Saturday, 28 April 2018

Koj, Cheltenham Japanese restaurant review

Owned by Masterchef finalist Andrew Kojima, the eponymous Koj in Cheltenham serves innovative small plates of Japanese street food.

The cute dining spice with iconic Japanese brands adorning the wall, the open kitchen with calmly busy chefs and the friendly front of house team, including Andrew himself, all raised my expectations that we were in for a treat.

The menu is divided into appetisers (£4), grazing dishes (£10), hirata buns (£6) and rice and sides (£3). We ordered a bunch of stuff that was thankfully brought out gradually rather than in one job lot.

A complimentary dish of lightly pickled shiitake mushrooms and spring onions was light, fresh, different and delicious; a theme that continued throughout the meal. 

Mrs G sank a couple of Mitsubatchis (£10), a seriously neckable yet deceptively boozy combination of kojin gin, honey syrup, lemon juice and bee pollen. 

A Taking the Calpis (£8) was a fruity, slightly creamy and surprisingly well-balanced combination of dry manzanilla sherry, pineapple, yuzushu (yuzu macerated in sake), calpis (a milky, slightly-acidic Japanese soft drink) and lemon. 

A bowl of savoy cabbage leaves (£4) were coated in a compellingly savoury and spicy miso dressing. It’s amazing how something so simple could be so tasty. 

Meaty aubergine pieces (£4) were coated in an equally well-judged sweet ginger dressing. 

A pork belly hirata bun (£6) gave the acclaimed Bao a run for its money. The squidgy bun was filled with a beautifully crisp and tender round of flesh topped with warming and richness balancing kimchi and kimchi mayo. 

A duck leg bun (£6) contained a generous amount of meat topped with smokey barbecue sauce and lightly pickled cucumbers. It was less successful than the pork bun due to the firmer texture of the meat which didn’t have as much give as the soft bun. 

A trio of grazing dishes were smashing.

A perfectly flaky fillet of roast cod (£10) was enhanced by a savoury marinade of white miso. 

Koj fried chicken (£10) was worthy of being the only dish on the menu to be named after the owner. Uber-juicy chicken pieces coated in a grease-free, super-umami crumb were served with a ridiculously addictive bowl of sesame mayo. 

Okonomiyaki (£10) transported me back to my travels around Hiroshima. Essentially a savoury pancake, Koj’s version contained a comfortingly soft and crisp combination of cabbage, red onion and mushrooms topped with a sweet and tangy brown sauce, kimchi mayonnaise and savoury bonito flakes. It looked like a hot mess but it tasted like a dream. 

Soft and sweet leeks and konbu seaweed (£3) were topped with su-miso mustard sauce. 

A side of sticky furikake rice (£3) was sprinkled with seaweed and sesame. 

Desserts maintained the very high standard.

A bowl of burned white chocolate and miso ice cream (£3.50) was one of the finest ice creams I’ve ever eaten. Gorgeously smooth and creamy, it had a toasty and salty Caramac thing going on. 

A smooth and citrusy yuzu posset (£3.50) topped with black sesame and raspberry was as good an example as I’ve eaten anywhere. 

We had a brilliant meal at Koj. It’s definitely achieved its aim of pushing the boundaries of Japanese food in the UK and it’s great fun to spend an evening grazing on interesting small plates whilst drinking cocktails and Japanese beers.

The Details:

Address - Koj, 3 Regent Street, Cheltenham, GL50 1HE
Telephone - 01242580455

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Asado, Bristol burger restaurant review

For a burger restaurant to have a genuine point of difference is a tricky thing indeed.

Bristol’s Asado however really does feel unique. And the things that make their burgers distinctive are bang-on rather than gimmicky.

You’d expect nothing less really from a chef-owner who's an alumnus of London’s revered Patty & Bun.

Firstly, Asdao grill their burgers over a wood-fired asado grill.

Secondly, South American inspired flavour combinations are littered across the menu.

My Asado burger (£8) was a beautiful mess. A medium pink dry-aged organic beef patty was topped with a tang of melted west country cheddar cheese, herby green chimichurri, confit garlic mayo, ketchup, sweet and slightly acidic pickled red onions, lettuce and tomato. 

Cooking the burger over oak gave it a compelling lick of smoke whilst the brilliant homemade challa bun was robust yet squidgy and slightly sweet.

This was a top notch burger with my only criticisms stemming from the fact the patty could have been a touch juicier and it was also a seriously messy eat. I worked my way through around 15 napkins. 

My friend enjoyed his Pollo Libre (£8.50) which saw two big bits of buttermilk fried chicken thigh topped with a chunky guacamole, chipotle mayo and lettuce. I had a taste and it was great - the meat tender and the crumb crisp. But, he thought the spice mix in the crumb could have been more assertive. 

Rosemary and salt fries (£3) were golden, crisp in parts, beautifully soft and well seasoned with rosemary. 

Courgette fritters (£5) were hyper-crisp thanks to their panko crumb and had an enjoyably tender interior. A spicy lime mayo started mild but had a serious chilli build. 

I had a lovely burger at Asado and it's great value for the quality. I know the bar is high in Bristol for burgers but if you’re ever visiting Colston Hall for a gig then I recommend the five minute walk down the street to Asado.

The Details:

Address - Asado, 90 Colston Street, Bristol BS1 5BB
Telephone - 01179279276

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Maria's Greek Meze Bar Taverna, Cardiff restaurant review

For a city the size of Cardiff, it’s perhaps surprising that we don’t have a Chinatown or Little Italy.

When I was growing up in Newcastle, every major family celebration was marked by a Chinese banquet on Stowell Street.

And, when I lived in Vauxhall in South London, I spent many a night drinking Sagres and eating bitoque in Little Portugal.

So, perhaps there’s an argument for renaming the half mile stretch between the bottom of Whitchurch Road and middle of Crwys Road as Little Greece? I’m kidding of course, but it’s on this small stretch of street that all 3 of Cardiff’s Greek restaurants can be found.

Maria’s Meze Greek Bar and Taverna is the most recent addition, having only opened a couple of weeks ago.

It’s very much a family affair with the restaurant named after mum Maria and one son running front of house and the other heading up the kitchen.

The restaurant has a charming holiday vibe with its white and pastel blue walls, black and white photographs and nautical trinkets.

The menu is broadly divided into three sections - meze, grills and traditional dishes. At lunchtime, offers include 3 meze for £12 or 2 traditional dishes for £15. 

Bottles of Fix (£3) and Mythos (£2.80) were both seriously refreshing and easy drinking. One sip and I was transported to happy times in Crete. 

We kicked off with a hoard of meze.

Highlights included tiropitakia (£4.90), crispy little filo pastry parcels filled with a creamy and salty ooze of feta. 

Spanakokroketes (£5.50) reminded me of jalapeno poppers in a very good way. The trio of golden crumbed croquettes were filled with melty feta cheese and leaves of wilted spinach and served with a fragrant lemon and dill yoghurt dip. 

A small Greek Salad (£3.90) was a lovely example - perky tomatoes, cucumber, red onion and peppers were joined by big cubes of creamy feta, briny kalamata olives and a drizzle of olive oil and scatter of oregano. 

A big block of grilled halloumi (£3.80) had an enjoyable golden crust but it was a little firm in texture instead of soft and melty. 

Freshly baked bread rolls were pleasingly crisp with a warm and soft interior. 

A soft-textured mix of potato and courgettes (£4.90) was formed into golden fritters and served with a butternut squash puree whose sweetness was tempered by creamy tahini. 

Mains were both lovely.

Mrs G waxed lyrical about a big slab of moussaka (£10.50) that combined meaty beef and lamb ragu, uber-tender pieces of potato and aubergine and a good layer of golden-capped bechamel. The whole dish had a lovely background warmth of cinnamon. 

Pork souvlaki (£11.50) saw a duo of herby and tender meat skewers joined by crisp and fluffy thick cut chips. The only issue was that it was crying out for a bit of lubrication - a big dollop of tzatziki wouldn’t have gone a miss. 

So, I ordered a plate of the stuff - the tangy cucumber and yoghurt dip (£3.95) combined a big wallop of garlic and the freshness of mint. 

Onto dessert, and a cheesecake (£4.90) was a big success. A crunchy walnut and biscuit base was topped with light, creamy, lemony and honey twanged Greek yoghurt.

A galaktobouriko (£4.90) saw a rich set custard wrapped in filo pastry and drizzled with sweet syrup. Whilst I was reassured that it’s authentic for the pastry in this dish to not be crisp, I think the pud would have benefited from a bit more textural contrast. 

We had a really tasty meal at Maria’s. This family run independent has bags of character and serves lovely moussaka to boot.

Disclosure - I was invited to Maria's, all food and drink was complimentary.

The Details:

Address - Maria's Greek Meze Bar Taverna, 68 Crwys Road, Cardiff CF24 4NP
Web -
Telephone - 029 2115 1268

Saturday, 14 April 2018

The Fox and Hounds Llancarfan, Vale of Glamorgan pub review 2018

Fox and Hounds Llancarfan

It’s been a couple of years since my last visit to the Fox and Hounds in Llancarfan.

In the interim, this pretty little village pub in the Vale of Glamorgan has been taken over by husband and wife team, Jim Dobson (head chef) and Rhiannon Dobson (front of house) and given a bit of a facelift. Impressively, they also picked up a Cardiff Life Award a couple of weeks ago for best gastropub.

Fox and Hounds Llancarfan
Their menu is a real doozy - packed with the kind of things that I like to eat, including confit rabbit and ham hock terrine and specials like pork, black pudding and sage scotch egg. 

Thankfully, the mother-in-law was dining with us so were able to give more of the menu a run for its money.

Great hunks of soft white bread were served with creamy Netherend Farm butter (£2.50).

Fox and Hounds Llancarfan

A generous pile of sweet white Brixham crab meat (£7) was enrobed in light and creamy herb creme fraiche and heaped on toasted sourdough. A couple of swirls brown crab mayonnaise provided a welcome shellfish whallop. 

Fox and Hounds Llancarfan
A golden crumbed fishcake (£7) wasn’t too dense and its headline ingredients of salt cod and spring onion balanced well. A shaved radish and asparagus salad with a punchy lemon and caper dressing was so much more than the usual half arsed scattering of undressed rocket leaves. 

Fox and Hounds Llancarfan
Finally, a salad of sweet and earthy baked heritage carrots (£6) were joined by creamy homemade ricotta, quinoa and a herby hazelnut pesto. 

Fox and Hounds Llancarfan

For mains, Mrs G and I both went for pub classics that were elevated with aplomb. 

Proper ham (£12) - I do like my slices a bit thicker - was served with a golden oozy fried duck egg and stonkingly good triple cooked chips with oodles of crunch and fluff. A sweet and mustardy pineapple pickle was a clever riff on the much maligned accompaniment to ham #TeamHamAndPineapple. 

Fox and Hounds Llancarfan
Beer battered haddock (£14) was a fine example - the golden battered flaky fish was served with more of those lovely chips. Mrs G and I both thought the pea puree was meaty tasting (a bonus in our books) whilst tartare sauce was packed with herbs and capers. 

Fox and Hounds Llancarfan
The mother-in-law loved her main. Rosy pink rump of lamb (£18) was served with smooth broccoli and potato purees, broccoli pieces and a vivid salsa verde. A finger of crispy shredded lamb breast was packed with flavour but sadly a little on the dry side. 

Fox and Hounds Llancarfan
Desserts were both crackers.

A crisp-crusted slice of tart (£6) was filled with a tangy and aromatic passion fruit custard with a bruleed sugar top. A scoop of chocolate ice cream and caramelised hazelnut crumb completed the plate. 

Fox and Hounds Llancarfan
Warm and moist pistachio sponge (£6) was accompanied by soft and sweet poached rhubarb, fragrant and not too sweet rhubarb sorbet and a pool of super-smooth vanilla-flecked custard. 

Fox and Hounds Llancarfan
We had a delicious meal at The Fox and Hounds in Llancarfan. It’s great to see that this lovely pub with its accomplished cooking is in very safe new hands.

The Details:

Address - The Fox & Hounds, Llancarfan, Vale of Glamorgan CF62 3AD
Web -
Telephone - 01446 781287

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Pi Shop, Bristol pizza restaurant review

Pi Shop is the sister establishment to the bloody brilliant Michelin-starred restaurants Paco Tapas and Casamia.

Located in Bristol’s General Hospital redevelopment, this wood-fired pizza restaurant has a bright and minimalist interior.

All of the wow-factor comes from a handsome copper pizza oven that dominates the kitchen.

A post shared by Gourmet Gorro (@gourmetgorro) on

The menu is brief, including just a handful of starters, 10 pizzas, two sides and one dessert. Whilst most pizzas cost around £14, the margherita (£8.50) and marinara (£6.50) provide cheaper options. 

There’s a good selection of local beers with Lost + Grounded, Arbor and Left Handed Giant all putting in an appearance. I drank a delightfully hoppy and easy drinking Left Handed Giant Pale (£6.50). 

Both the wood-fired pizzas we ate were enjoyably thin-based with a good crunch and chew. The crust was nicely raised but I thought it was a bit dense and doughy compared to the finest I’ve had.

My tuscan sausage pizza (£14) was a belter - it was topped with a luxurious combination of uber-porky fennel-twanged sausage meat, tender potato slices, oozy mozzarella, savoury parmesan shavings, sweet onion pieces and a golden runny egg yolk. 

Mrs G’s ’nduja pizza (£16) was equally lovely. The spreadable spicy sausage and generous dollops of cold and creamy burrata balanced beautifully. The supporting cast comprised of the crunch of pine nuts, peppery rocket, sweet peppers and a light tomato sauce. 

A side salad of fresh local leaves (£3) was coated in a dressing that lacked a bit of oomph. 

If you’ve only got one dessert on your menu then it better be good. Pi Shop’s soft serve sundae (£3.50) is ace. A swirl of light and milky ice cream combined with a berry-packed, slightly tart forest fruit compote and sprinkles of dark chocolate and crisp almonds. 

We really enjoyed Pi Shop. It’s cool, the service is slick and the pizzas are really tasty.

*Update - 10 April 2018* - I've just spotted that my review is already antiquated before I've even posted it. Today, Pi Shop introduced a new cooking style for their pizzas - they now bake their marinara, margherita and white base pizzas before adding the toppings when they come out of the oven. They've also introduced a new pricier menu with the marinara costing £10 and margherita £12.

The Details:

Address - Pi Shop, The General, Lower Guinea Street, Bristol BS1 6FU
Web -
Telephone - 0117 925 6872