Thursday, 30 October 2014

Chilli Basil, City Road, Cardiff Thai restaurant review

With just four tables and sixteen covers, the newly opened Chilli Basil on City Road must surely be Cardiff’s smallest restaurant.

(Answers on the back of a postcard or the comment section below if you can think of anywhere tinier.)

Whilst this Thai restaurant’s Lilliputian proportions mean there may often be a wait for a table, you can always pass the time with a pre-dinner cocktail across the road in Milgi’s or take advantage of Chilli Basil’s home delivery service instead.

Neither are exactly hardships.

quarter of the restaurant
As Chilli Basil don’t have an alcohol license we ordered a clutch of interesting soft drinks. For me, a tamarind juice with a familiar sweetness and tang. For a friend, a snowglobe like coconut juice with floating bits of white pulp.

Mrs G ordered a pot of Jasmine tea.

Chilli Basil’s menu is packed with all the usual Thai restaurant classics. Salads, curries, soups and stir-fries are all present and correct.

A bowl of crisp and ultra-prawny prawn crackers (£1) kicked off the meal. In case you're wondering, the ultra-prawniness is a good thing in my book.

A bowl of chicken Tom Yum (£3) was a great example of one Thai cuisine's most famous dishes. Tender chicken, mild spring onions and mushrooms bobbed in the fragrant and sour broth - heady with lemongrass, coriander and lime.

A pretty looking dish of chicken and prawn dumplings was very tasty but didn’t have a huge depth of flavour. The thin dumpling cases (£3.50) contained a finely minced filling topped with toasted peanuts.

In contrast, a green papaya salad was loaded with flavour (£6). Shreds of fruit and carrot, al dente green beans and sweet cherry tomatoes were bathed in a wildly hot and sour citrusy dressing. Crunchy peanuts added textural contrast whilst some annoyingly chewy dried baby shrimps were the only negative. 

Onto the mains….

A delicious duck yellow curry (£6.49) was laden with soft meat and vibrant vegetables (carrot, courgette, aubergine, peppers and bamboo shoots) in a silky, creamy coconut sauce. A mound of sticky, steamed rice mopped up any stray sauce. 

Chicken pad thai (£5.99) was on the nail – slippery rice noodles, beansprouts, finely diced carrot, egg and chicken were coated in a slightly sweet and tangy sauce topped with crushed peanuts. 

Finally, a bowl of egg fried rice (£2) demonstrated how well Chilli Basil can do the simple things – the golden rice was flecked with fresh omelette, spring onion and carrots. 

So all in all, the food at Chilli Basil was excellent and the service was super-friendly too.

However, we did have one issue. Whilst it’s common in some restaurants for dishes to be brought out as and when they’re ready, Chilli Basil take this principle to the extreme. I received both of my dishes before two of my friends even received one. Furthermore, the papaya salad, labelled as a starter, arrived a good ten minutes after every other dish on the table.

In spite of this, I’m more than willing to give Chilli Basil the benefit of the doubt; they’ve been open for less than 2 weeks and so I’m sure this service issue will be ironed out.

In addition, the price of the meal more than compensated for the timing issues. We each had two courses and a drink and paid £12 a head including a tip. Bargain.

The Details:

Address - Chilli Basil, 232 City Road, Roath, Cardiff CF24 3JH
Telephone - 07786 970 977 or 02920 482 233

Chilli Basil on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Kumar's South Indian Restaurant, City Road, Cardiff restaurant review

I’ve visited Kumar’s three times in the last three weeks. That’s how much I like the place.

This no-frills Southern Indian restaurant on City Road is perennially busy. So, I’m clearly not the only person who’s a fan.

With a comprehensive menu of cracking value Southern Indian food, a bring your own booze policy and an uber-friendly waitress who somehow singlehandedly manages to keep service running smoothly, Kumar’s is a great restaurant.

Cauliflower Manchurian (£3.50), an Indo-Chinese classic, combined lightly battered florets and finely diced onions and peppers (with just the right amount bite) in a ferociously spicy, sweet and sour sauce.

A podi dosa (£3.75) saw a whopping thin rice and lentil pancake filled with a spicy, crunchy lentil powder. An accompanying trio of sauces were the ideal companions – a coconut chutney, a tomato and lentil sambal and a lentil sambal. 

I’d like to apologise for the number of times I’ve written about lamb kothu parotta on this blog. However, it’s one of my all time favourite dishes and I’m compelled to order it whenever it’s on a menu.

Kumar’s version (£4.99) is one of the best I’ve tried – soft, finely chopped bread, tender lamb, fragrant curry leaf, egg, red onion and tomatoes combine to make one of the best comfort foods going. A little pot of chicken curry in a coconut twanged-gravy and a coarse cut onion raitha provided extra moisture.

Malabar lamb therakal (£6.25), a supposedly dry curry, wasn’t as dry as the last time I ordered it. However, the huge portion of lamb, onions, shredded coconut and curry leaves were just as tender and well spiced as my previous visit. 

A paneer butter massala (£5.25) provided a contrast to the other dishes – soft, golden cubes of cheese were bathed in a creamy, mildly spiced sauce heady with cardamom. 

An egg veechu parotta (£2.25) was the perfect mop for all that gravy. A stretchy bread topped with a thin layer of omelette, it was only let down by a heavy hand with the salt shaker. Last time the seasoning was bob-on. 

And that’s where my only criticism of Kumar’s lies – a slight lack of consistency – sauces have been spiced and seasoned differently each time I’ve visited. However, that’s not to say they haven’t been lush each time.

If you’re looking for a different Indian meal in Cardiff then Kumar’s is a must visit.

The Details:

Address - Kumar's, 129 City Road, Cardiff CF24 3BP
Telephone - 02920 214 569

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Hogwurst, Cathays, Cardiff gourmet hot dogs

Quality in quality out.

That’s why the hot dogs at newly opened Hogwurst in Cathays are so delicious.

Strangely, it’s a simple formula which so many others fail to follow.

Hogwurst take a top quality snappy, smokey frankfurter from legendary Gloucestershire charcutier Native Breeds (they also supply London’s mega-acclaimed Bubbledogs).

They combine it with a light, fluffy, sweet brioche bun from Roath’s own Allen’s Bakery.

And, unsurprisingly, they’re onto a winner.

I sampled two excellent dogs from their menu.

Firstly, the classic Hog Dog (£4.50) topped with finely diced red onion, a smattering of shredded iceberg, ketchup and mild mustard.

Secondly, the even tastier and also traditional Ze German (£4.50) topped with richness piercing sauerkraut, mustard, ketchup and crispy onions.

There are more exotic hot dogs on the menu – the Hogamama (£6.50) is topped with pulled pork and apple slaw whilst the Slum Dog is topped with curry sauce (£4.50). There are also plain or dirty fries (£1.50 - £4.50) if you’re not in the game for two hot dogs like me. Mrs G’s lab mates have sampled them and can vouch for their quality. 

In keeping with Hogwurst’s shabby chic café vibe, they also serve coffees, teas and cakes.

For dessert I ordered a crisp and immensely gooey chocolate and hazelnut brownie (£1.50) topped with chopped pistachios and grated orange zest. 

It’s worth noting that Hogwurst allow you to bring your own booze – making for a bargainous meal out by all accounts.

Next time in fact I might take a note out of Bubbledog’s book and bring a bottle of champagne to wash my snags down with.

The details:

Address - Hogwurst, 56 North Road, Cathays, Cardiff CF10 3DZ
Twitter - @franklyzebest

Hogwurst on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Malaga, Spain - City and Restaurant Guide

The worm has turned.

I can no longer wear shorts every day. The “two veg” which go with my “meat” have transitioned from salad to vegetables. And I’ve reluctantly turned the central heating on.

If like me you’re lamenting the arrival of autumn and craving sunshine then I’d highly recommend an escape to the Andalusian city of Malaga. Boasting some of the warmest winter temperatures in Europe, the daytime average is a balmy 17°C.

It’s not just the weather which is a bit lush.

Malaga’s mix of Islamic and Christian heritage means there’s impressive architecture - the Catholic cathedral and the Moorish Alcazaba palace were both jaw-dropping. 

Our hotel's rooftop pool was also rather handy for reading, drinking and taking in the panoramic views. The Molina Lario is a definite win - it's centrally located, modern and reasonably priced (£75 a night approx).

A nose around the Picasso museum's impressive collection (Malaga was the artist's birthplace) provided some welcome respite from the midday sunshine whilst an impressive mural by Shepard Fairey displayed Malaga's grip on contemporary culture. 

However, let’s cut to the chase and get to the most important thing. The nosh.

Every tapas bar we visited was of a remarkably high standard – even a chain place called Volapie, located a few minutes walk from the hotel.

Hyper crisp patatas bravas (€6) were served in a sauce which combined the garlicky goodness of aioli with the spicy potency of tomato sauce.

Oxtail croquetas (€6) were dainty warheads of velvety meatiness. 

A platter of meat (€9) combined fennel fragranced roast pork, lean jamon fillet and fatty shoulder. 

For breakfast we mostly picked up a “light” snack of a pastry or sandwich from one of the bakeries near to Malaga’s central market – a tourist destination in its own right packed with overflowing stalls of stunning produce.

Our two favourite tapas joints were both popular with the locals.

Los Gatos is the Cheers equivalent of tapas bars. 

Everyone knows each other; the restaurant appears to break-out on occasion into impromptu song; a customer took our order so as to give the frantic waiting team a breather; and another table congratulated us on our choice of restaurant. 

A half portion of jamon (€10) was mouth-meltingly good.

Two types of croqueta (€6), one studded with jamon the other with salami, were both equally moreish. 

A huge menu of montaditos (mini sandwiches) included an earthy morcilla and toasted pine nut variety (€2.50) and another of tangy goat’s cheese and caramelised onions (€2.50). 

A simple salad of impeccably fresh tomatoes (€3.50) was dressed with a little oil and vinegar.

A couple of hours spent perched at the bar of Cortijo de Pepe, drinking beer (€1.50) and tinto verano (€1.75) and grazing on cheap yet exceptional tapas was a perfect way to spend an afternoon. 

Grilled chorizo (€2 each) was everything it should be – lightly charred, juicy and paprika-laced. 

A heaving plate of soft, salty boquerones (€7) were coated in crisp crumb with out the merest glint of fat.

Uber-tender pinchos morunos (€2.10 each) were made from pork marinated in North African spices.

Plates of manchego (€5) and jamon (€8) were ordered because… well it would be rude not to.

Whilst we eschewed dessert in each of the bars we visited, we more than made up for it by the amount of ice cream we purchased from Casa Mira.

Located on the main drag, these guys have been doing their thing for over 100 years and it definitely shows. 

Their smooth, milky ice cream certainly gives the best Italian gelato a run for its money.

Fragrant pistachio,

insanely rich Belgian chocolate and creamy dulche de leche, 

and a zesty, mouth puckering lemon granita were all seen off during the trip.

What more have I got to say? Escape from this cruddy weather and book your flights to Malaga now.

The Details:

You can fly directly to Malaga from Cardiff by Vueling or Bristol by Easyjet

Hotel Molina LarioCalle Molina Lario, 20, 29015 Málaga
Volapie - Calle Strachan, 7, 29015 Málaga
Los Gatos - Plaza Uncibay 9, 29008 Málaga
Cortijo de Pepe - Plaza Merced, 2, 29012 Málaga
Casa Mira - Calle Marqués de Larios, 5, 29015 Málaga