

Whilst waiting for I helped myself to a bottomless Fanta Zero Grape and a Fanta Zero Fruit Punch (£2.50) from the Coca Cola Freestyle machine; serving over 100 different drinks, it’s a nifty bit of kit. 

I also munched on a complimentary tray of monkey nuts; a nice touch as they made the wait for the burger to be cooked to order a lot more bearable. 

After five or so minutes, brunch was served…

I have to admit, the burger was rather frigging lush. 

A soft and sweet seeded bun; two huge juicy yet well-done patties; ultra crisp bacon; oozing American cheese; grilled onions and mushrooms; ketchup; mustard; mayo; lettuce; tomatoes and pickles. 

The combination was mighty sloppy yet mighty tasty – a bit like how you wish a Burger King Whopper tasted. 

Less impressive were the “little” Cajun fries (£2.75), which tasted as though they were coated in ALL the spices of Louisiana, such was their throat burning effect. I’m sure that underneath all the spice powder were some decent fries clamouring for air. 

So, what to conclude? I liked the burger at Five Guys a lot, but not as much as some of Britain’s finest or the legendary In-n-Out Burger.

And, £14 for a burger, fries and drink in a fast food restaurant with as much atmosphere as a McDonald's…really?

Update 26/12/2015:

There are now two branches of Five Guys in Cardiff, one in the Brewer Quarter in the city centre and one in the Red Dragon Centre in Cardiff Bay. My thoughts on the Cardiff branches are exactly the same as my London experience.

However, I'm rather partial to the "little" cheeseburger. At £5.50 it's far more palatable in price and still a very good size.

The details:

Address - Five Guys, 1-3 Long Acre, Covent Garden, London WC2E 9LH
Five Guys, Unit 9a, The Old Brewery Quarter, St Mary's Street, Cardiff, CF10 1AD
Five Guys, Unit 9b, The Red Dragon Centre, Hemingway Road, Cardiff, CF10 4JY
Web - 

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Urban Tap House, Cardiff food blog - Searching for Cardiff's best burger

Urban Tap House is a belter of a boozer.

Tiny Rebel, the multi award-winning, edgy, Newport based craft brewers have done a hell of a job at transforming the former Fire Island on Westgate Street, which closed under a cloud of controversy.

Whilst they’ve retained the pared back, urban feel - there’s plenty of exposed brickwork, gig posters, metal ducts, and graffiti - into the mix, they’ve thrown a colossal range of craft beers, ales and ciders. 

There's a rotating selection of over fifteen beers on tap and fridges stocked with an endless number of bottled beers from around the world. 

On the bar is also a cracking selection of homemade snacks.

I kicked off the evening with a bag of hop popcorn; fried in hop oil, it tasted sweet with a hoppy complexity lurking in the background. An accompanying pint of Camden Brewery’s Gentleman’s Wit, a wheat beer infused with lemon and bergamot, provided some welcome first-pint refreshment. 

I also rounded off the night with a superb candied jalapeno cupcake, both the sponge and the butter cream icing were flecked with The Preservation Society’s candied jalapenos to add a subtle chilli warmth. 

However, the night’s main event was the burger…

Urban Tap House’s menu consists solely of burgers; there’s a handful of regulars and an evolving list of specials including the pizza burger and chilli nacho burger. 

As a burger purist, I ordered the closest thing I could get to a bacon cheeseburger. Mrs G went more off-piste.

The Burgers – The Big Welsh and The Pork, Pork & Pork

The Big Welsh
The Pork, Pork & Pork
1. How was the patty? 

The Big Welsh’s beef patty was well proportioned and flavoured. Disappointingly, it was served well done and was consequently fairly dry. 

The Pork, Pork & Pork’s excellent patty comprised of a soft, smoky and unsurprisingly piggy combination of minced pork, black pudding and smoked bacon. 

The Big Welsh
2. How was the bun? A very good, soft and sweet brioche bun.

3. How was the other stuff in the bun?

Soft, delicately sweet leeks, oozy Welsh cheddar and crispy bacon were the successful trio of toppings to adorn the Big Welsh.

Less successful was the cloyingly sweet apple, mint and scrumpy cider sauce which topped the Pork, Pork & Pork.

4. How were the fries? Fantastic skin on fries – crisp, fluffy, golden and well seasoned. 

7. How was the other stuff? Lovely coleslaw with a warm mustardy twang; superb, whopping, crisp and tender FUBAR onion rings (£1.90) made using Tiny Rebel ale;

and super-tasty Goldie Lookin’ Gherkins (£2) – the crisp, vinegary cucumbers balancing the richness of the batter nicely. 

5. What was the price? The Big Welsh (£7.75) and the Pork, Pork & Pork (£7.50). With the fries and coleslaw included in the price, they’re rather good value. The sides were a bit of a bargain too.

6. How was the service? Friendly, knowledgeable and bearded.

8. So what's the verdict? Urban Tap House is fast becoming a Cardiff institution and deservedly so. Whilst the beer, bar snacks and sides are nigh on faultless; the burgers we ate need a few minor tweaks to put them up with the best in Cardiff.

The Details:
Address - The Urban Tap House, 25 Westgate Street, Cardiff, CF10 1DD