Sunday, 30 November 2014

House of Tides, Newcastle restaurant review

The wandering Geordie makes a triumphant homecoming.

No, I’m not talking about myself – although I need to visit my hometown of Newcastle more often than my fleeting annual appearance.

I’m in fact referring to Kenny Atkinson, the affable chef who’s had two dishes on the banquet at the Great British menu and held Michelin stars whilst cooking in the Isles of Scilly and County Durham.

Having finally returned to the Toon after cooking his way around the country, Kenny opened House of Tides in February 2014. Situated in an imposing 16th Century former merchant’s house on the banks of the Tyne, it’s a fitting location for a Geordie destination restaurant.

We had pre-dinner drinks and appetisers in the downstairs bar, a gorgeously industrial room of stone, metal and leather. Hulking meaty olives and warm gougeres filled with sweet onion cream were a perfectly understated start to the meal. 

Choices made from the menu - at dinner there’s either a non-vegetarian (£65) or vegetarian (£65) tasting menu, a choice of meat courses and the option of a couple of extra courses – we migrated to the upstairs dining room. 

The first course was the standout of the night and perhaps my entire year. A golden de-boned chicken wing, perched on a squirt of buttery potato puree, was topped with truffle shavings and bathed in chicken and mushroom broth. 

To compound the dish’s intense fragrance and savouriness, it was served with intoxicating wild mushroom arancini... 

and a whizz-bang dry ice aroma of wild mushrooms. 

Fresh bread had a pleasurable lingering background note of caramelised onion. 

Kenny’s signature dish, his banquet winning starter from the Great British Menu 2008, mackerel with textures of gooseberry was served at a supplement of £7.50. Tender fish rolled in crisp fried bread was served with a smear of fiery English mustard, sweet gooseberry jelly and puree, and sharp whole gooseberries.

It was undoubtedly a very tasty dish but most certainly a victim of it’s own hype – it was neither the best of the night nor deserving of the immodest supplement for the modest ingredients and portion size. 

Half a seared scallop was served with roast and pureed pumpkin and toasted pumpkin seeds. Crumbs of parmesan biscuit and a parmesan foam brought balance to this earthy, sweet and savoury dish. 

Next up was a tender heritage potato terrine layered with tangy goats cheese and parsley. Vivid beetroot, crumbed golden-yolked quails eggs and mustard-rich coleslaw contributed to a luxury dish, which was no worse off for its vegetarian status. 

For the meat course, the table was split down the middle in choice.

For Mrs G, blushing venison, leaves of brussel sprout, spiral Chinese artichokes, meaty gravy, a cake of duck fat roast potato and richness moderating blackberries. This was a good dish but not as impressive as the one on the other side of the table… 

My dish was more substantial in taste and portion. The ultimate Sunday roast, it comprised of breast and rolled leg of partridge (it tasted like a slightly denser, more intense tasting sibling of chicken), sweet poached pear and roast parsnip, crisp kale leaves, a mountain of buttery Jerusalem artichoke puree and meaty gravy. 

The only negative - the roll of leg meat was a touch dry, lacking the juiciness I associate with this part of the bird. 

Cheese was an absolute bobby-dazzler and represented far better value for money for its £8 supplement than the mackerel course earlier. British in origin across the board, it demonstrated we can hold our own as a nation in the cheese-making stakes. The Admiral Collingwood, a cows' milk cheese with a rind washed in Newcastle Brown Ale, was seriously complex and savoury whilst Colston Bassett and Stinking Bishop brought their familiar intensity to the plate. 

Fruit and nut bread, salty crisp breads, truffle honey and a brick of quince jelly were the finest of accompaniments. 

The first of the desserts, a mini Magnum of creamy coconut ice cream coated in white chocolate, was accompanied by uber-sharp mango and passion fruit sorbet, and blobs of mango puree. The sweet and sharp elements balanced perfectly. 

Next up came my other favourite course of the night – a silky smooth dark cuboid of dark chocolate parfait sat atop crisp wafer. The addition of salted caramel, salted caramel popcorn, shards of dark chocolate and popcorn ice cream deftly combined salt and sweet. 

A trio of truffles accompanying coffee (£4) rounded off the meal – a violet cup which carefully steered away from potpourri territory, a mild whisky truffle and the pick of the bunch, a salted caramel and peanut butter cup (essentially the ultimate Reese’s). 

Dinner at House of Tides was stonking. It’s great to see a local chef successfully open a destination restaurant in the shadows of the Tyne. It’s great for me too as it’s given me additional incentive to make the pilgrimage back to the North East of England more often. 

The Details:

Address - House of Tides, 28-30 The Close, Newcastle, Tyne & Wear NE1 3RF
Telephone - 0191 2303720
Kenny Atkinson House of Tides on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Anatoni's, Italian restaurant, Cyncoed, Cardiff food blog

---- Update 14th March 2016 ----

Anatoni's has been refurbished and renamed Da Mara. Their contact details remain the same and they've also got a brand new custom-made Neapolitan pizza oven.


That’s not an oven… THAT’s an oven.

The Neapolitan style wood-fired pizza oven at Cyncoed based Italian restaurant, Anatoni’s, is a serious bit of kit.

Sitting proudly at the back of the restaurant, it operates at nearly 500°C and can belch out a margherita pizza every 90 seconds.

Pizzas are what Anatoni’s are all about, but the starters en route also impressed.

Two gargantuan sharing platters (£8.95) were excellent value for money. Yielding parma ham, fat flecked salami, charred peppers, nutty parmesan, soft and herby pizza bread, and a well dressed green salad topped with serviceable mozzarella and meaty black olives covered the tabletop.

A single piece of tomato and mozzarella bruschetta (£4.95) was less remarkable in flavour and value; it was tasty enough but paled in comparison to the sharing platters. 

And then the pizzas arrived…

A crisp, chewy crust, über thin base and a light tomato sauce were all on the money.

My ham and mushroom pizza (£9.95) was loaded with a huge quantity of tender meat, bronzed mozzarella, soft fungi and a good scattering of oregano. The only minor drawback was the quantity of mushrooms meant the middle of the base quickly went a bit soggy.

Mrs G’s quattro stagioni (£12.95) was equally well topped with olives, artichokes, ham and mushrooms.

Our friends rated their pizzas too. A salame e caprino (£12.95) was topped with sweet roasted peppers, salami and tangy goats cheese.

A Neapolitan calzone (£12.95) was generously stuffed with ricotta, mozzarella and salami. 

Without even seeing the dessert menu, in my mind I’d already ordered the homemade tiramisu (£4.95). Gently boozy, light and not too sweet, this comforting dessert was everything it should be.

A nutty and gooey brownie (£4.95) worked well with three scoops of immensely creamy stracciatella ice cream. However, I suspect the brownie was bought-in.

Lastly, a lemon sorbet (£3.95) was sharp with an ice cream like creaminess.

So, the food at Anatoni’s was great but not without it’s minor flaws. 

But, here’s the clincher - it’s bring your own booze with no corkage.

On a midweek night we drank a couple of bottles of wine between the six of us whilst a solitary businessman on the neighbouring table got involved and cracked open a 4 pack of Carlsberg.

Anatoni’s wood-fired pizza oven is a beacon in Cyncoed’s culinary desert. I’d go back in a flash.

The Details:

Address - Da Mara, 25 Clearwater Way, Cyncoed, Cardiff CF23 6DL
Telephone - 029 2076 5419

Anatoni's on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Arbennig, Pontcanna, Cardiff restaurant review

Some restaurants stay on my “to eat list” for ages with no real urgency for me to ever visit.

As new concept driven / junk food / obscure international restaurants open – it’s the more traditional British restaurants which tend to fall down the pecking order.

Arbennig is one such restaurant. Open since January this year, when the head chef of Oscars of Cardiff took over the running of the place, they’ve been quietly going about their thing with out much fanfare.

And then, the Good Food Guide 2015 came out in September.

And the highest rated restaurant in Cardiff was named as Arbennig.

And it was bumped up right to the top of my list.

So, we booked a table last week to celebrate the engagement of some good friends.

Arbennig’s menu reads very well. International influences and innovative flavour combinations are brought to bear on a selection of crowd pleasers – French onion soup, charcuterie, steak and sea bass all put in an appearance.

To start, a perfectly cooked crab scotch egg (£7.95) with a golden yolk, an earthy crabmeat rich case and a crisp crumb was joined by salty crisp pancetta, sweet pea puree and mild wasabi cream. There was a lot going on this dish but everything balanced well.

Across the table, a generous heap of meaty smoked salmon (£6.25) was accompanied by tangy whipped goats cheese, brightly coloured cubes of lightly pickled beetroot and crisp oat crackers.

For main, a blushing pink duck breast (£18.95) with golden skin and well rendered fat was accompanied by uber-smooth mash enriched with garlic and goats cheese, toasted pine nuts (which added a nice bit of bite) and shredded sprout tops for a touch of greenery. An interesting marmalade sauce was well spiced but a touch too sweet to cut through the dish’s richness.

Golden tinged tender pork belly (£16.50) with a mustard and apple sauce sat atop a pile of bubble and squeak. Crisp and soft in equal measure the tender potato was flecked through with just the right amount of cabbage.

Both mains however could have done with some vegetables on the side. At best, I’d expect them to be included in the price of the dish. At worst, I’d expect some upselling of a few sides. Unfortunately, we had neither. 

Dessert brought my favourite dish of the night.

A tea crème brulee (£6.25) combined the brutishness of a mug of builder’s tea with the refinement of the classic French dish. Fragrant, sweet and creamy, the smooth custard was topped with a cracking layer of caramel. A scoop of custard ice cream, reminiscent of the filling of a custard cream, completed this magnificent dessert.

A warm gooey brownie (£6.50) served with a top dollar scoop of raspberry ripple ice cream and a smear of peanut butter contributed to a modern interpretation of another classic flavour combo.

Finally, an apple crumble (£5.50) was the least impressive. Whilst a liberal portion of stewed apple was well spiced with cinnamon, the sparse quantity of oat topping meant the dish was taking liberties with its title of crumble.

Friendly service, a characterful dining space, and innovative interpretations of familiar dishes make Arbennig a pretty special restaurant.

However, it’s worth noting it's not exactly a bargain. Also, the dining room was brass monkeys - they need to light up one of those open fireplaces which are dotted around the restaurant.

The details:

Address - Arbennig,  6-10 Romilly Crescent, Pontcanna, Cardiff, CF11 9NR
Telephone - 029 2034 1264
Arbennig on Urbanspoon