Saturday, 30 May 2015

Mini Bar, Lisbon restaurant review

You’ll have to pardon my over-enthusiasm.

A couple of weeks ago in Lisbon I had one of the most delicious, interesting and technically accomplished meals of my life.

And the bill for two, including a ten course tasting menu, cocktails, wine and service, came to 120 Euros.

Yes, that’s £86 at the current exchange rate.

If you ever find yourself in Lisbon then make sure you visit Mini Bar, the cocktail and tapas bar owned by Portuguese chef José Avillez.

His other restaurant, Belcanto, happens to be the only two Michelin-starred restaurant in Lisbon. And, his CV includes a traineeship at El Bulli.

Mini Bar isn’t your typical starched linen and hushed tones fine dining gaff. Located in an old theatre in Lisbon’s chic Chiado district, it’s a buzzing, chilled out place where you can enjoy a night of cocktails and nibbles. They even have a late-night DJ on Friday and Saturday nights.

Individual tapas (separated on the menu into “acts” in keeping with the theatrical theme) cost around €6 but there’s also a pair of tasting menus available. The cheaper of the two costs €39 (£28) whilst the grander chef’s surprise menu costs €48,50 (£35).

A caipirinha kicked off the meal - a smooth coco butter exterior gave way to an ice-cold liquid centre, boozy with a hit of lime. 

Cocktails were exemplary – a mojito (€8) and a caipirinha (€6). A bargainous bowl of toasted almonds (€0.75), with a lovely hint of Indian spice, was a cracking accompaniment. A superb bottle of Viognier (€15) accompanied the rest of the meal. 

Next up, one of El Bulli’s most famous dishes. A wobbly sphere popped on the roof of the mouth to release an intense essence of olive. Incredible. 

Ferrero Rocher, not as it appears to be is one of the chef’s signature dishes. A crisp hazelnut and chocolate exterior contained an indulgently smooth foie gras mousse. Sweet and savoury were balanced perfectly. 

The first standout dish of the night was a miniature ceviche of stupendous fragrance and freshness. Two plump and sweet prawns, a sphere of Tiger’s milk, a crunchy corn kernel and red chilli slices sat atop half of a lime. Eaten all at once with a suck of the lime at the end, it was a seriously vibrant mouthful. 

A snack of crisp compressed chicken skin dotted with blobs of smoky, salty goats cheese, guacamole, piri-piri powder and confit lemon achieved Biscoff spread levels of addictiveness.

The faultless cooking continued with a dainty wafer cone loaded to the brim with uber-tender steak tartare and dots of mild mustard emulsion. Slices of cornichon cut through the richness. 

We were each then served a whopper of a tuna steak – the kind of thing you’d pay at least £15 for in many restaurants in the UK. The beautiful pink piece of fish was coated in a wonderfully sweet and salty miso glaze. 

A quartet of battered balls each contained a juicy cod fillet. A smooth, acidic escabeche sauce and a sprinkling of fragrant yet mouth-puckering raspberry vinegar powder deftly counterbalanced the fattiness of the fried fish. 

The final savoury dish of the night filled up any remaining stomach nooks and crannies. A generous pot of meaty veal risotto was flecked with shreds of meat and cubes of mushroom. A scattering of parmesan dialled up the dish’s luxuriousness. 

Two desserts finished the meal. Firstly, a little pot of tangy yoghurt mousse layered with sweet raspberry coulis, dainty crisp meringues and popping candy. 

The final awesome pudding paid homage to the hazelnut. Creamy hazelnut ice cream was topped with light hazelnut foam, fluffy hazelnut sponge and a sprinkling of salt.

Our meal at Mini Bar is without doubt one of the most memorable I’ve ever had.

And, it’s probably the most bang I’ve ever had for my buck in a restaurant.

The Details:

Address - Mini Bar, Rua António Maria Cardoso, nº581200-027 Lisbon, Portugal
Telephone - + 351 21 130 53 93

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Porro, Llandaff, Cardiff Italian restaurant review

Porro is the brand new restaurant from the team behind the excellent Potted Pig.

Located in the affluent suburb of Llandaff (an area short of decent restaurants), it’s a canny destination for their second venture. And with a menu of fairly priced, modern Italian food served in a classy dining space, all of the building blocks are in place for another success. 

However, before I move onto the food, it would be remiss of me not to mention the howling service issues we experienced on our visit. I’ll put these down to teething troubles two weeks after opening.

The problems were as follows - two tables that arrived after our group had their orders taken before us and then received their starters and mains before we had eaten even a single mouthful of food. It was a 1 hour and 35 minute wait until we finally received our starters and 2 hours and 20 minutes before we finally received our mains. By the time we left the restaurant, we were in Lord of the Rings Extended Edition territory.

Thankfully, the issue was resolved by a highly apologetic manageress who deducted the starters and main courses from our bill. And I’m 100% sure she had no idea who I was and that I’d be writing a review of my meal.

Rant over, let’s look at the food.

To start a giant meatball of tender Abergavenny beef and Hereford pork (£8) was delightfully fragranced with fennel and served in a rich tomato sauce topped with melted parmesan. 

Toast was topped with a generous mound of soft buttered leeks and oozy taleggio (£7).

Finally, a very good selection of cured meats (£9) included pigs cheek, wild boar speck, fennel salami and home cured belly pork. However, the portion was a touch on the dinky side and at nine quid a couple of slices of bread wouldn’t have gone amiss. 

Mains also largely hit the mark.

A crisp-skinned and juicy fillet of sea bream (£16) sat atop a vibrant mix of tender octopus, al dente asparagus, tomatoes, fennel and peas. 

Unfeasibly tender slices of porchetta (£14) contained a citrus-twanged stuffing. Accompanying crackling crunched perfectly and a refreshing salad of orange, fennel and sweet roast carrots balanced the richness of the meat nicely. A jug of light pork jus seemed unnecessary – the meat was soft enough already and it was too thin for dipping. 

House fries (£4) dusted in rosemary were brilliant. 

Finally, pappardelle with ox cheek (£16) combined silky pasta with yielding pieces of meat and a good background note of wine. The dish however was crying out for some salt and pepper… which was requested and not received until around ten minutes later (sorry, I said I’d stop moaning about the service).

Desserts were both splendid.

Moist almond, lemon and orange sponge (£6) nicely juggled sweet and citrus whilst a large dollop of mascarpone added an element of luxury. 

A lemon tart (£6) combined shortish pastry and a sharp filling studded with blobs of tangy ricotta. It was accompanied by vanilla fragranced rhubarb compote, the pieces of fruit still holding their shape well. 

The food we ate at Porro was mostly excellent and it's a restaurant which is definitely bringing something new to the city. 

I'd just put a couple of digestive biscuits in your pocket when you visit in case your meal takes longer than expected.

The Details:

Address - Porro, 22 High Street, Llandaff, Cardiff, CF5 2DZ
Telephone - (029) 2056 5502

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Steak of the Art, Cardiff restaurant review

When Pigs Fly – a pork restaurant located in a giant pig-shaped zeppelin.

Devil’s Advocaat – an occult themed bar serving exclusively egg-based cocktails.

I Think Therefore I Spam – if you’re looking for processed meat and philosophical discussion then you've come to the right place.

I could spend all day coming up with ideas for high-concept, pun-based restaurants. But, that’s not why you’re here - you want to know about Steak of the Art, Cardiff’s only steakhouse and art gallery.

First to the art - alongside the pictures for sale, Steak of the Art’s interior is a work of art in itself. Colourful, creative and a little bit cheesy, an assortment of themed booths (Doctor Who, rugby and Alice in Wonderland to name a few) make it a very fun place to eat.

Secondly, to the steak - named suppliers, including West Country-based Warson’s farm and Warren’s butchers, show that some thought has been taken in finding decent meat.

A pint of Korev (£4.50) was seriously easy drinking and a strong selection of craft ales from the Bristol Beer Factory were also available.

To start, a whopping meat board (£7) looked the part and generally tasted good, but it was let down by some mediocre elements. Smooth chicken liver parfait was served with onion chutney, a smoked sausage was slightly generic, and olives and capers were excellent. 

Venison & pork salami and potted beef, both of which were mentioned on the menu, were substituted by a couple of generous slices of tender brisket and a disappointing slider comprised solely of a bun and an overdone patty. 

Mrs G’s salad was equally well proportioned (£4)– the rocket, baby tomatoes, red onions, toasted almonds and tangy goats cheese, however, were all let down by a drenching of oily dressing which nullified any freshness. 

Other friends enjoyed their fish boards (£8). Highlights included crisp fish goujons with aioli and a generous mound of smoked mackerel pate, alongside calamari, marinated sardines on toast and whitebait.

For main, I ordered the 200g rib eye (£17). Cooked an accurate medium-rare it had a good depth of flavour and was very tender. Accompanying hand-cut chips were crisp and fluffy whilst a pot of béarnaise (£2) was over-set and lacked a big whack of tarragon. 

Mrs G’s 200g fillet (£20) was also cooked as ordered and enjoyed but it didn’t have the same depth of flavour as the rib eye. Excellent sweet potato fries (£1 supplement) were generous in portion whilst a pot of gremolata (£2) provided a herby hit. 

A few of our friends ordered the Sunday roast option (£10.95). All were highly rated.

A huge short rib of beef was tender and full of flavour.

A slab of pork belly was yielding with a thin layer of crisp crackling. 

Both were accompanied by meaty gravy, al dente green beans and carrot and swede mash. The only let downs were serviceable Yorkshire puddings and roast potatoes which could have both been crisper. 

Desserts were a mixed bag.

Mine was excellent – a light chocolate mousse, paired with a crisp, peanut biscuit base and crumbs, and creamy vanilla ice cream (£5). 

Mrs G’s sweet and sharp lemon posset (£5) could have been delicious if it was properly set. Instead, it was a lemon soup accompanied by a fragrant passion fruit coulis. 

A good Eton mess parfait (£5) comprised of meringue shards, a frozen vanilla parfait, strawberry slices and strawberry coulis. 

Finally, a generously proportioned selection of West country cheeses (£8) was let down by a lack of interest – run of the mill blue, goats, brie, smoked cheddar and crackers. 

With its reasonable prices, huge portion sizes, fun dining space and friendly service, Steak of the Art is a solid addition to Cardiff city centre. I’d certainly go back for a rib eye or Sunday roast.

The Details:

Address - Steak of the Art, Ground Floor, Helmont House, Churchill Way, Cardiff CF10 2HE
Telephone - 029 2039 7284

Steak of the Art on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Coast, Saundersfoot, Pembrokeshire restaurant review

With its sweeping sea view, Coast surely has one of the finest dining room panoramas in Britain.

The purpose-built restaurant, located on Coppet Hall Beach in Saundersfoot, Pembrokeshire, is the sister restaurant of the luxurious Grove at Narberth and has Chef Will Holland at the helm.

I was a huge fan of Will’s cooking at his previous restaurant, La Becasse in Ludlow, where his fine dining won him a Michelin star at the age of 29.

Coast is a departure for him. The menu is ostensibly fish-focused and the food, whilst retaining some of the flourishes of fine dining, is more of a brasserie style.

My first Pimm’s (£7) of 2015 hit the mark whilst a Coast classic (£9) was a lovely take on a classic champagne cocktail. 

As we enjoyed the twilight sea view, we munched on a small portion of excellent whitebait (£6). Prettily presented in a paper cone, the snack-sized morsels were coated in a light batter and served with a piquant Marie-Rose sauce. 

Bread, tomato and granary varieties, was a little dense and not very crusty. In fact, it was less memorable than the whipped butter topped with charcoal and sea salt that it was served with.

For starters, I ordered the fish and shellfish bisque (£10). The generous bowlful had a huge taste of the sea but it gave way to an overly strong citrus aftertaste. 

Accompaniments were on the nail – dainty croutons covered in melted gruyere and a pokey rouille. 

Mrs G’s starter (£15) was a classic combination of fresh flavours. Caramelised scallops, a light Pembrokeshire potato mousse, potato crisps and vibrant green asparagus, peas and pea shoots all combined well. However, £15 seemed a bit pricey for six small scallops. 

For main, a crisp-skinned, tender fillet of Carmarthen Bay line-caught sea bass (£21) was served with punchy Mediterranean flavours – tomato twanged couscous, toasted pine nuts and pumpkin seeds, green olives, roasted cherry tomatoes and an olive and basil dressing. 

My dish was less complex in flavour but it was a lovely bit of comfort food – a meaty Milford Haven turbot fillet (£23) was served with creamy mash, tangy capers and soft confit fennel. Arguably, the fish was a little recessive against the strong flavours of the fennel and caper. 

Onto dessert and a wonderfully creamy white chocolate cheesecake (£10) with a crisp ginger biscuit base was accompanied by strawberries (fresh, pureed and jelly) with a clever background note of sweet basil running throughout the dish. 

My pudding was totally tropical – a slightly grainy coconut sponge slice (£10) was topped with fragrant passion fruit jelly and paired with soft cubes of mango, creamy coconut sorbet, a sticky passion fruit jam and toasted coconut slices. 

Our meal at Coast was delicious but not perfect. However, in combination with the excellent service and stunning sea view it meant we had a lovely night.

The Details:

Address - Coast Restaurant, Coppett Hall Beach, Saundersfoot, SA69 9AJ
Web -
Telephone -  01834 810800