Saturday, 26 April 2014

Palms Beach, Cardiff, Sri Lankan restaurant review

*This restaurant is now closed*

One of the perks of food blogging is that I constantly get recommendations sent my way.

It means I get to hear about the places that don’t court publicity which are quietly doing their thing, often without so much as website to let you know of their existence.

The only downside is I can’t keep up with all the restaurants I’d like to visit… I’ve currently got 98 places on my list in South Wales and no slack left in my waistband.

It’s thanks to a Twitter tip that I heard about Palms Beach, a Sri Lankan and South Indian restaurant in Cathays, which has been open since the middle of January.

Their menu is home to a whole bevy of interesting and lush sounding dishes.

Unfortunately, some of the more unique breads (appams, pittu and string hoppers) weren’t available the midweek night we visited. So, we ended up ordering more familiar food. 

Mango lassi (£2.50) straddled the fine line of being both refreshing and tasting like a dessert – ice cold, fragrant, sweet and creamy with a yoghurt zing.

Mutton kothu rothi (£6), a regular on this blog and in my stomach, was a bit meh. Whilst all the textures were bob on (tender lamb, soft shredded rothi), it tasted a bit one note. Lacking the vibrancy of fresh tomato and the fragrance of curry leaf, the dish tasted almost exclusively of lamb and chilli heat. 

In contrast, a chicken Sri Lankan curry was delicious and an absolute steal at £4.50. There was plenty of tender chicken and the sauce was coconut-y, fragrant with curry leaf and had a good whack of chilli. 

The star of the meal, however, was a masala dosa (£3.50). The crisp pancake, filled with a superb tender potato and tomato curry, was another bargain. Its accompaniments of lentil gravy, and coconut & chilli and coriander chutneys were also excellent. 

Dessert, payasam (£2.50), wasn’t the most appetising looking bowlful. In spite of this, it was a pleasant, creamy concoction of tapioca, sultanas and vermicelli fragranced with spiced with cardamom. 

Ok, so dinner at Palms Beach wasn’t perfect. But 2 out of 4 dishes were excellent, it’s cheap, and the service is super friendly. In summary, it’s another restaurant worth checking out.  I’ll most certainly be brushing up on my Sri Lankan food trivia before my next visit so I have a better idea where the hidden gems may lie.

The details:

Address - Palms Beach, 2 Coburn Street, Cathays, Cardiff CF24 4BQ

Monday, 21 April 2014

The Checkers, Montgomery, Wales restaurant review

In the five or so years that I’ve been living in Wales I’ve seen some incredible sights.

The breathtaking beaches of Rhossili and Barafundle, mountainous Snowdonia, Chippy Alley at 2am on a Saturday night, and the puffins of Skomer Island have been just a few of the wonders I've witnessed.

However, until last weekend I’d never visited the bit in the middle.

But, after an afternoon checking out Powis Castle’s majestic peacocks and whopping topiary, I’ve added another incredible Welsh destination to my road-trip arsenal.

And, it also happens to be a fifteen-minute drive from The Checkers…

The Checkers, a restaurant with rooms situated in the weenie, picturesque town of Montgomery, is very much a family affair - head Chef Stéphane Borie is married to head pastry chef Sarah whilst her sister Kathryn runs front of house.

This translates into a passion which exudes from every wooden beam of this renovated coaching inn; front of house is relaxed yet precise whilst the remarkable French food is daintily brutish.

And, having gained a Michelin star just seven months after opening in 2011 (currently one of only three in Wales), the family team have been richly recognised for their dedication.

Whilst there’s an a la carte menu, which weighs in at approximately £12 a starter, £28 a main, and £9 a pudding, you’ll already know that as a fully paid-up fatty I ordered the 7-course tasting menu (£75).

Pre-dinner drinks were accompanied by a trio of canapés – a warm, sweet beetroot meringue sandwiched with subtle horseradish; a crumbly parmesan biscuit topped with a delicately tangy goats cheese cream; and a luxe pork scratching with a mustard mayonnaise dip.

Amongst a fine selection of warm bread, a pumpkin roll and a slice of sultana loaf were the standouts.

The first course proper was a creamy cauliflower velouté jewelled with floating goodies – flakes of smoked haddock, a silky quail’s egg which slipped down the hatch in one and pieces of cauliflower which I felt were just a touch too al dente.

Home smoked salmon was a plate of perfection; crisp skin, yielding flakes and a hit of intense smoke were accompanied by a sweet white onion puree and the richness piercing properties of sage and lemon oil.

Sea bass with fluffy potato blinis, tender asparagus and a booze-licked Noilly Prat cream sauce was another superb dish.

Whilst the previous course was one of comparative lightness, the next two dishes followed the age old recipe for culinary success: Tasty = (meat + butter)2.

First up was super tender pork belly with crisp crackling, a pate-like homemade boudin noir, pomme mousseline aka mashed potato flavoured butter, meaty jus, sweet roast pear, pear puree and a token piece of spinach.

The indulgence didn’t let up with the next dish either - steak so tender it could be cut with a spoon, a garlic-whacked pomme fondant, unctuous ox-tail coated in golden breadcrumbs, asparagus puree; a deep red wine jus and asparagus (which was of course coated in pancetta).

My dessert from the tasting menu was rhubarb crumble soufflé. Whilst its cloud-like lightness contrasted well with the crunch of crumble pieces, it required a bigger hit of tart rhubarb to balance the dish’s sweetness.

As Mrs G isn’t a fan of rhubarb she subbed her dish for another off the a la carte – a tasting plate of lemon and ginger desserts. A creamy yet sharp lemon cheesecake with a buttery biscuit base, a scoop of stem ginger flecked ice cream and a preternaturally thin-crusted lemon tart were all frigging lovely.

Stuffed, we eschewed coffee and petit fours in favour of a stroll around the moonlit town square.

Rather thoughtfully though, a selection of truffles was boxed up for the following day’s journey. A major improvement on my usual bag of Haribo, they made the scenic drive home from one of Wales’s culinary jewels all the more pleasurable.

The details:

Address - The Checkers, Broad Street, Montgomery, Powys SY15 6PN
Telephone - 01686 669 822

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Trade Street Cafe - Hunt for Cardiff's Best Breakfast

Trade Street Café has been on my to visit list for yonks.

In fact, in that time they’ve closed down, changed hands and reopened after an £80,000 refurbishment.

However, due to their advertised weekday opening hours & the fact I don’t work anywhere near their City Centre location, it looked like I’d never get to visit…

Apparently though, they are open on Saturdays they just don’t tell you on their website, Twitter account or Google business listing. This might explain why I had their rather lovely dining space all to myself when I popped in last weekend after dropping Mrs G off at the station.

The breakfast – Full Welsh Breakfast

The price - £6.95

Pros – Meaty mushrooms, thick salty bacon and fresh toasted bloomer

Cons – Winey Toulouse sausages were too potent for a fry-up and just the one fried egg felt a bit stingy

Beverages – A full-bodied Americano (£1.95) 

Verdict – Trade Street Café is a lovely place to relax with the weekend papers and their breakfast is pretty good, if a little modest in proportions.

Details – 

Address - Trade Street Cafe, 4 Trade Street, Cardiff, CF10 4DQ
Telephone - 029 2022 8666 

Sunday, 6 April 2014

La Bodega, Spanish tapas bar, Cardiff review

Sometimes you can’t help but think we’ve got the short end of the stick when it comes to bar-snacks.

Whilst in Italy you can fill your boots from groaning antipasti bars, in Spain there's a national snack-based cuisine and in Japan you can munch on yakitori over a few post-work beers - we typically have a choice between Big D salted nuts, Mini Cheddars and (if it’s an upmarket gastro-boozer) a stingy pot of sweet chilli rice crackers.

La Bodega serves my kind of bar food. Furthermore, their warm welcome, (almost) cliché-free interior and Spanish booze list make a night out on St Mary Street seem nearly as appealing as a night spent on the sofa watching the latest HBO boxset.

Pan con tomate y jamon (£7.50) was everything it should be – warm, crisp toast rubbed with punchy garlic, sweet tomato, top-notch olive oil and topped with unctuous, room-temperature ham. 

Morcilla Iberica con huevo (£5.90) could be a candidate for Cardiff’s best breakfast; the crisp-crumbed black pudding & runny fried eggs proving to be a winning combination anytime of day.

Ham croquetas (£7.50) were lush too – a crisp exterior cosseting silky béchamel flecked with salty ham.

However, at over seven pounds for a dainty portion, it felt at least a couple of quid too expensive – an accusation which could be levelled at a few of the other dishes on the menu. 

Gambas pil pil (£7.50) were plump and juicy but would have benefited from a bigger whack of chilli…

whilst enjoyable patatas bravas (£3.80) would have been massively improved by a few minutes longer spent crisping in hot fat.

Dessert, a slice of tarta de Santiago (£4.50), was a revelation despite its soft pastry base – the moist, rich almond filling balanced perfectly by the hit of orange and lemon juice. 

Except for a few blips in the food and some overly-steep pricing in places; La Bodega is highly recommended. It's most certainly a very welcome, independent addition to Cardiff City Centre.

The Details:

Address - 15 High Street, Cardiff, CF10 1AX
Telephone - 02920 371 823
Web -