Sunday, 30 October 2016

Juboraj, Rhiwbina, Cardiff Indian restaurant review

The Juboraj group is undoubtedly one of Cardiff’s best known and longest standing restaurant institutions. 

With restaurants in Rhiwbina, Mill Lane and Lakeside amongst others, this chain of Bangladeshi / Indian restaurants has a history which dates back to 1989 when they first opened in Cardiff Bay’s Bute Street. 

I’ve previously visited the Lakeside and Cardiff Bay branches where I’ve had perfectly decent yet unremarkable meals. So, when I ate at the Rhiwbina restaurant it’s unsurprising that I had a very similar experience. 

Poppadoms and chutneys were on the mark. A lime and mixed vegetable number was the standout with a good level of spice and sourness. 

A mixed starter (£6.25) comprised of a deep-flavoured keema samosa, crisp onion bhajis and a curiously dense and dry breadcrumbed chicken pakora. 

Machli biran (£6.55) saw salmon coated in a lightly spiced marinade. However, the use of a fillet instead of a slightly boney steak would have improved the dish immeasurably. 

Masala chicken wings had a good level of char and spice. But, £6 for three half wings seemed over ambitious in price. 

Onto mains, and tandoori chicken (£11) was tender and generously portioned. A mound of caramelised onions were equally compelling. 

Murgi massala (£12.55) saw heaps of tandoori chicken slices in a keema flecked sauce. It was an enjoyable curry but it would have benefited from a bigger hit of spice.

Salan-e-ghost (£13.60) was intensely flavoured but the pieces of beef in the curry were disappointingly dry. 

A peshwari naan and pilau rice both did the job. However, an off-menu garlic keema naan was a revelation which I’ll certainly adding to my regular curry regime. 

With slightly higher pricing than other high street curry houses, I'd expect more than the average from Juboraj. On this occasion, it was just average. 

The Details:

Address - Juboraj Rhiwbina, 10 Heol Y Deri, Rhiwbina, Cardiff CF14 6HG
Telephone - 029 2062 8894

Saturday, 22 October 2016

da Mara, Cyncoed, Cardiff Italian restaurant review

*This restaurant has relocated to Penylan - review here*

One of the proudest moments of my 33 years on this planet was seeing my name in print as Wales’s regional “expert” in Where to Eat Pizza, Phaidon’s guide to the world’s best pizza, which was published earlier this year .

If I never see my name in a publication again I’ll die a happy man. Even if it means my food-based re-working of JD Salinger’s classic, Gherkin in the Rye, never sees the light of day.

One of Wales’s esteemed pizzerias which made it into the guide was Anatoni’s in Cyncoed. Their Neapolitan style wood-fired pizza oven was a thing of beauty and so were their pizzas.

However, an unfortunate coincidence meant that Anatoni’s relaunched and rebranded as da Mara in pretty much the same week as the book was released. As a result, pizza lovers from around the world arriving in Cardiff on the back of the book may well be wondering whatever happened to Anatoni’s?

Thankfully, the Anatoni's team are still very much involved in running da Mara.

They’ve also got a brand new hand built wood-fired Steffano Ferrara pizza oven which they’ve imported from Naples.

And, I’m delighted to report that their pizzas are better than ever.

As part of their relaunch, da Mara gained an alcohol license and expanded their menu to include pastas, meat and fish dishes.

Ice cold Sardinian Ichnusa lager (£3.80) and a Peroni red (£3.80) were knocked back with ease.

Linguine ai frutti di mare (£7.75) comprised of al dente pasta, tender squid, salty clams and plump cherry tomatoes in a sauce packed with garlic, chilli, parsley and tomato. It was marred slightly by shrivelled mussels and a couple of rogue pieces of broken shell in the sauce.

Something as simple as a tricolore salad (£6.95) lives or dies by the quality of its ingredients. In this case, some of them were a bit of a let down. Creamy buffalo mozzarella, crispy parma ham and basil infused olive oil were all excellent. But, tomatoes lacked flavour whilst avocado slices were disappointingly underripe.

Onto the main event, and our pizzas were both humdingers.

The leopard spotted cornicione (rim), the light base with a delicate chew, the fresh tomato sauce made with San Marzanos and the creamy mozzarella were all on the nail.

Mrs G’s was topped with potent, unctuous nduja sausage (£9.95).

My carrettiera (£11.95) was topped with Anise twanged sausage, wilted spinach and the light warmth of chilli.

My dessert was pretty average. A couple of runny cream filled profiteroles (£3.75) were enrobed in a tiramisu-like topping flavoured very lightly with hazelnut and served with a pot of cream on the side. It was all just a bit creamy.

In contrast, a couple of scoops of stracciatella and hazelnut ice cream (£3) were both beautifully smooth and had bags of flavour.

A trip to da Mara is undoubtedly worth it to try their excellent pizzas alone.

On this showing, the rest of their menu is a bit more of a mixed bag.

The Details:

Address - da Mara, 25 Clear Water Way, Lakeside, Cardiff, CF23 6DL 
Web -
Telephone - 02920 765419

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Thai Lounge, Whitchurch, Cardiff restaurant review

Located on Whitchurch’s main drag, Thai Lounge is one of the stalwarts of the Cardiff restaurant scene. It’s certainly been around longer than my blog has existed and I’ve only ever heard good things about the place. So, I thought it was about time I paid them a visit. 

Ascending the staircase into the upstairs restaurant we were faced by a buzzing dining room and a glimpse into an open kitchen emanating all kinds of lovely aromas.

A mountain range of mixed prawn crackers (£3.50) were served warm out of the fryer. They were served with a reassuringly un-gloopy sweet chilli sauce.

Ice cold Singhas were seen off in a couple of gulps. As the designated driver (again), I had to make do with one whilst Mrs G worked her way through a bevy.

To start, Khanom Jeep (£6.50) were decent but a touch bland. The quartet of steamed dumplings comprised of thin cases nestling a minced prawn and chicken filling. They were pepped no end up by dipping them in a sweet soy and garlic sauce.

Yum Nuea (£9.95), a Thai beef salad (a main on the menu but ordered as a starter), was far more impressive. Super tender steak slices combined with cucumber, spring onions, tomatoes, shallots, coriander and mint in a dressing which hummed with chilli, lime, garlic and the umami hit of fish sauce.

Mains were both ace.

A lamb Massaman curry (£10.95) saw pieces of yielding meat and soft potatoes in a deeply spiced sauce heady with peanuts and garnished with toasted cashews. It’s always my preferred option over red and green curry and this example didn’t disappoint.

Gad Pad Bai Krapraw (£9.95) meanwhile was a whopping portion of flavour-saturated minced chicken tossed through with al dente green beans in a soy and chilli-based sauce. Leaves of wilted basil which topped the dish brought welcome fragrance to proceedings.

A heaped bowl of sticky jasmine rice was plenty for two people (£3.50).

Stuffed to the gills we passed on dessert and headed out into the crisp Autumn night.

Thai Lounge is a lovely restaurant and from the Thursday evening full house, it’s clear they’ve got a loyal following. If you’re looking for good Thai comfort food then it’s well worth checking out.

The Details:

Address -  Thai Lounge, 73B Merthyr Road, Whitchurch, Cardiff CF14 1DD
Web -
Telephone - 02920 611222

Saturday, 8 October 2016

JOL's, Merthyr Tydfil restaurant review

When it comes to eating out for dinner, Mrs G and I are a well-oiled machine.

We book a table at 7pm, arrive five minutes early and get our orders in and food down the hatch before the 8pm hordes arrive. As a result we’re usually in and out within an hour and a half and home in good time to binge on the latest boxset #LivingTheDream.

So, when I made a right royal hash up with the sat nav on our trip to Merthyr Tydfil to visit JOL’s, the thought of arriving 30 minutes late for our 7pm booking brought me out in a bout of the cold sweats.

Thankfully, with food as good as that cooked by Jamie O’Leary (the JOL in JOL's), it was no hardship to spend the evening savouring it.

With a background as sous-chef at Stephen Terry’s legendary Hardwick in Abergavenny and the accolade of best Welsh street food vendor at the British Street Food Awards in 2015, Jamie O’Leary has serious cooking chops. It’s evident in his menu of complex sounding dishes with a smattering of global influences.

As we waited for our starters I supped on a cracking bottle of Valley Pilsener (£3.50) from Aberdare-based Grey Trees brewery. Hoppy and light, it’s exactly the kind of beer I could make a session of. 

I’m a sucker for a good Welsh Rarebit (£6) and the example at JOL's is an absolute knockout. Toasted Alex Gooch sourdough was slathered with a bronzed mix of intense cheese, mustard and beery goodness. Accompaniments of crisp streaky bacon and well-dressed leaves completed dish.

Mrs G’s starter was just as impressive. A whopping crisp-skinned oily mackerel fillet (£8) was counterpointed by the freshness of citrusy orange, warmth of red chilli, earthiness of beetroot and fragrance of coriander and fennel. 

Mains were equally lush.

Breast and confit leg of partridge (£18), so easy to overcook, were beautifully tender, golden and delicately flavoured. Accompaniments of light gnocchi, sweet and soft pumpkin, sage-twanged bacon-flecked green lentils and a compellingly tasty piece of bread soaked with all the flavours of the dish all hit the mark.

Across the table, blushing pink slices of roast lamb rump (£18) were served with smooth as you like creamed potatoes, pieces of slow-cooked deep-flavoured braised lamb shoulder, buttery and garlicky cavolo nero and plate-lickingly good roasting juices. 

When you’re told there’s going to be a twenty-minute wait for a pudding to be cooked to order, you cross your fingers that it’s going to be worth the wait. It was, and some.

Delightfully flaky pastry nestled thin slices of sweet roasted black fig drizzled with honey. A scoop of wonderfully smooth vanilla ice cream completed the dish (£9). 

It’s rare that a dish is improved by deconstructing it but JOL's apple cheesecake (£8) managed to succeed. A scoop of not to sweet vanilla-flecked baked cheesecake was joined by a super short and crisp piece of shortbread topped with sweet apple compote. Wow. 

Dinner at JOL’s was absolutely frigging cracking. I'd recommend a trip to Merthyr to try Jamie O’Leary’s cooking as soon as you can.

The Details:

Address - JOL's, 30-31 High Street, Merthyr Tydfil CF47 8DP
Web -
Telephone - 01685 267878

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Penylan Pantry, Cardiff cafe review

Standing proud with its striped awnings, the Penylan Pantry is a vibrant haven in one of Cardiff’s leafiest suburbs.

Since opening in 2013, the Pantry has become somewhat of a Penylan institution, known for their extensive range of British cheeses, chilled out brunches, regular evening events (from Mad Hatter’s tea parties to guest chef nights from luminaries such as James Sommerin) and their cycle delivery organic vegetable box scheme.

We visited on a busy Saturday around midday i.e. the brunch / lunch hinterland.

A flat white (£2.50) and a latte (£2.20) provided a welcome caffeine boost to kick start an already very lazy day.

Mrs G ordered a slice of a golden crusted vegetable tart (£6.95). Served warm, it was joined by a kaleidoscopic selection of lovely salads including roast beetroot, kale & cauliflower, paprika roast peppers, al dente green beans with toasted almonds and couscous flecked with cherry tomatoes and olives. 

Our friend was in the mood for brunch so opted for toast laden with excellent chunky smashed avocado seasoned with lemon, chilli and pink peppercorns and a side bowl of uber-moreish smoky grilled chorizo (£7.75). 

Never one to turn down a plank of cheese, I ordered the British cheeseboard (£8.50). A whopping selection of stonkingly good cheeses was served with sweet and punchy balsamic pickled onions, chunky homemade piccalilli and thick seeded crackers. Working from left to right were a super-creamy brie-like Wigmore, a distinctively savoury and tangy Hereford Hop coated in toasted hops, seriously nutty Cornish Kern and a potent and salty Shropshire Blue. 

Mrs G rounded off the meal with a slice of warming chai-spiced carrot cake (£3.20) topped with pretty green matcha tea icing. I thought it was a touch dry but Mrs G thought it was bang on. I'm not one to argue.

I had a slice of deliciously moist greengage and almond upside down cake (£3.25).

Replete after my month’s worth of cheese and a huge slice of cake, we walked off a nominal amount of calories with a stroll through Roath Mill Gardens and then up to Roath Lake. The Penylan Pantry is a lovely place to relax and enjoy some good food. Now excuse me whilst I go for nap. 

The Details:

Address - Penylan Pantry, 72 Kimberley Road, Cardiff CF23 5DN